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CNN This Morning

Police: Shooter Legally Bought 7 Guns Despite "Emotional Disorder"; Witness Helped Children Escape across Street During Shooting; Renewed Scrutiny of Assault-Style Weapons after Nashville Shooting; NTSB Investigates 6 Runway Incidents with Commercial Flights this Year; Pence Ordered to Testify to January 6 Grand Jury. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 07:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: I mean, that would be major, if that happened, a trial with, you know, one of the biggest news organizations and news organizations in the world that would be huge.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: It would be really significant to see them those executives testifying.

LEMON: Yes, we've got a lot to cover, as you saw there in our five things. So let's start with brand new details in Nashville. And that school shooting and questions about how the shooter was able to buy so many guns. Police said the shooter was being treated for an emotional disorder, but was able to legally buy seven guns before murdering three children and three staff members at a private Christian school in Nashville.

And there's brand new reporting from the New York Times about the shooters pass. Now the shooters former teacher at an art college told The Times those years ago, the shooter had an emotional breakdown in her class when she had trouble creating a password for the school's online student portal. And in recent years, the shooter had been grieving on Facebook about the loss of a romantic partner.

There's new harrowing police body cam video that shows officers rushing in and confronting the shooter. We have synced up both angles release by officials wanting for you now OK, just want to make sure if you have people in the room that shouldn't be watching this, then you should get them out. This video is disturbing.

My goodness, we're learning more about the young students and educators who were murdered including the school's custodian, Mike Hill. Students called him Big Mike. He had 14 grandkids. His family says Mike loves spending time with them and had a passion for cooking. Halle Scruggs was one of the three nine-year-olds gunned down.

Her dad is a pastor of a church that runs a school. Evelyn Dieckhaus, her family says that their hearts are completely broken. They say Evelyn was a shining light, and they cannot believe this has happened. And then there are the survivors. It's a brand-new video taken by Good Samaritan and you see students running across a busy street to escape one running into the adult arms right there. Jason Hoffman took that video. He stopped traffic to help the kids escape. Jason, thank you so much. We appreciate you joining us. Can you please talk about the scene of the shooting and how you knew something was wrong? Why - what you did?

JASON HOFFMAN, HELPED KIDS FLEE SCHOOL SHOOTING: Well, I was just happened to be in the area. And I heard probably 10 to 15 or more shots, as you saw in the video there. I was hearing that outside and I just took over my car and just tried to flee the area as I was going down the road to get away from the gunshots.

I see police everywhere and a woman jumping out in front of my car waving her arms. I noticed there are children behind her. And I put two and two together at that moment. And it just hit me really hard.

LEMON: Yes. It's going to say did you - did you know what was going on and what was going through your head?

HOFFMAN: I had no idea at the time what was going on? I didn't know if it was like a police chase that ended up in a shootout. It was when I saw the teacher come out of the woods and the kids behind her that my heart sunk and I was hoping that had nothing to school.

But of course we found out later on that, it did and no, I didn't have anything. I didn't have any idea of what was going on until it broke on the news while I was sitting there surrounded by the police still.

LEMON: Were you able to speak to anyone there in traffic or hear anyone? Can you take us through that? What were they saying if you heard anything?

HOFFMAN: Yes, there were people started to show up at the school that were friends, family of some of the staff, some of the victims they were sharing their concerns, their worry. People were standing there crying, the kids got across the street to the other side. And the police saw that they escaped from the woods and came over and actually brought them to a safe place. So, once they were safe, we felt a little bit better about that.


LEMON: They escaped from the woods?

HOFFMAN: Yes, they came through. There's a - the churches up on a big hill surrounded by woods. And they came all the way down the hill to the road and jumped out in a four-lane highway, basically in the road there. And so, 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.

LEMON: What is this done to you?

HOFFMAN: It's just really, I have a nine-year-old myself, and it's really hard to send them to school. It's, it's really made me frightened to do, frightened to send him anywhere. This is the hard world that we live in now. Things like this happening everywhere. COLLINS: Jason, you live in this community. And we've seen this new body camera video that was released by the police yesterday. I wonder if you've seen it and what you think of how the police responded to this.

HOFFMAN: They jumped into, I can't commend them any more for their bravery, their actions. They jumped straight into the line of fire to take down the threat and that that body cam footage is hard to watch knowing that I was hearing that just right outside.

LEMON: You were able to hear the gunshots?

HOFFMAN: Yes, yes, I heard, I heard several different calibers going off. And I knew that's when it was probably a shoot-out. The police, I just didn't know where it was yet. That was at the --

LEMON: Well, Jason, you take care of yourself. Sorry that you experienced that. But we are grateful that you're here to describe what happened and to help right.

HOFFMAN: And I did what anybody if anybody would do, I think and that situation helped the kids --.

LEMON: Jason Hoffman, thank you so much.

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Don.

COLLINS: Also, this morning on Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers are focusing on mental health, not as much on guns after the national shooting. We also heard yesterday from the Senate Chaplain, his name is Barry Black. You don't often hear from him in a way like this, what we're about to show you where he's urging lawmakers to take action.


BARRY BLACK, SENATE CHAPLAIN: Lord, when babies die at a church school, it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers. Lord delivers our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous.


COLLINS: CNN's Lauren Fox is live on Capitol Hill. Lauren, in the aftermath of this shooting, we heard President Biden say that he wants to see congress enact the assault weapons ban that he's called for. You've been talking to lawmakers; I imagine that still seems just as unlikely as we had initially believed, right?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, after dozens of conversations with Republicans over the last 48 hours, the resounding analysis that you hear from them is that there is nothing more that they can do when it comes directly to blocking things like purchasing an assault weapon.

One of the things that you hear from Republicans over and over again, is that the country needs more mental health care that there are individuals in this country that want to do harm and that no gun legislation is going to change that. Here's one of them Congressman Tim Burchett, of Tennessee.


REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): We can pass all the laws we want. But somebody's going to 3D print a book, somebody's going to get ammonium nitrate, like they did in Oklahoma. And - completely even didn't have an assault weapon, whatever that is, whatever the new definition of that is didn't have any of that. And that's what we're going to have. The laws was going to work until people change their hearts, we're not going to see a change.


FOX: And I talked to Tom Tillis. He was instrumental in passing that modest gun reform that passed in the summer of 2022. Even he said he didn't see room for new gun legislation. Instead, he argued that the focus should be on implementing the bill that they passed last summer.

He says a lot of that Mental Health money still is going out to communities. And he said it's really not clear yet what impact their bill could have arguing that there's just not room for something else, Kaitlan? [07:10:00]

COLLINS: Yes, seems like both sides of the aisle agree no action is likely here. I want to ask you about something else. So that's also happening this morning, because House Speaker Kevin McCarthy seems to be asking the White House to have a meeting when it comes to the debt ceiling. But the White House seems to be responding that that's premature in their view at this point until they see Republicans budget.

FOX: Yes, and Republicans are backing away from going ahead and putting out a budget before they deal with the debt ceiling. I talked to a source yesterday who told me that the emphasis right now is on that debt ceiling, which really puts both sides in paralysis at this moment.

We also expect the Jerome Powell, the Fed chair is going to be a special guest today at the Republican Study committees' lunch that is a conservative group that includes many of the House Republicans, and it's going to be really interesting to see what comes of that lunch.

But it's important to remember Kaitlan that it has been weeks since the president and the speaker sat down to discuss the next steps in the debt ceiling. And while there's no finite deadline right now, we know we're just a couple of months away from meeting congressional action and right now, there's no path forward, Kaitlan?

FOX: It's - concerning, Lauren Fox, thank you so much for that report. So back to what we're talking about here when it comes to guns them. The question a lot of people have is what makes the AR-15 style so popular in the United States. The AR was first developed for military use back in the 1950s. And since become one of those popular weapons in America, according to a new Washington Post Ipsos poll, not new excuse me from October, about 16 million Americans actually own one. On its path to popularity, the weapon has also become a favorite among mass shooters, like the gunman who opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, back in 2012 and the one that slaughtered concert goers in Vegas in 2017.

And then again, of course, last year Uvalde, Texas at Rob elementary school. We have now learned that the Nashville shooter also had an AR- 15 style weapon. That is, according to police, one of the three firearms that was found at the scene. Last year, in the weeks after the Uvalde School shooting, CNN's Elle Reeve traveled to Oklahoma, where she spoke with the gun rights group OK2A, here's a short clip of that interview.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Many Americans saw the second Elementary School massacre in a decade and thought there should be more restrictions on guns. We wanted to know why these guys saw the same thing and thought there should be more guns more openly and everywhere.

REEVE (on camera): Could you explain like, what are you afraid of? Because to an outsider, it's like you have all Republicans state government like why?

TERRY THOMPSON, OKLAHOMA 2ND AMENDMENT ASSOCIATION: Well, afraid is the wrong word, concern. It's not so much about guns. It's about our God given rights. A good guy or gal with a gun is the only answer to a bad guy with a gun.

REEVE (on camera): I've heard that said a lot. But I don't know that it's true.

THOMPSON: Can you give me a logical reason that it wouldn't be true?

REEVE (on camera): It didn't work in --.

THOMPSON: It was a gun free zone. It was in a school.

REEVE (on camera): There are police outside.

THOMPSON: Yes, there were 19 police officers who had orders from their bosses to stand down.


COLLINS: And Elle Reeve is with us here now. It is an interesting look to see because obviously, there's a lot of gun owners who say, hey, I'm a responsible gun owner. Why do I have to have my freedoms restricted because of people in these mass shootings? What else did you learn as you were investigating and reporting this out?

REEVE: Oh, well, he talked about how he wasn't afraid. But actually, a big part of their issue is that they are afraid. Most of the people we spoke to in this group had created these very elaborate hypothetical situations in which they would need a weapon to defend their families.

So, the Head of OK2A Don Spencer told me that, what if he drove home and someone was robbing his house and he interrupted them. He would need an AR-15, so we would have enough ammo to kill them out.

LEMON: OK. Listen, this is I think it's important to show the facts. And you, Kaitlan was going through that and we're talking about all of the Aurora, Colorado, Las Vegas, Rob Elementary and Uvalde New Town and on and on and on. These are all AR-15 style, at least weapons that they use Washington Post and Ipsos poll asked 400 people why they own an AR-15 Elle.

And they said the largest percentage cited self-defense, as you just mentioned, protection type or second place was target shooting and recreation tied for third, the Second Amendment and hunting. From your conversations with these guns, does that track as you say they come up with these elaborate situations that does that poll attract to you?

REEVE: A lot of the people we spoke to talked about the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. They've been watching a lot of right wing media and they were afraid that mobs of people were coming to where they lived out in small town America or in the suburbs to do them harm.

But that never happened; never seem to erase that fear. And even after we finished our interviews, they would text me these anonymous messages that were completely like unverifiable threatening to come attack people out in the middle of the country.


And they would say to me, well, this is why we need an AR-15. We have to protect ourselves.

LEMON: Where are they getting this from?

REEVE: Oh, just like right wing social media accounts, you know, they'll take an anonymous post on Reddit, and then it goes around Twitter, and then Facebook.

COLLINS: But what about other people who I mean, I'm from Alabama. I know a lot of people who own these kinds of guns that are careful with them that keep them stored in proper places in their homes and whatnot. And that's the pushback. You know, we've been seeing from a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill, I was watching our reporters there yesterday, asking people, you know, why should people be able to own an AR-15?

Why do you think it should be illegal? And a lot of probably the -- immediately answered saying that they, they didn't really waver on the idea that they should be able to be purchased.

REEVE: Right. A lot of people said, why do I, a good person, a good citizen need to be punished for what a bad citizen did? I also my family have long line of hillbillies in the Missouri Ozarks, lot of hunters. But what my family bragged about was being able to shoot out of the squirrel with a 22. Right, like you don't shoot deer, like you're in a --.

LEMON: Yes, I just I remember being in Aurora, and I've wanted to see how long I was covering. They were theater shooting. It took me 20 minutes to buy an AR 15. And I had a Georgia driver's license at the time I lived in Georgia, from Louisiana. So I relate to what both of you are saying, but I had a friend in Georgia, he was just driving around with an AR in his trunk.

I remember helping him put stuff in his trunk he was moving, I said was that just my AR carry to drive around with all the time, didn't really need a permit for it. It was just something that he drove around.

REEVE: That's true in Oklahoma as well. They have permit-less carry, they've had it since 2019. The Oklahoman reported last month that there have been 100 new bills to expand gun rights there. And some of them seem kind of absurd, like there's a proposal to allow guns on boats. Which, you know, even lawmakers are like, well, I don't know why both dispute needs to be settled that way.

LEMON: The interesting thing is that you can be a proponent and support the second amendment but also support sensible gun legislation. And also question why people, you know, feel that they must own AR-15. So, as you said, you know, back in the day like a 22 like you wanted to shoot a rifle and you wanted to be precise, you didn't need the AR-15 or that style weapon. So, but we are here. Yes, great reporting thank you, Elle I appreciate them!

So, the acting Head of the FAA says that the series of near collisions on runways this year may be linked to the fallout from the pandemic. Billy Nolen said, "Air travel is coming back in a big way since the pandemic, but the long layoff coupled with the increased technical nature of our systems might have caused some professionals to lose some of that muscle memory.

CNN's Pete Muntean joins us now live from Washington with more on this. This is very interesting that he's saying this good morning to you. What else do we hear from Nolen?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're talking about complacency caused by the pandemic, Don. It's something we've heard about from pilots, from labor unions, from Captain Sully Sullenberger during our primetime special on-air safety earlier this month. And now we're hearing about it from the acting Head of the FAA essentially saying that the pandemic rebound is happening faster than workers can handle.

And that is why we're seeing these dramatic near misses on or near runways at major airports involving commercial airliners. What's interesting here is that this is something that was echoed by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during my exclusive interview with him last month, and he attributed this to some kind of rust that is happening in the aviation system, listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: There will be one thing if we found a certain piece of technology in the cockpit, or a certain control tower, where there were a lot of issues. But instead, what we're finding is that pilots, ground crews and controllers alike seem to be experiencing this uptick. Some have described it as a kind of rust, but that needs to turn into a very concrete diagnosis and specific action steps. We're not going to wait for something worse to happen to act now.


MUNTEAN: The other interesting element here that Nolen points to is those retirements accelerated among pilots and air traffic controllers during the pandemic. The interesting thing here and this is something that Captain Sullenberger agreed with me during that primetime special is that there's a bit of a brain drain happening in aviation, allowing new people to matriculate much quickly, much more quickly than they have in the past.

Although the simple explanation here is not all that simple, and the NTSB will have to investigate the six incidents in which these planes came near to colliding at major U.S. airports, Don.

LEMON: So many things have been affected by the pandemic, are people accepting this as a valid reason for airline issues.

MUNTEAN: There's a chain reaction in all of these incidents. And the dynamic part of aviation is that the conditions are very different. And so, you really can't point to any one specific thing.


What is interesting now is that we're now hearing a little bit more about the shortage of air traffic controllers, something we've been reporting out. Although we just have to wait and see you know, each incident is different and the NTSB is investigating but that could take maybe a year or more for them to reach a final conclusion on these incidents.

LEMON: Pete Muntean in Washington, thank you, Pete.

COLLINS: Also, this morning, we're tracking news out of Philadelphia, where officials say the city's water is safe to drink and to use, that comes after a chemical spill and the nearby Delaware River. So far, officials say no contaminants have been found in the water system since that spill.

More than 8000 gallons of water soluble Latech solution spilled into the Bristol Township on Friday. It raised ramped up fears that the city's drinking water had been contaminated. But officials say so far safe to drink.

LEMON: Now the news Mike Pence order to testify about former President Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. So, the questions that he still does not have to answer, that's next.


MIKE PENCE, 48TH VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to hide. We're currently speaking to our attorneys about the proper way forward. And as I said we'll have a decision in the coming days.




COLLINS: All right a big win for the Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is investigating former President Trump and his role on January 6. The judge has ordered for Vice President Mike Pence to testify about conversations that he had with Trump leading up to that day.

The Former Vice President has so far declined to testify, even though he has said publicly and he's written in his book about Trump endangering his life. And he says everyone else at the Capitol that day. In an interview yesterday, Pence told Newsmax that he hasn't decided if he is going to appeal this new ruling.


PENCE: The requirements of my testimony going forward are a subject of our review right now. And I'll have more to say about that in the days ahead. Let me be clear, I have nothing to hide. I have a constitution to uphold that. We're currently speaking to our attorneys about the proper way forward. And as I said, we'll have a decision in the coming days.


LEMON: So, Pence joins a list of former Trump White House officials who have been ordered to testify including Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows. So, let's bring in now Jamil Jaffer, he was Associate Counsel to President George W. Bush and the Founder of Executive of the National and Executive I should say, Director of the National Security Institute at George Mason Law School. Thank you for joining us. Good morning to you.


LEMON: So, what do you think the, what are the odds, is it going to end up testifying?

JAFFER: You know, I think it's very possible, you know, what the judge found, and we don't have the actual ruling itself, unfortunately. But what the judge found was that the executive privilege, which is what protects the president's advice that he gets from his close advisers, his cabinet like that that didn't apply and didn't bar Vice President Pence's testimony. But he did find that the vice president who plays this odd role between the executive and legislative branch is under the constitution. He is also the president's Senate; he found that that might limit some of the testimony that Vice President Pence has to give about the day of January 6, when he did actually talk to President Trump, but his actions on that day because he was acting as the President's Senate in his capacity there.

COLLINS: Yes. And we should note, the reason we haven't seen it is because it's under seal. So, none of us have seen it. This is all based on reporting that we have from sources. But based on that, and the fact that Pence kind of already has written about what actually happened on January 6. How problematic do you think it is for Trump, if Pence is going to go and testify about the conversations they had leading up to that day?

JAFFER: Well, you know, Kaitlan, I think it's, it's potentially very problematic, because as we saw in the January 6 hearings that the committee held up, there's a lot of information about what President Trump knew about what was going to happen at the Capitol that day. His role, you know, the conversations he had with staff, and, of course, Vice President Pence, he didn't have a conversation on that day.

But there's a lot of information about the lead up to the events that might demonstrate that he had some level of culpability, and that he wanted congress to be unable to certify the election, you want a vice president to overturn the election. And all of that goes right at the issues that the Special Counsel Jack Smith is looking at.

LEMON: OK, unless I'm hearing wrong, you sort of alluded to what I want to play. This is Pence. This is him back in February, arguing that the separation of powers would give him cover, watch this.


PENCE: I'm going to fight the Biden DOJ subpoena for me to appear before the grand jury, because I believe it's unconstitutional. And it's unprecedented. My fight is on the principle of separation of powers in the Constitution of the United States.


LEMON: So, I'm wondering what you think of that, because he still has the ability to appeal. And on what grounds, do you think he has the best chance for that the best defense?

JAFFER: Yes, look, you know, it's interesting. Vice President Pence did not argue that the executive privilege bars his testimony. President Trump's lawyers made that argument that would have been an argument he could have made, but he didn't. He did make the argument that this issue of separation of powers, him acting as the President of the Senate, in his legislative capacity, even though he's the Vice President of the United States, protects them.

And that the speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution that protects members of Congress, when they're acting in their official capacity, that that protects him, and that that ought to be upheld so if he, if he's already gotten something of a decent ruling, we don't know the details, but it sounds like the judge there, gave him some room.

If he wants to get that ruling to go further and give him more protection and prevent him from testifying at all, he might go to the court of appeals. But my guess is, he probably moves forward and does testify, and then we'll see what happens. Of course, the hard thing for Vice President Mike Pence is, he's thinking about running for president.

COLLINS: He is thinking about running for president. His team has kind of long conceded privately that they believed he'd have to testify about some stuff. But in the bigger picture that I think is important here is it's not just Pence. Trump's attorney went and testified in a separate investigation, the docks case last week without attorney client privilege.

Mark Meadows has to go testify in this January 6 case where that executive privilege, they did all these people around Trump are now being ordered to go and testify without these protections that typically some of them would have with about their private conversations with him.