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17 Killed, 15 Hospitalized In Florida School Shooting; NYT: Aides Urged Trump To Speak About Florida School Massacre; Trump Speaks Out Against Domestic Violence; Florida School Shooting Suspect's Troubled Past. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 15, 2018 - 07:30   ET


[07:30:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: But he has to know that one, the citizenry is not the first line of damned defense this kind of situation and even if all of those things had been reported in Florida, you couldn't have taken any of the weapons away from this man. You couldn't even have stopped him from getting a weapon in Florida.

So, what is the president talking about?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The president has blamed it, in a sense, on mental health. All of the responsibility should be on people looking for troubled young men, alienated, and potentially dangerous.

Well, there are a lot of those young men in our society and a lot around the world. Why does the United States --

CUOMO: Right.

BLUMENTHAL: -- of America have such a high rate of mass --

CUOMO: Right.

BLUMENTHAL: -- gun violence?

The answer is very simply that consistent with the Second Amendment we can tighten the rules that apply to gun purchases so that there are background checks, and so that restraining orders, for example, on men who have threatened women and who are convicted of that kind of domestic violence are prevented from gaining weapons.

These kinds of measures -- they're common sense -- actually work, and again, the state's experience reflects it.

And you are absolutely right. You made a really key point that our state boundaries are porous. There's no way that guns can be prevented from coming into Connecticut from a state like South Carolina where the rules are so much less responsible. And we are at the mercy of the weakest states, even when we have the strongest gun laws.

CUOMO: Well, it has to start with the fundamental question, Senator. You have to have politicians on both sides of the aisle asking how do we stop these school shootings. Before that happens, no other step can follow logically or practically.

But, Senator, thank you for stating the obvious this morning. We appreciate you being on the show, as always.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right.

President Trump just tweeted about the deadly shooting. Here is it again. I think it's important that you hear it because it expresses so much about how stupid this situation is.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior." That's all true.

"Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem." That is also true.

"Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

The president, so far, hasn't spoken publicly about the tragedy but I think the tweet is enough to show where his head is on this and what it is that he fundamentally doesn't get.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

You reported, Maggie -- thank you for being with us this morning -- that his aides have been asking him to do more. Maybe he made the right call because that's a dumb thing he just put out because while all of those things are true, none of them -- you can call the police all you want. You're not taking this young man's gun away from him.


CUOMO: He either doesn't understand how the law works or he's being glib and trying to cast blame somewhere else. Whatever it is --


CUOMO: -- I don't know how it's helpful.

HABERMAN: Right. We're at some combination of both. Look, I think we may still hear from him but yesterday, he was reluctant to do so.

And look, that is not to your point. It's not his strong suit on being the comforter-in-chief, being the person who sends sort of a moral message. We have very infrequently seen him do that.

A lot of people, I think for good reason, were contrasting how he handled a situation where 17 school kids were killed against what President Obama did after Sandy Hook, which was devastating and terrible and involved very young children, but these are all schoolchildren. And to your point, talking about how this involves people where there were warning signs. You and I have covered a lot of these kinds of shootings. There are always warning signs and there was always a lot of what could have been done differently at various points.

But as you note, none of those would have prevented this unless it would have been some kind of -- you know, putting him in a facility or putting him a place where --

CUOMO: Right. If you could have triggered a 24-hour --

HABERMAN: Correct.

CUOMO: -- hold by showing --

HABERMAN: Correct.

CUOMO: -- that he's a threat to himself or someone else. It's a very high bar, difficult to get.

HABERMAN: It's a high bar and you don't -- you don't know --

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: -- what was done.

CUOMO: The president, I think inadvertently, outlined the problem with the system while trying to put it on the --

HABERMAN: I don't -- I don't think it was -- it was intentional, no.

CUOMO: Because if you think about it he's kicked out of school, he's not allowed on campus.


CUOMO: He's crazy online with what he's saying. He's being treated for mental health --


CUOMO: -- and he's still able to buy a gun. That's the part of the tweet that the president left out.

HABERMAN: Correct.

CUOMO: That with all of this stuff -- forget about telling people to report it.


CUOMO: That's part of it but that's not the answer.


CUOMO: He was still able to get a gun. HABERMAN: Right.

CUOMO: And, obviously, he doesn't have the resolve to do anything about this. After Vegas, he said, "We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes on."


CUOMO: He hasn't said a word.

HABERMAN: He hasn't said a word.

The White House chose not to go forward with a briefing yesterday -- the daily press briefing -- which one has to assume is, in part, because they were facing yet another round of really uncomfortable questions for themselves about the Rob Porter situation, and this provided a reason to not do it.

[07:35:08] Usually, in this kind of a situation you don't need to hype up necessarily with hardened policy solutions right then, but you say something --

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: -- and they have said extremely little. It is really scary.

There is now a national conversation among parents about what you tell your own children --


HABERMAN: -- about this kind of thing. We have had these kinds of conversations now since 1999, since Columbine --

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: -- when it became clear that this was going to be the new norm and not sort of an isolated incident every now and then.

Part of the presidency is that you provide leadership in moments like this and this has just not been what he does.

Look, you have a -- you have a Congress that is relocked (ph). You have had issues going back to President Obama's term in terms of passing any new gun laws. So, this is obviously a very difficult issue. It is not solely the president who can do something.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: There are a lot of obstacles, to be clear.

But he is not stepping out and voicing what could be momentum for such a thing and every time the White House is faced with a question about gun laws they punt.

CUOMO: He could at least suggest that we have to stop the shootings.


CUOMO: That we have to figure out how, and a little bit of it falls on us.

And look, the Republicans hide in these situations. Marco Rubio said some things that sound right politically but they're wrong. This isn't an explicable tragedy. If you --

HABERMAN: No, no, it's not an act of God.

CUOMO: Right, and your prayer for victims.


CUOMO: What kind of prayer suggests that you will do nothing?

But where is he this morning? He's on "FOX." Where's Gov. Scott this morning? They're on "FOX." They're in the mothership.

You know, I hope our brothers and sisters over there take their responsibility seriously. You've the access to these people. They think it's a safe haven.

Ask them the questions that matter because that's why they're there. They're hiding -- don't let them hide.

Now, on the president, he's got more on his plate, as you indicated. The Porter debacle is not going away for several reasons. One, it was handled lousy and lied about.


CUOMO: Two, it matters because of the intelligence and classified information, and who can see it and who can't.


CUOMO: Third, about domestic violence, which the president at least made a start yesterday saying of course, I don't like domestic violence. But he didn't say anything about Porter's ex-wives and he needs to because he disrespected them, initially.

What is going on there?

HABERMAN: I think it's everything that -- everything you just described is what's going on, and I think this particular issue basically encapsulates all of the most negative aspects of this White House. Abuse, bullying, not telling the truth either to each other within the West Wing or to reporters about what happened. Not taking the role of public service particularly seriously.

An initial instinct to hunker down and say we're under attack, you know. We need to defend ourselves, which is what they did in this White House throughout on Tuesday night. And that remains, I think -- at least in part -- where the president's head is.

The president was aware on Tuesday night -- last Tuesday night, I'm talking about now when this originally broke --

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: -- that there had been this issue with Rob Porter. It's not clear to me at all how many details he was aware of but you are correct.

But again, it's the same issue as with a shooting. There is a leadership component to this job that is sort of the major one.

CUOMO: Pence is even saying the reaction to Porter -- the reaction could have been better by the White House.

HABERMAN: He is, except he's saying it as if the White House isn't the building that he works in. He says the White House --


HABERMAN: -- could have handled this better --


HABERMAN: -- as opposed to we could have all handled this better.

CUOMO: Right, all right.

HABERMAN: And most of them -- look, to be fair, there are members of this White House who have acknowledged they could have been better. It's a -- it's sort of a minimalist statement. But from a White House that very rarely admits mistakes it's striking.

But you are not seeing much more beyond that yet and I don't -- I don't think -- I understand that we are on a major national incident right now and I think that the focus is appropriately going to be there for a while, but I do think that the questions about Porter are going to remain unresolved.

And you now have Republicans in Congress starting to ask questions about it and that, I think, is where you are seeing a major shift.


HABERMAN: Well, but Republicans in Congress would not actually have shown a huge appetite to investigate certain things that have happened --

CUOMO: Absolutely true.

HABERMAN: -- in this -- in this White House are now -- this appears to be a bridge too far for at least some of them.

CUOMO: Absolutely true. Even Paul Ryan, when forced to kind of address this, said we should all be talking about -- he couldn't call out the president for what he did.


CUOMO: It's obvious as he was -- as obvious as he used to be, Ryan --


CUOMO: -- in talking about Obama.

And you did have a hundred White House staffers on interim execute clearance --


CUOMO: -- for a long time. It's a real issue.

But, to your point, Porter keeps them shy about coming out.


CUOMO: Stormy Daniels --


CUOMO: -- keeps them shy about coming out.


CUOMO: What is the reaction to Trump's personal lawyer coming out and saying I paid the money out of my account -- the president didn't even know -- or Mr. Trump, at the time, didn't even know?

HABERMAN: Among West Wing aides it's not clear to me what the president's reaction was. Among West Wing aides there was a certain discomfort about the fact that it was, once again, coming out. They would like the entire issue to go away.

As you know, they have done everything they can to pretend it doesn't exist. Certain events that are swirling around, I think are going to make that easier for them for the time being.

But that's another one that's not going away because while Michael Cohen said I used personal funds to do this, I was facilitating a payment, there are still a lot of questions about whether he was reimbursed, whether Trump knew, whether there was any arrangement about the repayment.

[07:40:15] This is not going away, either.

CUOMO: Maggie Haberman, thank you for helping us understand what's going on inside --

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- the White House.

All right. Alisyn, please, back to you in Florida.


We are learning so much every minute here in Parkland about what happened, what the signs were, and about this suspect's past.

So, this suspect had just lost his mother. He moved in with a friend's family.

We have the attorney for that family who took him in. He's going to join us next to tell us what that family saw as early as yesterday morning. That's next.


CAMEROTA: I'm here in Parkland, Florida, the scene of this high school massacre. This is where investigators are asking anyone who knows the school shooting suspect to speak with them. The FBI is also asking for anyone with video of the massacre to get it to them. They are still looking for clues.

One family cooperating with investigators is the family that took in the suspect. He was living with them. He moved in with them around Thanksgiving. They gave this suspect a home after his mother died this past November.

[07:45:10] So joining us now is Jim Lewis. He's the attorney representing that family.

Jim, thank you very much for being here.

This family, I know they feel sickened and what, devastated today. Tell us about why they took him in three months ago.

JIM LEWIS, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING FAMILY WHO TOOK IN SUSPECT: Well, he really didn't have a lot of choices.

His mom had died, he wasn't doing well where he was staying. And after about a week, around Thanksgiving, he knew the son because they had met each other here at this high school last year and they offered him a home -- they had a room. He really had no other options and they brought him in.

CAMEROTA: Did they see troubling signs of any behavioral problems with him?

LEWIS: They saw some depression, obviously. He'd lost his mom. But they helped him get a job at a Dollar Tree store. They got him going to an adult education so he could try to get his GED, and he seemed to be doing better.

CAMEROTA: Because he was expelled from this high school -- the high school that he went into and brought his AR-15-style weapon into, he was expelled. So, what was that about?

LEWIS: Well, that was over a year ago and it's an understanding there was some disciplinary problems and fights. He's a smaller kid and some indication that there might have been some bullying going on.

But again, he'd been away from this school for over a year and had never shared with them any contempt for the school or anybody here. No anger, just a lot of depression and stuff going on around the loss of his mother.

CAMEROTA: Beyond the depression, did he seem mentally ill to them?

LEWIS: They didn't see that. They didn't see a mentally ill person or they never would have let him live under their home. These folks opened their home out just to try to help the young man because he really had no other place to go.

They did not see any danger, they didn't see any kind of predilection that this was going to happen, and they are horrified just like everybody else. They're a part of this community.

Their son was here at this school during the shooting and didn't know anything about it.

CAMEROTA: He was -- he was a student here.

LEWIS: He's a student here now.

CAMEROTA: He's a current student here and he was there at the time of the shooting?

LEWIS: Right, and didn't know anything about it. And there are texts between the two of them earlier in the day and there's nothing ominous --

CAMEROTA: What did those texts say?

LEWIS: Just how you doing, what's going on. Yo, you coming over later. That kind of stuff. Nothing to indicate that anything bad was going to happen.

CAMEROTA: Is it possible their son was a target?

LEWIS: I -- we don't know. We don't think so. We don't know anything what was in the motive. These folks are just as out of the clue as anybody else as to what the motive for this shooting was.

CAMEROTA: Did this family know he had a gun?

LEWIS: He had it. He brought into the -- into the residence with the rest of his personal possessions. It was locked in a gun safe. That was their rules.

As to how he ended up with the gun on this particular day we don't know.

CAMEROTA: Well, it was his gun. That's how he ended up with it. It was his gun.

LEWIS: It was his gun. CAMEROTA: He had a key to that lockbox, right?

LEWIS: And -- yes, it was his lockbox, and his gun, in his room.

And these folks are horrified. They did not see this coming at all from this young man.

CAMEROTA: Did it worry them that a 19-year-old had an AR-15 while he was depressed?

LEWIS: You know, I really can't speak to that right now. Obviously, people are going to try to find fault from them -- that they should have --

CAMEROTA: I'm not trying to cast --

LEWIS: -- seen everything and known everything.

CAMEROTA: Listen, Jim, I'm not trying to cast fault on them. The fault lies with the shooter, OK, but should a depressed 19-year-old young man have an AR-15? I mean, isn't this one of the warnings --

LEWIS: Well, that's --

CAMEROTA: -- signs?

LEWIS: That's something that Congress and everybody has been debating for years, what the parameters should be.


LEWIS: This family did what they thought was right, which was take in a troubled kid and tried to help him, and that doesn't mean that he can't bring his stuff into their house. They had it locked up and believed that that was going to be sufficient -- that there wasn't going to be a problem.

Nobody saw this kind of aggression or motive in this kid that he would ever do anything like this.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Listen, all I'm asking you for are clues because investigators are talking to this family and they're looking for clues.

So, did the family think that there was anything going on with him? Did they think that he was violent?

LEWIS: Everything in this day -- no, nothing that he was -- any hint of being violent. This day seemed very normal. Looking back at it, the only thing that they see is he did not go up and go with the father to the school that day. And the reason --

CAMEROTA: You mean to work?

LEWIS: But no, to school. He was going to an adult education place to try to get his GED and the father would normally take him on his way to work in the morning.

CAMEROTA: So, what did -- what happened in the morning? Why didn't he go?

LEWIS: When they tried to wake him up and get him up he said something to the effect of it's Valentine's Day. I don't go to school on Valentine's Day.

CAMEROTA: And what did they think about that?

LEWIS: They just blew it off to some -- you know, this is some kid that -- 19-year-old that just didn't want to get up and go to school that day, and left it at that.

CAMEROTA: Did he have a relationship -- like a romantic relationship? Was there a girlfriend involved?

LEWIS: We're not aware of any. There's none that we really hear about.

But, you know, he was a little bit of a loner. A little -- I've heard him described as being a little quirky but nothing to indicate that he was violent, that he was ever aggressive towards anyone or threatening towards anyone.

CAMEROTA: You know, he had a big digital footprint. Were they aware of any of his social media postings?

LEWIS: They're not social media people, OK? They're parents. They're just not that kind of folks.

And he's an adult and they tried to help him. But did they check up on him and follow him every minute of every day? They didn't because they didn't see any of the signs that would indicate that there was anything really amiss that he was capable of something violent.

[07:50:04] CAMEROTA: What about the son, his friend from high school? Did he know that he had social media postings?

LEWIS: I'm not -- I'm not sure. The son -- these folks are in shock. You have to understand they don't know which way is up right now.

Their home is being turned inside out. They cooperated with the police. We were down there late talking to them, answering all the police questions, showing them phones.

They opened their house up. The police got a search warrant because there may be a legal issue because the shooter had a room in the house and he wasn't there to consent, so they got a search warrant.

But this family and the son have cooperated with law enforcement every which way they can.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I know. I mean, this is just trying to piece together the clues to see if there's any red flags. And listen, depression is a red flag with young men. Access to a

weapon is a red flag with young men. And, you know, we all have to sort of be vigilant about this.

So, what is the family saying today? How are they doing? What are they doing with their son? How are they explaining all of this?

LEWIS: They're keeping close. They are holding close to their son. They're happy that law enforcement doesn't consider their son had anything to do with this, so they're happy to be vindicated in that way.

But they're just so bereaved like everybody else here at the loss of all of these young lives for no good reason, and they care about this kid. They took him into the home. But as the mother told me, if they had any inkling that there was something that this kid was capable of something like this they never would have brought him into their home.

You don't see that. You don't think that somebody that -- like this that comes into your home is capable of something like this. It's beyond the pale that they could ever imagine something like this would happen.

CAMEROTA: Of course.

Jim Lewis, thank you very much --

LEWIS: My pleasure.

CAMEROTA: -- for giving us insight into all of this.


CAMEROTA: So, Chris, listen, this family thought that they were helping out a 19-year-old kid who was in trouble. His mom had just died -- the only person that he had supporting him. He was living alone and this is what has happened today.

Now, obviously, their house is being turned upside down and police are trying to figure out what they should have seen.

CUOMO: Yes, I don't envy their position. Alisyn, thank you for the information.

Police say the shooting suspect was armed with an AR-15-style rifle. You hear this term all the time. It is very popular in mass shootings.

Why is it so common? Why is it so apparently easy to get? Facts first, next.


CUOMO: All right, I want to give you some facts about the weapon involved. But first, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Gov. Scott, they are fundamental to the conversation that we need to have that we're not having, which starts with a basic question. What are we going to do stop the shootings? They don't even want to ask the question.

Senator Rubio says this is an inexplicable tragedy. That couldn't be more wrong. It's easy to explain.

They won't come on this morning. It's a mistake. It's not about just condemning or having a fight. They need to be out there and answering the questions that matter right now.

Governor Scott is fighting to penalize doctors to even ask questions if their patients have firearms.

They need to come on. They can't just be on "FOX." You can't hide in a situation like this. Please come on and make the case to the American people.

Now, facts first about the weapon. Law enforcement say that we, once again, have seen the 223-caliber AR-15-style firearm being used. AR is an ArmaLite rifle, OK? It's a semi-automatic weapon.

Many people think AR stands for automatic rifle. It doesn't, and it also doesn't really matter. For gun enthusiasts to get more upset about how people pronounce the name of the weapon than how easy it is to get is shameful.

[07:55:05] The gun fires a bullet each time the trigger is pulled. That's what semi-automatic means, and it then it automatically reloads.

In 2016, AR-15-style guns made up an estimated 61 percent of all U.S. civilian rifle sales, OK? It's a style, right, it's not just one maker, and there are reasons for that.

It's modular, meaning you can add features to personalize it, including -- you know, you can play with different parts of it with kits and you can make it repeat in three-shot bursts or even more. It's considered lightweight. It's easy to maintain.

Now, one of the reasons it's so popular, the patent expired so any company can manufacture a gun like it, all right? So, that's the AR- 15.

Now, the shootings that we've seen with this. It just keeps being used for these massacres because of all of these features I just told you about. It being easy to use, and all this fire, and the caliber bullet, and all the damage it can do.

Last October's Las Vegas shooting. The June 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, a death toll of 107 there. Mass school shootings, 2012.

The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary was armed with two handguns. He had an AR-15-style weapon. He killed 26.

Of course, yesterday, the shooter used one that killed 17 more people.

Now, this type of weapon first rose to national attention in 1989. A 24-year-old used an AK-47 -- you've probably heard that term as well. It's an imported competitor to the AR-15, and he shot up a grade school playground and killed five kids and them himself.

Now at the time, Colt Industries manufactured the AR-15. They voluntarily suspended civilian sales for a year while the first Bush administration decided whether or not to ban the weapon. In the end, the administration banned most imports but they allowed continued production and sales of AR-type guns in the U.S.

Now, that take us to 1994. This is an important part of the history. President Bill Clinton shepherded the Federal Assault Weapons Ban through Congress. The 10-year ban did not do much to deter the production of the AR-15, however. Why, because there was a loophole.

The guns were banned, but only by name or if they had certain features. How is that a loophole? Because it allowed manufacturers to strip down the features mentioned in the law, change the names, and keep selling the same damn thing.

That ban expired in 2004 and obviously, has not been renewed.

All right. So, those are the facts about the weapon, why it's so popular, and frankly, one of the reasons that it's so easy to get before you even get to gun laws.

Now, certain states and localities do have bans on some of these types of guns -- most do not. Two states put extra regulations on AR-15- style gun ownership but most places, except D.C., allow grandfathered weapons to be registered.

It's complicated but you have to understand the complexity of it because it explains the frustrating situation that we're in, so let's get to that.

We have Dave Cullen with us. He's the author of "Columbine," a school were two students killed 12 students and one teacher nearly 20 years ago. David is here.

I was there at the time. As you remember, we believed that they were part of the nefarious trench coat mafia and this was some kind of discreet aspect of society and that's what was going on. It didn't mean anything for anybody anywhere else.

And, of course, boy, were we wrong. The only lesson we really learned was a tactical one -- that you have to go in. You can't and wring outside the way the police used to. But the police aren't the answer here.

What are the answers? The question, what do we do to stop the school shootings? Is there an answer?

DAVE CULLEN, AUTHOR, "COLUMBINE": Yes, there's a couple of things we can do. First of all, you know, I agree with everything you said there.

You know, I was in the infantry and seeing that rifle, it looks just like the M-16 we used, and an M-16 is to kill people. We were trained -- we were trained to kill people with that. They're assault weapons.

Nobody uses them for hunting. They're military weapons. They should be limited to the military and law enforcement. That seems like a no- brainer.

CUOMO: Would it matter?

CULLEN: Yes, it would totally matter.

You know, actually, I've been doing a lot of T.V. the last couple of weeks in -- Russian T.V. because it's not been reported much here but they've had a string of school stabbings across Russia and the country is kind of in a panic about it because they're pretty horrific. The last two, there were 12 to 15 people seriously injured in each one and I think there's been five of them over the last couple of months.

Total fatalities, zero. Nobody dies. It's almost impossible to get a weapon there and so this met a theoretical discussion and we've had this in some others countries, too. But we have a situation where the same thing is going on but they don't have access to guns and nobody dies.

CUOMO: What can you do without touching the gun issue? Is there any way to reduce the risk without touching what our politicians seems to feel will kill them if they touch them?

CULLEN: Yes, there are a couple of things we could do.