tv Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer CNN February 20, 2018 2:00pm-3:00pm PST
you can tweet me at the lea lead @cnn. join me tomorrow night for stand up, the students of stoneman douglas demand action. i'll have the students asking lawmakers questions about gun violence. now i'll turn it over to wolf now i'll turn it over to wolf blitzer in "the situation room." -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com had coming up, mueller's next move. has he gotten everything he wants? what signal does this send to others? in denial. with president trump seemingly in denial about russia's meddling, does the president's twitter tirade saying he's been tougher on russia than president obama. and students who survived the massacre at their high school take their outrage to florida's
state capitol demanding lawmakers do something about gun violence. but are russian social media tools already using this to divide americans? and banning bump stocks. president trump said he will ban bump stocks which can turn semi-automatic to automatic machine guns. will anything change? you're in "the situation room." >> breaking news, special counsel robert mueller has just obtained another guilty plea as a lawyer with ties to rick gates and ties to a russian billionaire pleads guilty to lying to federal investigators. but there is no clear indication, at least not yet, that he is fully cooperating with the special counsel. president trump is not condemning russia's attack on
the u.s. election and the white house is repeating his latest twitter rant, blaming his predecessor for the election meddling and falsely claiming that he's been much tougher on russia than former president obama. our correspondents and special. is are all standing by with full coverage. let's begin with today's guilty plea in the latest indictment brought by the special counsel, robert mueller. let's go first to chief correspondent jim sciutto. take us through this case involving a dutch citizen, alex van der zwaan. he pled guilty this morning after being charged by special counsel robert mueller, there for lying. it appears two instances of lying. lying to investigators about his discussions with yuan the former campaign trump aide rick gates and also lying about his turning
over an e-mail communication. we should mention that zwaan, his father-in-law, should i say, is a russian billionaire german, one the of most prominent there. there's no evidence that his tie is related. >> so what we read between lines? >> it appears zwaan is not a big fish in the investigation. but knowing the way mueller operates, a possible attempt to put pressure on gates. gates is in negotiations for a possible plea deal to plead guilty. you'll remember he was charged with a number of crimes including money laundering. this relating to his work with paul manafort regard propaganda russian politicians between 2006 and 2015. those charges carry more than ten years. in addition to that the enormous
legal business here. so pressure on him for possibly cooperating with investigators. if he is cooperating, that would be of enormous significance. >> the president for months and months has been calling this whole russia investigation a hoax. but now this russia investigation gets another guilty plea. >> you hear it from trump and trump allies. let's do it by the numbers. beer nine months into the special counsel's investigation. so far charges against 22 people and entities. on friday, 13 more. paul manafort, rick gates, michael flynn charged with lying as well as former national security adviser george papadopoulos. a former foreign policy adviser. all of them have been charged. you now have four guilty pleas and they include michael flynn,
the former national security adviser, papadopoulos as well. >> we'll get a lot more on this. thank you very much. president trump is still downplaying russia's assault. the white house is repeating it. >> press secretary sarah sanders downplayed at least one of the president's tweets when it came to the fbi being distracted by the russia probe but she maintain what had the president said on twitter this morning. that he's been tougher on russia than his predecessor, despite the 13 indictments on russians. president trump still tweeting about russia. writing, i have been much tougher on russia than obama. look at the facts.
the president has yet to refute the evidence laid out in last week's indictments. the white house responding to the criticism. >> he called out russia by name in his official statement that went out shortly after those indictments came down. he called they will bad actors and called out russia as the only individual in that statement. that was the first reaction. i wou i would -- >> reporter: trump's argument about president obama centers around these remarks. >> there's no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even, you could even rig america's elections.
in part because they're so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved. there is no evidence that has happened in the past, or that there are instances in which that will happen this time. so i would advise mr. trump to stop sghing make his case to get votes. >> those comments were in response to trump's comments that the election was rigged. not about meddling. >> and so in early september, when i saw president putin, i felt the most effective way to make sure that didn't happen was to talk to him directly. and tell him to cut it out or there would be serious consequences if he didn't. in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process. >> but trump is still blaming
democrats for the russia investigation tweeting whrgs i easily won the electoral college, the whole game changed is that the russian excuse became the narrative of the dems. trump's secretary echoing the argument today. >> he's been tougher on russia. he's rebuilt our military. he's done a number of things to be tough on russia. just last week, there was an incident that we reported in the coming days. >> meanwhile in the aftermath of last week's shooting at a high school in parkland, florida, the president announcing he is directing his attorney general ban bump stocks. >> a few moments ago i signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal womens into machine guns. >> bump stocks were found on the
weapons used in las vegas. >> we cannot take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. we must make a difference. >> so today, the white house responding to the pressure on the gun issue with thisser memo. it is largely symbolic since they've been undertaking a process to determine whether banning bump stocks would be legal. today doj says this is a priority to the press. meanwhile, the president vowing to find a solution. under clear what those solutions will be but he will be meeting with students and parents and teachers to discuss all this. >> thank you very much.
>> alex, a lawyer with ties to former campaign aide rick gates just entered a guilty plea for lying to federal investigators. how significant is this late breaking development? >> i believe it is significant because it puts pressure on gates to plead guilty. cnn has reported that they expect rick gates to plead guilty. what we're seeing is robert mueller putting together his case brick by brick, piece by piece. and being very methodical. this would almost lock in rick gates to plead later the week and that puts tremendous pressure on paul manafort. if we to flip, i think it would be very dangerous for the trump administration. >> what kind of information might eat be after?
>> so rick gates himself was the dpemt campaign manager and he stayed on with the campaign even when paul manafort was released. he might have seen a lot of things. we don't know but clearly, the robert mueller team is interested in getting a guilty plea and could get rick gates to cooperate. and then we know as a campaign manager, had his hands on a lot of things. so we'll wait to see what happens. as a former prosecutor, it is amazing to watch robert mueller be so methodical and put together his case. >> the assumption he's going after relatively small fish to get bigger fish. so you expect mueller to keep moving up the chain. do you expect him to move perhaps all the way up to the president? >> it is certainly possible. i know he would not have entered into a one-count guilty plea with michael flynn to get people below michael nine. it would be people at his level or above him. so i expect more indictments to
come of more senior people. >> it looks like this investigation is continuing full speed ahead and there's more work to be done. let me get your reaction to president trump's claim that he's been much tougher on russia than president obama was. do you believe that? >> absolutely not. all we have to do is look at the bipartisan law that was passed over six months ago, as we sit here today, donald trump has still refused to implement the sanctions on russia. he's refused to condemn the kremlin and he's refused to direct the fbi to prevent another attack on our democracy coming this november. >> that bipartisan sanctions law was passed 98-2 in the senate. i think 419-3 in the house. the president signed it into law. it was passed way back in august, as you pointed out. the president signed it because
he knew he couldn't veto but he hasn't implemented any sanctions as demanded by that law. how much longer can he do it? it is the law of the land. >> the longer the delays, the more suspicious it looks. what does he have that he has that. >> keep in mind one reason congress the this was to hold russia accountable for their attack on our democracy. it is not just to deter russia. it is to hold them accountable and so far donald trump is refusing to do that. >> back in december of 2016, then president-elect trump told "time" magazine, and i'm quoting him now, i don't believe they interfered, referring to the russians and the presidential
elections. how do you believe the russians are interpreting the various mixed signals now coming from the trump administration and the white house, all coming and saying the russians are doing it, they've done and it they're still doing it. how do you think the russians interpret the mixed signals. >> every one knows they interfered except for the president. . for deterrence to work, it has to not only be credible but your adversary has to think you're willing to execute i. if the leader is unwilling to direct his fbi to very vent he another attack, it is very
distressing. we need to make sure it doesn't happen again. congressman schiff has publicly said that president obama and his administration could have and should have done more. what more should they have done? >> i'm sure in hindsight the obama administration would have wanted this to have turned out differently. they did go to mitch mcconnell. the republican senate leader and said look, we want to tell this to americans. and he said do not do that. if you do, i'll going to say this is purely a partisan political ploy. so he had a big hand in stopping the administration from coming out with the truth at the time. >> they did come out in early wokt the statement from the director of national intelligence saying russia was interfering in the u.s.
presidential election. are you talking about something earlier that then president obama wanted to release? >> the reporting was that the obama administration was going to be a lot more forthcoming in terms of interfering with our elections. and they went to the senate and house leadership and he shut that down. there is something else going on. and it was the belief at the time. and everyone really believed that hillary clinton would win. so i think people were operating under that assumption which turned out to be wrong. >> that was the widespread assumption. you don't have to talk about it now because hillary clinton will win and we can talk about it after the election. thank you for joining us. there's more breaking news we're following. robert mueller seems to be casting a wide net. and student survivors of the
florida high school slaughter take their outrage to florida state capitol demanding lawmakers act to stop gun violence. are russian internet trols already using the massacre to divide americans? ls already using the massacre to divide americans? money managers are pretty much the same. all but while some push high commission investment products, fisher investments avoids them. some advisers have hidden and layered fees. fisher investments never does. and while some advisers are happy to earn commissions from you whether you do well or not, fisher investments fees are structured so we do better when you do better. maybe that's why most of our clients come from other money managers. fisher investments. clearly better money management.
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investigation right now. >> it really says don't mess with robert mueller. this is an office interview where van der zwaan admitted that he lied. in many offices, that would not necessarily be prosecuted. they would go back to him and say you'd better tell us the truth. they would threaten but they would not engage. they would not actually charge a criminal false statement. here, based on the false statement by this lawyer, van der zwaan, they have charged when i am a felony. he's pleaded guilty and it is a message to everyone who has been interviewed by the mueller office, and it is a lot of people by now. if you lie, there will be consequences and you will be prosecuted for a fenl. >> so what's the biggest development? >> well, the other thing that's very noticeable is the intensity of the investigation.
it refers to dleeteleted, that deleted e-mails. that suggests they engaged in a forensic examination of his e-mails. something pretty unusual and certainly not done with peripheral figures in investigation. again, another message that even if you think you are a small fish, we will prosecute you and we will investigate you using every tool at our disposal. >> we've now seen charges against the president's former campaign chairman. the president's former national security adviser. 13 russians as well as a few minor characters. does this give you any clues about where mueller might be heading next? >> well, i think the real clue we have, especially from last friday's indictment. despite the befrt efforts of all of us who have tried to find out, we don't know. who among us knew 13 russians would be indicted last friday?
i don't think anybody did. this investigation has been on total lockdown when it comes to the press. and we don't know where it's going. but we do know they are not close to finishing. you don't get a guilty plea if you are wrapping up an investigation. this investigation seems to be dead in the middle of where they're going and they are not anywhere near wrapping up. >> we'll have more legal questions for you. don't go too far away. new details about the florida high school shooting, the students take their questions to the capitol.
[vo]we all call the same place home. i love you, afton! [vo]comcast is proud to bring the olympic winter games 2018 home to afton and every other hometown in america. we're following multiple late breaking stories including a guilty plea on robert mueller's investigation. a lawyer with ties a russian billionaire as well as to former campaign aide rick gates just pled guilty to lying to federal investigators. let's bring in our political experts. i want to you react to this late breaking development. what does it mean as far as your analysis is concerned? >> well, first of all it means bob mueller is playing hardball here. you cannot lie to they will.
if you lie to the special counsel, you're going to get prosecuted and that's what happened here. it is very clear to me from reading the documents, they did a forensic investigation and they found out that he was lying to them and they said sorry, you can't do that. no matter who you are. here's an attorney at a prominent law if i recall and it didn't matter. you can't lie. you can't engage in conspiracies to defraud the united states government. and you're going to be prosecuted as a result. i think they got the information they needed from him. he pled guilty and they're moving on. >> yes, they're moving on. >> the moving on part is the part we don't know. who is the bigger fish here? rick gates? paul manafort? someone else?
he is a low level figure, even though it does send this major message to all the other figures who might be involved, including the president of the united states. of course we know there's some nervousness about talking to bob mueller. so yeah. that's the thing. we have this series of disclosures from robert mueller on friday, the 13 indictments is that then the surprising guilty plea here today. so this is in a town that likes to leak, robert mueller isn't among those. >> you should know better than to lie. he should know better but clearly he did not. it is also interest that van der zwaan's wife is the wife of a very prominent russian oligarch who was named just the other
day. a russian billionaire. what if any red flags does that raise to you? >> just another remind per they have ties to the kremlin, of course. this charge that he lied about a client, a former client. you go back to the point, you see the scope of this investigation. this all happened prior to trump announcing that he was running for president. on the one hand maybe you could see trump and his associates claim victory that this had nothing to do. on the other hand, you can say they're just scratching the surface and you see how widespread it is. >> the fact as i billionaire, was that simple a coincidence or
did that trigger some alarm bells when they were investigating this 33-year-old lawyer? >> that's why they call at this time russian investigation. you have 13 russians indicted on friday. this client was supported by vladimir putin. you can see where the ties lie and you see how oligarchs work in russia. the deal with vladimir putin and the kremlin is you get to keep your money and when i need you to do my dirty work, you come in handy and do that so my hands are clean. and this could be one of those situations. >> ever since friday, the 13 indictments against these russians were announced by mueller. the president has been lashing out at everyone as a result of this. now he is going after his predecessor, president obama. tweeting this. i have been much tougher on russia than obama. just look at the facts. total fake news what is he basing that on?
>> first there is this obsession with president obama. there's an obsession with hillary clinton. he ought to get over that. the russia investigation is not investigating barack obama. but number two, i don't know where he gets it from. this is a president who personally warned vladimir putin to stop trying to bless into the election. he imposed sanctions. he closed two of the compounds in the united states. we are still waiting for the president of the united states, the current president, to implement russian sanctions which he has not done, or to even call out vladimir putin maybe in one of his little weekend tweets. maybe he could have said, sorry, vladimir, this was a big mistake. don't try and do this to us. we consider this, perhaps, warfare. which is what bob mueller called it.
>> he has all sorts of nicknames and insults for plenty of people. obviously he doesn't like president obama or hillary clinton. but very few comments for vladimir putin. his conversations have led the president to believe vladimir putin when he said there was no russian meddling. it is also not clear what they're going to do going forward. we heard from intelligence officials on the hill. they said there's meddling going on. there is month clear direction and leadership from this white house in terms of what they're going to do about it to safeguard the elections which are coming up in november in very many states. very many elections at the senate level and the house level. so that's the big question. there is no consistent leadership.
there is no talking about the seriousness this. >> huge could very well go after and accuse the russians the bob mueller. they've not gone after the kremlin and russian government. they've gone after those around him like putin's chef. what will happen if the mueller investigation indicts and accuses the russian government of doing this and sponsoring this? what is the president's reaction going to be? he can't deny they weren't involved anymore. now he's putting the blame at president obama. so that could be a very tricky situation for the president. remember he wanted a joint cyber commission. how crazy is that? >> i was talking to an attorney today who was very knowledgeable about this.
look, in the end, maybe the russian will flip on president trump. because mueller has charged conspiracy in last friday, for example, assets are frozen. and maybe if the russians get upset enough, if, for example, the sanctions are implemented, maybe in the end it will be the russians who say, wait a minute. we don't want to deal with this anymore. >> i remember, we reported when president obama met with putin, he told him, cut it out. when president trump met with putin, he said, i thought putin was sincere in issuing those denials. >> remember last summer vladimir putin himself said, maybe some patriotic hackers did this. so he acknowledged more than president trump did. >> everybody, stick around. we've got a lot more. if you've been diagnosed with cancer, searching for answers may feel overwhelming. so start your search with our teams of specialists
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so they're proposing it as a rule instead of legislation. now the president is ordering the justice department to propose this rule. they still have to look at it. but what struck me in this release that they sent out in this memorandum for the attorney general, the president stated yet again, although obama administration repeatedly conclude that had particular bump stock devices were lawful to purchase, bla bla bla. in other words, one more shot at the obama administration even in proposing this rule. >> even if they do something about the bump stocks, are there any indications on a federal level they'll do much more than that? >> we'll see. we always come to this point after a mass shooting and we've been here too often on what congress will do. you imagine in an election year, it will be very hard.
maybe back ground checks has been a bill that would make it a little tougher. or incentivize authorities to put more information into the background check measures. it is unclear about the weapons. some of them he seemed to have gotten legally and some illegally. >> what about renewing the assault weapons ban? >> doubtful. the nra is still very powerful. they gave $30 million to trump. you haven't heard him talk about that and it is very difficult to see folks, particularly in the house, doing anything on the assault weapons ban. they feel like anything will be a slippery slope. ? it's interesting, referring to the assault weapons plan. even as these students who survived this massacre in florida were in tallahassee
going, trying to lobby lawmakers in the state capital. the first order of business, before the house voted down just a motion to take up a ban on assault weapons including the ar 15 style rifle. >> what's your reaction? >> even with the pressure and the shaming you could say that these students were trying to put on these lawmakers as they made symbolic gesture going to the state capitol. that's why you're seeing a lot of politicians saying it will have to come down to the state and local officials. we saw it not go through in florida to the direction that many of these students had hoped. in other states you are seeing changes. but the president also plays a
significant role on this issue. like many others. he's been mercurial. he's not an idealog as others have been. he has not said to those who support any sort of changes, enough on this issue. we'll also see these children. how impressive they are. there is a lot of pressure on politicians from both sides. this being an election year. >> it certainly will be. stick around. there's more news we're following. another guilty plea. robert mueller's russia probe. plus more on the florida high school massacre. you wouldn't accept an incomplete job
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we're following breaking news ahead of tomorrow's ground breaking town hall on guns. late this afternoon at the white house president trump announced he's directing the attorney general to propose regulations banning devices which effectively turn semiautomatic rifles into machine guns. that would include what are called bump stocks used by the gunman who killed 58 people and wounded nearly 500 last year in las vegas. cnn's brian todd is joining us with more on the gun debate which reignited in the wake of the massacre in florida at that high school late last week.
brian, there's growing demand for action on guns and new developments in the investigation. >> that's right, wolf. tonight we're learning as the students arrived at the florida capital, students from douglas high school, to lobby for gun control, the florida legislature showed just how tough changing those laws is going to be. voting to not even take up debate on an assault weapons ban. meantime, we're learning more tonight about the threatening behavior exhibited by the florida shooter years before that massacre at douglas high school. in florida to want, anger and action. >> i want to thank you guys for coming out. >> reporter: bus loads of students who survived the attack in verging on florida state capital, they want a ban on high capacity magazines and assault rifles. >> we're trying to save the lives of innocent children, if you're not for that, we'll vote you out.
>> reporter: the student-led call for change comes as investigators are learning more about nikolas cruz, the confessed mass murderer. arianna lopez, a former friend of cruz's, tells cnn back in 2015 he asked her to be in a relationship with him. when she refused, she says he stalked her. in a new interview today, she said cruz's behavior raised alarms with her and others who knew him. >> he had fives in his lunchbox. he's like "hey, gives, want some fives?" he talked about killing our parents, our friends, boyfriends, girlfriend. >> reporter: cruz's behavior raised red flags with social workers as well. a 2016 report from florida's department of children and families based on an in-home visit by social workers said cruz's mother said he started cutting himself after a breakup, that he'd gotten into a fight with another student over a girl and that cruz was depressed and wanted to buy a gun but it concluded at the time that cruz's level of risk was low because an official of that
agency tells cnn he was living with his mother and getting counseling. as frustration grows over missed signals on the ground, cnn has learned there's new evidence that pro-russian social media trolls are trying to capitalize on the shooting from cyberspace using the mass doacre to divide americans. the trolls, some automated, jumped on the story last week with a spike in tweets accord disinformation trackers. many tweets were pro-gun like this one that red "after 11 u.s. school shootings this year, is it time to arm teachers?" others were more conspiracy oriented such as "it's only a coincidence the shooting in a gun free school is in a democrat county run by democrats and very close to a large fbi office." >> ultimately the goal of this type of attack or influence operation is to sow did cord so we ha we have a group of accounts trying to pit americans against each other because ultimately that destabilizes the country so
we see them hop on to stories that are hot button issues, that are very divisive. >> that tracking firm tells cnn the same accounts those tweets came from previously sent out tweets seeking to undermine the mueller investigation into russian election meddling and had sent out tweets looking to divide americans over the issue of nfl players kneeling during the national anthem. the pro-russian accounts, wolf, always seeking to divide americans on these issues and they jumped on it right after the shooting. >> to sow dissent, one of the goals. thank you very much. tomorrow cnn hosts a nationally televised townmassac victims and parents and senator bill nelson and marco rubio. watch stand up, the students of stoneman douglas. coming up on breaking news, the special counsel gets a guilty plea from a lawyer accused of lying about his ties
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this tech stuff is easy. [ whirring sound ] you want a cookie? it's a drone! i know. find your phone easily with the xfinity voice remote. one more way comcast is working to fit into your life, not the other way around. happening now, breaking news, russia plea. a lawyer formally admits to lying to the special counsel's team as robert mueller turns up the heat on former trump campaign officials now under indictment. does mueller have a new cooperating witness to help him make his case? distorting reality. the white house declaring again tonight that the russia probe is a hoax and claims mr. trump has been tougher on moscow than president obama. this hour, the false claims versus the facts. downward spiral. after a