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Attempted Terror Attack in New York City; Suspect Background Investigation; Polarizing Alabama Senate Race. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 11, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: All right, much more to come.

Great to see you, Jessica. Thank you.

Still ahead, more on the breaking news this morning. An attempted terror attack near one of New York's busiest transit hubs. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate, and welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A rush hour terror scare this morning in New York City. A 27-year-old man with an IED strapped to his body detonates in an underground transit passageway, but thankfully the injuries are few and relatively minor.

Plus, three women who accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment say it's not right the president calls them liars and escapes accountability.

And Alabama votes tomorrow. The president urging a vote for Republican Roy Moore, but most other Republicans worry a Moore win will cause severe damage to the national GOP brand.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Well, I'd rather see the Republican win, but I hope that Republican would be a write-in. I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore.


KING: Right now we begin the hour with developing news in New York City. Authorities trying to learn everything they can about a man who tried to attack the New York City transit system this morning. It was around 7:20 a.m. Eastern Time. An improvised explosive device went off at a Port Authority bus terminal near Times Square, causing minor injuries to three people near the perpetrator. Officials say the attacker had the explosives attached to his body and that he survived the blast.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK: This was an attempted terrorist attack. Thank God the perpetrator did not achieve his ultimate goals. Thank God our first responders were there so quickly to address the situation to make sure people were safe.


KING: Police have identified the suspect. He's now being treated for burns and lacerations.

CNN's Jason Carroll among the first reporters to arrive at the scene.

Jason, what more do we know this hour?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the suspect. He is 27 years old, John. He has been identified as Akayed Ullah. Akayed Ullah. He's Bangladeshi decent. He is from Brooklyn, New York.

The reason why some of the investigators out here are saying this is a situation that could have been much, much worse is because of that device that was attached to his body either detonated early or partially detonated. That's the way they're describing it. It was some sort of a pipe bomb that was attached to his body, affixed to his body with Velcro and zip ties.

Where did it occur? Right beneath the ground basically from where I'm standing at 42nd and 8th Avenue. Port Authority right across the street. Belowground in a walkway between where I'm standing and one block to the east, which is Times Square. Initially in the beginning there were some reports that this explosion had happened in Times Square. Investigators believe that perhaps the suspect was walking underground, in the Port Authority, perhaps walking towards Times Square when it happened. So, obviously, you can understand why they say the situation could have been much, much worse.

The governor describing it as one of New York City's worst nightmares, an explosion occurring on mass transit. Again this happened at about 7:20 this morning.

One MTA worker, who was working in a booth, described it this way. She said she was sitting there working when all of a sudden she heard the explosion and she immediately started running, left everything behind, even her cell phone. In fact, had to borrow one of our producer's cell phones to call her daughter to let her know that she was OK.

Apparently this suspect, John, said that he made the device when he was at work. He's apparently a former cab driver. The last time he was licensed to drive in the city was back in 2014. The important information here is that what we're learning so far is that this suspect, as far as we can best tell, acted alone. He is speaking to investigators. So hopefully they'll be able to yield more information from him.

The scene right now for where I am, you can see right now, 8th Avenue is open. 42nd Street is open as well, which is quite a feat when you're considering when this exactly happened this morning. Investigators just say that they hope to have mass transit open by rush hour this evening.


KING: Jason Carroll on the scene for us. Keep in touch, Jason. Come back as developments warrant.

With us to discuss this now, our national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's in Massachusetts. With me here in Washington, CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI assistant director, Tom Fuentes, and our CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Even, pick up where Jason left off as they try to piece this together. They have the suspect. Apparently they've spoken to the suspect, who's telling them some things.


KING: What more do we know?

PEREZ: Well, one of the things that they're trying to figure out, John, is where he learned to make this device. Obviously there's a lot of recipes online. And at this point the theory at least -- the ongoing theory that the investigators have is that he did this himself. He self-radicalized, if that's what we call this now. And this is something that he didn't necessarily have any formal training to do.

[12:05:12] Obviously the device didn't work as he perhaps wanted it to. I mean this is -- if you're going to blow something up, one of those passageways is where you want to do it because it does -- it sort of makes sure the impact affects as many people as possible. It's an enclosed space. People are bunched up together. And you can try to kill as many people as possible.

In this case, it appears that he happened to set it off or perhaps it went off prematurely at a time when there were not a lot of people around him. Only three other people who were injured. So certainly people are counting their blessings this morning. Investigators are counting their blessings.

One of the things I was talking to counterterrorism officials over the weekend even was this fear that because of the decision by the Trump administration to recognize Israel -- the Israeli capital as Jerusalem, that there would be an uptick in this type of activity. They were certainly looking for that over the weekend. They were looking to see if there's anybody who they already had in mind might be animated to carry something out. They didn't have that at this point.

KING: And, Tom, take us inside. Investigation 101, if you will. Obviously friends, family, contacts, they'll look at travel records to see if he did any overseas travel. Where did he get inspired from? Was it just on the Internet? Did he meet people? What else?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right. They'll go through all that. But they'll want to know where he learned how to make this bomb. If it was on the Internet, you know, which sites, which videos has he been looking at? Because there's various schools of instruction of how to do this.

PEREZ: Right.

FUENTES They'll want to see who inspired him to actually put this together.

And it sounds to me like it wasn't properly done. That maybe he didn't practice this out in a remote area, because all bombs are incendiary devices. When the powder burns, it burns rapidly, gases expand. If it's contained properly, it explodes. The fact that it burned him indicates to me that it wasn't properly contained, as it should have been.

And we've seen this in cases like the underwear bomber Christmas Day 2009 where it failed to be contained well enough to explode and just burned his legs very badly.

KING: And yet, Juliette, a competency question when it comes to constructing the weapon here, but in terms of picking a place, if you want a terror (ph), New York City, 7:20 in the morning, in one of these underground tunnels, you have the Port Authority bus terminal, you have the Times Square subway system. If you've even been in those tunnels, there are thousands of New Yorkers trying to get to work.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I mean and New York City will and always will be sort of the prime target for either organized terrorist attacks or what we saw this morning, an improvised attack, not sophisticated.

And New York is ready for it. I mean this is part of the dynamics that are going on in terms of the terrorism threat that we have now, that it isn't just simply, can we stop all these guys from doing these things? That's very hard to do. We do not know if the suspect had interacted with the FBI. We don't know whether he was on anyone's radar screen.

But what's the reaction when something like this happens? I think it's remarkable that the avenues are back open, that the transit will probably be open by 5:00 p.m. And so thinking about, how do you measure success given that New York will be under attack, unfortunately persistently, is the response of the NYPD emergency managers, the transit authorities.

And that gets a little bit into politics just on funding issues. There are concerns by the NYPD expressed openly about reductions in funding for them in terms of homeland security and terrorism efforts by the federal budget.

KING: And the fact that they are trying to reopen as soon as possible. Number one, you do that to show your resolve.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: To show that you're not affected. But, number two, they wouldn't do it if they had any worries, there were other actors out there or that he had partners (ph).

PEREZ: Right. Exactly.

KING: That tells you he is talking to them, right?

PEREZ: Right. That -- exactly. And I think they have some -- at least some confidence, just based on talking to him, that this is somebody who was not part of a larger cell. At least at this indication. And I think that's what gives them confidence to be able to open up the transit.

KING: All right, still some questions as they do interrogate the suspect. We'll bring you through them as we get them throughout the day.

Juliette, Tom and Evan, thank you. Come back when we know more.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

KING: Up next, President Obama records a robo call for the Democrat in Alabama's Senate race, but will the Democrat even use it?


DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I know that there have been a lot of robo calls with -- that have been recorded. I don't know what's being used. That is just not something I'm doing. The only one that I know that -- for sure that's been recorded is the one that my wife did.



[12:13:41] KING: Welcome back.

This is Monday, the final full day of campaigning in the Senate race that's become an official presidential priority. On the Alabama ballot tomorrow, it is Republican Roy Moore versus Democrat Doug Jones. But the local and national subplots are many. One is the big divide within the GOP. The president now all in for Moore, brushing aside credible allegations the Republican candidate had a pattern of pursuing girls in their teens.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNCILOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think the president couldn't be more clear about how he feels about this race. He has said, this is the president talking now, the president has said, go vote Roy Moore. He's made it very clear that he wants that vote in the United States Senate.


KING: Most of the Republican establishment, however, is appalled at the president's choice, including Alabama's senior senator, Richard Shelby.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I didn't vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn't vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better.


KING: The state of play on the ground is murky. Can't really trust the polling there. One Alabama political consultant cautions, if anyone says they have the lay of the land, they're insane or lying.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Joshua Green of "Bloomberg BusinessWeek," "Politico's" Eliana Johnson, Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg," and "The New York Times'" Julie Hirschfeld Davis.

It is interesting. In a special election, you don't trust polling anyway. You have a chance here where the Democrat has a shot in a ruby red state because of the problems with Roy Moore.

[12:15:04] Everybody please jump in. What are we hearing from the ground? What are we looking for?

JOSHUA GREEN, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK": Well, we're hearing wildly conflicting reports, depending on which pollster you talk to, what their model is of who's going to turn out. And as the consultant said in the intro, I think because this is a special election in Alabama, which doesn't usually have close elections, because it's a special and because it's been nationalized to a degree that we don't often see, we really don't know who is going to turn up and what the electorate's going to look like.

SAHIL KAPUR, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": The cliche that it all comes down to turn out, right, we can be more specific in this case. It all comes down to turnout of young people and African-Americans. About 27 percent of that state is African-American. If they turn out in numbers, even roughly proportionate to that in the election, then Doug Jones has a decent chance. White voters, older, married voters are more likely, more reliable in terms of turnout. So I think that gives Roy Moore the edge.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You also don't know what affect it's going to have that the president of the United States has gotten involved in the race.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: The former president of the United States, Barack Obama, has now weighed in for Doug Jones. And you don't know as well how voters are actually approaching the question of who they're going to vote for. I mean there is this possibility that people don't want to say that they're going to vote for Roy Moore, but they are going to vote for him. Or maybe they don't want to say that they're voting for a Democrat, but they're -- in fact, can't bring themselves to cast a ballot for Roy Moore and they are going to vote for Doug Jones. So you have a lot of confusion right now I think on both sides. I think both sides feel like they have a shot. But, clearly, given the state, given the political environment there, I think you'd have to say that Roy Moore, it's his to lose.

ELIANA JOHNSON, "POLITICO": Well, one of the most fascinating factors, I think, about this race has been the disappearance of Roy Moore from the state.

KING: Right.

JOHNSON: He really hasn't been seen on the ground in the state for the past week. And that's been tracked with the president's increasing involvement. It almost seems as though Donald Trump has kind of taken the place as the candidate. And so as Roy Moore has disappeared, the president's gotten more involve and he's kind of serving as a proxy candidate for Roy Moore, whose personal, you know, appearances on the campaign trail haven't seemed to have helped all that much. But Donald Trump's over the border on Friday, those things do seem to have really helped Moore's candidacy.

KING: Right. No question. Trump trying to get up his base, especially with white, non-college educated, more rural voters in Alabama. See if they come out.

It is interesting. Doug Jones has been campaigning aggressively. He's had some national surrogates go down there to help him. Roy Moore, nowhere to be seen. He did do a friendly interview on a Sunday political show in Alabama where he said, I didn't do this.


ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I did not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone. And for them to say that, I don't know why they're saying it, but it's not true.

They know I've stood for moral values and so they're attacking me in that area.


KING: The question is, what impact does that have. Does it -- do voters say, Roy Moore says it's not true, I believe him, or do suburban women who vote Republican in Alabama say, you know, SOB on television again. I'm coming out. I'm voting for the Democrat. I think that's part of the balance here.

JOHNSON: Well, his first interview out of the gate with Sean Hannity where he refused to unequivocally deny the allegations I think was disastrous. And I do think his outright denials do help voters who want to support him but were having conflicted feelings about it go to the polls with a clean conscience.

When he appeared on Hannity and said, you know, if I did date her, then I did. You know, my memory's not perfect. I thought that was a total disaster for his campaign. Even the president felt uncomfortable when he saw that. And then it was Roy Moore's denials and his increasingly angry denials that at least made the president feel more comfortable with it and I also think Alabama voters. And you increasingly saw him bounce back from about -- we saw polls, you know, that were about even right in the wake of the allegations to polls (INAUDIBLE) -- they're all over the place, but some of them do show Moore bouncing back.

KING: Let's listen to the president. This is an Alabama Senate race. In the Republican runoff there were Alabama issues that caused Luther Strange to have a problem and Roy Moore to win the race. So we're going to sometimes over nationalize this when a lot of it is within the borders of Alabama. But it's high stakes to the president now. In the runoff he endorsed the candidate who lost. Now he's on a robo call saying, despite these credible allegations, all these women have come forward and said these things about Roy Moore, the president essentially saying, I need a Republican vote in the Senate.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, this is President Donald Trump and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore.

If Alabama elects liberal Democrat Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped cold. We already know Democrat Doug Jones is a puppet of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.


KING: Number one, there's no question the president has a loyal base here, but if you talk to national Republicans, they are so worried about being tainted with this. That if Roy Moore wins, they can't figure out a way to get him expelled or not seat him. You might -- we were talking about this before we came on the air, maybe in an ethics investigation that goes on for months, if not longer, and then every Republican candidate in 2018 is going to be Velcroed to Roy Moore.

DAVIS: Well, I mean, and you heard from Senator Shelby, who has been in this business a very long time.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: Normally the home state senator -- the senior home state Senator would escort him on his swearing in day. Can you imagine Senator Shelby going -- escorting Roy Moore, newly elected Senator Roy Moore, to be sworn in? I mean it just -- it strains imagination. And I think a lot of Republicans are very uncomfortable with it. But I think the calculation the president has made, as Eliana said, is, if he's going to -- if we're going to get this vote, if we're going to win this seat, they have to nationalize it. They have to make it about, are you for Trump or are you against him? Otherwise they don't have really a shot.

[12:20:23] KAPUR: Well, and that is their best shot. They've got -- President Trump won that state by about 28 points. President Obama lost it in both his elections by about some -- was it 22 points or something like that.

KING: Right.


KAPUR: The best shot they have to hold that seat, you know, I think with Roy Moore. We've seen how the margins of one or two senators can be so critical. And I think President Trump is playing -- is making his best play. They don't want it to be about the character (INAUDIBLE).

GREEN: Well, and I was going to say, Trump's actually a much stronger candidate in Alabama right now than Roy Moore is. He's more popular.

KING: Right.

GREEN: You know, he's comfortable in front of the TV cameras in a way that Moore evidently is not. So this isn't the worst thing that -- it may be bad for Republicans nationally, but it's not the worst thing in the world for Roy Moore.

JOHNSON: And I question the wisdom of national Democrats, like President Obama and Joe Biden, getting involved in this race --


JOHNSON: Because they're less popular than a guy like Doug Jones, who's a more centrist Democrat than they are. So I'll be interested to see in the results tomorrow night how that may have affected the outcome.

KING: And you could see it. We played some Doug Jones sound heading into the last break that he won't even talk publically about this Obama robo call.

JOHNSON: Right. Right.

KING: The president of the United States -- former president of the United States, so very popular with African-American voters, recorded a robo call in which he says, this one's serious, you can't sit it out.

Everybody understands the math. African-American turnout has to be somewhere 25 percent or higher for Doug Jones to have a chance. Just to have a chance in play. And yet he's nervous about using that, to your point, because he wants this to be an Alabama election. He doesn't want to be a national Democrat, which is toxic.

KAPUR: It's tricky, especially for the Democrats.

GREEN: And it's no coincidence, though, that they waited until literally the day before the election to spring this Obama robo call so that it doesn't become, you know, an issue that could (INAUDIBLE) Republican (INAUDIBLE).

JOHNSON: They don't want anyone to hear about it outside of the African-American community, I think, or outside of the people that they're targeting very directly with these robo calls. KAPUR: And Jones has been openly reluctant to have a specific message,

to speak directly to African-Americans and Democratic candidates in, you know, states like Alabama and Mississippi, Louisiana often do as a strategy for winning, doesn't want to be -- to appear to have one tailored message for this group and another for that group. Probably because he doesn't want to alienate the 75 or so percent of white voters who are there.

KING: We'll come back to this race a little bit later in the program.

Up next, though, an uncomfortable message for President Trump. His United Nations ambassador says the president's accusers should be heard as these women, once again, step into the spotlight.


JESSICA LEEDS, ACCUSES TRUMP OF GROPING HER: And it became apparent that in some areas the accusations of sexual aggression were being taken seriously and people were being held accountable, except for our president.



[12:27:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time because a lot of things are coming out and I think that's good for our society and I think it's very, very good for women. And I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out.


KING: That was President Trump three weeks ago responding to the wave of allegations against Roy Moore, other media accounts about sexual harassment in the workplace. Since then, this new spotlight on sexual misconduct has forced three members of Congress to resign and it's now turning back toward the president himself.

Some of the women who came forward during last year's campaign are speaking out once again. At a press conference this morning, hosted by Brave New Films (ph), they told their stories of how Mr. Trump allegedly groped them or made other unwanted advances years ago.


RACHEL CROOKS, ACCUSES DONALD TRUMP OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT: That some men think they can use their power, position or notoriety to demean and attack women speaks to their character, not ours. I want to believe that as Americans we can put aside our political inclinations and admit that some things, in fact, do transcend politics.

I ask that Congress put aside their party affiliations and investigate Mr. Trump's history of sexual misconduct. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the president denies the allegations. You might remember during the campaign he threatened to sue these women. He also, though, did apologized for what he said on that infamous "Access Hollywood" clip that threatened to derail his campaign last year. One of the top women in his own administration, though, listen here, says Trump's accusers have every right to come forward.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Women who accuse anyone should be heard. They should be heard and they should be dealt with. And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.

JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST, "FACE THE NATION": And does the election mean that's a settled issue?

HALEY: You know, that's for the people to decide. I know that he was elected. But, you know, women should always feel comfortable coming forward and we should all be willing to listen to them.


KING: What did you make of that from Nikki Haley? Pretty candid. They have every right. She works for the president. She's viewed as one of the people he views as a rising star. A star in his administration. And yet she said every one of these women has every right to come forward and tell their story.

DAVIS: Well, listen, I think that was actually very carefully worded, even if it was on the spur of the moment, carefully worded because she's not saying I believe them, she's not saying I don't believe them, she's simply stating a principle that she thinks that women who have accusations should be heard.

Now, that is somewhat of a break with what the White House has said. The White House has basically said all these women have lied and they've misrepresented what happened. And Donald Trump said during the campaign that it wasn't true and it's not true and plus he was elected anyway.

But you heard Nikki Haley make the distinction just then to say, just because he was elected anyway doesn't mean that women shouldn't have a voice and doesn't mean they shouldn't be listened to when they come forward anew with these allegations. So, I mean, I do think that she tried to strike a balance there. But she's clearly going beyond what the White House has been willing to say and saying, these women should be listened to. Accusations should be taken seriously.

[12:30:01] JOHNSON: I thought she struck kind of the perfect tone in saying that these women should not be dismissed. Their allegations should not be denied out of hand by anybody except maybe the president himself, who has the right to do that.