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State Media: At Least 235 Killed in Egypt Mosque Attack; Trump: "We're Really Winning Against ISIS, Al Qaeda; Franken Issues New Apology Amid Groping Allegations; Moore Releases New Ad Featuring Women Supporters; IRS Beefs Up Security To Protect The President's Tax Returns. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 24, 2017 - 16:30   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: What is now believed to be the deadliest terror attack in Egypt ever, state media says that 235 people have been killed, more than 100 injured in an attack on a mosque in the North Sinai region, involving at least two explosions and multiple gunmen.

[16:30:09] CNN's Ian Lee has been following the story.

Ian, an intricate, a brutal, deadly attack. What are we learning about how it was carried out and who is behind it?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. It's quite sophisticated when you look at how these militants carried it out.

What we're being told by witnesses is that there were two explosions which drew people outside of the mosque. That's when gunmen opened fire shooting at them. Then the gunmen moved inside the mosque, executing people. Ambulances on their way to the scene, they were also ambushed by the gunmen firing at those ambulances. They said they couldn't get to that mosque until security forces were able to finally secure the area, those militants then slipping away into the desert.

Now, no one has claimed responsibility for this, Jim, but it does bear all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack. Egypt's president has come out forcefully saying that he's going to use brute force hunting them down. We're being told that Egypt's military has mobilized along with the air force, combing the desert, looking for anyone responsible.

But this is the deadliest terrorist attack to take place in Egypt, 235 people killed, over 100 people injured. The country is in mourning and in shock tonight, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's incredible that the gunmen got away. Why this particular mosque? Why would militants attack this kind of mosque?

LEE: That might strike people odd, why would militants attack a mosque? And that's because this mosque is one of the hearts of Sufi Islam in the northern part of Sinai. Now, the fundamentalists, the ultra puritanical believers that make up ISIS, they have called Sufis nonbelievers, they call them sinners, they call them infidels.

They do not believe that they're Muslims and they have threatened them before in Egypt. And so, this appears to be an attack by ISIS carried out, going after these Sufi Muslims.

SCIUTTO: I have to think somewhat embarrassing or disappointing for Egypt's military, it has claimed to have the upper hand against ISIS. How much of a defeat is that for their counterterror efforts?

LEE: You bring up a good point, Jim, because after every attack like this, and Egypt has had a number of deadly mass casualty attacks, the government comes out and says, we're going to be very strong on this. They issue states of emergency for different regions. They say the military, the security forces are going to crack down hard, but we still continue to see attacks like this carry out, even though they do say, as you pointed out, that they have the upper hand.

One thing that Egypt's president has also expressed concern about is that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, Egyptian authorities fear that those militants, other militants could try to go to Egypt to help bolster their forces there, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Ian Lee, thanks very much.

In response to today's attack, President Trump vowed to defeat Islamic extremism militarily and said that the U.S. needs to get, quote, tougher and smarter.

But as terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda lose ground on the battlefield, they are rebranding, morphing across the globe.

Let's get right to CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, U.S. and Western counterterror officials are worried ISIS may try to conduct even more external attacks, are they not, particularly after they lost their ground in Iraq and Syria, their headquarters on the ground there, their self-proclaimed caliphate?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. We talked to U.S. and military intelligence officials and they are very worried that ISIS may be trying to get some sort of attack going this holiday season, even as the U.S. is trying to attack ISIS in dozens of locations.


STARR (voice-over): London went on high alert seconds after citizen reports of shots fired in one of the busiest shopping areas. It wasn't terrorism. No evidence shots were fired, but nerves are running high. President Trump chose a strong Thanksgiving Day message to the troops about winning against terror.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know how to win. But we have to let you win. They weren't letting you win before. They were letting you play even. We're letting you win.

STARR: But there is good reason to worry this holiday season. U.S. intelligence officials remain alarmed that ISIS will again strike.

The State Department warning U.S. travelers that ISIS and al Qaeda have the ability to plan and execute terrorist attacks in Europe. German intelligence already believes it's facing a plot to attack holiday markets.

[16:35:01] Last year in Berlin, a person drove a tractor trailer into a Christmas market, killing at least a dozen people. ISIS remains motivated.

COL. STEVE WARREN (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: ISIS has always looked to conduct external operations. They have long tried to conduct terror attacks outside of their declared caliphate.

STARR: This year, ISIS may be more desperate. With the loss of their strongholds in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is strengthening its affiliates in Yemen, Libya, Niger and especially Somalia, looking for new bases of operation.

In Somalia alone, the U.S. conducted seven air strikes in six days against al Shabaab, the al Qaeda affiliate, and ISIS. One strike killing 100 militants, according to the Pentagon. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are also ramming up efforts.

The reliance on Special Operations Forces has expanded under President Trump. There are now approximately 2,000 U.S. troops fighting ISIS inside Syria. But military experts say it's not enough to stop the threat.

WARREN: Military power is not enough to defeat ISIS or to defeat terrorism. We cannot shoot our way out of this problem. We cannot kill our way out of this problem.


STARR: There are now 19 countries where U.S. troops are deployed and ready for combat if comes to that, but U.S. military officials continue to caution that it's going to take a lot more than firepower. It will take diplomacy. It will take economic and financial help in so many countries to defeat terrorism -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nineteen countries with U.S. soldiers deployed. I'm not sure many people realize that.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, many thanks.

It may be the most wanted set of documents in Washington, D.C., President Trump's tax returns. Now, the IRS is doing something it has never done before to make sure they stay in safe keeping. Stay with us.


[16:41:26] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our politics lead on the day after Thanksgiving. And my panel joins me now. The first family, of course, in Florida for the holiday, back at Mar-

a-Lago, familiar spot for the president, familiar activity, golfing again.

Here's how the president tweeted his day's activity: After Turkey call, as in call to Turkey, I will be heading over to the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter to play golf quickly, he says, with Tiger Woods and Dustin Hoffman, and back to Mar-a-Lago for talks on bringing even more jobs and companies back to the USA.

You get a sense that these are some visitors to the golf club who posted videos. As you know, the press pool often not allowed to go there but sometimes fellow golfers send those videos out for us.

The president, Chris Cillizza, in that tweet, seemed to be somewhat conscious of spending too much time on the golf course during the holiday.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes, and I mean, the reason why is simple. You played the clip earlier. He made a huge deal during the campaign of the fact that Barack Obama played too much golf. He would never play golf.

Because I always hear from people who'd say, leave Trump alone, let him relax. He should relax. It's totally fine -- if I could play -- I'd play more golf than I currently do, which is not much, it's fine. But you can't say if it's good for the goose, it's good for the gander. You can't say Barack Obama wasn't doing his job because he was on the golf course and then be on the golf course.

The other thing that I think is ridiculous is they very rarely acknowledge he's playing golf. They only usually do it when he's playing with someone like Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson, professionals.

SCIUTTO: Little name-dropping, right? Yes.

CILLIZZA: But he always goes to his courses, you know, one in Virginia, one in New Jersey and obviously one in Florida. He goes there for meetings and he's gone for five hours, roughly the time it takes to play 18 holes of golf, and then he's back.


CILLIZZA: You can't have it both ways.

SCIUTTO: The numbers -- so it's 308 days into the Trump presidency. This is the 80th day Trump has spent at a Trump-branded golf course, 100 days at Trump properties.

Do any of his supporters do that math? I mean, do any of the Republican -- I mean, let's forget about the base for a moment. Does anybody do this math and care?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER COLUMNIST: I'm not sure that if you dislike the president, this is your number one reason for disliking the president, and if you like the president, this is not going to change your mind about it, right? And I think especially golfing around the holidays in particular is not going to be viewed as something that's off-putting. It's when you go golfing in the middle of a crisis, it's when you go golfing in a middle of, say, a big legislative push. It's when you go golfing at a time when the optics look bad, when you really ought to be focused on something else, that I think there is more of a threat than at a time when lots of people are relaxing and taking time off.

SCIUTTO: Say North Korea is developing a nuclear weapon or tax reform.

ANDERSON: Or tax reform.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe we shouldn't be on the golf course.

I think the problem with Donald Trump is, not only did he criticize then President Obama and now he's also golfing. But Donald Trump has gone golfing way more than President Obama has gone golfing. He uses this as a outlet to say he can get a weekend pass, like the president gets to take the weekend off and go golfing as though we're not dealing with very pressing issues. So, I think that's part of the issue. It seems extremely hypocritical.

CILLIZZA: And what he say, he did criticize Obama for the amount of golf. He said he would only play golf as a way of doing business, right? That was the theory, that he would play with world leaders and it could work in his favor.

SCIUTTO: To make peace.

CILLIZZA: But this is not that.

SCIUTTO: OK. Juana, before we get off golf, I'm going to give you a chance to pipe in. The topic of the day.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: The topic of the day. I think one of the bigger issues here we see is that this is the president, he's down in Florida, a lot of the so-called grown-ups in the room, the people who can influence them. Somebody needs to probably keep him off Twitter or else, we wouldn't be having this conversation, right? Again, you see this president who's kind of, he's there, he's very unrestrained.

[16:45:00] He's got -- he appears to have some time on his hands to be sending out the messages, again, when we could be talking about tax reform and some of these big issues, instead we're talking about how the President is spending his spare relaxation time.

SCIUTTO: (INAUDIBLE) maybe we should just dispense with the idea that someone should keep the President off of Twitter.


CILLIZZA: On the bright side for him, no LaVar Ball tweets today so that's an accomplishment

SCIUTTO: In serious news, of course, we have sexual harassment issues not you know, in the private sector but certainly on the Hill. We had Senator Al Franken today apologizing after recent accusations. Here's what he said. "I've met tens of thousands of people and taken thousands of photographs, often in crowded and chaotic situations. I'm a warm person. I hug people. I learn from recent stories that in some of those encountered a crossed a line for some women and I know that any number is too many. Kristen, I want your reactions, but that's -- it's sort of a non-apology, right? To some degree, right?

ANDERSON: Yes, it's not an apology. And I think if we're going to have a standard that -- the standard is not does the guy think he's done something wrong but does the woman feel like she's been violated? If that's the standard and I think that's a right standard, that is not at an apology. That's a completely insufficient statement that he's made.

SCIUTTO: Is there an issue with the way that Congress handles these? I mean, could -- the very protocol. If you look for instance at the Conyers allegations right? It was run through the office. There was a nondisclosure agreement attached. There was a secret payment which you know, it's hard to get a whiff of hush money. It looks like Congress has to find a better way to handle these kinds of accusations.

SANDERS: Absolutely. We need reform on the Hill in how we deal wig allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual micro- aggressions. And I'm wondering if Congress is able to come up with that new reform system on their own and if they don't need some outside assistance because clearly, it's not working. But I think a larger conversation also needs some reform in the political sphere about how we deal with these issues. You know, we've seen folks in Hollywood, in the corporate sphere, in the media, Charlie Rose literally lost his show who have had to reckon and answer for their -- these allegations and their transgressions but folks in politics, a lot of people have yet to have their day of reckoning.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it moves a lot slower in politics than we've seen in the private sector.

CILLIZZA: One thing, I was watching CNN, you know, because I always do in the morning and on "NEW DAY," Kathleen Rice, a Member of Congress from New York, who has called for Conyers -- John Conyers to resign.

SCIUTTO: He said to resign entirely from Congress. Yes.

CILLIZZA: Said -- and I think this -- you rarely hear this level of honesty. She said, look, you know, I know that this has been referred to the ethics -- House Ethics Committee, but anyone who has covered the Hill and I spent a little bit of time there, knows that these Ethics Committees, it's a way to buy yourself time. You know, Franken self-referred said I'd like the Ethics Committee to look it up. It's better than nothing, but you have to make those -- this to Symone's point, you need reform. We have to make that a real body for adjudicating these things if you're going to do it because otherwise it just kind of looks like, well, we're going to put it over here -- and both parties do this -- we're going to put it over here until the heat gets off of it and then figure something eight months from now when people don't talk about it.

SCIUTTO: Juana, I mean, the other candidate, of course, facing this is Roy Moore, GOP Senate Candidate in Alabama. He -- I mean, we're not -- I mean, talking about the same zip code as an apology here. He's defiant. What he said today, I -- actually, we have a video of his response to this. Let's have a listen.


ROY MOORE, GOP SENATE CANDIDATE, ALABAMA: I'm Roy Moore and I approve this message.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Roy Moore is a man of character. He knows what it means to serve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I definitely believe the establishment is trying to stop Roy Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Judge Roy Moore will bring a flashlight of accountability to Washington, D.C.


SCIUTTO: Flashlight of accountability, Juana.

SUMMERS: That's really stunning. I find it fascinating that you have these very serious allegations of women who have come out on the record and said this man sexual assaulted me and she was as young as 14 years old and his response is to bring up testimonials of women. That doesn't change it. I think as you said, like it's completely insufficient and I think we're going to see when voters go to the polls whether or not they feel comfortable with a man who has these charges against him. Women saying he has assaulted them or touched them inappropriately when they were teenagers. I think if Roy Moore is elected to the Senate, Senate Republicans and Senators at large (INAUDIBLE) because reporters like me are going to ask them, are you comfortable standing shoulder-to-shoulder with this man? Is it worth it to get something like tax reform done to get that one more vote? I think this becomes a huge liability for the standard of what Republicans were --

SCIUTTO: Well, the answer to that question appears to be absolutely yes, right?

CILLIZZA: From the White House. From the White House.

SCIUTTO: But not just the White House. You've heard that from other members of Congress saying, you know, because they've said, let's get this vote and then let's talk about, you know shepherding on his way.

CILLIZZA: Which is -- which is by the way how parties and I think Kristen will agree with me, Democrat or Republican Party die. When you lose sort of a principle, like this is something that we should not condone as a party --

ANDERSON: But they lost it already. They elected --

CILLIZZA: What do you stand for to win? What is winning about --

SANDERS: Donald Trump sits at the standard bearer if you will for the Republican Party as the President of the United States. He has 12 women have credibly come out and accused him of sexual assault, yet we have Republicans who come on our network on a regular basis who say, well, what about -- we have to hold Roy Moore accountable and they don't talk about Donald Trump.

[16:50:08] ANDERSON: Yes, this is why I think that these accusations in the political sphere get handled and the public opinion around them is so different than someone like Harvey Weinstein or someone in the media like a Charlie Rose because there are not millions upon millions upon millions of Americans who are in the Charlie Rose party or the Harvey Weinstein party. And so, what's the incentive for a woman to come out and make false accusations against a Harvey Weinstein or Charlie Rose? People aren't thinking that way, where in politics the instinct is --

SCUITTO: Everything is tribal.

ANDERSON: Oh, everything is tribal. So I want to defend the person who's in my corner.

SCUITTO: All right folks, thanks so much. Happy holidays to all of you and your families. President Trump released the secret JFK files so what could be so secret inside his tax returns that the IRS is now putting them, yes, in a special safe.


[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: We're back now with the "TECH LEAD" and proof that more people are skipping the crowds this Friday as online shopping puts another nail in the big box stores. A survey by the national retail federation found that 59 percent of shoppers plan to shop online this year. That makes this the first time the ease of pointing and clicking anytime, anywhere is more popular than actually entering a physical store. As a result, many storefronts are just closing their doors. Almost 7,000 announced closures in 2017. 620 stores filed for bankruptcy this year and an estimated 9,000 retailers are expected to shut their doors in 2018.

Now to the "POLITICS LEAD," President Trump bucked tradition when he decided not to release his tax returns to the public and now the IRS is going through the unprecedented lengths to make sure they don't end up in the wrong hands and in the public eye. CNN's Cristina Alesci has the story. Cristina, there's been security issues here but the IRS beefing them up even more.

CHRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. The former Head of the IRS told me the agency added protection to the electronic versions of President Trump's tax returns in the summer of 2016. So only employees with special permission got access to them. And then the agency decided to take security one step further.


ALESCI: In the heart of Washington, D.C., a government agency is closely guarding a document in such high demand that bounties have been placed on the file.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they're very big tax returns. The biggest I guarantee you this. The biggest ever in the history of what we're doing.

ALESCI: More than a year after then-candidate Donald Trump said his tax returns would be released, gaining just a glimpse of them has become mission impossible. And now the internal revenue service is increasing security.

JOHN KOSKINEN, FORMER IRS COMMISSIONER: We've always referred to all of the President's returns being in a safe. It turned out it was safe-like in a sense it was a locked cabinet in a locked room. So one of the things we're going to do, we decided we should actually turn it into a safe in a locked room. And so we'll do that.

ALESCI: And who has access to that room?

KOSKINEN: You know, I don't know. I don't have access.

ALESCI: John Koskinen retired as commissioner of the IRS this month. He says the agency locked down Trump's digital returns in 2016 and is now focusing on the physical documents.

KOSKINEN: There's almost no other taxpayer that I can remember where there's been this kind of focus on. Isn't there some way we could get a hold of those returns?

ALESCI: One hacking magazine has offered $10,000 to anyone who can get a copy of the President's paperwork. Last year, even WikiLeaks tweeted a request.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I have here are a copy of Donald Trump's tax return.

ALESCI: In March, MSNBC got a few pages from a journalist who said he found them in his mailbox.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know who sent it to you. You didn't solicit it, you didn't ask anybody for it?


ALESCI: Still, there's so much to uncover when it comes to these Presidential records.

Is there more information on file at IRS than the President's actually make available historically?

KOSKINEN: Yes, often times they're much more voluminous exhibits that usually don't get printed and shared with the public. And so that entire package is what's kept secure.

ALESCI: And security at theirs is no easy task. Most are not successful but it's not for lack of trying. One private investigator is currently facing federal charges after allegedly guessing a social security number and attempting to use it to access the President's tax information. In 2015, a so-called cyber mafia used stolen information to pose as taxpayers and access millions of documents on the IRS Web site affecting some 720,000 people. As for rogue employees inside the IRS, Koskinen says he's not worried.

KOSKINEN: We basically have a handful of people who have the keys to the kingdom as it were in our I.T. department but we have great confidence in those people and they take that responsibility seriously.

ALESCI: So who could finally make the President's tax returns public? Well, there is one guy.


ALESCI: Now, Koskinen says the internal system at IRS detects anyone not authorized to look at returns and employees who are caught doing that even if it's to help a friend or family member are disciplined or fired. Now, the biggest deterrent, of course, is the threat of jail time. It's a crime to access someone's tax returns without appropriate authority or a need to know. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Cristina Alesci, thanks very much. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning for CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," guests include Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham. It all starts 9:00 Eastern, 12:00 Eastern this Sunday only on CNN. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JIMSCIUTTO. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Jim Acosta in "THE SITUATION ROOM."