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Florida high school shooting coverage. TRANSCRIPT: 2/14/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Florida high school shooting coverage. TRANSCRIPT: 2/14/2018. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: February 14, 2018

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, THE LAST WORD, HOST: -- massacre in Florida continues on "The 11th Hour With Brian Williams," and that starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. And of course we begin tonight with the news of today's terrible school shooting, this one in Parkland, Florida, about 40 miles north of downtown Miami.

Around 2:30 this afternoon, a former student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to campus and opened fire, killing 17, wounding at least 14 others. In what has now become a familiar scene in this era of heightened school violence in our country, students could be seen filing out of the building, running out of the building with their hands in the air as heavily armed members of law enforcement moved in to search the area. Only today in Florida, some of the students could be seen, if you looked closely, holding valentines that they had received from their friends at school.

The Broward County Sheriff's Office has identified the suspect as 19-year- old Nikolas Cruz who was taken into custody about an hour after the shooting began. Officials believe he was armed with one semiautomatic Ar- 15 style rifle and multiple ammunition magazines. Inside the school, depending on how close the classrooms were to the gunshots and some of this video started appearing on social media within minutes.

There was panic, there was screaming as teachers tried to follow security protocols and students ran to safety. Many of them barricaded themselves in closets and classrooms until hearing the all-clear from arriving members of the local SWAT teams.

Earlier tonight, officials, including Governor Rick Scott of Florida, held a news conference on today's shooting. Near the end of the briefing, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said, if a person is committed to an act of violence, law enforcement can only do so much.


SCOTT ISRAEL, BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF: If a person is predisposed to commit such a horrific event, like going to a school and shoot people, if a person is going to drive a truck into a crowded area, if a person is committed to committing great carnage, there's not anybody or not a lot law enforcement can do about it, or any entity can do about it. The only things we can do is train very hard. We have to train rigorously, and we do. We have to be able to mitigate. We have to be able to respond quickly, so we can lessen the loss of lives.


WILLIAMS: For the very latest, we want to go to NBC News correspondent, Tammy Leitner, she's been reporting all day from Parkland, Florida. Tammy, good evening.

TAMMY LEITNER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Brian, I can tell you, it's been about eight hours since this shooting happened and we are still seeing parents and students coming out here, talking, grieving, supporting each other. But mostly searching for answers. Why today? Seventeen teachers and students are dead.



LEITNER (voice over): Horror in the classroom? Terrifying gunshots near the end of the school day. Students posting videos on social media as a shooter opened fire at Stoneman Douglas High in Florida north of Fort Lauderdale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have the gunshot victim.

ISRAEL: This is a catastrophic and unbelievable, catastrophic day in Broward Bounty history. It's devastating. I'm sick to my stomach.

LEITNER (voice-over): Teens streaming out of the building single file, hands in the air, images reminiscent of Columbine and so many other recent shootings.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just relieved that he's OK, yes, yes.

LEITNER (voice-over): The officials calling it a mass casualty incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm coming out to the east side with the casualty. Got an ambulance standing by, critical, casualty.

LEITNER (voice-over): Some of the victims treated on the sidewalk outside of the school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of my friends who got out one of the windows, when he was running over here to go to his mom, he looked all shaken and stuff. And he said he did see two dead bodies.

LEITNER (voice-over): With the shooter described as a former student, still at large, scared students sheltering in place texting their loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was sending us texts like saying, I love you, I'm sorry, and all of that because she didn't think she was going to make it.

LEITNER (voice-over): Worried parents desperately waiting for news, many racing to the school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he told me, you know, we're still here, we hear gunshots outside of the classroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'm happy because I have my son with me.

LEITNER (voice-over): You are worried?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just thank you Jesus. Yes, I was very worried.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the worst feeling for a parent to go through.

LEITNER (voice-over): As police sweep the campus for other possible threats, distraught families try to come to terms with another American tragedy.


LEITNER: Several of the students we've spoken with today still don't know if some of their fellow students are alive or dead. Police are not releasing the names of the students or the teachers who have died in this shooting. We've been told that only 12 of the 17 who have died have been identified, and part of the reason for that is because a lot of the students didn't have ID on them. So they're still working tonight to identify them and of course notify family. Brian?

WILLIAMS: And on that last point you made, 12 of the 17 identified, you and I both know what that means. There are going to be families showing up at morgues, perhaps not seeing their child, who may still be deceased in another room. What a gruesome time at that hospital.

LEITNER: Yes. Brian, and as you know, it's going to take days, weeks, if not months for these young kids to recover. And as you know also, they're going to be bringing in counselors once the school opens back up. There will be a lot of grief counseling going on for many, many weeks to come.

WILLIAMS: Enormous high school, 3,000-plus students. Tammy Leitner who's covered this story so ably all day long, thanks very much for staying up with us tonight.

We want to turn to Jim Gard, he is a Math teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Jim, we're so happy to have you with us. In more ways than one, walk us through your experience today starting with the first you heard something was wrong.

JIM GARD, MATH TEACHER, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL (via telephone): Well we had -- I had just finished the reviewing for a test with the kids. And about 2:20 or so, we had the fire alarm went off, which I thought was unusual because we had just had a fire drill today at about 9:30 or so. So I told the kids, wait, hang on for a second before we go out, you know, it could have just been something accidental. You know, maybe there's some people had something burnt or what have you.

And so, we all looked at the door. And then our administrator got on and said, evacuate the building. So, naturally, we, you know, all started evacuating. I always go out last to make sure everything is secured and all the kids are out. And then all of a sudden we hear code red. So I yelled, OK, let's get back in.

Well, by then, almost all the students were gone, except for about four or five. So they came rushing in. I looked out the door for a couple extra seconds, then we have 10 or 12 seconds. There was nobody around so I closed the door. I had six kids in there with me, five girls and a boy and of course myself. And we just turned the lights off that you're supposed to do in a code red, which is, you know, active shooter.

And we heard a bunch of popping and the kids were wondering, oh my gosh, what is this? So, I said, look, we don't know, it could be a drill, you know, we don't know what it is. Just hang out here. We went back in towards a closet and hung out there. And basically after about 5 or 10 minutes or so we realized that this wasn't a drill.

WILLIAMS: Have you ever felt more responsible for other people than you were today?

GARD: I mean, you know, this is my 36th year teaching Math, teaching students. And, you know, you're responsible for the kids every day. I mean, obviously, today was certainly different. It's just -- it's hard to describe.

WILLIAMS: I read a stat tonight, there have been 18 school shootings elsewhere in the world over the last two decades. In our country alone, there have been 18 school shootings in the last 35 days. I know you're not a politician, but you were at the crux of this public issue today. And do you believe lawmakers failed you in that moment? Do you believe we can do better than this?

GARD: There's no doubt we can do better than this. I mean, you know, even, you know, if you look at the Second Amendment itself, you know, a well-regulated militia. Well, what is well-regulated? Obviously it's not well regulated enough. I don't know.

You know, all we hear is, we always hear the sympathies, the sympathies, the sympathies. Well, there hasn't been any action. And like I said, I've been teaching long enough, thinking back to Columbine now, there hasn't been much done. And they can say all they want, both sides are just as guilty. I'm sorry if I say it that way but it is what it is.

WILLIAMS: Tell me about this kid, Nikolas Cruz, 19 years old. I've heard various accounts of him, as a loner, having been thrown out of other schools, aspirations to join the military, obviously unbalanced. Had you known about him, and when you heard the news, did it make sense to you in a perverse way that it was him?

GARD: I have a class, I think it was last year, like, you know, I think he was there in the first semester and he was quiet. He was a quiet kid in class, so he didn't really -- you know, nothing outstanding. It was a basic class that -- a class sort of between Algebra I and Geometry.

And I can remember -- I think it was seventh hour, the last period of the day and all of that. There was just -- you know, I never had any problems with him. And unfortunately, you know, people say, well, does this make any sense? Well, no. I mean, no shooting such as these, you know, make sense. So, I really can't say anything one way or the other. Like I say, he never really -- he wasn't our problem in class when we had him, but that was over a year ago now.

WILLIAMS: Authorities aren't releasing names, and we understand that. We want the families to be notified in the proper way. But have you been able to check in with the folks you know and have been worried about?

GARD: Well, what we did when I had my six kids there was the first thing I did was take attendance, who's all here, who's not here, what kids were actually absent, and then we were all on various e-mails. And I had, you know, some teacher, a, that I have these kids with me, b, I have these kids with me. I went through all those lists to see any of my kids. Luckily, every kid has a cell phone so it worked out great that they could all text each other and I was able to find out where everybody was, except for three kids.

And then when we got released a couple hours later, the three kids were right there. So all the kids that I had in class, thank goodness, were safe. Because that's terrifying itself, you know, obviously, with your own students. But I don't know the names of any of the other kids. I guess we'll find out Monday.

WILLIAMS: How about colleagues on the faculty?

GARD: I did hear of one. Obviously, I'm not going to say any names right now because if that hasn't been --


GARD: -- out there. But, you know, faculty or students, you know, one is not more terrible than the other.

WILLIAMS: What do you think -- what are your thoughts like on going back to work on these children, especially the ones who had to run out today past dead bodies of classmates? How's that going to work?

GARD: Well, Broward County does have a really good social worker program, you know, good social workers, there are very good guidance. Even today, as terrible as this was, you know, we had just gone through training on this about three weeks ago.


GARD: And it very well could have been a whole lot worse with this kid. And I don't see how we can even think the whole lot worse when you have 17 people. But we all knew exactly what to do.

And, you know, you've got 3,000-some kids in there. And they were kept pretty safe. Unfortunately, you know, if I were one of the parents, I'd say, well, mine wasn't safe. And that's a terrible thing. You know, I have kids of my own.

WILLIAMS: Well, a veteran of the -- of over three decades in the classroom, and despite your modesty, Jim, we are aware that a whole bunch of parents can be happy you were on the job today because they got their kids home as a result.

Jim Gard, a Mathematics teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we're glad you're well, we're glad you're safe. We grieve for the overall school community there. Thank you very much for joining us on the air tonight.

GARD: OK, thank you so much. And take care. Thanks again.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Jim. Throughout our coverage today, we've heard from different students at this high school who knew the suspect before he had been expelled.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was in the vocational school, the alternate school, he went ahead and showed me all his layout of guns and said he'd shoot them around for fun.

I met Nick my sophomore year. He was a little bit off. I could tell there was something just different about him, that he's, yes, a little bit insane. Not insane, more like the term more --

WILLIAMS: Troubled or?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- trouble, yes. He was more troubled. All the kids predicted that, you know, they throw jokes around saying that you'd be the one to shoot the school. But it turns out that, you know, this was predicted and it came to real life. Yes, he has just got in trouble with shooting his guns all the time. And a lot of kids like he trying to -- if you bring to school -- bring the guns to school multiple times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's always been a really crazy kid. Again, I heard some people say that one day he would have done this, and unfortunately, I think that was today.

WILLIAMS: What was it about him that made you think that perhaps there wasn't something right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was just erratic. He was always messing with like with his fingers and he was always talking about doing crazy things. And he was just never right in the head because then he was just always crazy. I never really got close to him because I always had a feeling there was something wrong.


WILLIAMS: Joining us tonight, two brothers who attend the high school. Brandon Minoff is a senior, he was outside the school when the shooting started, knows the suspect, his younger brother Aidan was inside the school. Aiden, we'll start with you. What did you first see and experience?

AIDEN MINOFF, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: So, I was wrapping up in math class. As you know, it was at the end of the day and we were pretty much just packing up. We heard a few pops, and at the time we didn't really think much of it, as it could have been, you know, a kid throwing something or maybe a chip bag opening in the hallway.

Until one of my friends who was previously in the bathroom came in running, frantically screaming that there's a shooter, he heard gunshots. And we were all a little suspicious until the fire alarm was pulled shortly then after and we heard a bunch of other shots. And that's when the lights were turned off, door was locked, and we went into hiding.

WILLIAMS: Aiden, have you accounted for all of your friends at school? Is everybody OK that you know?

A. MINOFF: Yes, I do. And everyone in my classroom that I was in is OK, including the teacher and the administrator that was spectating us.

WILLIAMS: All right. Well, thank you. Brandon, tell us about this guy, fellow students call Nick, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz?

BRANDON MINOFF, STUDENT, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL: I had two classes with him back sophomore year. I never really associated with him or talked to him until one day I got paired to do a project with him and he just started talking to me. He's telling me about how he got expelled from two different private schools, he was held back twice, he had aspirations of joining the military, and he enjoyed hunting.

WILLIAMS: People said he made unusual markings on his body, he left an incredible trail of kind of evidence pointing to this on social media. It sounds like he was the kind of kid you then took pains to avoid?

B. MINOFF: I hadn't seen that at the time. I just always thought that he was unusual and strange. Always sat alone, twiddling his thumbs, keeping to himself, laugh at himself.

WILLIAMS: So what was your reaction when you heard that it was him?

B. MINOFF: I wasn't surprised, but it was kind of unfortunate to hear.

WILLIAMS: How -- If you were a lawmaker, an adult in a decision-making position, how would you stop, do you think, the kind of thing that happened today? A kid who had been thrown out, comes back with a weapon, and takes out whatever grievance he's been walking around with in his head?

B. MINOFF: Gun-wise, I don't think there's any way to prevent it. You outlaw guns, just creates higher demand for it. I think it has to do with mental health, though. If he's been expelled three different times in three different schools, I think he should be helped out.

WILLIAMS: Brandon, I asked your brother this. Have you accounted for everybody you know?

B. MINOFF: Yes, sir.

WILLIAMS: So everyone you know in your circle of friends is safe?

B. MINOFF: Yes. I'm just hoping that the other 17 people aren't anybody close to me.

WILLIAMS: Aiden, what's it going to feel like, what do you know about when you guys can go back? I know it's closed for the week. I know counselors show up at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow at an off-site location, but what's it going to feel like walking back in there?

A. MINOFF: It's going to feel like a brand-new and unfortunately not a good-new kind of school. Everyone's going to walk in knowing what happened and there's no way of changing that or trying to go back. Really, it's just going to be a grieving and really depressing time. But we should unify as a community and a society from this tragedy.

WILLIAMS: Brandon, I see you've got team colors on your t-shirt. How would you have described your high school to me before today?

B. MINOFF: A normal school. Hang out with my friends, go to school, eat lunch. Never really expect any of this to happen. It's unfortunate that it did.

WILLIAMS: I'm amazed at the composure you guys have been able to show tonight. I know you've been through just a hellish day. Thank you both so much. I'm sorry to take your time and keep you up further. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We are so sorry for what happened at your high school today. Brandon and Aiden, we really appreciate it.

B. MINOFF: Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: We're going to take a break in our coverage here. More of our coverage when "The 11th Hour" continues.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I saw two girls dead next to each other, holding hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You heard they're best friends?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were best friends, I heard. There was another body in front of me. There was three on the bathroom door and another one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just staying here with my teacher. We didn't really know what was going on, but once we saw the students running then I started to think, what's happening? And then I heard the gunshots and I was like, oh my god. I just ran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard six shots, loud. Loud shots. After I heard that, I was like, oh my god, we got to go so I started running as fast as I can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the kids came inside the rooms and everything. There were teachers pulling us in and telling us to like get in the rooms and be quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, what a joy, oh, such a joy and a relief. I just hope all the other kids are OK. And, oh my god.


WILLIAMS: Unbelievable to watch. Valentine's Day, 2018 brings another mass shooting in another school, this one in the high school at Parkland, California. As we've been reporting, latest numbers are the 17 people, students and teachers, lost their lives, 14 are injured. Some are still in the hospital, some in critical condition.

To give you an idea of the kind of city we're talking about, Parkland is invariably described as a tree-lined commuter community and was listed this year as one of the 100 safest cities in our country. It's near the far western border of Broward County, Florida, if you know the state at all, up against the edge of the Everglades to the west.

Joining me now is the city commissioner of Coral Springs. That's the neighboring town that students also attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Dan Daley is an alumnus, knows the community well.

Dan, when did you graduate? And as I asked one of the kids in the break earlier, how would you have described this high school yesterday?

DAN DALEY, CITY COMMISSIONER, CORAL SPRING, FLORIDA: Sure. Well, good evening, Brian. I'm sorry to be coming on tonight to talk about this. But you know, I'm a 2008 graduate of Stoneman Douglas.

And prior to today, you know, look, this is one of the top high schools in the state, probably even in the country. These folks are the best and brightest in our community. And it's a heck of a school, heck of a reputation, and is known across this country. So unfortunately, because of today, it's also known across this country for this shooting.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Sadly, we've been saying all day, places -- terrific places like Columbine and Newtown are now forever linked with an act of violence involving their name. Have you been able to account, I almost hate to ask this, for all of the people in your group of friends who may go there, may have family who go there, members of the faculty?

DALEY: Sure. You know, I'm sorry to say that I have not. There are still a number of people who were teachers, fellow students who went back to teach at Douglas after graduating from college who I have not heard from. And it's troubling, right?

This is something that you hear about happening in other places. You hear about the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub or in Sandy Hook and you understand that they can happen, but you never expect it to happen in your own backyard. And that's what we've been faced with today.

WILLIAMS: I've heard people say this afternoon and this evening that somehow this 19-year-old had a gun but he can't buy a beer. You're involved in city management, in politics. What's your view on what happened today versus the national discussion?

DALEY. Sure. You know, Brian, I think it's an important question and I think it's an important topic. And we need to have a discussion about it. But I've got to tell you, I'm dealing with a community of reeling individuals and today is not the day to have that conversation.

WILLIAMS: All right, fair point. Talk to me about the people in the community. I know you've been out and about since first word arrived. How are the families holding up?

DALEY: Sure.

WILLIAMS: And I know some of the families who were outside the school building were taken to a place where they got the very worst news in the world.

DALEY: Sure. You know, stunned doesn't begin to describe it. And I, you know, to be honest, I don't know that it's fully sunk in for me, so I can't even begin to imagine how others are feeling. Lot of hugging, lot of embracing, lot of commiserating, lot of tears, some happy when they find their loved one and some sad, certainly still to come. This is unlike anything we've ever seen in this community, unfortunately.

WILLIAMS: What underscores what you said about these students being the best and the brightest, I've never seen such composure among young people. It tears your heart out. They're talking about something that's going to change probably the course of their lives, but certainly that feeling, that great feeling of coming up all four years of high school with your friends.

DALEY: Sure. You know, there are -- and it's not just the students, it's the teachers, it's the staff, it's the first responders. They can't unsee what they have seen today. What has been done cannot be undone. So, we've got to be able to come together as a community and move forward.

And I want to give a lot of credit to our first responders. I got to tell you, Coral Springs Police Department were some of the first folks on the scene, running into the building, as everybody else was running out. The Broward Sheriff's Office, the Coral Springs Parkland Fire Department, I mean, literally were there in moments, set up and ready to go and ready to address what was going on.

WILLIAMS: By all accounts they were absolutely heroic today. And again, they're all members of the community. So it's just as shocking and sad for them to respond to a high school where they may have children as part of the student body.

DALEY: Absolutely.

WILLIAMS: Dan Daley, our condolences to anyone connected to the school community out there. And we sure appreciate you being willing to come on and talk about it tonight.

DALEY: Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAM: Coming up for us, what would normally have been our lead story tonight absent today's violence when "The 11th Hour" continues.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: We're following today's violence in Florida. If we have news on it, we'll go immediately back to it. As we also said, what now would have been our lead story on a day absent the bad news out of Florida, we have new reporting concerning the Trump administration tonight. NBC News has learned that more than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November of last year, a full year after the election.

Tonight's reporting from a team of NBC News journalists is based on internal White House documents obtained by NBC News. We read from it, "White House officials who are listed as not having permanent security clearances as recently as this past November include, Ivanka Trump, the President's daughter and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, President's son-in- law and senior adviser, Dan Scavino, the President's Director of Social Media. Christopher Liddell, Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives.

A total of 34 people who started their government service on January 20, 2017, the first day of the Trump presidency, were still on interim clearances in mid-November. Among them are White House Counsel Don McGahn, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and White House Spokesman Raj Shah, who had only interim clearances to access the most sensitive government information, according to the documents. White House officials said, Wednesday, they would not comment as is their policy on the nature of security clearances.

The concern about White House security clearances has, of course, escalated in recent days, the fallout from the Rob Porter scandal. A lot of people have been asking how he was able to handle the most sensitive and classified documents in our government to reach the President's desk for over a year without a permanent security clearance.

With us to talk about all of this, one of the authors of that NBC News report, our National Political Reporter Mike Memoli -- excuse me, along with Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press and MSNBC Political Analyst. Kimberly Atkins, Chief Washington Reporter for "The Boston Herald" and MSNBC Contributor, and Jeremy Peters, Political Reporter for "The New York Times," also an MSNBC Contributor. Welcome to you all.

Mike, it is one thing to talk about the Executive Office of the President. I saw another poll out from your reporting tonight that 40 percent of the members of the National Security Council. We'll stress that this is a snapshot as of last November, but walk us through what you found.

MICHAEL MEMOLI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, thanks for having me on, Brian. We've spent -- my colleagues, Carol Lee, Kristen Welker, Rich Garnell and myself, the better part of today, really sifting through what is a lot of raw information in this documents that we have obtained.

And, Brain, as somebody who's, of course, covered the White House yourself, you're well aware of the different distinctions both in terms of the different divisions of the White House and also the different tiers of classification. The big headline was that number, 130 out of more than 500 officials within the constellation of offices and agencies within the office, the Executive Office of the President, are operating as of last November with some sort of interim clearance. And -- that's significant on its own because even our own reporting up until today indicated the number was much lower, perhaps 30 to 40.

In the White House in explaining why the number would have been even that high has sought to say, basically, that any time you have a new administration with the sheer number of new officials coming in, you're going to have a backlog and that might lead to delays. And we did talk with officials and other White Houses in previous administrations. And they said that's true, that even at the end of the first year, you might have a few dozen officials still operating on interim clearance.

But what's significant to them and what was significant to us as we dove through these numbers was, you take the title of assistant to the president. That's really the highest level of classification for a White House staffer. And these are the people who report most directly to the president. And as of late November, there were 30 assistants to the president. And of that 30, only 10, I should say, as many as 10, were operating with completely interim clearances.

Now, these are the most familiar names that we have in the White House. This is Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump. We had Ty Cobb along that list as well that we have heard since from the White House that when he started in July, he had since been granted that clearance. But it really puts to lay this idea that this was a result of a backlog, because this would have been the highest priority for White House in making sure that these people do get a security clearance. And we know there were 12 officials who started after Ivanka Trump started, for instance, who have since been able to obtain that highest level of clearance.

WILLIAMS: Mike, on the exculpatory side, I heard Director Clapper interviewed and he said there is this component. He said a lot of guys like me, veteran Republican hands, veteran government types, did not volunteer to serve in this administration and because we weren't true believers, we were not called. So a lot of neophytes were given West Wing jobs that accounts for some of the backlog but on these titles, Don McGahn, Rob Porter.

Rob Porter's job, staff secretary, as I don't need to remind you, is the human funnel into and out of the Oval Office to all branches of government. He sees handles and hears everything.

MEMOLI: That's exactly right, Brian. I think that's what's most significant in terms of these numbers, obviously 130 being quite a large number, but the highest level of officials within this West Wing not having this clearance. And now is that, there might be any number of issues which might result in somebody being given an interim clearance rather than being granted the full clearance.

And that has everything to do with something that might make somebody subject to blackmail. You see a lot of foreign travel, a high debts, previous issues of substance abuse. These are all things that could raise a red flag. But I think it's significant that we're talking about such a long delay in terms of these officials that there were red flags. And as we saw in the case of Rob Porter, the FBI which is the one that does the investigations, these background checks that would ultimately lead to a recommendation about whether somebody should have a clearance, they completed their work by last summer.

They made a recommendation -- they sent the report to the White House. And this is what the White House is now struggling to reconcile with, where they had past really put the blame, perhaps explained away as an FBI issue in dealing with this backlog. We now know that there were officials who would have had access to information which may have suggested that somebody should not have been given a clearance.

They made a followup request in the case of Rob Porter. What will be interesting as we continue to do some reporting based on this information, is how many other officials were there knowledge of issues that should have maybe prevented them from getting a clearance that the White House chose to perhaps overlook, or in the case, the president has great authority in terms of who deciding who can get interim clearance, who did he decide based even on recommendations by law enforcement, he wanted them to have access to these documents anyway.

WILLIAMS: I've been given permission to grant one-time only clearance to Mike Memoli who I happen to know has been up the most hours of any of us. We're enormously proud of your reporting by your time, Mike, thank you very much for starting us off in this segment tonight.

MEMOLI: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: So we continue. Kimberly, first question goes to you. Having just read what we heard and read the reporting that's out there tonight, we heard from the Director of National Intelligence yesterday. The United States is under attack. It's a bracing thing to hear, even more bracing that it wasn't in the scope of things our lead story last night. We already kind of knew it. Wouldn't security clearances you think be more of a priority these days?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER, THE BOSTON HERALD: It should be. I mean, I think that is one of the most concerning things about this whole situation. The national security experts that I speak to just underscore over and over again the fact that there is an important reason why. Normally full security clearances are needed to access the kind of sensitive information that these White House personnel members are accessing on just an interim security clearance, and that's especially true at a time where we've heard from the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, and others yesterday.

It's really saying, "Look, Russia and other adversaries are actively trying to interfere with western governments. They have an interest in doing it. We have seen them attempt to do that. And when you have people who don't have full security clearances dealing with the most sensitive information that comes across the White House, that just opens up a number of potential loopholes where people, espionage can take place, blackmail. It's really serious.

You would think that the White House would want to do everything it could do to guard against that. And heed Director Coats' suggestion that people without the full clearance should stop being given this information. But so far we have not seen that urgency from this White House.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, you did some great reporting on the White House today. What is the level of comprehension in there as to the scope of this problem?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, I think it's another moment where the White House is having trouble sort of all getting on the same page. You know, the Rob Porter scandal now has stretched into a second week. And nearly, every day they deliver a different narrative as to what they claim happened, who knew what, and when.

And now, we're seeing here too a lot of pushback on the security clearances, confusion as to who may have had what or not. For long time, reporting has been out there for Jared Kushner for instance, had been only given granted interim clearance, you know. The party line was because of all his business dealings, his very complex past, has been in a lot of travel. It's simply going to take a long time.

The more perhaps sinister or least cynical reading would be like, well, he's also had contacts with foreign officials that we know he also gotten the attention of Bob Mueller. So therefore, that might what is the delay.

What's now, this new information that there so many other aides in the White House, including some of the very senior staff. Ivanka Trump, Don McGahn, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. These are other people who have suddenly been given these interim clearances. It's a question of why is that. Is it simply because of a backlog? Maybe for some it is. But perhaps for others there are red flags in the background, like Rob Porter had, where he had two ex-wives accuse him of spousal abuse.

And now, we have the White House again trying to sort of explain what's going on. We saw with the Porter case, the scapegoat versus the FBI, now it's this rather obscure White House personnel security office. At the end of the day, they might even look inward and realize it's their own processes or their own personnel that are part of the problem.

Jeremy, I want to read a tweet from the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was dismissed by Donald Trump. These days, he maintains an active Twitter presence and hosts a better than average podcast. Preet Bharara says, "You know who has permanent security clearances? Every member of Special Counsel Mueller's team." And the guy knows from security clearances.

Jeremy, it's a good reminder that the work goes on across town.

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, it certainly does. And I think another issue, Brian, that this whole episode underscores is the problem, the gaping hole in our national security, when people with only interim clearances are allowed to see the nations secrets. This is actually caused quite a bit of grumbling on Capitol Hill. And you heard in the director of National Intelligence Coats' testimony the other day, he said that he thought that this was a major problem and one that need to be resolved.

Now, I've heard from sources on Capitol Hill that members of Congress are taking a look at exactly what they can do to plug that hole, maybe limiting the types of secrets that people with only interim clearance are given access to. But it does just seem odd that if there are enough red flags in your background, that you are not granted a security clearance, you would still be allowed access to the secrets with that kind of uncertainty hanging over your head. And I think that's made a lot of people, lawmakers especially on Capitol Hill, really start asking questions about what they can do to fix that.

WILLIAMS: Kimberly, where the other story has taken up the majority of our time and attention this week is concerned. I want to show you a clip we've all by now seen and heard. The President today broke his silence on abuse, apparently reluctantly. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why have you not spoken out against domestic violence? Do you believe the women --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, we're leaving, make your way out.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I'm opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that. I am totally opposed to domestic violence of any kind. Everyone knows that and it almost wouldn't even have to be said. So now you hear it. But you all know it. Thank you all very much.


WILLIAMS: Kimberly, the problem is, it's been said before, earlier today, that in this case it needed to be said. Imagine needing to hear it from an American president. But because of the entanglement and the story we're in the middle of, that's what we got today.

ATKINS: Yes. I mean, I think that was the most striking part of the comment, is that suggesting that it didn't have to be said. It definitely needed to be said. It needed to be said by the president himself, not through a surrogate like Sarah Huckabee Sanders did earlier this week.

But it just shows how -- it's just striking, how reluctant U.S. president is to address something that should be pretty universal. Just a denunciation of domestic violence, that you're opposed to it. He said he's opposed to it. Nobody's for it, this shouldn't be that hard. But in this case, for this president, it is.

WILLIAMS: Yes. I hadn't look at it quite that way. There is not a huge constituency pro-abuse.

Jonathan Lemire, I asked you my last question about the internal knowledge, how bad things look. How about this issue from your reporting?

LEMIRE: I mean, certainly West Wing aides were relieved that the president finally said those words today. It should not be breaking news that a president opposes domestic violence. Today, it was, because he had said nothing on the issue to this point. His comments, you know, last week in the Oval Office were to praise Rob Porter and to wish him well, without a word for the women who allege that he abused.

On Saturday, he doubles down with a tweet sort of questioning the entire Me Too Movement, suggesting it was scapegoating people. Those people could not get their reputation back. Those men could never get their reputation back.

Today, under immense pressure he finally does say these words. But there's an issue in the West Wing right now, these staffers have told me and my colleagues, morale is as low now as it has been since the weeks after James Comey was fired last spring, certainly the other moment was this August after the Charlottesville incident, when the President said there was responsibility on both sides of a white supremacist march that left one woman dead in the clashes that followed.

People are upset. Their faith has been shaken in John Kelly, whose story on this has changed repeatedly. People -- there are West Wing staffers who to this point have been, you know, sort of championing John Kelly, who were very displayed that on Friday, he seem to, you know, in a closed-door White House meeting, seemed to present a different narrative events that suggest the more played up his role in dismissing Porter, which flew in the face of the timeline that West Wing officials had presented just days earlier.

And there's also those people who have thought been fans of John Kelly. Those who West Wing aides and outside advisers, whose access to the president has been cut off by Kelly in his attempts to streamline and better organize the West Wing. Those people, the knives are out. They see a chief of staff who's vulnerable. They're ready to pounce. They're leaking bad information. And they're pushing the president to make a change.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, while I stress you are still a young man, you've been around awhile and I want you to talk about the new normal. We lost 17 souls in the state of Florida today. Two tweets from the President, no statement, no public utterance, no appearance on camera from him or the press secretary. Briefing today was canceled under the umbrella of we're dealing with the sad news out of Florida.

It is, when you think about Newtown, how the President reacted then, it is a new normal. Just another category of new normal.

PETERS: I'm struck, Brian, by just how ordinary these events seem in the daily news cycle. I remember Columbine vividly. I was sitting in my college dorm room, I was a freshman. And watching those images come across the screen, the kids with their hands up being paraded out of the school by police. I mean, that was so jarring.

And it's so extraordinary. And now this is something that happens, you know, every six months or something. And the death count in columbine was almost at the level that we saw in Florida today. And I'm afraid given everything that is going on, given -- or the sensitization to these types of shootings and the calluses that we've built up to these mass casualty events, that we're going to be on to the next thing.

And these apologies or, you know, these statements of remorse and sorrow, and offering of prayers that come from politicians now seem almost as routine and rote as thanking somebody for a greeting or a Christmas card. It's just -- it boggles the mind.

WILLIAMS: Thoughts and prayers as expressions go, has lost its impact. And as I said at the top of the broadcast, with all the aerial pictures of all the students coming out of all the schools, where tragedy has visited, today's pictures may, may stand out.

Say a year from now for the fact that many of the students had valentines with them. That they grabbed off the desk to exit the school. We're going to take on another tough story after the break when we continue the conversation.


WILLIAMS: Yes, we're about to say this because it's in the news again tonight, and has to do with the White House. The manager for porn star, Stormy Daniels, said today her client now feels free to tell her story. This comes after President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, acknowledged in a statement that he facilitated a payment to Daniels in the amount of $130,000.

Daniels manager told the Associated Press that Trumps lawyer Michael Cohen invalidated a non-disclosure agreement by discussing the payment. Cohen insisted in a specifically worded statement quote, and we know Stormy Daniels real name is Stephanie Clifford, neither the Trump organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford and neither reimbursed me for the statement.

Stormy Daniels has reported who have had a sexual encounter with Trump in '06, something Cohen and the White House have both denied. Still with us for our conversation Jonathan Lemire, Kimberly Atkins and Jeremy Peters.

Jonathan, remind the good folks at home why Mr. Cohen would have gone public and give the story the first fresh lead of what may be many more.

LEMIRE: Michael Cohen, of course, let's back up as quick second. He's been the President's long time lawyer, his personal lawyer of the Trump Organization. He is saying this because he doesn't want to run a foul of any sort of federal regulation in terms of campaign donation. That could be used to pay off Ms. Daniels in this scenario.

So he's saying as he thought would be that it's my personal money. And therefore it's not under the order of then candidate Trump or the Trump campaign, to make this payment to Stormy Daniels. But it certainly does, it breathes fresh life into this story, another distraction, damaging story for the White House. And one that's going to continue now that Stormy Daniels attorney thinks she's free to talk.

And, well, I don't follow her on Twitter or Instagram, I swear. She is back on the road doing a tour right now. And her adviser suggests that she'll be making some statements soon about what happened with the President.

WILLIAMS: So, Kim, what does this mean we're in for?

ATKINS: I mean, it's -- I think that's exactly right. We're going to see someone who at least up into this point had been silent. Now speaking publically about this, which is in itself a political problem. And it's caused by President Trump's own attorney, who did probably everything that an attorney shouldn't do here.

One, I think I agree with Stormy Daniels' attorney that making that statement did probably invalidate, and MDA (ph) that was keeping her silent. Saying that he facilitated this payment but wasn't clear whether he made it or someone else did, that cited two sources that the money didn't come from but didn't say where it did.

And then at the very end, saying, look, above all else, you know, my job is to protect President Trump. Everything about the statement sounds like somebody with something to hide, it sound way more inculpatory than exculpatory. And I think that that he is going to have more trouble with potential legal trouble from this, as well as the president having more political trouble.

WILLIAMS: Jeremy, you get the last 30 seconds on what we've already labeled the new normal.

PETERS: Well, this story is just another example, Brian, of something coming out of Trump world that is inexplicable and dubious denial. What's most curious is my read of this whole situation is the lawyer for Stormy Daniels saying that at the time they received the payment from Michael Cohen, Michael Cohen said this is from me. It's not from Mr. Trump.

Now, that seems like something out of a bad hitch dock movie where they create a story, an alibi. So you have possible deniability later on. It just doesn't smell right.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks tonight to Jonathan Lemire, to Kimberly Atkins who was outed as a lawyer by her use of the word inculpatory, and Jeremy Peters of "The New York Times". Thank you all for being with us.

Before we go tonight, we want to revisit this story in Florida. It has struck us today especially watching social media, that a whole lot of people from whole lot of walks of life had been rather profound on this in ways that our public servants have not.

Case in point, Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors said this and it's getting a lot of repetition tonight. "It doesn't seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools."

Well, to that end we want to show you a moment that occurred earlier today on the Senate floor on Capitol Hill. Senator Chris Murphy Democrat of Connecticut spoke on today's mass shooting in Florida. For context, you may recall Murphy used to be in the House, fifth district of Connecticut, when the mass shooting at Newtown occurred back in December of 2012.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Let me note once again for my colleagues, this happens nowhere else other than the United States of America, this epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting. It only happens here not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible.

For a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else. As parent it scares me to death. This body doesn't take seriously the safety of my children, and seems like a lot of parents in South Florida will be asking the same question later today.


WILLIAMS: Chris Murphy, Democratic senator from the state of Connecticut on this day, when our country has lost 17 innocent souls to gun violence.

That is our broadcast for tonight. As with every night, thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters in New York.