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AT THIS HOUR
Soon: Busloads Of Parkland Students Head To State Capitol; Parkland Students Demand Stricter Gun Control Laws; Mueller Charges Lawyer With Lying About Interaction With Manafort Partner Rick Gates; Special Counsel Robert Mueller Asking About Kushner's Business Discussions During Transition; Soon: White House Holds First Press Briefing In A Week. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired February 20, 2018 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. It could be a pivotal moment in the growing movement to put an end to the plague of gun violence in America and it's happening just moment from now. Survivors of the Florida high school massacre are hitting the road shortly.
They're headed by the bus loads to their state capital of Tallahassee, taking their message, never again, directly to lawmakers. One hundred students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School plan to meet face to face with state officials and also planning to hold a rally calling for tougher gun safety laws.
This coming as three more victims of the school shooting are being laid to rest today. CNN's Rosa Flores is in Parkland, Florida. So, Rosa, tell us about these three teenagers whose funerals are being held today.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, you know, hearts are heavy in this community and just really no words to describe the amount of pain that this community is going through. Imagine 17 members of this community were shot and killed. And just this hour three of those individuals are being laid to rest.
I'll share with you their names, 15-year-old Peter Wang, 14-year-old Kara Loughran, 16-year-old Carmen Schentrup. And then later today, there are two viewings. The viewings for Christopher Hixon, 49 years of age, and 37-year-old Aaron Feis.
We've heard a lot about Mr. Feis because we learned that he used his body as a shield to protect other students. So what surviving students now doing is their taking all of that pain and it is firing them up to go to the state capital and to demand lawmakers to do something.
They want the type and style of weapon that was used here to kill their loved ones, their fellow classmates and teachers, to be banned from this state so it doesn't happen again. As you were mentioning, they're heading on buses, they plan to lobby, they plan to rally, today and tomorrow, to make sure that their voices are heard.
KEILAR: And Rosa, what more are you learning about the gunman?
FLORES: We're learning more from DCF, the Department of Children and Families. They released a report that date backs to 2016. The agency was called because the suspect was cutting his arms on Snapchat. The agency responded, they learned that he had just broken up with his girlfriend.
They also learned that he was wanting to get a gun, that he had written hate speech on a book bag and also made a Nazi symbol. And, Brianna, again, this is just one other government agency that knew about something going on in this household with this suspect, yet here we are, covering this massacre at this school -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Rosa Flores, thank you so much, in Parkland, Florida, where three young people are being laid to rest today as the pressure for action is intensifying.
I want to bring in CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza. We have CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, and CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at "The Daily Beast", Jackie Kucinich with us as well.
I'm just struck by Rosa's description, and it just adds insult as you listen to all of these missed opportunities, right. It is just stunning that this shooter was on the radar.
I wonder as these students are taking their voices to Tallahassee, Jackie, and you've covered the gun debates as we have seen these shootings, action and inaction that followed, does this one strike you as something that is different?
We thought after Sandy Hook this is different. Turned out maybe not, maybe just in the state of Connecticut. Is this different?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The difference here is to the extent that the students are getting involved. And the students who have grown up using social media, putting themselves on camera, really getting out there and pushing this.
And to the extent that they can make these emotional appeals to lawmakers on the state level and perhaps eventually the federal level that does feel different. Now, what that means for Washington, the fact that this is happening, during a recess week, in Congress, I think that matters for momentum purposes.
So, to the extent that this gets to Washington, I don't know we know that answer yet, but it seems like right now these kids are using the tools that they have to get their message out there, and to be heard.
KEILAR: What do you guys think?
NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's right. I think at every point we thought it was a tipping point, maybe this is a cumulative tipping point, because we've had so many successive shootings.
KEILAR: Does it feel different? Does this feel different to you?
[11:05:07] HENDERSON: I mean, it feels different in the sense that we have these voices, these young people who are speaking up in very eloquent ways and being brave and courageous. It is a shame they have to be so brave and courageous in the wake of what happened to them at their schools.
But we'll see if that's enough. I think most likely if anything happens, it would be at the state and local level because if you look back over the last couple of years, that's where the movement has happened. In both ways, right, stricter gun control laws, and looser gun control laws, depends on the state.
So, I think we'll have to see how this plays out in Florida, and then the president obviously weighing in saying that he would be interested in looking into stiffening some of these background checks. That always seems the area where you can find some commonality.
CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: So, the difference, I think, is that -- I mean, this is stunning given that it is not even a week since this happened. But typically, with the exception of Sandy Hook and Columbine, certainly, those are two that I remember lasting longer, by this point --
KEILAR: It was gone. Las Vegas, right? You think of Las Vegas.
CILIZZA: That's not been the case here. I think in large part due to the fact that you have kids speaking out, keeping -- look, the big part of news is new, right? Kids speaking out, rallies being planned, going to Tallahassee today. That stuff matters.
I'm still skeptical to Nia's point. I'm still skeptical about federal stuff. I feel like there is just very little incentive. Remember before the Sandy Hook, though, I went back and read on this, that there were basically four different options in the senate.
The parents of the children, these were 6-year-olds, who had been murdered, went in and individually sat down with senators and said, we have to have your vote, and it didn't even get to the point where there was a final vote.
KUCINICH: So, there are actually -- you are forgetting a big one, Virginia Tech. That is the last time something actually happened in Congress when they did something. However, it added 2 million people to the background check system who were felons, or mentally ill. Now, did that get funded on the state level? It did not.
CILIZZA: And Nia, this is really important, if you look at -- let's say, from Columbine to today, right, when these mass casualty, school shootings became a thing in our culture, if you look at the breadth of laws, at the state level, and you grade it strictly on black and white scale of stricter gun control, less strict, right.
This was -- was this a victory for gun control advocates, it is not even close. Particularly in the last decade, gun rights advocates at the state level scored victory after victory after victory.
KEILAR: That's really where their victories have been. It was interesting, I was sort of surprised to hear former Congressman Jack Kingston describe what these young people are doing as he was sort of saying, it could be an Astroturf sort of thing as we see this movement. I want to listen to that.
Keeping in mind these are teenage survivors that are planning a march in Washington on March 24th, in addition they have a very visual day to day where you're heading to Tallahassee, but this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left wing groups who have an agenda. Let's ask ourselves, do we really think -- and I say this sincerely, do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally? I would say to you very plainly that organized groups that are out there, like George Soros, are always ready to take the charge and it is kind of like instant rally, instant protest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: I thought that fake news moniker had some bounds. I guess it doesn't, right?
HENDERSON: This is, I think what we will see. Conservatives play hard ball when it comes to --
KEILAR: But some of them aren't, Nia, right? A lot of them are not -- a lot of them are --
HENDERSON: I think you might hear others who are going this way and instead of saying these are kids who are acting on their own, you know, sorrow, you know, acting because of what they saw in their classrooms and in their school hallways, he is saying that they are being hijacked.
KUCINICH: It shows they're effective. It shows right now they're effective messengers. You're seeing on Twitter some kind of very fringe publications start going after these kids. They're high school kids, in a school shooting, that's disgraceful.
CILIZZA: Yes. It is -- I mean, we all do this for a living, right? But my God, it is depressing. It just is. Like, what is George Soros have to do with -- it is, like, well, the Koch brothers. You can say whatever you want.
But at some point, can't we acknowledge this is what -- this is what democracy is -- this is what democracy is, something happens and it impacts your life and you decide that I've had enough or I want to right a wrong.
[11:10:12] I mean, that's why people -- HENDERSON: Kids are doing this. You want to see kids engage. If you
look at great movements, the civil rights movement, those are students, right?
CILIZZA: You don't have to agree with them.
CILIZZA: You can't undermine their right to -- their right to do it is why we are America.
KUCINICH: I've seen this play before. We have seen this play before with particularly conservative groups where they say these protesters are paid. George Soros is funding all of this. The fact that they're doing it, to Brianna's point, these kids, seems like there will be boundaries.
KEILAR: Thank you, guys, so much for the discussion. Jackie Kucinich, Nia Malika Henderson, Chris Cilizza, depressed but thank you for being a part of the conversation.
And don't miss a very special town hall tomorrow, survivors of the Florida school shooting are going to be joining CNN to talk about this tragedy, and the action that they're demanding out of Washington. That is tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern on CNN and you will hear their voices, their voices.
Coming up, it is not just the Russians, Special Counsel Bob Mueller now looking into Jared Kushner's meetings with other foreign contacts during the transition, including investors from China. CNN has the exclusive details ahead.
Plus, breaking moments ago, Mueller filing new charges against a Russian-linked lawyer for lying about his interactions with former Trump aide, Rick Gates. What does this mean for the Russia investigation? Stay with us.
KEILAR: Breaking news in the Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller unveiling a new charge. A foreign lawyer is expected in court a few hours from now, he's accused of lying during Mueller's investigation.
CNN's justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is standing by for us on this story. Jessica, tell us who is this attorney and what does Bob Mueller say he lied about?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this attorney's name is Alex van der Zwaan. He was an attorney at a prominent law firm, Skadden Arps. We know that he's also been closely connected to both Rick Gates and Paul Manafort.
Now, we have heard from Skadden Arps, they say that they terminated Van Der Zwaan's employment back in 2017. They say that the law firm itself has been working with authorities. But here is where this criminal charge actually stems from.
Van Der Zwaan's communication with the special counsel all relating to some of the work that he did back in 2012. This was a report that was drafted by Van Der Zwaan and other attorneys and it was actually used by the allies of the pro-Russian president, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.
And it was justification for jailing Yanukovych's political rival. Now this all connects to Paul Manafort, because we know that Paul Manafort was involved in commissioning the drafting of this report.
And, of course, as you'll remember, Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty to charges that he faced in late October relating to his work, his lobbying work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian government, also the president of Ukraine at the time, Viktor Yanukovych, Paul Manafort also charged with money laundering as well.
So, now we have this other attorney who happened to have some communications with Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, he's now been charged with lying to the special counsel, specifically about his communications with Rick Gates at the time of the campaign when Rick Gates was acting as a deputy campaign manager.
So, the question is now, how does this all factor into this larger Mueller investigation. Well, this could in fact put some pressure on Paul Manafort, who, again, has held fast to that not guilty plea.
So, Brianna, the question here is how exactly will this Attorney Alex Van Der Zwaan, a name we haven't really heard before, how will this play into Mueller's investigation?
Van der Zwaan will be here at the district courthouse at 2:30 for a plea hearing. We are expecting he will plead guilty and potentially, Brianna, cooperate in this Mueller probe -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Very interesting. We'll see if some dominos fall from that. Jessica Schneider at the D.C. District Court, thank you for that.
There are other developments in the Russia investigation. And exclusive new details from CNN reporting, we have learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expanding his interest in Trump's son-in- law, Jared Kushner, beyond just his Russian contacts.
Mueller is now asking questions about Kushner's efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition. Joining me now is CNN reporter, Kara Scannell, part of the team that broke this story. So, Kara, what is at the center of what Mueller is investigating?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Brianna, CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now asking questions about Jared Kushner's personal business dealings during the presidential transition. We're told by people familiar with the investigation that Mueller's lawyers are asking about discussions Kushner had with potential Chinese and Qatari investors.
This is the first indication that Mueller wants to know about contacts that the president's son-in-law had with foreigners beyond Russia. The discussions revolved around a building in Manhattan at 666 Fifth Avenue, which Kushner's family business owns.
The financing on the building is in debt by over a billion dollars. It is not clear what is behind Mueller's specific interest in the financing discussions. We're told the special counsel hasn't asked Kushner companies for information. He also has not asked for interviews with other executives from Kushner companies.
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment, but we have a statement from Jared Kushner's attorney responding to our story. Lowell said, and I quote, "Another anonymous source with questionable motives contradicts the facts and all of Mr. Kushner's extensive cooperation with inquiries, there has not been a single document or questions asked about 666 building or Kushner company deals.
Nor would there be any reason to question these regular business transactions." Now, Brianna, we had multiple sources for this story who told us that these questions were being asked. Kushner himself may not have been quizzed on the company's dealings, but multiple people familiar with Mueller's probe have told investigators been exploring these questions and interviews with people over the past two months.
[11:20:05] KEILAR: What are some of the details of the meetings, Kara?
SCANNELL: Well, we're aware that Mueller's team is exploring meetings with two investors from two different countries. One involves a meeting that Kushner companies had with a Chinese insurance company called Anbang.
Now the "New York Times" wrote about this meeting, it occurred one week after the election and they were discussing financing for 666 Fifth Avenue. No deal was ever commenced, and the deal fell through.
The Mueller team is also asking and exploring conversations that Kushner had with a prominent Qatari investor. According to "The Intercept," they had meetings between Kushner and the investor, but again no deal was ever reached in those cases.
Now representatives for Kushner companies and Anbang declined to comment, and we have not received a response from the Qatari investor.
KEILAR: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you so much for that exclusive reporting.
I do want to bring in our guests to discuss this and the previous story, Jamil Jaffer, a former associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush. So, you heard Kara's reporting, but let's talk about Jessica's reporting in front of the courthouse where this lawyer is going to be charged. What is the significance of Bob Mueller charging this lawyer? JAMIL JAFFER, LAW PROFESSOR: Well, look, it is another example of Bob Mueller finding the lower level guys in the deal, and trying to use them to get more information about what other people are doing, right. Now you got another associate of Gates, Gates is right in pressure, reports he may be cooperating.
And it is all done to put pressure on Manafort to not fight the indictment, to plead and to cooperate with special prosecutors so that Mueller can keep working his way up the chain to try and get more information about everybody else involved in the things he's investigating.
KEILAR: Now, looking at Jared Kushner's basically lobbying Qatari and Chinese investors, this is a huge property, $2 billion in New York. So, you heard Kara's reporting there. With Mueller's new interest in this, on these efforts to get financing, describe by Kushner's lawyers as regular business transactions.
Is that regular business transactions when you're talking about the president, is the president elect and you are a top adviser to the president elect, is that a regular business transaction?
JAFFER: Well, obviously anything going on during the campaign, particularly once the election happens, is going to be cause for concern because there are questions about the influence of foreigners over people in the Trump order. Those are the questions asked.
And I think at the end of the day, we have to look at what happened here, do we think anything untoward is going on. To be honest with you, the Chinese, the president has been pretty tough on them and the Qataris even tougher with this whole dispute with the Saudis.
So, nothing obviously -- appears to be an (inaudible). At the same time, any foreign connections can raise concerns with special counsel and for Kushner's security clearance.
KEILAR: Is it poor judgment? That's a good question, security clearance. Is it poor judgment because it seems obvious that once you are a top aide to someone, and they have been elected president, that you really start going through what you're doing with the fine toothcomb and maybe dispatch some of the tasks to somebody else who wouldn't have a conflict.
JAFFER: I think that's absolutely part of the right approach that should have been taken here. You have to understand also the Trump team probably didn't expect to get elected. Kushner didn't expect to be in this position.
KEILAR: But this is after he's elected. So, you know unless you're in denial which seems weird that he -- here he goes towards the White House.
JAFFER: Right, right. Look, absolutely, probably should have done this better. The question is what came out of this? Was there pressure brought to bear? Are there concerns that Kushner might have been doing things inappropriately? These are all thing we don't know. More concerns about business dealings, about foreign influence, and things that are going to raise concerns with the American public and with special prosecutor, but at the end of the day, nothing yet here to put our finger on to say there's say real problem that we need to address.
KEILAR: So, when you look at this Kushner development, you look at this lawyer who is going to be charged, does it tell you about where this investigation is headed?
JAFFER: Well, I think what is even more interesting is the indictments from last week against the Russians. What you see there is an attempt by Mueller to show Americans and other foreigners that I've got charges I can bring if I think there is a conspiracy to defraud the United States, to prevent the FCC from doing its job, foreign influence in the elections.
That's a big deal because at the end of the day, everyone thought there are no real collusion charges to be brought, right. And this is the example of him saying I can bring collusion charges, and what that does is it pressurizes everybody to start cooperating.
You didn't think he had charges to bring, now he does, they might force him to cooperate and work his way up the chain, a very smart move by the special prosecutor here.
KEILAR: Putting pressure on certain people. All right. Jamil, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up, President Trump now falsely claiming he's been much tougher on Russia than President Obama. We're going to break down the facts on that.
Plus, just moments ago, the president apparently firing back against a woman who claims that Trump forcefully kissed her in 2006. We'll have that next.
KEILAR: In just a couple of hours, the White House will hold its first briefing in a week and it has been seven days of tragedy and turmoil. High school massacre, intensifying Russia investigation, even reports of an old affair between a newly married Donald Trump and a Playboy playmate.
Now this morning, a beleaguered west wing is bracing for an onslaught of difficult questions. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. So, what else are we expecting, Kaitlan, from reporters as they ask Sarah Sanders their questions today?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, there is a lot on the agenda today, Brianna. The press secretary often goes through extensive preparation before the briefing and you can bet it is even more so today because not only is this the first briefing since that tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there are going to be questions about what the president is going to do in response to that, especially with those students being so outspoken about his response.
But also, what is the White House's response to those 13 indictments of the Russians from the special counsel on Friday as well as the question still surrounding the security clearance process here at the White House. Not only the travel that has come under scrutiny of his -- some of his cabinet secretaries including the EPA. But several things like that also the alleged payout --