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CNN NEWSROOM

Austin Serial Bomber Dead After Blowing Himself Up; Interview with Mayor Steve Adler; Trump Infuriated By Leak On Putin Call; Trump Tweets Again About Mueller's Russia Investigation. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Alan, I hope you feel better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Nine.

CUOMO: I love this kid. But he is wrong. He did not do something that anybody else could do. That was hard. First of all, is everybody always thinking about helping? Maybe, maybe not. To get a jack and jack up a car at that age, that was incredible. He is a hero.

HILL: That he is.

CUOMO: And Mr. Alan is very grateful.

How about a little "CNN NEWSROOM"?

HILL: Let's do that. John Berman, here he is.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

The breaking news out of Austin this morning, after a dramatic series of events overnight, the suspect in a string of bombing attacks is dead, but as of this moment, police warn the threat is not over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF BRIAN MARLEY, AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT: We don't know where this suspect has spent his last 24 hours. We still need to remain vigilant to ensure that no other packages or devices have been left in the community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Officials say the 24-year-old suspect blew himself up as SWAT officers approached his car. Police say he is responsible for all six incidents that resulted in five explosions and two deaths over the last three weeks. But officials have not conclusively determined whether this man was working alone.

I will speak with the mayor of Austin in just a moment. But first, our Ed Lavandera is live in Round Rock just north of Austin with the very latest on what happened and what's going on right now -- Ed. ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, a surreal

ending to this story that has essentially traumatized and paralyzed much of the city here over the last three weeks. You can look at the activity here along Interstate 35, the southbound lanes of Interstate 35 north of Austin. We're in the town of Round Rock, still shut down.

You can see the police and investigator presence. That is the area where the ditch is where this suspect, we're told by investigators, drove off into the ditch. And that is where just moments after he had realized that he had been followed and was being pursued by a team of investigators that were brought to a local hotel here just up the road, and where they had been monitoring him.

That team of investigators was actually waiting for a tactical team to arrive so they could move on the suspect. And the suspect then left the parking lot, drove into that ditch. And as the SWAT team members approached that vehicle, the suspect, we're told, a 24-year-old white male, blew himself up inside of the car.

As I mentioned, it's a 24-year-old white male. So far investigators say that is all the information they're releasing about the suspect. Wouldn't even say if he was a resident of Austin so far so we're still working on nailing down as much information as we can on that.

But to really get a sense of just how things developed, John, and how they were able to catch on to this subject, we get the sense that really things started to change within the last day or so. Those two packages that showed up at delivery dispatch centers, the one in Schertz, Texas, north of San Antonio, and the other distribution center by the Austin airport, but that really started provided clues.

They were able to track those packages back to a drop-off point in south Austin. We understand that investigators there were able to find surveillance footage and be able to see image of them and starting to piece together pieces of the puzzle there from that point, and that led them to this parking lot of this hotel several hours ago before it all ended here just along Interstate 35 just a few hours ago -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavandera for us in Round Rock. And you've done some terrific reporting from down there. Thanks so much for all of it.

Joining me now is James Gagliano, CNN law enforcement analyst, retired FBI supervisory special agent, and Mike Bouchard, former ATF assistant director.

And, Jim, let me say, this is some really, really impressive police work that's taken place over the few last days. We have a combination of video surveillance, cell phone surveillance possibly, forensics, and, you know, old-fashioned stakeout. The police really worked hard to bring this to a conclusion.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely, John. And to your point, in the last two days, think also about the Maryland deputy sheriff that interdicted the shooter in that high school yesterday.

This was a tremendous piece of work for law enforcement. Let's just put in context the Unabomber case, the FBI's longest and most costly case that began in 1978 when Ted Kaczynski started sending mail packages that were bombs, and ended in 1995, 1996 he's arrested. 17 years, 16 devices. In the past of 19 days, we have six confirmed packages, we had of course the three that began on the east side of Austin. There were package bombs delivered on doorsteps.

The one trip wire victim activated bomb on the west side, then the two that were at the distribution center, one that exploded down in the south of Austin and then last night in a suburb north of Austin. Law enforcement did an amazing job. They prevented the worst nightmare, a mobile crisis site from rolling out of that parking lot and interdicted and stopped the bomber.

[09:05:06] BERMAN: You know, Mike, it is interesting, though. There is the warning that they do not know for sure where this suspect has been for the last 24 hours. Walk us through what's going on right now. They have to be scouring the area for the possibility of more devices and also the possibility that this person could be connected to other people.

MIKE BOUCHARD, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ATF: Law enforcement is going to be methodically working through all the leads that they have. And first they're probably doing searches wherever this person may have lived. They need to understand if this person memorialized everything he was doing, if he had a game plan. Hopefully they'll be able to find that in some of his writings.

They also have to determine where these bombs were built, if he lived in an apartment, did he build them there or did he have a storage locker or some other location where he may have been building them, or is he working with someone else. So the toughest part is over now. They've apprehended the person. Well, he's been -- he's deceased, but now the tough part is, are there any other devices out there, keeping the public vigilant, don't let your guard down yet. They still got to track and see if there are any other packages out there that could harm someone.

BERMAN: You know, Jim, you were telling me just yesterday, you thought that the speed, the rapidity at which he was, you know, putting these attacks forward meant it was more likely he would get caught. And then as so often happens, he made a mistake. He mailed these packages via FedEx which is so traceable in most cases.

GAGLIANO: I spoke to a number of special agent bomb techs last night from the FBI and they said the exact same thing, John. The amount of devices and the fact that law enforcement was able to find one that was intact, which means they were going -- they were able to go back and discern what his signature was, the four parts of a bomb obviously are the power source, the initiator, the explosives themselves and the switch. And that tells you a lot about where this person may have gotten those items to make the bombs.

BERMAN: And, Mike, the interesting thing here is, one of the things that authorities will be doing now is looking for a motive. Why? Because they want to find out if there is a continuing threat here. How will they do this?

BOUCHARD: Well, basically it's going to be whatever they find in search warrants. Looking at this person's computer, cell phones, tweets. If they -- in a lot of occasions unfortunately they talk about these things on social media and make idle threats, whether just randomly or to individuals. So the tough part is going to be going through all those records right now. But of course, you've got the best people in the country working on these cases. So I'm confident it will be resolved pretty quickly and they'll have the conclusion here shortly.

BERMAN: All right. Mike Bouchard, James Gagliano, thank you so much for being with us.

Joining me now, the mayor of Austin, Steve Adler.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us. There has to be an enormous sense of relief over your city this morning. I've heard from so many of my friends over the last several days about just how concerned they were.

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: Well, we appreciate the concern. And yes, I think everybody is taking a deep breath this morning, though it's a little tempered by the fact that the investigation is not over yet. We're still asking people in the area to remain vigilant and keep their eye out for things that look out of place or suspicious because we don't know where the suspect spent much of the last 24 hours and what he might have been doing.

And there are still, you know, some -- a few unanswered questions that the chief wants to run the ground. But we are so appreciative of this army of law enforcement folks that came to town. There were 500 federal agents in addition to our local police and resources that came from other cities and from the state, the sophisticated equipment that came to bear. This was a priority. There was no resource spared and we're a community that is just so appreciative right now.

BERMAN: It's been several hours since this suspect was killed. As of now, have you heard that any other devices have been found?

ADLER: As of now, I have not heard of any other devices.

BERMAN: As of now, have you heard of any other conclusive connections with other possible suspects?

ADLER: I haven't heard of any others yet. But that's one of the questions that they're trying to run the ground.

BERMAN: And indeed, it's a very important question. And that's what they're working on right now. This investigation still very much under way. Any sense of a motive?

ADLER: No, not yet. And obviously that's one of the big questions that everybody has as well. BERMAN: Mr. Mayor, how are you feeling? How is the community feeling

this morning?

ADLER: I think the community is feeling a considerable, you know, sense of relief. You know, as these events happen, you know, there's fear and the anxiety grows. There's extra fear when it looks like it's random. There's some measure of feeling helplessness in that you want to be able to do more.

[09:10:07] But, you know, I kept telling people that we all had a job to do, we had to, you know, get each other's back. This is when we really needed to notice things that were out of place or suspicious. And as the facts come out, I think people are going to see that that effort helped. And, you know, we pulled together in that regard and focused on the things that we could do.

BERMAN: It was so impressive to see from the outside, Mr. Mayor. Any sense as you look back what the big break was in this case?

ADLER: You know, I'm going to let the police chief talk about that. The investigation is still ongoing and I won't do anything to anyway impact the integrity of that investigation.

BERMAN: All right. Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, again, thank you so much for being with us. We are very happy for your city this morning, though the warning to be vigilant, be careful still remains, and people should heed that warning.

In the meantime sources telling CNN that the president is furious over the leak about his call with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Now he's asking allies and advisers who spilled the information. And that's not the only controversy here, his congratulatory message of Vladimir Putin not going over well with Democrats and Republicans.

Plus a porn star, a playmate, a reality star? The legal pressures now facing the president getting bigger and very, very real. And more than 70 million people brace for the fourth nor'easter in three weeks. This one could be the worst in some places. Schools closed, thousands of flights canceled. What a mess.

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[09:15:52]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news out of the White House. This morning sources tell CNN that President Trump is furious over a leak about his call with Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, a call that is sparking bipartisan backlash because the president ignored advisers' guidance to not congratulate Putin on the election win.

To be clear, they wrote that guidance in a briefing, but whether the president read those notes is not known. The congratulations is one thing. The fact that it leaked, that's what's really upsetting people inside the White House right now.

Kaitlan Collins breaking this story for us this morning. Kaitlan, what have you learned?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: John, the president is not happy to put it lightly this morning. He is fuming, he's furious and he's demanding answers because he wants to know who leaked this information. Obviously, it leaked out pretty quickly after the president told reporters in the oval office yesterday that he did congratulate Vladimir Putin on that recent election victory.

And very quickly after that "The Washington Post" reported that in those briefing materials he was instructed by his national security advisers not to congratulate Putin during that call.

Now the president wants to know who leaked this. He's been calling his allies, outside advisers fuming about this because obviously here, John, only a small group of people have access to this kind of information and would have known what was on those briefing materials.

But it's still unclear at best if the president even read those materials. As we know and we've reported throughout this administration, the president often follows his own path when he calls these world leaders and doesn't always heed the advice that is in those briefing materials.

But the point here in this White House, staffers are also very irked by the fact that this leaked out. A White House official tells my colleague Jeff Zeleny, quote, "This is unacceptable that this leaked."

And as you just mentioned, they are more mad that this leaked than they are about the actual substance of the call and the president actually congratulating Vladimir Putin on that and they want to know who leaked this.

And John, what's interesting is one source of mine tells me that this reinforces the president's belief that there are people inside this administration, specifically inside the national security realm that are actively working to undermine him.

But yes, John, a snowy day here at the White House and the president is furious, and he wants to know who leaked this.

BERMAN: Yes. They canceled all public events so the president could be sitting behind his television watching all day. This could only get worse in terms of his anger. All right. Kaitlan, thanks very much.

Joining me now CNN intelligence and national security analyst, Bob Baer, along with political analyst, Alex Burns, and contributor, Salena Zito. Bob, I want to read you this statement from Marco Rubio, and to be clear, Marco Rubio is upset about the fact that the president congratulated Vladimir Putin. We'll get to that issue in a second.

But first, let's talk about the leak here. This is what Senator Rubio says, "I don't agree with congratulating Putin, but bigger outrage is that this leak could only come from someone in the president's inner circle. If you don't like the president, resign. But this ongoing pattern of duplicity holds potential for serious damage to the nation." What's your reaction to that, Bob?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, John, it's clearly people in the White House that are terrified about what this president is doing, his impulses, whether it's going to North Korea and suggesting talks or congratulating Vladimir Putin. They're worried about what he's up to and that's why those leaks are occurring.

And if we didn't know about these leaks, we wouldn't know what he was doing. You have a White House that's in full panic at this point of what the president is up to. He can be mad about the leaks, but he's running a very chaotic White House.

BERMAN: Alex Burns?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think there's a little we have to sort of view this outrage in some kind of larger context here where this idea from Senator Rubio that we've never seen anything like this before, that this is deeply, deeply disturbing, leaks from the inner circle are as consistent a feature of Donald Trump's political career as promising to build a wall on the Mexican border, right? This is essential to the way he operates.

BERMAN: Didn't get as much applause in the campaign rallies.

BURNS: Right. He may not like this, but this has been a totally consistent feature. I don't know where that information leaked from within the White House, but there are leaks from within the inner circle of the White House every single day. They're happening as we speak, and the idea that this a unique event, it begs all our understanding of the way Trump operates.

[09:20:07] BERMAN: But this particular leak, when you're dealing with the words in a national security briefing can only come from the inner-most of inner circles, Salena. If you lead "The Washington Post" story, which broke this, you know, it's White House advisers and aides infantilizing the president, treating him like a kid. It's the kind of thing I can see infuriating the president and we know that it is.

SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, yes, I mean, of course, it's infuriating him. I mean, from the reporting, it appears there's only a handful of people that knew about this, and it begs a couple of questions. Is there no sense of purpose or comradery or loyalty within this inner circle of the White House, and part of that comes from the top?

Now, there are presidents that are incredibly successful by having the relationship with their staffer where everyone feels like they're part of something bigger than themselves, that they're all working together, and everyone has each other's back.

That was very true about Barack Obama's presidency. But if you look at some past presidencies like FDR, he flourished under making his staff feel on edge and manipulating them and not sort of always feeling like he had their back. President Trump, it appears that's what's going on in his White House, but it worked for FDR. It is definitely not working for hi him. I think the best thing they can do is get to the bottom of this because from the beginning, as Alex pointed out, it's been like a colander in that place where information flows through every hole.

BERMAN: Bob Baer, to the substance of it now, President Obama in 2012 called to congratulate Vladimir Putin in an election victory there. Is it a problem that President Trump offered congratulations to Vladimir Putin on the one hand and did so without bringing up election meddling, without bringing up this apparent nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom?

BAER: Well, John, that's exactly it. I don't care so much about the leaks. I care about that Russia attacked our closest and longest standing ally, and that's Great Britain, with a weapon of mass destruction. The last thing you want to do until this has cleared up is call the Russian president up and congratulate him on anything.

He should have called up Vladimir Putin, and said, we have to sort this out, you cannot attack a NATO ally and just dismiss and shrug your shoulders. I've never seen this in American foreign policy ever. I think this is the transgression that's occurred and I'm glad people are leaking.

BERMAN: You said you've never seen it ever. But again, I mean, Barack Obama did call in 2012, granted there wasn't the election meddling issue there, not the nerve agent attack, but Russia wasn't exactly a squeaky clean actor in 2012 either, were they, Bob?

BAER: Well, I mean, the Crimea and the rest of it, this has been a case of slow accrual. Everyone was hoping that Vladimir Putin would see reason, but clearly with this attack in Salisbury, he hasn't. This is going to embolden him to make more attacks.

BERMAN: Let me ask you, Alex Burns, about a new statement from President Trump where he does name Robert Mueller, the special counsel by name. He is trying to quote Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor right now.

Let me read what he says, "Special counsel is told to find crimes where crimes exist or not, I was opposed in selection of Mueller to be special counsel. I'm still opposed to it. I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have been a special counsel appointed because there's no probable cause for any crime," he says.

The notable thing here aside from the spelling of the word counsel is the fact that he's mentioning Robert Mueller again by name. Day five of this episode.

BURNS: Right. While he is not sort of saying it in his own voice exactly, he is echoing points from Alan Dershowitz that pretty much reflect exactly what the president and close allies have said, attacking the underlying basis for the special counsel investigation.

It's not really a factually accurate statement. The question of probable cause -- Robert Mueller was not appointed this investigation under James Comey, was not initiated to find evidence of collusion between President Trump and the Russians based on, you know, strong reason to believe there's probably cause.

It was about Russian interference in the American election, which is obviously a demonstrated fact, right. But this is the argument that you're starting to hear more publicly and from people closer to the president himself.

BERMAN: And the president himself, and repeatedly, I should also note that in this article that Alan Dershowitz writes, he says there should be an independent congressional commission to look at Russian election meddling. I'm not totally sure the president would support that either.

That's what Professor Dershowitz is asking for. Salena, it does seem to me now that the president is in altogether different place in terms of this investigation, based on his public statements.

[09:25:08] Based on the fact that we know he tried to hire Ted Olson, the most powerful of powerhouse attorneys in all of Washington, D.C., didn't happen. I just wonder, if you thought you needed Ted Olson yesterday, how do you fill that void today?

ZITO: Well, he's taking the Mueller thing to the edge and just surrounding it with rhetoric. How much teasing the public and the press as to is he or isn't he going to try to fire Mueller?

I have personally always thought that the Mueller investigation was important and needed to be done, because if there was no problem, then this exonerates you. If there is a problem, then it goes from there.

But, you know, President Trump sends out all kinds of hints. A lot of time they're incredibly conflicting. I've sort of taken the stance where I'm just going to wait and see what happens at the end of the day.

There's this sort of Tuesday-Thursday Trump thing, where what he says on Tuesday is completely different by what happens on Thursday.

BERMAN: Right now, we're stuck in Wednesday. What do we do about that? All right, Bob Baer, Salena Zito, Alex Burns, great to have you with us. Thank you very, very much.

A legal storm for the president. We haven't even talked about this yet, which is stunning. There's an adult film actress ramping up legal pressure on the president. There is a former Playboy model, and there's a reality star. There are some very serious legal issues intertwined here. Stay with us.

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