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Trump listens, promises he’ll ‘do something’ on school shootings

Andrew Pollack, standing, speaks during a listening session

Andrew Pollack, standing, speaks during a listening session on gun violence with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Pollack's daughter Meadow was killed in the Florida school shooting. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

‘It’s been going on too long’

In the hours after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Andrew Pollack was wearing a “Trump 2020” shirt as he sat outside a hospital seeking to learn his 18-year-old daughter Meadow’s fate.

On Wednesday, he came face-to-face with President Donald Trump at the White House, not to cheer, but to pour out grief and rage.

“I am here because my daughter has no voice. She was murdered last week and she was taken from us. Shot nine times, on the third floor. We, as a country, failed our children. This shouldn’t happen,” said Pollack. “How many children have to get shot?” (Video here.)

Trump met for more than an hour with students, teachers and parents from the Florida school as well as from Newtown and Columbine — the Connecticut and Colorado schools where dozens died in mass shootings in 2012 and 1999, respectively.

It was a listening session full of raw emotion and Trump asked for and heard diverse, sometimes opposing views on what should be done. Something will be done, he vowed.

“It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It’s been going on too long,” Trump said. See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday and click here for a full video of the session.

But what to do?

Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks.” But the rest of his plan seems to be a work in progress. “We’re going to pick out the strongest ideas,” he said.

Stoneman Douglas survivor Samuel Zeif, 18, whose best friend was killed, cried: “I don’t understand why I can still go in a store and buy a weapon of war. An AR[-15]. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How do we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?”

Trump has indicated he is open to raising the minimum age for buying an assault rifle from 18 to 21 — an idea quickly opposed by the National Rifle Association.

The president spoke of arming and training teachers, and sought opinions. Pollack, for one, agreed. But Mark Barden, the father of a Sandy Hook victim, said no. “Schoolteachers have more than enough responsibilities right now than to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life,” said Barden, whose wife teaches.

Trump also talked about mental health screening and took note of the lack of facilities for treatment. “Today if you catch somebody, they don’t know what to do with them,” he said.

A pivot in tone

Trump’s latest approach to the nationwide outcry over the shooting — to welcome discussion and debate — has opened up distance between him and some of his cheerleaders, particularly those in far-right media.

The sincerity and legitimacy of the Stoneman Douglas High School students, turned by tragedy into impassioned activists, has come under attack. They have been accused of being pawns of the left, shills for the FBI (Donald Trump Jr. liked that idea) and even fake “crisis activists.”

Four days earlier, the president himself used the shooting to attack the FBI over the Russia investigation. Time will tell if he tries to make that connection again.

During his show of input from the bereaved, Trump held a page of crib notes, caught on camera, that reminded him to indicate that he was listening.

Janison: Going for the gold

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s charges against 13 Russians last week spotlighted Russian exploitation of social media to influence the election, but that’s not the richest potential vein for the continuing investigation. It’s following the money.

The guilty plea by Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan grows out of what is largely a money-laundering case against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his ex-associate Richard Gates, who worked for pro-Russian Ukrainians.

Mueller is also reported to be exploring efforts by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner to obtain foreign financing for his family real estate company. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

All in the family

First lady Melania Trump’s parents have become legal permanent U.S. residents and are close to obtaining their citizenship, people familiar with their status told The Washington Post. But their attorney won’t say how or when Viktor and Amalija Knavs gained their green cards.

Immigration experts say they likely relied on a family reunification process that the president has derided as “chain migration” and proposed ending in such cases. It is unlikely they were sponsored by an employer — both are reportedly retired and in their 70s.

Slush money?

Trump’s former bodyguard, Keith Schiller, has been paid $15,000 a month for “security services” from the Republican National Committee since leaving his white House job last fall, CNBC reported.

The job is described as security consulting for the site selection process for the 2020 GOP convention. Stephen Spaulding, a former Federal Election Commission counsel now with the watchdog group Common Cause, said Schiller is getting paid from a type of party account “notorious for being operated as slush funds — lightly regulated and ripe for abuse.”

Schiller is a longtime Trump confidant. At least two women who received payoffs not to discuss their stories of affairs with Trump said Schiller escorted them to hotel rendezvous.

The venti cup is marked ‘Don’

Russia, Mueller, Obama and that guy who keeps letting him down, Jeff Sessions, were the ingredients of a Trump breakfast-time tweet (and then a resend to fix the spelling of “Sessions”):

“Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation? Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!”

A source told CNN that Sessions is still “extraordinarily loyal” to the president, who keeps pasting a “kick me” sign on his backside.

See Figueroa’s story for Newsday.

What else is happening

  • Kushner’s resistance to giving up his access to highly classified information because he still hasn’t been granted a security clearance has prompted an internal struggle with chief of staff John Kelly, The New York Times reported.
  • Upstate Rep. Claudia Tenney blurted out but did not try to back up what promises to become a new crackpot talking point: "So many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats."
  • Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of companies face potential fines for violating Obamacare’s employer mandate even as the Trump administration has tried to gut the federal health care law.
  • Trump Jr. told an Indian TV interview that any talk of his family profiting from his father’s presidency is “nonsense.” The critics forget about “the opportunity cost of the deals that we were not able to do,” he said.
  • Ivanka Trump will lead the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is also going.
  • A statement from Trump mourned the death of evangelist Billy Graham as a “very special man.” The president directed that flags be flown at half-staff on the day of Graham’s interment.

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