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Piecing Together Shooter's Background; Gunman Bought Firearm Legally; Funeral for Alyssa Alhadeff; Trump to Meet with Families; Trump's Past Stance on Gun Control; Immigration Fixes Fail in Senate. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 16, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:15] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John Berman, in for John King.

Funerals begin for the victims of the Florida school massacre that killed 17 people, including a 14-year-old girl. President Trump says he's headed to Florida today to meet with, quote, some of the bravest people on earth, all while survivors and family members of victims beg for action from politicians.


CAMERON KASKY, SURVIVED SCHOOL SHOOTING This is a good time to talk about guns. Thoughts and prayers are appreciated. And everybody who's thinking about us and sending support, we do hear you and we appreciate you and we thank you. But there's much more that can be done. Much more that needs to be done. And much more that people like Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are not doing. And it's scary to think that these are the people who are making our laws when our community just took 17 bullets to the heart. And it feels like the only people who don't care are the people making the laws.


BERMAN: Seventeen bullets to the heart.

The city of Parkland, Florida, deep in grief today, laying to rest the first of 17 victims from Wednesday's shooting. Many students learned late last night about classmates or close friends who did not make it out of the school alive. One of those was 15-year-old Peter Wang. In his final moments, Peter held the door open so other students could escape.


KELSEY FRIEND, SURVIVED SHOOTING: Peter was very funny. I used to joke around with him and call him Peter Griffin, and he'd laugh with me. He was one of my closest friends. And he'd always -- he's was very kind. He died a gentleman holding the door for other students. And knowing he's gone is going to haunt me forever.


BERMAN: Later today, President Trump will travel to Parkland, Florida, to meet with those who are grieving.

Both senators from Florida, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson are also visiting today.

The Parkland gunman seemingly left a long trail of clues and hints about what he was planning. One of the shooters math teachers at the high school tells CNN he got a cautionary e-mail about the gunman in late 2016. The teach says administrators asked him to alert them if he saw the future gunman on campus with backpack.

We know the gunman shared posts on Instagram, posing with guns and knives, leaving comments around social media about mass shootings and violence.

CNN has learned that Broward County Sheriff's deputies were called to the family home of the shooter 39 times since 2010. Those emergency calls included reports of a mentally ill person and a domestic disturbance.

We also know that he legally purchased his weapon, an AR-15-style rifle, in Florida nearly a year ago. He discharged that firearm nearly 150 times during the massacre.

A source tells CNN, he has purchased at least three other guns over the last year as well. His public defender says he has suffered from mental illness for years.

I'm joined now by CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz for the very latest on the investigation.

Shimon, one of the things investigators are trying to do now, maybe the chief thing, is trying to piece together the last year.

SIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's exactly right, John. That is exactly what the FBI is trying to do, along with the ATF and certainly the Broward County Sheriff's Office.

Look, this is an important part of this investigation. A, they need to figure out what signs, what was missed here so they can learn lessons from it. And that's usually what they do in these types of shootings, in these types of situations. So they are going back. They're going probably back even further than a year to see what exactly was going on in his life.

Look, I mean the fact that police were called to his home 39 times. You know, we've heard students at the school saying that they were not surprised that he was behind this. They knew that he had a fascination for guns. They knew he had some problems. It seems to be the mental health issues here from the local -- from the local police who are saying this, other people who are saying that he had a lot of issues. So all of this certainly kind of giving us an idea of what -- the difficulty, perhaps, that this young man was facing.

But, still, we don't have an exact reason as to why he picked a Valentine's Day, why he picked a school as the site of where he was going to do this shooting. We know he had some issues there. We don't know exactly what those issues were. And certainly that is all still part of the investigation. Maybe we will learn a little bit more today if the police, we're told, hold a -- they may hold a press conference. Perhaps we'll learn more.

But there's so many questions that still remain here in terms of the motive. What exactly led up to this? We have a good picture. Certainly the social media stuff helps us, but exactly what police are working with, we don't know.

BERMAN: We learned yesterday that the gunman purchased his weapon a little less than a year ago legally, and we heard from an attorney from the gun shop owners. Let's listen.

[12:05:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGLAS RUDMAN, ATTORNEY FOR GUN SHOP OWNERS: The Morrisons (ph) here sold a lawful weapon to someone who was mentally ill. Someone who fell through the cracks. Someone who was not held accountable for their actions when they were expelled from school. Someone who was not put into any sort of database. And someone who was essentially allowed to go unchecked before walking into this store and purchasing a firearm.


BERMAN: Someone who fell through the cracks, he said. Well, that someone, we learned, discharged that weapon 150 times inside the school, Shimon. And also, I understand, purchased three other weapons. What more are we learning here?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, we don't know exactly what the other weapons were that he purchased. You know, another part of this is going to be, where was he getting the money to buy these firearms? Where did that money come from? We don't know if he was working. Was it someone -- one of his friends or someone in the family that was helping him purchase this? So that also is probably part of the investigation.

You know, it's interesting to see, to hear the lawyer there from the gun shop saying that, you know, someone fell through the cracks, because the gun shop, according to our sources, did the necessary background checks and there was nothing, nothing in his background that prevented them from selling him the weapon that was used in the shooting. So by all accounts, the gun shop here did what they were supposed to do. The law is anyone over 18 is allowed to buy this AR- 15-style weapon. So certainly it's interesting to hear the attorney come out and say this.

BERMAN: Right.

PROKUPECZ: But he's exactly right, they did what they were supposed to do in this case.

BERMAN: And the law for handguns, by the way, is 21, not 18. A different law for AR-15 style weapons.

Shimon, one last thing here. Again, the FBI has faced so many questions about that YouTube posting where someone with this killer's name said he wants to be a professional school shooter. The FBI talked to the person who reported that comment, never apparently tracked down, as far as we know, the shooter himself.

But there are questions, and I know the FBI is frustrated by this, Shimon, because even had they tracked him down, it's not totally clear they could have necessarily done anything about it.

PROKUPECZ: Right. That's exactly right, John, it isn't. I think they're still trying to -- they have some answers, the FBI. They have done their own internal work to find out what exactly they did here. But they're still continuing to see if there's anything they should have done better.

And they are -- they are limited. What -- so let's say they say if we did know who he was, if we did identify him, what other steps can we take to have prevented this? There's probably almost nothing they could have done. But they're still looking and they should be looking to see what else they could have done.

You know, maybe they could have alerted the local police to this, had they identified him, and then maybe the police then do their own investigation and they would have found out, oh, we've been to his home 39 times, he has these issues at school. I -- you know, it's not clear, really, John. I mean this is -- this come up a lot in these kinds of situations where we hear that there are these warning signs that were missed, people knew things, neighbors saw things, family saw things, there's all this social media stuff but no one reports it to the police.

BERMAN: Right.

PROKUPECZ: And that's what the sheriff has been saying the last, you know, two days, that if you see something, say something, no matter what it is.

BERMAN: Right.

PROKUPECZ: The sheriff keeps saying, this was a key issue here, that no one said anything to the police.

BERMAN: Well, something was said to the FBI and people -- the police were called to the home. The question is, as the law currently stands right now, even then, what could the police have done to stop this beforehand? Unclear.

Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much for the reporting.

As thousands mourn the lives lost in Wednesday's massacre, the first funeral was held earlier today for one of the victims. Friends and family gathered to say goodbye to 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff this morning. The high school freshman being remembers as a soccer standout, smart, beautiful, talented. As her grieving parents try to find a way forward, they do have a message for the nation. Listen to what they had to say to Alisyn Camerota.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LORI ALHADEFF, MOTHER OF ALYSSA ALHADEFF: I just saw my daughter, cold as can be, shot in the heart, shot in the head, shot in the hand, dead, cold as can be. She's gone. I don't think I can wrap my head around that or no other person in the world could either.

My child is dead. I can't help her. But I can help all those other kids at Stoneman Douglas High School and all the other kids in America and around the world. We have to protect our children. We have to fight for them.


BERMAN: Shot in the hand, shot in the head, shot in the heart.

Gary Tuckman was at the funeral. He joins us now from North Lauderdale.

Gary, I have to imagine this funeral, heart-wrenching.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, so difficult, John. It's painful.

As we speak, Alyssa is being laid to rest. A short time ago, her service did conclude in this funeral chapel behind me.

We weren't allowed to have a camera inside, but what I can tell you is this, it was completely packed. Her parents, her two younger brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins, her friends from her summer camp and her friends from her high school who were survivors of the shooting from two days ago. Hundreds of people inside. Obviously very sad, but also inspiring because Alyssa was so inspiring.

[12:10:12] As you mentioned earlier, she's described by everybody we talked to, her life as a great life because she was friendly, she was caring, she was nice, and she was considerate, she was beautiful, she was smart, athletic, a star on her soccer team, had an incredibly bright future. And that's why every death is painful. But when you have a child who dies, it's so much more extremely painful.

And we've covered so many of these, John. So many school shootings. And for us as journalists, it gets harder and harder each time we cover them.

Lori and Alon, her parents, very gracious people. We met them yesterday and talked to them. And I think what stands out with these parents is, right now they are -- they are still in a state of shock. As the days and weeks go on, they will need to be around people who love them because it gets harder and harder once they realize that their daughter is not coming back. Yes, they know that now, but it becomes more in depth and more focused as the days and weeks go on. So they're very angry and upset and passionate. But it also stands out what you just heard in the interview this morning, is they already want to help other children.

And this is what's notable. A sad irony here, John. Nine months ago, Alyssa's mother Lori signed a petition on FaceBook in May of 2017, after a number of school shootings. This is the irony. She said this in a comment on FaceBook. Metal detectors are a start for administrators and parents to implement something in the schools to be proactive against violence. It should be in all schools, not just in middle and high schools. And nine months later, she and her husband go through this.


BERMAN: Gary Tuckman for us. Our heart does go out to that family. And as you know, Gary, this will not get easier over the coming days.

Fourteen-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff, you know, again, among the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A teacher, a football coach, an athletic director, several young students were among those who died Wednesday. Their lives so tragically cut short in a community that was named Florida's safest city last year. The school remains closed today as the district offers grief counseling to students and their families.


[12:16:39] BERMAN: Welcome back.

Look, everywhere this morning, you will find messages to the president. Pick up "The New York Post," the president's favorite newspaper, you will see this, "Mr. President, please act." Turn on CNN and this message from grieving parents, Mr. President, imagine if this happened to your son.


LORI ALHADEFF, MOTHER OF ALYSSA ALHADEFF: President Trump, Barron goes to school. Let's protect Barron and let's not -- let's also protect all these other kids here in Parkland, in Florida, and everyone everywhere else in the United States of America, because we earned it, just like how you earned the right to protect Barron. You need to help us now. We need security now for all these children that have to go to school. We need action! Action! Action!


BERMAN: The president, this morning, seems to be indicating that he is listening. This is what he wrote. I'll be leaving for Florida today to meet with some of the bravest people on earth, but people whose lives have been totally shattered. Am also working with Congress on many fronts.

Now, in that last sentence, the president suggests that he's willing to do something. In fact, he's saying that he is doing something. The potential hurdles to doing anything on gun violence, though, are many. Here are two to start.

One, it's difficult to assess how adding gun laws would have stopped many of these massacres. Which specific law would have made what difference where? And, two, doing anything on guns is remarkably difficult, especially in an election year. Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's MJ

Lee, Philip Bump of "The Washington Post," and "New York Times'" Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, you know, let me start with you. The president telling us he's going down to Florida to meet with people down there. This is what presidents do. This is what presidents should do in times like this.

The president also said he's working with Congress on many fronts on guns. I don't know specifically what he's talking about there, but that would be new.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It would be new. I don't know what it means.

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: One of the things that Donald Trump often says when he wants to deflect on something specific is say, I'm working on a lot of things. I don't know what this refers to.

So -- but what we do know is that he is going to make this trip. We know that he was going to Florida anyway to go to his private club there. And what we know is that he is unlikely to get a very warm reception when he goes to Parkland. There are a lot of angry parents. There are a lot of angry elected officials.

This has not typically been his strong suit is dealing with moments like this.

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: And the White House, you know, on the one hand, you have aides who will privately acknowledge, and they are not in any way trying to suggest that they are happy about what is a horrible event in Florida, but there are aides who are, if they are being honest, are relieved to not be talking about a personnel scandal that has dominated for two weeks, but they don't really know what to do about this either. And there is no master plan at work.

BERMAN: I mean, you know, as we were saying, it is the job of the president to comfort folks. And as you were saying, the reception there, who knows what it is.

We did hear from the vice mayor of Broward County. Let me read this. This just came from my inbox. Mark Bogan says, him coming here -- the president coming here -- is absolutely absurd and he's a hypocrite. How could you come here and talk about how horrible it is when you support these laws?

You know, Philip Bump, when you're dealing with President Trump, though, and you're trying to find where he stands on the issues, issues like this, big issues like guns. You know, it's hard when you go back decades. You know he was very pro-Second Amendment, pro-gun rights during the campaign. But all you have to do is go back to 2000 and you can find this. [12:20:01] Let me read you this excerpt from his book, "The America We

Deserve." Democrats wants to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only law abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed. The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions. I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun. With today's Internet technology, we should be able to tell within 72 hours if a potential gun owner has a record.

The fact that he's saying he supports an assault weapon ban in 2000, you know, while also saying he's not really for gun control, Philip, that would be huge if the president were to say that today, but I don't see that coming.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. Yes, I don't see that coming either. He seems to have gone through sort of a pretty significant political shift in about 2008, 2009 that was the point of which he actually became a registered Republican. It was a point in which he actually started to embrace a lot of the more hard right positions that he's advocated since then.

I think it's worth pointing out, to the point that you were making earlier about -- about policies that might actually have made a difference in some of these shootings. An assault weapons ban. There was a study that was done that a colleague of mine reported on. There actually was, during the period during which the assault weapons ban was in place, the number of mass shootings and the number of people killed during those mass shootings was noticeably down. Both of those things had declined. And then they rose again after the ban had expired. So that is actually one thing that may be a policy that could be put into place.

But it's important to remember, Trump is very, very -- he's consistently shown a lot of loyalty to the people that brought him to the dance of the White House, right? And the NRA was a loyal supporter of Donald Trump. Donald Trump was a loyal -- he was -- he has always demonstrated loyalty to what he once called the Second Amendment people. There's little indication at this point that that political loyalty is wavering.

BERMAN: You just (INAUDIBLE) the assault weapons ban. You're absolutely right on that. The reason that I did not put that in that same bucket is because I think there's a zero percent chance that you will see an assault weapons ban in this environment now.

BUMP: That's right.

BERMAN: There are other things that are being discussed where there's maybe a 15 percent chance, but not zero, which assault weapons is right now.

Yesterday, you know, MJ, you did hear some people say it's too early to discuss this right now. But, to me, I didn't hear that quite as much as I had heard in the past. Instead what you heard is Republicans in administration, loyalists, sort of shifting and talking about mental illness, talking about enforcing laws on the books. This was the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, this morning.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We've already, at the direction of the president, commenced a campaign to crack down on criminals with guns. Our prosecutions are up 23 percent already this year, the highest, I think, in ten years. We need to do a better job of receiving warning signs and acting on them. And our team -- and we wrestled with this yesterday. We think that somehow, some way, school systems have got to be emboldened to confront people, kids that they think are dangerous.


BERMAN: It does strike me, MJ, that the message that the president is trying to send, the attorney general is trying to send here, is we're doing something. Again, we're not quite sure what it is just yet, but they want to try to tell the people in Florida that there is action happening.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And we don't know, as, you know, Maggie, you were saying what exactly the president will say. You would assume that the White House team will work with the president because of the, you know, the sensitivities around the fact that there are going to be grieving parents that so many students had died along with adults as well.

I do think it's worth keeping in mind some of the initial reactions to this tragedy that we saw from President Trump. In a tweet he said, make sure if you see something, you do something. Essentially saying, if you see someone who is disturbed, you should say something, even though in a state like Florida, law enforcement, even if they did get reports like that, they actually couldn't do something. They couldn't actually take action, like taking away guns.

From someone like House Speaker Paul Ryan, I think his first words to the event, reaction to the event were something along the lines of, let's take a step back and make sure that we count our blessings for the time being. You know, that is not the tone that we have seen from parents. John, I know that you were down there yesterday talking to some of these students who had just experienced this. They are angry. They are, you know, directing calling on Congress to take action, and taking action is not what Republicans want to talk about at this moment in time.

BERMAN: All right, guys, stick around. We're going to talk much more about this very subject.

Now, it's the Senate's much awaited immigration debate really over before it began and Congress under pressure to reexamine gun laws. What will or can Washington do?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:28:38] BERMAN: Four bills, four ways to tackle immigration. Four votes, four defeats on the Senate floor. And this morning, questions of what now? The president content to blame Democrats for failing DACA recipients who could soon be deported. Cannot believe how badly DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats. Totally abandoned. Republicans are still working hard, the president claims.

For legislators it's on to the House and a conservative bill there that mirrors the president's immigration framework that was rejected in the upper chamber, rejected more soundly than anything else that was proposed there.

Let's bring in CNN's Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill.

Phil, let's start with a reality check here. Is there a plan b for lawmakers?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, John, in short the answer is, no, at least not in the Senate. You talk to Senate lawmakers, Senate aides, Republicans and Democrats, they say plainly, they don't know what happens next. There are other proposals that are out there. Some pared-back proposals. But in terms of floor time, in terms of debate time, there's nothing that's set right now.

Now, you mentioned the House proposal. There's a very conservative House proposal that would deal with legal status for the dreamers, not citizenship, in exchange for border wall money. But also some very intensive interior border security issues that make it very unpalatable, not just to Democrats, but to a lot of moderate Republicans.

John, House Republican leaders have been whipping that bill. They don't have the votes right now to get it through the majority Republican House, let alone get it through the upper chamber. So when you talk about legislative fixes right now, there's no real answer, there's no real pathway. And I think a lot of people right now are just staring at the courts to figure out what's going to kind of make anything happen in the future.

[12:30:07] BERMAN: You've been talking to lawmakers and senior aides today.


BERMAN: Do they have an end game.