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WH Claims Trump Acknowledged Russia Meddling Blames Obama; WH: It's Clear Russian Meddling Had No Impact (No, It's Not); WH: Tries To Walk Back Trump Tweet Blaming FBI Is Focus On Russia Probe For Failing To Prevent School Shooting; WH: New Security Clearance Policy Won't Affect Kushner's Work; Trump Moves to Ban "Bump Stocks"; Florida Lawmakers Decline to Take Up Assault Rifles Ban; Pence Was to Meet With North Koreans, Was Cancelled At Last Minute. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 20, 2018 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Parents and both the Florida Senators will be there. Jake Tapper, will moderate stand up tomorrow night 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks very much for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: OutFront next breaking news. The White House says that President Trump acknowledges Russian election meddling, but why is he blaming President Obama and not Vladimir Putin.

Plus, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is still without his full security clearance, but the White House says that will not change anything about his job.

And I talked to one of the students on our way to confront law makers about gun violence, says a vote to band assault weapons fails. Let's go OutFront.

And good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto in tonight for Erin Burnett. An OutFront tonight breaking news, President Trump and Russian meddling. The White House today, going to great lengths to say that the President takes Russia's election meddling seriously. This despite a flurry, Trump tweets over the weekend attacking everyone from his own national security adviser to the FBI, to President Obama, but never once addressing the gravity of a Russian assault on the election system or blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for directing it. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters today that the President gets it but you guys, the media, don't.


SARAH SANDER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President has acknowledged that multiple times before. He acknowledged that during the transition. He acknowledged it during a press conference in Poland. And he acknowledged it for a third time at a press event in Poland. He has stated several times, I think one of the places where you guys seem to get very confused and it seems to happen regularly, the President hasn't said that Russian didn't meddle. What he is saying it didn't have an impact and it certainly wasn't with help from the Trump campaign.


SCIUTTO: Well, if acknowledging Russia's meddling includes also blaming a seemingly fictional 400 pound man with a computer in his bed, then Sanders has a point.

Here is Trump during the first Presidential debate in September 2016.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC, it could be Russia, but it could also be China, could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds OK. Maybe there is no hacking.


SCIUTTO: And if acknowledging Russia's interference means repeatedly praising Vladimir Putin and taking him at his word that he did not mess with the election and Sanders may also have a point. Here's what he said about Putin on Air Force One just last November.

Every time he sees me, he says I didn't do that. And I really believe that when he tells me that. He means it, said the President.

But the White House today insisting that President Trump has been tough all along on Russia trying to shift the blame to President Obama.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The investigation is obviously about what Russia did and raises the question now that you've said the President agrees the National Security advisors says the evidence is incontrovertible. What is the President going to do about it? What is he specifically doing about the fact that Russian interfered with our election and has every intention we are told of doing it again? What is he doing about it?

SANDERS: Look, just last week, the Department of Homeland Secured Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen met with a number of relevant stakeholders. They are discussing this process and going through and looking at every single day at the best ways forward. Everybody wants to blame this on the Trump administration. Let's not forget that this happened under the Obama administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It happened over a year ago. What is he doing about it?

SANDERS: We've spent a lot of time working on cyber security, focusing protecting the fairness on our elections. And as I just said the Department of Homeland Security met with state and local officials just over the last several weeks, along with election vendors to make sure our election system is secure. Just last week we called out Russia by name, it was one of the first times that you've seen something like that take place, were going to continue doing things like that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He hasn't even called out Putin. He criticized Obama, he criticized the FBI. He didn't even criticize Vladimir Putin.

SANDERS: He has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined. He's imposed sanctions. He has taken away properties, he's rebuilt our military. He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia.


SCIUTTO: But if Trump in fact was so tough on Russia, if he was taking a lead on this, why did his intelligence chiefs all have the same response just last week when asked a simple question, if President Trump has ever directed them to take specific actions to confront and stop Russian interference, which we know is continuing, here's how they answered that question.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: We are taking a lot of specific efforts to blunt --

SEN. JACK REED, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: As directed by the President?

WRAY: Not specifically directed by the President.

REED: Director Pompeo, have you received a specific Presidential direction to take steps to disrupt these activities?

[19:05:05] MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I'm not sure how specific.

MICHAEL ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DIRECTOR: I can't say I've been explicitly directed to, "blunt" or actively stop.


SCIUTTO: Would've been pretty easy questions to answer. The President had directed them to do so. OutFront tonight Jeff Zeleny he's at the White House. Jeff, Sanders also made a cryptic reference to an upcoming news about Russia showing the President's toughness. What do we know about that?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, good evening. Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary made a cryptic reference, you're right. After that long series of exchanges there, after being asked again and again what has the White House done to push back against Vladimir Putin. Has the White House done anything?

She finally said there was an incident last week that there would be announcement coming soon that shows how the U.S. is aggressively going after Vladimir Putin, you know, incursion here. We believe that this is about a statement the White House put out last week about some type of a ransom wear attack, a computer virus attack.

But, Jim, this is a bit -- it seems at least a bit of tangential matter as oppose to answering the question, what has the White House done, what does the President done over the last year?

The reality is the President's most valuable commodity is his time. It's what he chooses to focus his attention on. And he has not focused his attention as the commander-in-chief on the idea of Russian meddling, on Vladimir Putin. He has said he believes his denials here.


ZELENY: So at that contentious White House briefing today Sarah Sanders finally said, now look, there will be something coming. But, Jim, she could not answer the question of what he hasn't done already. Because as far as we can tell, it's not been much.

SCIUTTO: If he had what have seem to be a pretty simple answer to give. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

OutFront now, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, John Avlon, former Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Kayyem, and former Director of the Nixon Presidential library, Tim Naftali.

John, you know, this is pretty tough hill to climb for the White House, let's admit it, and for the White House to claim that President Trump has been crystal clear that he believes Russia did it that He's taking it seriously, that he's taking action. Just to the stand up to the facts though, does it?

JOHN AVLON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Not even a little bit. I mean the reason the White House will desperately try to direct this to three individual statements in a period of over a year as President. Thousands of tweets, thousands of commends as the President consistently has tried to deflect and deny and seems particularly and peculiarly reluctant to criticize Vladimir Putin by name.

He's been boxed into acknowledging what his cabinet and his intelligence community overwhelmingly regards as the reality of Russia's attempt to influence our election. But the President is strangely unable or unwilling most of the time to bring himself to admit it. And so we're left to ask not only why that is? But is that consistent with the responsibilities of the commander-in-chief, and as you've heard with all of the testimony of the cabinet officials, the agencies, the Pentagon, they're doing their job because they know it's for Americas interest, but it's not because the President has directed them to do so.

SCIUTTO: Juliette, you were with the Department of Homeland Security. This is a homeland security issue of foreign attack on the U.S. election system. I imagine you keep in touch with colleagues there and watch developments. What steps are you aware that the President has taken to protect U.S. elections from Russian meddling in 2018 and 2020 which has been warned about by his Director of the CIA and others that it's happening now?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, FMR ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: OK, I'm going to have to keep this in my ears, sorry about that everyone. So two things. So one, is there's a lot of private activity think tanks, universities that are going out and educating state ages about what to look for, how to protect their systems and networks from the kind of infiltration that they should be looking for.

The second issue though is whether the department has been directed, and I have to say there hasn't been much of that activity from the Department of Homeland Security itself. It is just not -- it is not been out there sort of urging states to protect their networks or educating citizens about what they should do in terms of voting. So this idea that the President has been all over it or is ready for 2018 is absolutely ridiculous at this stage. We're just a few months from the election. Nothing has been done that you can say it's a concerted effort by the Homeland Security apparatus to protect our voting booths.

SCIUTTO: To protect our votes, right, I imagine Americans want their votes to mean something. Tim, the President in the past, he's accepted openly in public Putin's denials. He's never called him out publicly by name, particularly this weekend when he called everybody out except Putin, really. What do you take that as? I mean what is your interpretation of Trump's reluctance to go after the President of Russia, a state that has proven itself an adversary of the U.S. on many different levels?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I think he also at one point didn't he suggest coordinating some kind of cybersecurity --

[19:10:02]SCIUTTO: Yes.

NAFTALI: -- program with the Russians, which is not something you do if you really consider them an adversary. I think this administration has been speaking with two different voices on Russia.

The Secretary of Defense Mattis gave a very tough speech last month about America's National Security challenges. And he called out Russia as an adversary. The problem here is we have a very disengaged commander-in-chief. If you listen to the Pentagon, Pentagon is saying very important and very logical things about Russia. If you'll listen to the President of the United States, he seems to be finding every excuse possible for explaining Russian behavior. And as regards to the toughness of President Obama, if you look at the timeline laid out by the Mueller investigation. The reason the Russians started this active measures campaign in our democracy was because of the Obama executive orders that placed sanctions on Russia following the invasion of Crimea.

This whole thing is a product of Obama's toughness on Russia. So I'm not sure what he's talking about when he says that he's been a lot tougher on Russia than his predecessor.

SCIUTTO: Well, we want to get to that because there have been a lot of questions today about the claims about who is tougher. So I want to go to Tom Foreman, he's been doing a fact check, a reality check on this. Tom, what did you find? What do the facts say about which administration was in fact tougher on Russia?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly what the President asked for, isn't it? He says I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Just look at the facts. That was the tweet.

Well, here are facts, especially when we start with this issue of meddling in the election. We know that it is fair to say that the Obama administration was slow to acknowledge this problem in a public way. Many critics have sited that. They say that's a genuine problem. But after it was known after the election, 35 diplomats were expelled. They imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and agencies that were involved and they closed two Russian compounds here in the United States.

By comparison, the Trump administration, even as U.S. intelligence forces were assuring them this was a reality. He was reluctant to admit that the Russians had done this. He has not imposed sanctions approved by Congress, further sanctions on Russia, and while the White House says that future elections have somehow been secured against future meddling, there really no details on how that might have been done.

What about the bigger question of Russian elections? We know that Barack Obama quite specifically warned Vladimir Putin to keep his fingers out of the American democratic process. On the other hand as you noted a moment ago, President Trump has been much warmer to Putin even at one point saying he believed Putin when he denied any Russian involvement. He has hosted diplomats in the Oval Office from Russia at Putin's request.

And yes the White House will say that they've increased the budget for the U.S. military and that they have made more plans for more energy going into Europe and they have taken other steps against Russian diplomatic outposts here and have continued the sanctions from Barack Obama. But if you take that all together, does this still make any evidence that he's been tougher than Barack Obama? You can certainly say Barack Obama could have been tougher, but any evidence that Donald Trump has been tougher than him, no, there is none. The statement is simply false, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Tom Foreman there, it's always good to check the facts. John Avlon, you look at that, it seems pretty clear- cut and accepting that the Obama administration, they made a lot of mistakes. I hear that from Republicans certainly, but also Democrats and even former Obama administration officials. Why does the Trump administration and Trump himself still go down this path? I imagine this argument -- lot of argument appeals to many who support him?

AVLON: Yes, I mean, look the President seems are desperately drawn to kind of a variation on the "Saturday Night Live" Skit Quien Es Mas macho. He really wants to show he's the toughest guy in the room all the time even when the facts don't bear it out. But if somewhere between flimsy and ridiculous when you look at the facts. President Obama definitely made mistakes in dealing with this. He was convinced not to talk about Russian influence in the election because he was actually concerned it would appear that he was trying to meddle in the election, put his thumb on the scale, and argument advanced by Mitch McConnell and other Republicans at the time. That was a disastrous and naive mistake.

But as you've seen, there is a precision pattern of him being tough with Russia certainly after the election. And President Trump pressed a wriggle out of accountability and action on Russia while his administration I think does their level best to be responsible in dealing with the threat. It's a dereliction of duty at the end of the day.

SCIUTTO: Juliette, does this make U.S. elections in 2018 and 2020, his lack of leadership less safe? Does it make those votes less safe?

KAYYEM: Yes, for two reasons. One is just the motivation of Russia, I mean we look so weak. This weekend those -- that Twitter storm that Trump did just makes him look so paranoid and defensive, that Putin and Russia and the Russian intelligence agencies are going to walk into that vacuum knowing that the man that our President has essentially no machismo, I guess to that's the word we're using today to push back on Russia, and Putin and his aggressive stance.

[19:15:22] So to the extent that they feel like they've been checked, that the Russians have been exposed and checked, there is no way. The second is I don't -- I actually don't worry about vote changes right now. Now of course, it could occur. The Russians could come in. They could try to change votes in various voting booths.

It's harder to do. What does worry me though is just that the Russia has not been sort of forced to do -- to sort of change their focus on fake news. And that seems to me to be the scarier output of even the Mueller in indictments at this stage.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we know it was happening through the shooting too. You know, a lot of Russian troll sending out divisive stuff.


SCIUTTO: Tim, Juliette, John that's all we have time for. Thanks very much.

Outfront next, that Trump tweet about the FBI being too busy with Russia to prevent the Parkland shooting. Tonight the White House says never mind.

Plus, if the government won't do anything to prevent mass shooting, should banks start leading the way. We'll explain.

And breaking news we're just learning that Vice President Pence was set to meet with the North Koreans at the Olympics but that meeting never happened. Who cancelled? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[19:20:11] SCIUTTO: Breaking news, the White House tonight trying to walk back a controversial tweet from President Trump in which he blamed the FBI for the Florida shooting. Trump tweeted, quote, "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They're spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump Campaign. There is no collusion. Get back to the basics makes us all proud!" Exclamation point.

Here is how Press Secretary Sarah Sanders though tried to explain it away today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President doesn't really think that the FBI failed to stop the Parkland shooter because it was too involved with the Russia investigation, does he?

SANDERS: I think he was speaking -- not necessarily that that is the cause. I think we all have to be aware that the cause of this is that of a deranged individual that made a decision to take the lives of 17 other people. But that is the responsibility of the shooter, certainly not the responsibility of anybody else.


SANDERS: I think he's making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the Trump campaign and its involvement.


SCIUTTO: Outfront now, National Political Reporter for Politico, Eliana Johnson. And Former Ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, Richard Painter.

Richard you heard that favorite word there regarding the Russia investigation from the President and White House which is hoax. And yet we saw on Friday, 13 Russian nationals, three Russian groups they been found with great legal detail to have interfered in the election, and yet the President continues to so doubt.

RICHARD PAINTER, FMR WH-ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it's very clear that the President doesn't want the Russia investigation to go forward. He would prefer that Robert Mueller be on hallway duty at the high schools protecting people from crazies with assault weapons in a (INAUDIBLE). I mean that's what he would prefer. But that's not what Robert Mueller is going to be doing. And the school shooting is absolutely nothing to do with Robert Mueller doing his job. It has everything to do with the out of control gun lobby and the fact we don't have decent gun laws in this country.

But meanwhile the Russia investigation is going to have to go forward because there has been a serious threat to our national security when another country is able to infiltrate our election and take advantage of the session with identity politics in the United States. And use Facebook the way they did as set forth in the indictment of 13 Russians just last Friday to hack the e-mail over at the DNC and engage in other criminal activities. There was a meeting in the Trump Tower, there's clearly collaboration.

We don't know whether was illegal collaboration or not. A lot of people have lied about it. But this is a very serious investigation. He can tweet about it all he wants but it's going to go forward.

SCIUTTO: Eliana, I want to ask you, because it is interesting to see Sarah Huckabee Sanders there attempt to walk back Trump's tweet. She didn't defend it, she didn't say yes the Russia investigation is, you know, gotten a way, you know, the FBI's job here. I mean she seemed to be making a concerted effort there to say, no, President really didn't mean to go there. Do you think that they got a sense that this was going too far?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. I think we saw Sarah Sanders in a position that we see many White House spokesman and spokeswomen in about 75% of the time that they're asked about something the President said, which is they're put in the position of defending the in defensible and Sarah did something smart which was she answered a question she wasn't asked. She wasn't asked who's responsible ultimately for the shooting but she answered that the shooting is nonetheless the responsibility of only the single deranged individual.

And John Carl of ABC pressed her on that. And ultimately she tried to explain what the President said. But you'll notice there's been a slight change intact particular of the way that the White House communications officers respond to things the President said. They'll say he was saying this, he was saying that. They do not talk in we terms --


JOHNSON: -- anymore. And I think that's a pretty significant development.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We surely noticed that on the denials about relationships for instance for Stormy Daniels.

And separate topic here, Richard we heard Chief Of Staff John Kelly announcing that the White House is now overhauling how it handles these interim security clearances is in the wake of the Rob Porter case but also news reported by CNN that how many people are still operating under these interim clearances including the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner here. And yet Kelly said or rather Sanders insisted today that these changes will not impact Kushner's work.

And Kelly saying he still has full confidence in Kushner. How do you reconcile those two things? If they have overhauling the system, so they have fewer this interim security clearances. How can they let someone with interim security clearance have so much responsibility? [19:25:10] PAINTER: No system to overhaul. We had the system in place under President's Bush and Obama. And under that system someone like Mr. Porter never would have gotten a clearance to work in the White House at all with that number of allegations of domestic abuse. I'm not saying those allegations they're true, but there are enough of them that he never would have gotten clearance.

And Jared Kushner it's quite clear that it's a very serious situation. I think worse from security vantage point than Rob Porter because he has numerous unexplained meetings with foreign nationals, has trouble telling the truth about it, has trouble telling the truth to this financial disclosure forms. There's a lot going on with Jared Kushner that could indeed be a threat to our national security. I have no idea why he's still in the White House under these circumstances except for the fact that he is the President's son-in-law. And indeed that may very well be the reason Congress enacted an anti-nepotism statute that unfortunately has been interpreted by the Department of Justice to allow the President to make this appointment but it's turned out to be a very, very tragic mistake.

SCIUTTO: Eliana in your reporting, and particularly after you hear a statement of confidence like that from the chief of staff, have you heard or seen any signs that Kushner's position is in jeopardy at all in the wake 2of this? 2 JOHNSON: You know, my reporting indicates that John Kelly was prepared to take action on everybody who held interim security clearances and ultimately didn't act. Now the question that comes to mind is was he prevented from taking action because Jared Kushner is one of the people who was working on these interim security clearances. And I have to say the statement that Kelly put out tonight about Kushner's responsibilities not changing in the wake of renewed scrutiny of interim clearances simply doesn't make sense to me given that we know, A, that Jared Kushner sees the most highly classified and sensitive material in the White House and, B, that he's operating on an interim clearance. So it seems that something would absolutely have to give there.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You have to wonder if you and I were applying under similar circumstances what would happen to our applications. Eliana, Richard thanks very much.

Outfront next, banks and guns, could the financial industry succeed where Congress has failed.

And breaking news, a vote in Florida to ban assault weapons fails. Going nowhere this as teenagers by the busload are about to come to arrive at the State Capital to demand action.


[19:30:29] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Tonight, President Trump says he has directed the Justice Department to propose a new rule to ban bump stocks. Now, a bump stock is a device let's a shooter fire semiautomatic weapons much more rapidly, mimicking automatic gunfire, like a machine gun. The Las Vegas gunman fired his weapons using bump stock as he killed, and listen to that sound there, 58 people in October, and injured hundreds more.

It's not clear when or even if a new rule will actually be implemented, but still this is as the national debate over what to do about mass shootings now shifting to corporate America. One idea, remarkable one really for banks and credit card companies to stop allowing their services, their payment services to be used for gun purchases.

OUTFRONT now is Robert Reich. He's a former labor secretary under President Clinton and author of "The Common Good", which hits shelves today. And Stephen Moore, he is a former senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign.

Robert, if "The New York Times" Andrew Ross Sorkin, he floated this idea today of corporate America stepping up. In other words, I guess you could use your visa gun to buy an AR-15, say. From your perspective, could it work?

2ROBERT REICH, FORMER U.S. LABOR SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, it might be able to work, Jim. But I'll tell you something nobody wants more sensible gun controls than I do. But frankly, the idea of big banks deciding what we are going to buy that is already legal disturbs me. I mean, once you go down that road, there is no end to it.

I mean, in my book, I talk about "The Common Good" as matter of reforming our institutions, reforming politics. I mean, the problem fundamentally is the NRA and other special interests have too much power. There is too much money in the system. I want to get that money out. I want to make sure that people have a say.

That's the way the system ought to work. Not give big banks final authority to determine what it is that people can buy.

SCIUTTO: Steve Moore, what do you think about that idea?

STEPHEN MOORE, FORMER SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER, 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN: I almost never agree with Robert Reich, Jim, but on this one I probably do. I think -- look, I do agree with you. I think it's not right to require the banks and credit card companies to be essentially the cops here. I mean, we as a society have to make a decision about assault weapons and whether they should be banned or not.

Look, I also believe, though, I mean, maybe part company a little bit with Robert Reich, on the fact that, look, if a company doesn't want to have a conscience, a social conscience, and they don't want to do business with, you know, a companies that sell guns, I could see a case for them certainly having the right to do that.

But then, Jim, what some of my liberal friends have to think about, that could go both ways. What if the credit card companies under pressure from conservatives said, you know, you can't use credit card to fund an abortion or sugary drinks, and things like that, so then it becomes just a free for all.

REICH: Well, this is exactly, Jim, this is exactly why I think that we've got to reform the system. Steve Moore, you must, I hope, you will agree with me on the importance of getting big money out of politics, making sure special interests like the NRA no longer dominates our politics on such critical issues, giving people a voice. I mean, those teenagers on their way to Tallahassee now, that's what America is all about. That is actually people taking the political system and trying to make it responsive.

SCIUTTO: We'll talk about to one of those students next. Go ahead, Steven.

MOORE: No. Look, I agree with, you know, citizens taking action, to petition their government is exactly the right thing to do. I may not agree with, you know -- and I'm kind of agnostic frankly about gun control. I'm a little skeptical about how well it would work. But I don't want to see continued violence.

But, you know, I just think that people should -- I think this is a matter for the legislature. And when it comes to the NRA, Bob, look, how many members? I don't know the exact number. I'm guessing about 2 million people.

NRA is representing a lot of people. It's like saying unions should not have a voice in politics. I mean, why shouldn't they?

REICH: The NRA is actually representing, as far as I can tell, gun manufacturers. I mean, they are the real power behind the NRA. And, look, Steve --

MOORE: I don't know about that.

REICH: You know as well as I do, all the polls show, the vast majority of Americans do not want assault rivals. They do not want -- they want some sort of background check before people can buy guns. I mean, this was established.

[19:35:00] We almost were there with bipartisan legislation. We've almost been there several times and it's the NRA that blocks it.

And I don't know whether you're talking -- I mean, the fact of the matter is that this is not a democracy that's working right now, whether talking about the NRA or you're talking about the power of big banks. Steve, I want to make sure you get a copy of my new book, "The Common Good".

SCIUTTO: You're a good salesman, Robert. I do want to --

MOORE: I like the other one about saving capitalism.

But, you know, look, people have a voice in American politics. And that includes people who want guns who are very skeptical about liberals wanting -- look, there are a lot of your liberal friends, Bob, who do want to just not takeaway assault weapons, they want to ban all guns in America. And a lot of gun owners are very rightly afraid of that kind of idea.

Meanwhile, you have a lot of these young kids doing a great thing and becoming politically active and having their voice heard. That's the way our political system works. But to say that gun owners should be just silence in this debate I think is unfair.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about something the president has done here. Because there is a new poll that says 52 percent of respondents disapprove now of the president's handling of Parkland shooting, 33 percent you see there approve, 15 percent no answer. He made an announcement today, at least opening the door to a change on bump stocks.

I wonder, Stephen, if you see the president reading something there? Reading a change in the national mood on guns, particularly weapons like the ones we saw used in Parkland?

MOORE: Quite possibly. I haven't talked to the president about this so I can't really say what he's thinking. But he has said maybe we do need some more rational restraints on guns and making sure that people who are mentally ill aren't getting guns. That makes sense. I mean, I'm certainly for that. I'm not dogmatic on this issue and I hope we can get a resolution and stop these kind of killings.

But, you know, Bob, if you are right, that this is just the NRA and this issue is so great, why is it that so many Democrats have lost elections on the gun issue? Every time they come out for gun control, they lose elections.

REICH: It's money, Steve. It's called big money. Follow the money, always following the money.

SCIUTTO: And it's a good point, Steve, because Democratic and Republican lawmakers have often refused to take action. Thanks to both of you. It's a difficult debate. We're going to be continuing this on town hall tomorrow night on CNN.

As a country, we're certainly going to be keeping up the conversation.

OUTFRONT next, breaking news: busloads of students from Parkland about to descend on the Florida capital to demand action to stop gun violence as lawmakers vote down another measure to ban assault rifles.

And breaking news, Vice President Mike Pence was set to meet with North Koreans during the Olympics until someone had second thoughts. Who was it?


[19:41:28] SCIUTTO: Breaking news, a major vote to ban assault weapons, including the rifle used to kill 17 people in the Florida high school shooting has failed tonight. In fact, the Florida House wouldn't even consider a bill that would ban those AR-15 style weapons and other weapons, this just as busloads of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School made their way to the state capital tonight to meet with lawmakers. Some of the high school students were in the gallery in fact to witness the vote.

Today, just six days since their classmates and teachers were murdered. Since then, some of the most vocal calls for change has come from the students themselves.

Ariana Ortega is OUTFRONT. She is a senior who was there on the day of the shooting. She lost a good friend in the shooting and she joins me from that bus on the way to Tallahassee.

Ariana, thanks so much for coming on.

While you've been on the bus, I wonder if you've heard the news that this afternoon, the Florida House actually voted that down a measure to even vote on a bill banning assault rifles. What's your reaction to that?


To be completely honest with you, after hearing that news, it was a little discouraging, but you know, just as all the great people in history have, we have to keep fighting. Change is not going to be easy. It's not going to come quick. And we are going to keep raising our voice, voicing our opinions.

And also, we may want to take a different approach. Maybe the assault ban was too much of a big step at once. We need to take things one step at a time. And there are plenty of other bills on the table that we can look at and compromise with our legislatures to see if they are able to maybe vote and pass those.

SCIUTTO: You are clearly very politically astute early on. I know you're going to have a meeting some of you with the Florida governor, the attorney general tomorrow. So what other kind of things might you ask of them?

ORTEGA: Well, what we want to emphasize, really right now is we want Republicans and Democrats alike to understand this is not an issue of left or right. This is an issue having to do with common sense with well-being of our citizens of America. So, we are willing to look at both bills having to do with gun laws, but also with bills having to do with mental illness alike.

SCIUTTO: Now, I know and I'm sure you know, you ventured into some pretty nasty political territory there and we have seen evidence of that. There is some on the right. They're attacking students personally. They are saying you're tools of the anti-gun lobby.

How do you respond to that kind of poisonous environment?

ORTEGA: Well, what I'd like to really emphasize is that everything that we as students are saying, we are saying from our hearts. This is all the effects of the tragedy that we have gone through. We are not tools, as they say, which I find very offensive, honestly, because I think people are kind of surprised that students at this age are able to voice such things on their own.

We are not puppets. We are very astute and capable of individuals who want to see change in our country because we know we are the leaders of the future. SCIUTTO: You are absolutely right. There's nothing more American

than that. I don't think anyone would contest that.

You mention speaking from the heart. Your fellow students have spoken out so powerfully. One of the biggest challenges is going to be keeping up this momentum, keeping up these voices. How do you and your friends, your classmates plan to do that?

[19:45:02] To keep the momentum, to keep at it, to not give up?

ORTEGA: We as students will continue involving as many people around us to support us. We will keep our voices loud and strong to ensure this doesn't die away. With this, I think with all the support that we have, coming from around the entire country, we are going to make sure that we are not silenced until change is actually made.

SCIUTTO: You know, Ariana, I know that one of the reasons you are there on that bus, and you are sticking with this, is because you lost a friend, you lost a friend last week, Carmen Schentrup killed in the shooting. I can only imagine the pain you are feeling now. Her funeral was held today.

What are you trying to do in Tallahassee to honor her memory?

ORTEGA: Well, first, I'd like to start off by saying that Carmen was one of my very first friends when I moved here to Parkland. We were both new to the area. So, we bonded instantly. And since then, Carmen has grown to be one of the most intelligent individuals I have ever known.

She was so kind and so intelligent beyond her years. Her birthday is actually tomorrow, which is very tragic to think about. But we are going to Tallahassee on her birthday, I think this is how I'm honoring her. I'm trying to make changes to make sure that no family, no individual has ever has to go through what she had to go through or as we as students have to go through.

SCIUTTO: Well, they shouldn't t and the fact that you are going to be there on her birthday, that's pretty darn powerful.

Ariana, best of luck to you and your classmates there, OK? We're going to continue to follow your story.

ORTEGA: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Well, tomorrow night, there will be a very special event here on CNN. A live town hall with students from Stoneman Douglas High School demanding end to sense less violence. They ask their questions directly to lawmakers. That will be 9:00 Eastern Time tomorrow, right here on CNN.

And OUTFRONT next tonight, breaking news, secret meeting supposed to take place between Vice President Mike Pence and North Koreans during the Olympics, but something happened at the 11th hour.

And the love hate relationship between Donald Trump and Mitt Romney. (COMMERICAL BREAK)

[19:51:04] SCIUTTO: Breaking news. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with the North Korean officials during the Olympics. The North Koreans though cancelled the meeting shortly before it was supposed to take place. This according to the vice president's office.

One of the officials who were supposed to be in that meeting, Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong.

Kaitlan Collins is OUTFRONT tonight.

Kaitlan, what is the vice president's office saying about who blinked, who canceled the meeting at the 11th hour.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jim, they are confirming that Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with the North Korean delegation as the Olympics in South Korea. But the North Koreans called it off roughly ten-days ago on February 10 at the Blue Moon House.

So, let me set the stage for you. The vice president and the administration overall was touting his trip going there as an effort to combat any attempt by North Korea to use as a propaganda tool. And we certainly saw the vice president go after North Korea highlighting their abuses multiple times after he met with North Korean defectors, and also, Jim, brought the father of Otto Warmbier as his guest, Otto Warmbier, the student and was an imprison in North Korea and then brought back up to the United States in a coma where he died only days later.

So, we saw that happened, and the vice president's office has issued a statement on this. Let me read you a little bit of it from Nick Ayers, the vice president's chief of staff. He said that North Korea would have strongly preferred the vice president not use the world stage to call attention to those absolute facts or to display our strong alliance to those committed to the maximum pressure campaign. But as we've said from day one, the administration will stand in the way of Kim's desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics.

Now, the last line from this statement from the vice president's office is very important where they said that the president himself, President Trump signed off on this meeting with the caveat that Vice President Pence would make clear that they would not back off their demand that North Korea denuclearize, they said. The president made a decision that if they wanted to talk, we would deliver our uncompromising message. And if they ask for a meeting, we would meet. He also made clear that until they agree to complete denuclearization, we weren't going to change any of our positions or negotiate.

But, Jim, certainly, a stunning development here.

SCIUTTO: Yes, the openness there, but also the North Koreans cancelled last minute. Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

OUTFRONT next, the Trump Romney bromance.


[19:57:42] SCIUTTO: President Trump and Mitt Romney giving new meaning to forgiving and forgetting.

Here is Jeanne Moos.




JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They came together. They came apart.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud.

TRUMP: And Mitt is indeed a choke artist.

MOOS: Now, once again, President Trump has choked out an endorsement of Mitt Romney. He will make a great candidate.

Just forget that time Trump said --

TRUMP: Mitt was a disaster as a candidate.

MOOS: And now, the disaster is saying, thank you, Mr. President, for the support.

Never mind back when he said.

ROMNEY: Dishonesty is Donald Trump's hallmark.

MOOS: Trump has tweeted that Romney is a total joke, a dope. Romney has attacked Trump for hitting on married women, telling then- candidate Trump, show voters your back taxes #whatishehiding.

Back in 2012, when Mitt was running for president, businessman Trump endorsed him.

TRUMP: Mitt is tough, he's smart, he's sharp.

ROMNEY: Means a great deal to me to have the endorsement of Mr. Trump.

MOOS: During that first endorsement, Mitt even got the taste of the yank and shake.

ROMNEY: Thank you, Donald.

MOOS: But Mitt lost, and when Donald ran for president, Romney couldn't take it.

ROMNEY: The bullying, the greed, the showing off.

MOOS: Trump taunted Romney about their past.

TRUMP: He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees, he would have dropped to his knees.

MOOS: Mitt sure looked miserable, but when Trump won, Romney met with him, hoping in vain to become secretary of state.

REPORTER: Do you still think he is a con artist, sir?

ROMNEY: He's a con man, a fake.

MOOS: This is why they say politics makes strange bedfellows. Who could imagine these two would be --


MOOS: Reunited, maybe for now. But feels so good so -- I don't think so.

TRUMP: Like Romney who truly is a lightweight.

ROMNEY: His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


SCIUTTO: Well, let's see how long this one lasts.

Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

"AC360" starts right now.