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National Security in Focus; Clinton Maintains Florida Lead. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired September 20, 2016 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- for that kind of support. Stephanie Elam, thank you. We'll continue to follow that story.
And thank you, everyone, for watching. "WOLF" starts now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Aleppo, Syria. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We start with breaking news. The search for answers in New York and New Jersey in the bombings there. The lead suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, is in the hospital. He was injured in a shootout with police that led to his capture. So far, he's not providing police with any information. Police are looking for his motivation and want to know if he had help.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES O'NEILL, POLICE COMMISSIONER, NYPD: So, right now, it's just -- it's -- we don't have anybody else. But, again, this is just a couple of days since this event happened and just about a day since we apprehended him. So, this is still an ongoing, active investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned that there's still a danger from Rahami accomplices or this plot?
O'NEILL: Well, you know what? There's an old saying in the police and in the law enforcement, you know, just because you make an arrest, that's not where the investigation stops. And, a lot of times, that's where the investigation starts. So, again, moving forward, we have to identify everybody involved and see what they're backgrounds are, see where they've been, see what they've been up to. And then, we'll be able to make a determination then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was the New York City police commissioner, James O'Neill, talking with our Sciutto.
Meanwhile, we're learning more about Rahami. We now know that his father was interviewed by the FBI two years ago after expressing concerns about his son, allegedly calling his son a terrorist. It was part of a domestic dispute. And when federal authorities spoke to the father, he downplayed the actual incident. Rahami was already in jail in connection with that domestic dispute.
Also, we're getting new details about a notebook found on Rahami when he was captured. A notebook that includes writings about the Boston marathon bombers and Anwar Al Awlaki, the Islamic extremist, the terrorist recruiter who was killed five years ago in an air strike.
Right now, Rahami is charged with five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. Those stem from the confrontation with police in New Jersey. But we definitely expect more charges, possibly terror charges, connected with the explosions in Manhattan and Seaside Park, New Jersey.
Joining us now is our Jessica Snyder. She's in Elizabeth, New Jersey. That's where the suspect was living. And our Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson is joining us from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Jessica, what are we hearing from investigators right now, whether people in the neighborhood there suspected anything?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you might be able to see behind me, this has been a buzz of activity over the past few hours. In fact, the past two days.
Neighbors who knew Rahami and often saw him inside the fried chicken restaurant that he ran with his family, they tell me they're completely shocked by this news. They say they saw him often. He was a regular presence working at the restaurant. They said he was friendly, outgoing. One guy even saying he made some of the best hamburgers around.
But what we're also hearing is a man emerged from the Rahami's family residence, a little bit earlier today, actually several -- twice. And we believe it to be Rahami's father. He actually walked right out of those doors and he talked to the media. There was media gathered around that area.
And twice he said that he had called the FBI two years ago to complain about his son's violent tendencies. He says that there was an instance where his son, Rahami, actually stabbed his other son and then hurt his wife, Rahami's mother. We talked to him twice today and take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you call the FBI two years ago? What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he doing bad.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doing bad? What did he do bad?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he stabbed my son. He hurt my wife. And I put him to jail two years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: Now, I've spoken with the mayor of Elizabeth. He says that the city of Elizabeth, the Elizabeth P.D., never had any sort of documentation of any complaints about Rahami. However, the FBI has said that it interviewed Rahami's father back in 2014, after what they're terming a domestic dispute. They said that, at one point, Rahami's father called him a terrorist.
But here's the thing. When Rahami's father actually came in to be interviewed by the FBI, the FBI says that Rahami's father downplayed the incident, saying that it was nothing to be concerned about.
Now, ultimately, the feds did end up investigating. They ended up interviewing Rahami, who was actually already in jail because of a different family dispute that also involved a stabbing. All of this was happening in 2014.
But, ultimately, the FBI ran more checks and then ultimately never actually interviewed Rahami and never actually entered him into any criminal database.
[13:05:04] So, while Rahami's father now making claims that he talked to the feds, the FBI saying they investigated. His father downplayed the events and there was never any follow-up because Rahami was never placed into any federal database -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, stand by. I want to go to Kabul, Afghanistan. Ivan Watson on the scene for us. As you know, Ivan, Rahami, a United States' citizen, naturalized U.S. citizen. He was born in Afghanistan. He came to the United States as a young boy. But he traveled back several times to Afghanistan and also made some trips to Pakistan, including for almost a year. And he stayed in Quetta which is a Taliban hotbed. He went to Karachi as well.
What else can you tell us? What have you learned there about this individual's background?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan. U.S. Officials saying, in 2011, 2013, into 2014, he stayed so long that he found a wife, eventually. And had some trouble trying to get her a visa and a visa for his child to come back to the U.S. with him.
Now, it's important to note that the Taliban, the group that's been fighting the U.S. here in Afghanistan for some 15 years, we've spoken with a Taliban spokesman who's denied any links whatsoever to Rahami or to the bombings on Saturday in New Jersey and in New York. And we do know from its past record that the Taliban is often very quick to claim responsibility for deadly attacks carried out here in Kabul and in other parts of Afghanistan.
The areas where Rahami traveled, yes, he went to Quetta, that's a Pakistani border town that is known to be a de facto headquarters for the leadership of the Afghan Taliban across the border in Pakistan. But it's also home to many, many Afghans going back to 1980s and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It's important to note also, Wolf, that while the Taliban may be denying links to Rahami, there are many other militant jihadi groups that are active, both on the Afghan and Pakistani sides of the border, including Al Qaeda, including more recently ISIS. We have not heard from those organizations yet. We've reached out to the Afghan and Pakistani governments for some comment on this. No comment yet.
You can be assured that U.S. investigators are reaching out to their counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to try to learn more about Rahami's movements during the time where he was visiting these countries -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm sure they are. Ivan Watson in Kabul, Afghanistan for us. Jessica Snyder joining us as well.
Let's get some more on the developments in this case. I want to bring in two New Jersey congressmen. First, Albio Sires. He's a congressman. He's from Elizabeth, New Jersey. That's the district where Rahami grew up, where he lives. Also with me here in Washington is Congressman Donald Payne. His district includes Linden, New Jersey where the bombing suspect was found. He's also a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Congressman Sires, the bombing suspect, I understand, actually contacted your office in the past. You've gone back and checked. What was he asking for?
REP. ALBIO SIRES (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, back in March of 2014, he sent us an e-mail to my office in Washington, D.C. from Pakistan. He wanted to know the status of his wife's entry visa and passport. We sent it to our office in Elizabeth. In Elizabeth, we require a signature so we can do the inquiry. And his father came in and signed for us for him.
Basically, her passport had expired and they said that she needed a new passport. Then, after they got a new passport, they found out that she was 35 weeks pregnant and they would not give her the entry visa. And they said that they will give out the visa once she had the baby, because she had to get a new passport for the baby and a new entry visa.
BLITZER: A new Pakistani passport, is that what she --
SIRES: And the communication --
BLITZER: -- she needed a new Pakistan -- she was Pakistani. She needed a new Pakistani passport, is what you're saying?
SIRES: Yes. Yes. Yes, because they have to submit that before you can get an entry visa.
BLITZER: So, there was a technicality issue --
SIRES: Yes. BLITZER: -- and also in the final stages of her pregnancy. Did you or anyone in your office have anyone concerns about Ahmad Khan Rahami once he contacted your office?
SIRES: No. Basically, my office, my staff, dealt with the father most times. Mr. Rahami only showed up in Elizabeth once. And he was kind of abrupt and got a little nasty with the staff. But what we do in our office, why found out status. We don't get involved in the process.
BLITZER: So, you were simply trying to help a constituent in that particular case. That's what members of Congress try to do.
[13:10:05] SIRES: Yes.
BLITZER: Congressman Payne, you're on the House Homeland Security Committee and I know you've been well briefed. What is the latest information you're getting on this horrible situation?
REP. DONALD PAYNE, JR. (D), NEW JERSEY, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Well, basically, we're at the point where the officials are trying to determine if he had help in this endeavor. To place bombs down the Jersey shore in New York City and in Elizabeth took some time to do. So, the major key is to determine if he's a link to anyone, and if there was any help, in terms of doing these acts.
BLITZER: Because these bombs were clearly homemade but they were relatively sophisticated. The explosives were very, very deadly. What's your suspicion? Did he have help? Are there others at large right now who might have been involved?
PAYNE: Well, we're not sure. But it would have taken some time to get all the materials to put these bombs together. Some were very unsophisticated, too, moving up into sophisticated devices.
So, you know, we are just concerned about if he had help or not. And I believe that's where the investigation is as it stands right now.
BLITZER: Are you doing a postmortem now to find out? He traveled several times back to Afghanistan, which is relatively understandable. His parents were from Afghanistan. He was born in Afghanistan. Presumably, he still had relatives there and wanted to see his homeland, if you will. But the separate trips to Pakistan, including for almost a year, not that long ago.
When he came back to the United States, he had a secondary interview when he arrived in the United States. But no one spotted anything wrong. Are you taking a look to see if some evidence was missed that potentially could have prevented the four bombings that occurred over the past few days?
PAYNE: Well, naturally, homeland and the FBI are going back over, you know, those interviews now and to look to see if there are any indicators. But, at that point, he went through the process. There was no indication that there was an issue. And so, as an American citizen, he was allowed to go on his way. But they're combing over all the information that they have, looking for new information and working very diligently on this -- on this endeavor.
BLITZER: Congressman Sires, we're getting new information that he left a notebook at one of those bombings. And there was also some references to Anwar Al Awlaki, the former -- the late Al Qaeda spokesman, if he was kill -- who was killed in a U.S. drone strike. There were references to the Boston marathon bombings. What else have you learned about Rahami?
SIRES: Well, only what has been reported. It was not -- when he came through the office once, there was no indication. And the father gave us no indication of anything. And he sent an e-mail to my office from Pakistan, and he had said to me that he had been in Pakistan since April of 2013. And we received the e-mail on March 2014. So, I don't know anything, in terms of his movements other than that.
BLITZER: One final question, Congressman Payne, to you. His wife left the United States just a couple or three days ago. All of a sudden, she leaves. She, apparently, is in the United Arab Emirates right now where she was going to be changing flights. That's an intriguing element. What can you tell us about the wife?
PAYNE: Well, you know, the FBI briefed me this morning, and they're not sure that it has any correlation to what Rahami had done. But they are definitely looking at it now. And, you know, I guess it's an issue that definitely does bring -- raise some suspicion of why she would have left three days before.
But, to this point, the FBI has not said that it had any correlation with the events.
BLITZER: Congressman Payne, thanks very much for joining us. Congressman Series, thanks to you well.
Coming up, Rahami is suspected of planting bombs aimed at killing American citizens. That has some people calling for him to be treated as an enemy combatant. I'll discuss that later this hour with two top lawmakers. Get the latest on the investigation as well.
Plus, President George H. W. Bush reportedly telling a member of the Kennedy family that when he votes in November, he'll cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton. We have new information. Stay with us.
[13:18:36] BLITZER: National security is front and center right now in the presidential race here in the United States following the bombings in New York and New Jersey. For his part, Donald Trump is defending profiling as a strategy to combat the terror threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our local police, they know who a lot of these people are. They're afraid to do anything about it because they -- they don't want to be accused of profiling. Do we have a choice? Look what's going on. Do we really have a choice? We're trying to be so politically correct in our country and this is only going to get worse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson.
The political fallout from these bombings in New York and New Jersey, does it help Trump, for example, right now, or does it potentially hurt Trump?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not clear, Wolf. I think that while Hillary Clinton is going to continue to make the temperament argument against Trump, even on responding to terror, he's going to make the argument on her judgment and say that she got us into this situation in the first place as being part of the Obama administration. His supporters will agree with him.
And if you look at the polling, Wolf, there's no clear leader when it comes to who is best able to deal with terror. She sometimes gets a boost on foreign policy generally, but it kind of tends to go back and forth. So it's unclear to me if either one of them gets a real boost out of this, other than this confirms people's already solid attitudes about the way each of them would handle a crisis.
[13:20:10] BLITZER: And we're getting, Nia, very different recommendations what to do next from Trump and from Hillary Clinton. Very different perspectives. And a lot of people are wondering, how's that going to play with voters out there?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I think that's right. And we saw Hillary Clinton trying to make that contrast yesterday with her press conference, very much wanting to be out front and talk about this. She thinks this is a good terrain for her. Donald Trump, obviously, thinks the same thing. He talks tough. He, you know, talks about current policy, even -- even, I think, criticizes police officers, suggesting that somehow they're not doing their jobs because they're afraid of being labeled politically incorrect and in Hillary Clinton you have somebody talking more about detail, talking about intelligence or even talking about Silicon Valley needing to get involved in this -- this whole problem of terrorism and self- radicalized individuals.
So, yes, but, again, I do think a lot of this is so baked into the cake, right? You got basically a 45-45 split in terms of where people see these two candidates and the 10 percent some of those people aren't going to vote, some of those people are going to vote for third parties and the other will probably split between these two.
BLITZER: Very intriguing development. Former President George H.W. Bush, the first President Bush, he supposedly told Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of Robert Kennedy, she posted it on FaceBook, that he's going to vote for Hillary Clinton for president of the United States. A spokesman for President Bush would neither confirm nor deny the claim. But how surprising would it be if the first President Bush voted for Hillary Clinton?
BORGER: Well, I think it would be surprising, but not shocking, or stunning, in way, if there's a -- if I can -- if I can differentiate. If you look at the -- first of all, he didn't go to the convention, and his son ran against Donald Trump. And if you look at all of this former Bush administration officials, Scowcroft, Wolfowitz, Hank Paulson, Rich Armitage, Tony Pratto (ph), all of them are supporting Hillary Clinton. So it's not shocking in that sense --
BORGER: That their former boss would privately say to someone in a conversation, I'm not -- I'm not going to support.
BLITZER: And, Nia, it's probably very personal for President Bush, too.
BLITZER: His son, Jeb Bush --
BLITZER: The former Florida governor, was often ridiculed by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.
HENDERSON: Very -- yes, I mean very, very often ridiculed at low energy Jeb. So it would be surprising, I think, if he came out and had a full-throat defense of Donald Trump and said that he was going to vote for him. And you imagine that a lot of other people named Bush might go into that booth and not necessarily support Donald Trump. There's a real split between the Bush, Romney wing of the party, the moderates, the establishment in this new candidate in Donald Trump.
BLITZER: All right, guys, stay with me for a moment.
A brand new poll just released this hour shows Hillary Clinton maintaining her lead over Donald Trump in the key battleground state of Florida. The Monmouth University poll shows Hillary Clinton at 46 percent to Donald Trump's 41 percent. The Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, is at 6 percent. The Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, is at 1 percent.
In our series on battleground states, our correspondent, Boris Sanchez, take a closer look at why Florida is so important and so competitive.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A state that could make all the difference on the electoral map come election night is also one of the hardest to predict. Florida and its 29 electoral votes yet again a toss-up in 2016, with voters divided on the issues and the candidates. JOAN ESSENBERG, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Donald Trump was not my first, second
or third choice. But he is now.
SANDRA CALIXTO, ANTI-TRUMP VOTER: Trump is a racist! He's discriminated against people with disability and I have a son that has a disability. And, for me, he's cuckoo.
SANCHEZ: There are 4.6 million registered Democrats in Florida, and about 4.4 million registered Republicans. A razor-thin difference when you consider Florida's nearly 3 million unaffiliated voters. So both campaigns are throwing money at the middle, spending roughly $48 million on television ads since the start of the general election, according to ad tracking firm Cantor Media (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): In Hillary Clinton's America, the system stays rigged against America.
SANCHEZ: Hillary Clinton and her super PACs have pummeled Donald Trump, outspending the Republican four times over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) China.
SANCHEZ: Since early June, Clinton's team has spent $38.7 million on TV in the sunshine state, to Trump's $9.2 million. Despite the imbalance in spending, recent polls show Clinton and Trump are still in a tight race.
SUSAN MACMANUS, USF POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: Flip a coin. It's now all about turnout.
[13:25:03] SANCHEZ (on camera): Really?
MACMANUS: It's so close, and it has been for some time. In Florida's last three elections, it's two governors' races and the 2012 presidential, the victor only won by 1 percent.
SANCHEZ: There are a few areas that really illustrate why Florida is such a battleground better than the central part of the state. And you've got retirement communities like The Villages, which happens to be older, less diverse, and a Trump stronghold.
And only about 45 miles away, you have the polar opposite, Orlando. It's much younger, much more ethnically diverse and it skews toward Hillary Clinton.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bralia (ph), hi, this is Rebecca calling from the Florida Democratic Party. How are you?
SANCHEZ (voice-over): To find an edge in central Florida, home to nearly 40 percent of the state population, Clinton is investing heavily in an expanded ground game.
SIMONE WARD, STATE DIRECTOR, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: We've built an operation over several months that just can't be matched. It is the ground game that will make a difference in a state that is 1 percent.
SANCHEZ: The Clinton camp is courting more than a million Puerto Ricans living in Florida, about half of them in the Orlando area.
WARD: She is talking to them about the things that matter to them about economic stability, offering jobs.
SANCHEZ: The Trump campaign has been slow to build a ground game in Florida, but thanks to a major boost from the RNC, officials say they expect to have several dozen offices up and running soon, along with more than 200 people on staff and several thousand volunteers.
SUSAN WILES, STATE DIRECTOR, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: We do have our offices open. There are 60 between the Republican National Committee, the party, the Republican Party of Florida, the other candidates and us. So there are plenty of places for volunteers to gather.
GOV. MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America can be strong. America can stand tall again!
SANCHEZ: While Mike Pence energized Trump's base at The Villages on Saturday, state officials say their campaign is not focused on any specific demographic group. Their strategy is simply to get their candidates and message in front of as many Floridians as they can.
WILES: But we believe that if you meet him, you support him and you like him.
SANCHEZ: Boris Sanchez, CNN, Orlando.
BLITZER: For more on the new poll numbers out in Florida, how the race is shaping up, I want to bring in Patrick Murray. He's the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Patrick, thanks for coming in.
So your new poll shows Hillary Clinton maintaining, what, a five-point lead in Florida. How does that shape up with earlier polls?
PATRICK MURRAY, DIRECTOR, MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: Well, our earlier poll in August, which was right after the conventions when she was riding high, had her at nine points. So this is less than that. But if you compare it to CNN's poll last week, which had Trump up by three points, obviously this is good news for Clinton. And, in fact, I don't think it's just a difference in polling methodology. There is something real gaining on here.
BLITZER: What's going on?
MURRAY: Because we had polls out last week that had Trump up by eight points in Iowa, up by two points in Nevada. He was having a good week last week.
I think the big thing here was she was suffering last week from a resurgence of doubts about her forthrightness, her trustworthiness, because she didn't talk about -- or tell about her pneumonia thing and I think that brought that up, while Trump was fairly quiet. Then, on Friday, Trump resurrects the whole birther thing. And rather than putting that to rest, our polling is showing, as we started asking this question, our polling is actually showing that the whole birther thing that he raised again actually raises doubts about his temperament.
And I was sitting here with you I think a couple weeks ago and you were asking me about, like, what do you think is the big thing that's going to move things in this election? And it's the temperament question. And so when Trump talks about these things, about the birther movement, it raises doubts about -- and among college educated white suburban women who are that key group that he needs to get about his temperament, about whether he really is a stable person for this office.
BLITZER: And your poll was done before these bombings in New Jersey and New York.
MURRAY: Right, during the -- I mean a couple of them happened after.
BLITZER: During, yes.
MURRAY: So we don't have a good read on whether these -- the bombings are going to -- what impact they're going to have.
BLITZER: Because potentially national security, terrorism, that could be a big issue going forward?
MURRAY: Right. Right. But a lot of -- I saw a couple polls out that indicated that Clinton has the edge on the terrorism question before the bombings happened, obviously. I think that she'll continue to have the edge, because the one group that we're looking at who could be moved by that question are the group that are still concerned about the temperament question. They're not concerned about, oh, I'm really afraid and we've got to do everything to stop these terrorists, including round them all up. They're the people that are saying, oh, is rounding them up the right -- the right answer? So I think Clinton might still have the edge on that -- on that question as we look forward in this week.
BLITZER: Patrick Murray, thanks, as usual, for coming in.
MURRAY: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Patrick Murray joining us from the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Coming up, did President Obama take a jab at Donald Trump from the floor of the United Nations? We're going to tell you what the president just said.
And the Syria cease-fire is crumbling after an aid convoy is attacked. John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, he's standing by. He's at the United Nations right now. We'll speak with him live right after this.