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NRA Leaders Call After Columbine; Paula Reed is Interviewed about Her Son in a Russian Jail; McConnell Praises Infrastructure Bill. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired November 10, 2021 - 06:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, secret recordings reveal NRA leaders in 1999, just days after the Columbine High School shooting, talking about canceling their annual convention scheduled days later nearby in Denver. This is according to some new reporting from NPR'S Tim Mak, who obtained the tapes of the private meetings. Columbine was, at the time, was one of the worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history with 12 students and one teacher killed.

Here is the NRA's top lobbyist at the time addressing the dilemma that the organization faced.


JIM BAKER, NRA'S TOP LOBBYIST: At the same period where they're going to be burying these children, we're going to be having media within 10 miles of our convention center, the world's media, trying to run through the exhibit hall, looking at kids fondling firearms, which is going to be a horrible, horrible, horrible juxtaposition.


KEILAR: The NRA leaders can also be heard disparaging some of their own members, the hardline gun activists.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA HEAD: You know, the other problem is, holding a member meeting without an exhibit hall --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not -- yes.

LAPIERRE: The people you are most likely to get in that member meeting without an exhibit hall are the nuts.


PR CONSULTANT: That -- I made that point earlier. I agree. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you've got to have --

PR CONSULTANT: The fruitcakes are going to show up.

MARION HAMMER, FORMER NRA PRESIDENT: You're going to have the wackos, with all kinds of crazy resolutions, with all kinds of dressing like a bunch of hillbillies and idiots.


KEILAR: CNN reach out to the NRA, and the people in those recordings that you just heard. We have not heard back.

Joining me now is the reporter who obtained those tapes, NPR's Tim Mak. His new book is called "Misfire: Inside the Downfall of the NRA."

I wonder, Tim, you know, if you're a dues paying -- I'm not saying you are, but if someone is a dues-paying member of the NRA, and they hear that kind of talk from the leadership, whackos, hillbillies, idiots how do they feel about that?

TIM MAK, OBTAINED SECRET RECORDINGS OF NRA OFFICIALS AFTER COLUMBINE: I imagine they're not feeling great about listening to the -- those sounds. I mean the NRA has always had an issue with some of its most passionate members also have more ideological views. But here you have, for the first time, you can kind of enter the room and hear what some of the executives and officials of this organization really think about those members and -- behind closed doors.

KEILAR: Yes, it's -- it's fascinating, really. Just -- clearly, they thought no one would ever hear this.

Can you tell us how the NRA is responding and also how NPR authenticated the tapes.

MAK: Yes. So, one of the ways we were able to authenticate the tapes were we checked with multiple sources about the identities of the tapes, as well as listening to publicly available audio to check against the sounds. And so that's -- and, of course, we reached out to all the players on the tape, as well as the NRA, for a response.

KEILAR: They didn't deny that it was them?

MAK: We did not provide them with the original audio. We provided them with transcripts of the audio.


So I want to listen to -- there's more, right? So let's listen to this. This is the internal deliberations about whether to cancel the NRA convention in the wake of Columbine.


NRA OFFICIAL: I got to tell you, we got to think this thing through because if we tuck tail and run, we're going to be accepting responsibility for what happened out there.

PR CONSULTANT: That's -- that's one very good argument, Jim. On the other side, if you don't appear to be deferential in honoring the dead, you end up being a tremendous (EXPLETIVE DELETED) head who wouldn't (ph) tuck tail and run.


KEILAR: What actually strikes me here, having covered now school shootings, is that back then there was actually a debate.

MAK: Well, what's so interesting about this tape is you can see in real time the NRA's leadership making these decisions and trying to figure out what their strategy is going to be after Columbine. And that has echoes for years and years to come in the other shootings that happened. What you hear in these tapes and what you -- what you read in my book, "Misfire," is what really happened behind the scenes in NRA headquarters as the decline of the NRA begins.

KEILAR: Yes. And your book is fascinating, by the way.

I also want to listen to something else from these tapes where they're talking about the potential of a victims' fund in the wake of Columbine.


NRA OFFICIAL: If there's something concrete that we can offer -- not because guns are responsible but because we care about these people -- is there anything -- does that look crass, or --

PR CONSULTANT: Like a victims' fund or --

NRA OFFICIAL: Yes, we create a victims' fund and we -- we give the victims a million dollars or something like that. Does that look bad or does it look --

PR CONSULTANT: Well, I mean, that can be twisted, too. I mean, why -- why are you giving money -- you feel responsible?

NRA OFFICIAL: Well, you're -- true, it could be twisted. But we feel sympathetic and --



KEILAR: You mentioned this sets the scene for how the NRA deals with things in the wake of these mass shootings for years to come.

In the end, the NRA really turns away from any sort of balanced approach or even really considering a balanced approach as we go into Sandy Hook and other shootings.

MAK: Yes, you hear them talking about a victims' fund here. That's certainly not the approach they end up taking. It's a softer tone. But they end up going with the more defiant one. One in which they want to make sure that they don't even have the appearance of responsibility for anything related to these shootings.

So they feel that if they were to cancel their convention or make some concession in some way, that they'll be taking -- they'll be admitting some sort of complicity in shootings like this. So they end up pushing a much harder line, one in which they criticize the meeting and say, hey, if you're discussing gun legislation after a shooting, that's a -- that's an inappropriate politicization of the issue. This becomes a big pattern in the years to come.

KEILAR: And, again, the NRA spokesperson you provided transcripts, and their response was?

MAK: Their response was that they thought that this was a, quote/unquote, hit piece.

KEILAR: It's their words, I will say, Tim. And I really appreciate you sharing them with us.

Tim Mak, thank you so much.

MAK: Thank you.

KEILAR: Coming up, a former U.S. Marine jailed in a Russian prison and now on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.


We're going to speak to his mother about his conditions, next.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And a slap in the wrist for Aaron Rodgers. The NFL fined him and the Green Bay Packers over COVID safety protocols. How much he'll have to fork up. That's straight ahead.


KEILAR: Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed has been on a hunger strike for nearly a week now to protest his imprisonment in Russia, according to his family. The Russian Penitentiary Service responsible for holding Reed is denying the claim. They say in a statement to Russian state media, quote, the information circulated in the media by a hunger strike by convict Trevor Reed is untrue. He did not declare a hunger strike to the administration of the facility, and he has been taking meals according to schedule.


Joining me now is Trevor Reed's mother, Paula Reed.

Paula, thank you for being with us. I know that every day without your son is a difficult day. And, obviously, as you hear the Russian Penitentiary Service there, you don't believe them. Tell me about that.

PAULA REED, MOTHER OF TREVOR REED: Absolutely, we don't believe them. Excuse me. Thank you for having us -- having me.

The Russian government has been lying since day one, since the day that Trevor was arrested, and they decided to hold him for, you know, hurting these police officers. None of that was true. So, we absolutely know that they're lying.

We had an attorney tell us that. Then we had someone confirm it later. So we know that Trevor is doing this. And I'm pretty sure he did give notice to the Russian prison authority as well.

So, we just -- we know they're lying. And we are asking the attorney to go back to verify this tomorrow.

KEILAR: They do have a credibility issue for sure, and not just in the case of Trevor. We should note that as well.

REED: Right.

KEILAR: Can you tell us -- you know, he is -- he still has a lot of his sentence left. He has served some hard time, but this is a nine- year sentence. What are your concerns about his safety and about his ability to communicate?

REED: Well, we're concerned about his health mostly. You know, he got COVID while he was in Moscow. And he still had some residual effects of that when he went to the prison camp. And the quality of medical care for the prisoners is very poor or non-existent. So, of course, that concerns me as his mom. And then now that he's doing a hunger strike, that is -- makes it even more concerning.

But I know Trevor. And I -- I know that he's smart enough not to put himself into too much danger. I feel that in doing this hunger strike is just indicative of how desperate he is. He's trying to bring attention to his case, to ask the government to bring him home. And I think he just felt like he didn't have any other option at this point.

KEILAR: So, as he tries to bring attention here, what do you want from the Biden administration?

REED: Well, this summer, President Biden said that he was going to try to make an agreement to bring Trevor home, as well as Paul Whelan. And it's almost been six months. And I know that these things work slowly. But I think that -- now that Trevor's doing this hunger strike, there's more of a sense of urgency for me, obviously as his mother, to make that deal, whatever it may be, to bring Trevor and Paul Whelan home.

KEILAR: Are you worried about his health? Are you -- are you --

REED: Absolutely.

KEILAR: Of course you are. Are you worried that your son could actually die in these conditions, or do you think the Russian government would not let that happen?

REED: I don't really know what the Russian government would do. And I try not to let my mind go there. I'm just worried about him all around, for many things, not just -- his health, of course, right now, first and foremost. But, on top of that, what this wrongful imprisonment has done to him and what it will do to his future. So, I try not to focus on just the hunger strike right now.


Paula, we will continue to track the case of your son. And we really appreciate you being with us to talk about it. Thank you.

REED: Thank you very much for having me.

KEILAR: We'll have some more on our breaking news. A judge rejecting Donald Trump's bid to withhold records from the January 6th committee. Where the investigation heads now.

BERMAN: Plus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calling the infrastructure bill a godsend as Republicans face threats for supporting it.

And, "People" magazine just named its 2021 sexiest man alive. Who do you think that might be?



BERMAN: So, what's this? Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell praising the Biden infrastructure bill passed last week in the House.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Well, I was delighted that the House finally found a way to pass the infrastructure bill last week. Passed on a bipartisan basis. And I think it was the right thing to do.


BERMAN: McConnell voted for it. So maybe it shouldn't be a surprise he is praising it. Not surprisingly, McConnell is being ripped by Donald Trump for this.

I'm joined now by CNN White House correspondent, and, let's be honest, the sexiest man alive, John Harwood with us this morning.

So -- so, John, McConnell voted for this bill. He likes the infrastructure bill. Specifically, he likes a bridge that he's been trying to get repaired for a million years between Kentucky and Ohio.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, infrastructure, roads, bridges, broadband is very popular. And that's why you got 19 Senate Republicans, who almost never want to cooperate with President Biden, to vote for this bill. You had a few Republicans in the House vote for it as well.

Donald Trump works on a different set of calculations. Donald Trump makes judgments about things based on whether it's good or bad for Donald Trump. And so Trump looks at this bill. Joe Biden -- he wanted to get an infrastructure bill done. He didn't do it. Joe Biden did. Makes Joe Biden look good.

If Donald Trump wants to run against Joe Biden, that makes his job a little bit harder. And that's why he's attacking Mitch McConnell. He has other reasons for attacking Mitch McConnell and he's done it for a long time. But McConnell wants to hold the Senate next year. Bragging about this bill will be good for those Republican senators who voted for it. And that's why you have the contrast.

BERMAN: I did get a little bit lost in your eyes as you were giving me that answer, John.


There's going to be a signing ceremony next week we understand for the infrastructure bill at the White House. Does that mean that Mitch McConnell and the 19 Senate Republicans and the 13 House Republicans will go and stand behind Joe Biden for that tableau at the signing ceremony?

HARWOOD: Some of them will. I don't know if Mitch McConnell will. That's a little bit of a dicey calculation because you've got the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is -- Rick Scott is -- of Florida is the chair of it, and he's been criticizing the bill. Does he want his leader to stand with Joe Biden? That might complicate some of his political efforts.

But there are going to be some Republicans there. We've heard, in the last 24 hours, that, say Tom Reed, a moderate Republican, says I'm going to show up if I get invited. And this is something that's going to be good for Joe Biden because he talked about trying to get people to work together. This is -- usually you can't do it, but this is a case where he did. It's going to redound to his benefit, as well as the benefit he gets from pushing all these popular programs.

BERMAN: The White House is saying the infrastructure bill will help address the supply chain problem that's very real. I have the secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo, coming on next hour, John. What do you think the most important questions for the White House are on this subject, about what they could and should do?

HARWOOD: Well, look, I think the benefits for the supply chain are going to be slow in coming. This -- most of the infrastructure bill is going to be a rollout that take place over months and years.

What the White House needs to do now is show the American people that they get then inflation challenge that they are facing and that they're trying to do something about it. They can't do all that much about it, but they are -- and I've talked to Gina Raimondo about this, they are putting as much energy as they can into that effort, and they hope they can make some difference at the margins.

They also hope that the progress that we're making on the pandemic, especially with a lot of these young people now getting vaccinated and a slow ramp-up of some of the vaccine resistors, that you're going to put that panic in the rear-view mirror. And putting that in the rear- view mirror is a big part of how you normalize the economy, get those supply chains back, temper inflation, which is bothering the Americans so much right now.

BERMAN: John Harwood, don't go far, because this next story really is about you.

KEILAR: Because if you're wondering why John Berman is objectifying John Harwood, it is because of an awkward segue into the next story, which is, this morning, "People" --

HARWOOD: Very awkward.

KEILAR: More awkward for some than others, I will say.

"People" magazine actually named their 2021 sexiest man alive. He is a comedian. He is a superhero. So, he's funny. He has really good hair. I don't know, the profile kind of looks like you, John Berman. Who do you think it is, though?

BERMAN: We can't -- if you just -- if it's just really good hair, it can't be me, because it would have to be great hair if it were me. But, go on. We know who this is. Announce it.

KEILAR: All right. The sexiest man alive is Paul Rudd. Ok, oh, we're going to go back to that other one in just a second, because it's very fun. But Paul Rudd, of course, a 52-year-old actor. He's known for his charm, his tongue in cheek humor in movies like "Antman" and "Anchorman." And when asked what he thought about this, Rudd actually said that he hoped to be invited to those sexy dinners with Clooney, Pitt, and Michael B. Jordan.

And all of you are making fun of John Harwood, John Berman, is because John Harwood actually appeared, not in this particular issue, but in this issue in a previous year. So let's bring that back up, John Harwood, to fully, fully embarrass you. Can we pull -- we have that graphic. Do you see him? There -- oh, scoot, get rid of the --

HARWOOD: Kind of obscure. The picture's fairly small.

KEILAR: Hey, that's good company, though, right, Berman?

BERMAN: I mean, yes. Look, everyone else is -- they're like -- I barely see any other faces there because I'm drawn right to John's, as part of the --


BERMAN: I know Mo (ph).

KEILAR: Eric Dane (ph). What a mcsteamy, mcdreamy. He's one of those mcs.

But I will just say, you know, John Harwood will never mention Berman to us again that he is in any magazine, because here we go putting it up.

BERMAN: He said during the commercial, he says, you know, I was in the sexiest man alive issue. So when someone says that, you are legally compelled and morally compelled to find a picture of it and put it on TV. It's --

HARWOOD: That is if your anchors have no personal restraint. That's what happens.

KEILAR: You know us.

BERMAN: Check.

KEILAR: You know us. But, honestly, though, it's kind of fun. It's pretty fun, Harwood, right, to end up in there.

HARWOOD: It was fun. And the reason that I ended up in there is because I had a friend who worked on the issue.

KEILAR: Oh, there you go. I don't think that's the only reason. He does have some great hair as well.

And NEW DAY continues right now.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, November 10th. I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

And we do have some breaking news overnight. A major legal setback for Donald Trump. A federal judge denying his claim of executive privilege in an effort to shield records from the House committee investigating the January 6th attack.


In a nearly 40-page ruling, the judge here writing, presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.