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Rick Gates Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy, Lying Charges; Trump Pushing Idea of Arming Teachers to Curb Violence; Decision On Jared Kushner's Security Clearance Up To Chief Of Staff John Kelly; Tip To FBI Predicted School, Shooter Was Going To Explode. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 23, 2018 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:14] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Cooperating witness. Trump campaign official Rick Gates pleads guilty in the Russia investigation, agreeing to cooperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Has Mueller put the squeeze on former campaign chairman Paul Manafort with new charges?

Failure to act. CNN reviews a chilling transcript of an urgent call to the FBI warning that Nikolas Cruz could get into a school and, quote, "shoot the place up." When the massacre did eventually take place, were multiple law officers too slow to intervene?

Giving Jared clearance. Today is the deadline for White House staffers still working without full security clearances. One of them is President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor. Could Jared Kushner actually lose his access to top-secret information?

And rambling message. President Trump goes off the rails in a rambling address to a conservative group, vowing to build his border wall, warning that Democrats would take away gun rights and once again slamming Hillary Clinton to the chants of "Lock her up."

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty to conspiracy and lying to federal investigators and will cooperate with the special counsel against his longtime business partner, the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. The flip by Gates raises the pressure on Manafort, who now faces new charges.

Also breaking, chilling new details of an urgent warning to the FBI about the Florida shooter. A caller saying that Nikolas Cruz was about to explode. And disturbing new information about the initial response to the massacre as President Trump insists that arming teachers is the way to stop mass shooters.

I'll speak with Congressman Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are standing by with full coverage.

Let's begin with the breaking news. The guilty plea by one of former Trump -- former Trump campaign aides raising the pressure on another.

Let's get right to our legal experts. We're just learning new charges against Paul Manafort. Evan Perez, first to you. You were in the court today when Rick Gates pleaded guilty. Tell our viewers what happened.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today, Rick Gates became a very important cooperating witness in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. And that's a big deal not only to Paul Manafort, who is his business partner, but also to others in the Trump campaign who are part of this investigation.

Gates today pleaded guilty to two charges, two criminal charges. One: conspiracy against the United States to defraud the United States, and the second charge of lying to FBI agents and to -- to the special counsel during an interview that he had earlier this year -- earlier this year -- earlier this month, rather, as part of these plea negotiations.

Now, according to prosecutors today in court, they are saying that these two longtime business partners were part of a scheme in which they laundered $30 million for ten years. They didn't pay income tax, essentially, and they used this -- used fraudulent loans to get money, over $20 million of it to finance a very lavish lifestyle.

Now in court today, Gates was very -- very quiet. He said, "Yes, your honor," every time he was asked whether he understood what was doing in pleading guilty to these charges. Wolf, he's facing between four and a half and six years in prison. This is a far cry from the decades he was facing if he had been found guilty in the two cases that he was facing, one of them here in Washington, and another one in Alexandria, Virginia.

BLITZER: Four and a half years, a lot better than decades in prison when you're 45 years old and you have kids at home, as well. The past few minutes, though, we received new information about yet more charges being filed?

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. It just keeps coming for Paul Manafort, in particular.

Now that Rick Gates has pleaded guilty, these new charges against Paul Manafort essentially add some of the allegations that the government made yesterday in charges that they filed in Alexandria, Virginia. And also some of the charges that Rick Gates is now admitting to in court today.

Prosecutors described this scheme, whereby they hired politicians, former politicians in Europe as part of an effort to lobby for Ukraine. At the time the Ukrainian government was led by a pro-Russia party, which is what Manafort and Gates were working for. Again, this is all part of a lobbying campaign that, according to the government, they should have disclosed to the government and failed to do.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz is with us, as well. Shimon, Gates pleaded guilty today to lying to federal prosecutors earlier this month. [17:05:03] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:

Yes. And that was during the proffer. This is when he met with prosecutors and FBI agents and talked about a possible agreement to cooperate. This was sort of one of those days when he went in, and he was supposed to tell them everything he knows about crimes that were committed or perhaps crimes...


PROKUPECZ: ... that he was part of. And this was in February. Or just weeks ago.

Now what's interesting about this was that the false statement related to information he had about a 2013 meeting that -- that happened on the Hill with a congressman and other people. And the special counsel and the FBI had asked him some questions about whether it was -- the meeting was about Ukraine. He had lied about what the meeting was about, and so they went as far back as 2013 to charge him. Now, something he did in -- something he had knowledge about in 2013 they're just now charging him about. And I think it's important -- where this is important is this is how far back the special counsel is going in this investigation.

BLITZER: What's so significant is how much information Robert Mueller and his team have collected on so many -- so many of these issues. This guilty plea by Rick Gates, he was the right-hand man to Paul Manafort, potentially, Shimon, represents a significant threat to Paul Manafort.

PROKUPECZ: Absolutely. It certainly does represent a big threat, because -- but not only Paul Manafort. It could be other people in the campaign or other people associated with the campaign. Who knows?

Look, the bottom line is one of the people, obviously, who who has the most exposure, as far as we know, right now is Paul Manafort. He released a statement to us just moments after Rick Gates pleaded guilty. And I'll go ahead and read that to you.

And he said, quote, "Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence. I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface, he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled-up charges contained in the indictments against me."

So clearly here, Wolf, he says he's going to continue to defend himself. No sign here, at least, that he intends to cooperate, which is something clearly, we believe the people who have reported on it, is something that the special counsel wants. It's something that prosecutors want, because they do believe that he has information that could be vital to this investigation.

PEREZ: And keep in mind, Wolf, I mean, Paul Manafort is about to be 69 years old. Again, these charges that he's facing, if he's found guilty, we're talking decades in prison; he's going to die in prison. And I'm not sure that that's something that is not being rethought as Rick Gates, his business partner, somebody who knows everything about what was going on in the past few years of his life, has now pleaded guilty.

And look, as Shimon mentioned, you know, this -- this lie that occurred during the guilty plea negotiations, essentially, is part of the drama that's been going on behind the scenes. And it's kind of driven us crazy, frankly, the last few days.

Rick Gates showed up in court yesterday to file papers on his own. He was getting rid of one set of lawyers, hiring another. It was all kinds of -- all kinds of drama going on behind the scenes. As there was pressure for him to plead guilty and pressure from people close to Manafort and others to stay the course, to fight on and try to make sure that they go to trial.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin, I'm really anxious to get your perspective on the drama of what happened today.

TOOBIN: Well, in virtually every paragraph of the charges to which Gates pleaded guilty, Paul Manafort's name appears. Manafort and Gates, Manafort and Gates. This was a collaborative criminal enterprise, and Gates is going to -- on -- he's going to disclose it to the jury, if it came to that.

I don't see any way that Paul Manafort can actually take this case to trial at this point. Sure, he can go to trial. He can say that Gates is lying. He can say that, you know -- but if you look at the charges, you know, they either paid taxes or on they didn't. And Gates is saying, "We didn't pay taxes." I don't know how you defend that.

They're supposed to disclose their lobbying activities. Gates is saying, "We didn't disclose it. I don't see how you defend that. I mean, I think the pressure on Manafort is going to be so enormous to plead guilty that I would be shocked at this point if he actually wound up going to trial.

BLITZER: And let's say he does. Let's say Manafort does what Rick Gates has done, what the formal national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has done. Plead guilty, cooperate and hope for a more lenient sentence. What does that mean, if Manafort does the same thing?

TOOBIN: Well, Manafort has a problem now, because he doesn't have anyone to give up who's currently being charged with anything. I mean, that's why it always benefits the people who decide to cooperate early. But it's always better in terms of sentencing to plead guilty and admit your misconduct and then go into sentencing. Even if you don't have people to give up.

Now, what's important to remember about these charges is that the conspiracy charge continued throughout the time that Manafort and Gates were working on the Trump campaign. Every minute they were working on the Trump campaign, at least according to Rick Gates, they were also engaged in a criminal conspiracy.

[17:10:06] The question that, obviously, prosecutors and the rest of us want to know is was anyone else involved? And were they involved in any other criminal conspiracies, not just about the one coming out of all their money coming out of Ukraine.

BLITZER: But I assume that, Jeffrey, the prosecuting team, Mueller and his team, they suspect that Manafort might know something relevant about an individual or individuals who have not yet been charged.

TOOBIN: Certainly. And, you know, that's why they're leaning on him, and that's why they keep piling on all these charges.

And, you know, when Rick Gates comes out with this ridiculous self- pitying statement that, "Oh, you know, I pleaded guilty because my family is so -- you know, is so sad and it's a circus atmosphere." The reason Rick Gates pleaded guilty is because he's a criminal and because he's guilty. And that's the only reason a judge will accept a guilty plea in our system.

And I think we need to keep in mind that this is not just about, oh, the prosecutor's being so mean and using their resources. This was a criminal enterprise that Gates was involved in. He clearly says that Manafort was involved in it, too. And the question we all want to know is who else?

PEREZ: And that's the thing, Wolf. There's a lot that the special counsel knows that we don't yet know.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect. We just know a tiny little bit of what they know.

Everybody, stick around. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut is joining us. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: How significant is today's guilty plea by Rick Gates as well as this new, what they call superseding indictment against Paul Manafort?

HIMES: Well, it's significant in at least two ways, Wolf. First, I mean, I can't tell you. This is one of those through the looking glass moments where I'm watching TV, and there's the president at the CPAC conference, and the entire conference is chanting, "Lock her up, lock her up." You know, when the charge on Hillary Clinton was that she had sub-optimal e-mail practices.

Meanwhile the chairman of the president's campaign turns out to allegedly have been a tax fraud and a money launderer. I mean, it just -- I've got to tell you, you couldn't write this stuff. So that's a political -- an interesting political point.

Look, setting aside the politics of this, the big question now, Wolf, is as Jeffrey alludes to, you know, what does Paul Manafort have to offer Bob Mueller that allows him to contemplate the possibility of not dying in prison?

And the big question, of course, and again, as somebody who's on the investigative committee, I want to not prejudice the -- you know, my opinions or speak with prejudice. The big question is did Paul Manafort, you know, serve as any sort of conduit, any sort of bridge or communication to anybody, pro-Russians in Ukraine? Russians? You know, the guy obviously did a lot of business in the region. And so we're going to need to get to the bottom of whether there was any nexus with Russia. And I've got to believe that's what Bob Mueller is interested in hearing Paul Manafort talk about.

BLITZER: Today, Gates pleaded guilty to lying to investigators. Earlier this month -- federal investigators earlier this month, while discussing a possible plea deal with Robert Mueller's team. Why does that seem to be such a pattern right now in this Russia probe?

HIMES: Well, you really do ask yourself that question. I mean, if there's one of many lessons in this whole investigation, you know, we now have George Papadopoulos. We have Michael Flynn. We now have Gates, all of whom pled guilty to lying to federal -- to federal investigators.

And you sort of scratch your head and say, "Wait a minute. What's the up side of that?" Especially when you read the indictment that we saw yesterday, where boy, you know, you read that indictment, and the level of details that Bob Mueller has, this is a man who knows pretty much everything.

So you know, again, as this investigation proceeds, I think Mueller is sending a signal that "I know a lot more than you know, and be very, very careful how you answer my questions."

BLITZER: Assuming that Rick Gates is giving up important information on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman," do you believe Manafort will end up cooperating with federal prosecutors? With Robert Mueller as well, despite the fact that he issued this statement today maintaining his innocence and promising to fight these charges?

HIMES: Well, again, that's kind of the big question for those of us -- you know, the congressional investigations obviously are not particularly interested in money laundering or tax evasion, the charges that are on the table.

What is very interesting, since Bob Mueller is also charged with investigating the Russian attack on our election system and whether there was any form of collusion. This obviously is immense leverage.

And it doesn't surprise me that Paul Manafort says he's going to fight it. There's obviously a little bit of a dance, a negotiation that happens before somebody -- somebody begins to cooperate.

[1715:05] But as Jeffrey Toobin said, this is -- this is not a "he said, she said" situation. You know, there's money -- there's money in the bank. There's taxes that either were or weren't paid. So I think the big question now is does Paul Manafort have something he can offer Bob Mueller that will allow him to not spend the rest of his days behind bars?

BLITZER: We'll soon find out, I suspect. Thank you very much for that. Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut.

Just ahead, there's more breaking news we're following. President Trump labors on one key gun control measure but sticks to his plan to put weapons in the hands of teachers.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well-trained, gun- adept teachers and coaches and people that work in those buildings, people that were in the Marines for 20 years and retired, people in the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, people that are adept -- adept -- with weaponry and with guns. They teach.



[17:20:28] BLITZER: We'll get back to this hour's breaking story: new charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But also breaking now, President Trump vowing once again to take steps to protect students from gun violence.

Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the president seems to be doubling down on his call to put guns in the hands of teachers.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from a morning address to conservatives just outside Washington to an afternoon news conference with the visiting Australian prime minister, one theme was consistent from President Trump. He talked again and again about arming school teachers and other officials inside the schools. He said that is one clear way to break up the so-called gun- free zones to ward away shooters. Never mind significant questions being asked about this. This is one solution he's talking about again and again.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump pledging tonight to pressure Congress to act on guns, saying it's high time to stop the cycle of massacres in American schools.

TRUMP: The problem that's been happening over the last 20 years is people have talked. You said it. It's all talk, no action. And we're going to take action.

ZELENY: The president said protecting the nation's children can't be left to security guards or school police officers alone, pointing to the Florida depth who waited outside last week's shooting without rushing in.

TRUMP: A security guard doesn't know the children, doesn't love the children. This man standing outside of the school the other day doesn't love the children. Probably doesn't know the children.

ZELENY: Instead, he's calling for well-trained teachers to carry concealed weapons.

TRUMP: I don't want a person that's never handled a gun, that wouldn't know what a gun looks like, to be armed, but out of your teaching population, out of your teaching population, you have 10 percent, 20 percent, a very gun-adept people.

ZELENY: Appearing with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the first White House news conference in 44 days, the president also weighing in on the controversy over security clearances, specifically for his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner.

White House chief of staff John Kelly said Kushner and other aids who have not obtained permanent top-secret clearance would have their access restricted. The president praised Kushner, but when asked whether he would intervene, he said this.

BLITZER: That will be up to General Kelly. General Kelly respects Jared a lot, and General Kelly will make that call. I won't make that call. I will let the general, who's right here, make that call.

ZELENY: The White House also imposing new sanctions on North Korea, targeting shipping routes in hopes of tightening the economic noose on the regime and its nuclear ambitions.

TRUMP: If the sanctions don't work, we'll have to go to phase two. And phase two may be a very rough thing. Maybe very, very unfortunate for the world. But hopefully, the sanctions will work.

ZELENY: But front and center at the White House today was the topic of guns, with the prime minister noting far more restrictive gun laws in Australia.

MALCOLM TURNBULL, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Basically, semi- automatic and, let alone, automatic weapons are essentially not available.

ZELENY: The American public is deeply divided on the president's idea to arm teachers and school officials. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans support the idea, a new CBS News poll finds, while 74 percent of Democrats are opposed.

Earlier today the president rallied supporters at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference during an 80-minute speech that he warned might go off track.

TRUMP: By the way, you don't mind if I go off script a little bit. Because you know, it's a little boring. It's a little boring.

ZELENY: The crowd, of course, didn't mind a bit as President Trump waxed nostalgic from his days as candidate Trump.

TRUMP: Do you remember, I started running and people say, "Are you sure he's a conservative?" I think now we've proved that I'm a conservative.

ZELENY: From the wall along the border with Mexico...

TRUMP: I had a couple of these characters in the back say, "Oh, he really doesn't want the wall. He just used that for campaigning." I said, "Are you -- can you believe it?" You know, I say every time I hear that, the wall gets ten feet higher. You know that, right?

ZELENY: ... to his rants against the media.

TRUMP: We have a very, very crooked media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up, lock her up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up, lock her up!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lock her up, lock her up!

ZELENY: That familiar chant from the campaign trail sounded a bit off-key today as Rick Gates, a former campaign official, is the latest to plead guilty in the Russia investigation.

The president also poked fun at himself, mentioning something he almost never does: his hair.

TRUMP: I try like hell to hide that bald spot, folks. I work hard at it. It doesn't look bad. Hey, we're hanging in. We're hanging in there. We're hanging in.


ZELENY: Now, one thing the president did not say either at the CPAC meeting or here at the White House in the afternoon news conference was the idea to raise the age limit on some types of guns: rifles and other long-arm guns. He has been talking about that specific idea in recent days from age 18 to 21. The president not mentioning it at all today. Of course, the NRA strongly says it's strongly opposed to that.

And tonight we're learning the No. 2 in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, also says that simply would not solve the problem. So, Wolf, it's an unclear prospect here, what legislation specifically will go forward. We do know the president is planning to invite lawmakers here next week to the White House to talk about specifics of gun policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.

Coming up, there's more breaking news. The special counsel, Robert Mueller, gets a guilty plea from one former Trump campaign official and files new charges against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Can he get Manafort to flip?

And chilling new details of a warning to the FBI that Nikolas Cruz could get into a school and "shoot the place up." When the massacre did take place, were law enforcement officers too slow to intervene? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:31:00] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories, including new charges filed against former Trump Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort. Plus, the latest guilty plea in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. This afternoon, Rick Gates became the third person associated with the Trump campaign to plead guilty and start cooperating with the prosecutors. Gates was a top aide to Paul Manafort. Let's bring our analyst and our experts. And Phil Mudd, how significant is this guilty plea from Rick Gates?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think there's a primary piece, Wolf, and a secondary piece. The primacy piece, you can capture in one sense. This is a three-martini night for Paul Manafort. He's to be looking at the mirror and saying, with the combination of detail, his indictments, and the fact that his associates has flipped and has presumably talking about Manafort, how the heck does he go into a trial and thinking he can win? I'm going to bet on THE SITUATION ROOM bet board, that he himself is going to plead guilty one of these days. I can't believe he's going to go to trial.

But just quickly, I think, at least as significant as the precedent that Mueller sets, people have attacked him left and right in Washington D.C. You've to believe there would be more politically sensitive indictments coming down the road. The precedent he's setting before he gets attacked by everybody in the White House in the event he indicts somebody in the White House is: don't question me on these indictments. I cross every "T", I dot the every "I". And when you read them, whether it's Russia indictments or these indictments, they're hard to escape. The data is incredible, Wolf.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALST: And also, don't lie. Do not lie to the special counsel.

BLITZER: Or to the FBI.

BORGER: Or to the FBI, and that is, you know, that is exactly what Rick Gates did in his proffer of all things.

BLITZER: Earlier this month.

BORGER: Earlier this month. On February 1, they caught him in a lie. You know, this happened with Papadopoulos as well. So, if you're going to appear before the special counsel, or if you have appeared before the special counsel, you best have told the truth.

BLITZER: How does this fit in, Gloria, into the bigger Russia investigation?

BORGER: Well, that's the -- that's the big question here, obviously there is something that Manafort knows that Bob Mueller and his team want to find out. And the way to get that, at first is, to work your way to Manafort through Gates. Gates may know a lot of things. He spans a whole bunch of time during the campaign as well as after they took office. And so, I think that Gates is important but he's really important for what he can tell them about what Manafort was doing. And why he was in the campaign.

BLITZER: Laura, because you're our legal analyst, considering the number -- the severity of all the charges that Gates was potentially facing. Were you surprise that had Bob Mueller and his team were willing to agree to what many people see as a pretty lenient plea bargain?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I wasn't fully surprised by this. On the one hand, it certainly is a pretty plea bargain. But on the other hand, depending upon what information he can give, and it has to be insight that only he has. Remember, Mueller is sitting with all the cards. He has all the Trump. He has all of it. And he has all the ultimate leverage on the 12-page indictments against Kate. So, what does Gates have that maybe Mueller's team cannot find or would have to maybe have herculean efforts to prove?

All I can think of in intent. That's the hardest thing to prove in all of worth the case. The documents, either you did the bank fraud or you didn't. It is at tax return or there's not. Either there's a document that was to corroborate it or will not. But they can't always find intent, and also the overlying pyramid and all of these things. That's why I think it's not as surprising, because Gates in his queen for a day meeting had about a week age. He must have felt like canary and given the enough inflation, and then say, you know what, it's worth its weight in gold.

BLITZER: He also lied. He admits. He admits that he lied only a couple weeks ago.

COATES: He did. But remember, the entire scene here is not surprising. The entire scene with the conspiracy and the fraudulent behavior is one of deception. Of course, he lied. That's the basis for all of these cases against them, all of these charges. So, you can always check the liar to do one thing, and that's to lie. And I think that that was probably known to Mueller's team, and it was capitalized on as an additional point of leverage.

[17:35:02] SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: But let's not just think about the role of these guys played on the campaign, right? We talked about what information they might have that might be useful. Manafort was campaign chair, Gates was deputy on the campaign. Ostensibly, think about what John Podesta did on the Hillary Clinton campaign, right? They should have known every meeting that was happening, particularly, by the way, with the Russians or with the Chinese, as well as how the finances were being used. So, we think about what sort of information Gates might have on Manafort, or Manafort might have on Trump. It really can relate to a lot of meetings with foreigners.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, let me read the statement, at least part of it that Paul Manafort released today following the plea -- a deal that Rick Gates, his former deputy accepted: "Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today. I continue to maintain my innocence. I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface, he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me." Your reaction.

MUDD: Well, first, he just lied again. He said, "our innocence". This is a reaction to a plea by his associate who actually said I'm not innocent, I'm guilty. That phrase, "our innocence", is not correct. It does not reflect the facts. I'd make a broader statement here. The president of the United States came to this city, to Washington, D.C., from New York, saying I'm going to drain the swamp, and I'm going to bring in the best people in the business.

Now, we're finding time and time again that people sent from their campaign are saying, not only did I do things that were inappropriate -- that's Mike Flynn lying to the vice president about his phone call with the Russians. But all of them, eventually are turning and saying, I was guilty of the charges you gave me, and when you fronted me about those charges, I could do nothing but lie to the FBI. This is drain the swamp? I don't get it, Wolf. This is like draining the swamp and bringing in the pond scum. These guys are liars, and I think Manafort is going to turn out to be a liar too.

BORGER: But you know, the White House is distancing itself completely from these people. I mean, the president has said, you know, Manafort only worked for us for four or five months. And Ty Cobb yesterday who served as special counsel to the president on the matters of Russia said we have no comment on the Manafort-Gates indictment because that has absolutely nothing to do with us. That's their story at this point, and they're sticking to it.

COATES: You know, Manafort, though, remember, he's trying to make a move to stay in the game. He knows that he has an opportunity possibly to plea in the future. And if he is able to hold out for the bargaining chip that I'm sure he wants, that's precisely what he's doing. I don't think he's professing he's innocent, I think he is holding out for an offer that may never come.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. There's more news we're following. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[17:42:15] BLITZER: We're back with our analyst and our experts. Sam, the president today said, you know, he's going to let the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly decide about security clearances for his son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, who's in charge with the special Middle East envoy -- to bring peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He needs security clearances to do that. What do you think of the president's decision?

VINOGRAD: Well, you also security clearances, you also need qualifications, all right? So, I think this is exactly how the process is not supposed to work. But for Jared Kushner and other members of the White House, we've seen these interim clearances rolled over and rolled over, despite red flags. When these red flags are raised for anybody other than Jared Kushner and Rob Porter, the investigations stops, there's an adjudication and someone is denied a clearance because they can't be trusted with classified information.

BLITZER: He believes, the president said, that John Kelly will do the right thing for the American people.

BORGER: Right. But he also kind of told John Kelly what he wanted him to do, which was, well, he's negotiating peace in the Middle East, he's indispensable, he's important, he's wonderful, but I'm going to leave this up to Kelly. Which is the strong signal that you ought to allow him to clearance. What will be interesting to see whether Kelly tries to thread the needle here and say, you can have some kind of clearance but you can't read the PDB, the presidential daily brief, or you can have clearance as needed on certain issues -- I don't, you know, quite know how that would work. But, or whether Kelly would allow him to have this clearance while other people, other people inside the White House are denied clearance.

BLITZER: Phil, go ahead, weigh in.

MUDD: Pretty simple. I think Kelly has got to pull the clearance. You can't do one thing for one officer and another thing for another. I think there's one bottom line question: if he pulls the clearance, does the president of the United States, who has the authority to this, continue to allow Jared to have access to sensitive information? My guess, based on what the president said today, that he will.

BLITZER: Yes, but, you know, Laura, despite saying it is Kelly's decision, the president went on, and on, and on, how difficult negotiating peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, do you need someone like Jared Kushner to get the job done?

COATES: And it'd be a feather in the son-in-law's cap to be able to solve the one thing that no one has been able to solve in -- since the beginning of time. So, you have this issue that's brewing. But what you're seeing here is another passing of that hot potato that we saw about a week and a half ago when the porter case came down. It was about knowing if the buck stops at the White House, and they're trying to do by going back and forth with the FBI, with the DOJ is to say, please, don't make me be the person to be responsible and accountable for the (INAUDIBLE) decision, giving somebody a security clearance who the FBI and the DOJ says: this is a red flag for the ages.

BORGER: You know, Kelly made a mistake with Porter, and that was a big mistake. I don't think he wants to make another mistake. But the president is the president here, and if the president says yes, Kelly will probably salute.

BLITZER: Porter didn't get security clearances, and we know what happened at the end as well.


[17:45:13] BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. Much more breaking news in the investigation of a Florida high school massacre, including the very disturbing revelations about last month's call warning the FBI that Nikolas Cruz was going to explode. Plus, President Trump pushes his idea of letting some teachers carry concealed weapons. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want a person that's never handled a gun, that don't know what a gun looks like to be armed. But out of your teaching population -- out of your teaching population, you have 10 percent, 20 percent, a very gun adept people.



[17:50:29] BLITZER: We have more breaking news. CNN has now reviewed the transcript of last month's anonymous call warning the FBI about Nikolas Cruz, who now faces 17 counts of premeditated murder of last week's attack on a Florida high school. CNN's Martin Savidge at the school for us. Martin, the anonymous caller predicted Cruz was "going to explode".

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, that call came in January 5th, of course, 2018. CNN's had the chance to review a transcript of that phone call, came in from an identified female that, just let me read you parts of it. It's quite remarkable. She says, "He's only 18, but he's got the mental capacity of a 12 to 14-year- old. If you go on his Instagram pages, you will see all the guns. I just want someone to know about this so they can look into it. I just know I have a clear conscience if he takes off and just starts shooting up places. I know he's going to explode."

Later that same caller, again, unidentified, gets much more specific about her fears of what Cruz might do, saying: "Getting into a school and just shooting the place up. I just want to get it off my chest in case something does happen, and I do believe something's going to happen." Of course, we know 40 days later, after that call, something did happen. The FBI admits that it failed to follow up on that call. It's not the only falling down on the part of law enforcement. We also know that a school resource officer, a deputy of the sheriff's department, according to the sheriff was standing outside the building doing nothing, even though he was armed, as the gun fire was happening -- another red flag.


SAVIDGE: School Resource Officer, Scott Peterson, seen here in 2015 resigned rather than face suspension without pay and a pending internal investigation into what he did or did not do at the time of the high school shooting. Broward County Sheriff, Scott Israel, says for at least four minutes since the attack was ongoing, school surveillance video showed Peterson just standing beside the building, rather than entering to engage the gunman, prompting outrage even from the president.

TRUMP: He's trained his whole life. There's an example. But when it came time to get in there and do something, he didn't have the courage or something happened, but he certainly did a poor job.

SAVIDGE: But if Peterson's accused of doing almost nothing, many other first responders did everything they could to find the killer and stop the carnage. And more than a week later, still struggled with their emotions. Officer Tim Burton, believed to be the first Coral Springs officer to arrive on scene.

TIM BURTON, CORAL SPRINGS POLICE OFFICER: Immediately, I grab my rifle and I start running.

SAVIDGE: An unarmed civilian school security guard met Burton, telling him where the shooting was and describing the suspect. Burton charge on alone, heading for the building.

BURTON: I thought I was going to encounter the shooter as soon as I made that left-hand turn into the parking lot. If he was trying to escape or get away.

SAVIDGE: Instead, Burton found only silence. The first Coral Springs officer to arrive heard no gunfire. But Officer Jeff Heinrich did hear gunfire. In fact, he heard it all. Regaining his composure, he returns to the microphone, recounting the moment the shooting began.

JEFF HEINRICH, CORAL SPRING POLICE OFFICER: I hear what I now know to be five or six gunshots. At first, I honestly thought they were fireworks.

SAVIDGE: Heinrich was off-duty, and without his weapon. Volunteering at the high school, watering the baseball field. Moments later, more gunfire. He knew it was real. He also knew his wife, a teacher, and his son, a student, were both inside.

HEINRICH: Kids started to run. Kids started to scream. That time, I heard a round of probably about another five or six shots.

SAVIDGE: Wearing just shorts and a t-shirt, Heinrich ran in the direction of gunfire. First, tending to a gravely wounded student, then as other officers arrived, grabbing a spare vest and gun.

HEINRICH: Got his gun, his secondary weapon, and we systematically cleared back towards the 12 building.

SAVIDGE: Kathy Liriano also heard the emergency first hand. Pouring in from panic 911 calls, exploding inward dispatch center.

KATHY LIRIANO, CORAL SPRING POLICE AND FIRE DEPARTMENT: And I hear the commotion in the room. And through the phone, it echoed in the room with everybody picking it up, the gunshots.

SAVIDGE: After the gunfire, a woman's voice, with the words Liriano will never forget.

LIRIANO: She was a teacher. And she had told me, we have an active shooter at the school. And I have students that have been hit.


SAVIDGE: More than a week after that horrible event, Wolf, it is quite clear that the first responders themselves are struggling with what they saw and what they did. Many of them say they feel guilty they did not get there sooner, that they could not have stopped this sooner. They, too, are undergoing counseling, Wolf.

[17:55:11] BLITZER: All right, Martin. Thank you. Martin Savidge with that report. Coming up, breaking news, former Trump Campaign Official Rick Gates pleads guilty. Guilty in the Russia investigation; agreeing to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. As Mueller puts the squeeze on former Campaign Chairman, Paul Manafort, with yet new charges.


[17:59:55] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, another guilty plea. A former Trump campaign advisor -- a plea bargain with the Special Counsel Robert. Rick Gates is now agreeing to cooperate with the Russia investigation, even as his business partner, Paul Manafort, faces new charges tonight.

Declaring his innocence.