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Explosive Devices Mailed to Homes of the Clinton and Obama; CNN New York Headquarters Evacuated Due to Suspicious Package; Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired October 24, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: They have both been intercepted this morning by the Secret Service. The packages have been described as, quote, "potential explosive devices."

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And at least one of them detonated by the Secret Service out of an abundance of caution.

Joining us now, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, tell us what's the latest? Because of course the natural question will become, are they related?

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Plus, you had another explosive device sent to the Democratic supporter George Soros just in the last several days. What are you hearing from the FBI?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. Well, Jim and Poppy, I can tell you that right now authorities, the police, the FBI, Secret Service, are all engaged in this investigation. And what I'm being told by officials is that they're treating all three as being linked in that they believe that they are all basically were constructed, were sent by the same person.

They obviously don't know that definitively, but they have indications to them, to law enforcement, based on what they have seen so far from these devices, from these packages that indicates that they're linked. So that obviously changes things dramatically here because as far as authorities are now concerned, someone is targeting perhaps Democrats, Democratic politicians, people who were in office or who are connected to the Democratic Party.

That is why the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is now involved in this investigation. So this investigation is potentially going to grow beyond just Washington, D.C., and New York. I'm also told by law enforcement officials that they've actually stepped up security around any sites that are connected to the former president, President Barack Obama, to Hillary Clinton. So we'll see locations perhaps in Chicago and New York with stepped up security.

Security around the two of them has been increased as well as security around sites connected to George Soros now increased as well. So police in many states, authorities in many states now concerned that there could be more potential packages that were sent. Obviously the Secret Service and the FBI now taking further precautions so that when they do intercept packages, they know exactly what they're dealing with to perhaps, you know, obviously prevent these from getting to the targeted -- the people that are being targeted.

The other thing that was interesting, as you said, Jim, some of these packages were detonated by authorities once they realized what it was. They themselves exploded -- they caused it to explode and then they began their investigation. Obviously there's now a full-scale manhunt to try and figure out who is sending this, why this is being sent, to try and prevent any further damage here.

And the other thing that we're told is that it appears that Bill Clinton may have been at the home last night. Hillary Clinton was not. We don't know where the former President Barack Obama is, or where was last night. But good thing here is that the Secret Service has these precautions in place, these sort of procedures where they are able to intercept these packages and search them and x-ray them to make sure, to see what's inside so that it doesn't get to the people that they're protecting.

SCIUTTO: And keep in mind, the Obamas still live in Washington. One of their daughters still lives there as well.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: But those are significant developments, Shimon.

HARLOW: Very significant.

SCIUTTO: One, that they're being investigated as linked, but two, as Shimon was saying, the possibility that others were sent.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: And so the story might not be --

HARLOW: And that they're former presidents. Over.

SCIUTTO: It might be even bigger. Yes.

HARLOW: Shimon, stay with us.

Let's go to our correspondent Jean Casarez. She's been news gathering on the phone, on the way up to Chappaqua where the Clintons' home is.

Jean, what have you learned?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, we're on our way up there right now. And for people that don't live in the New York area, Chappaqua, New York, is upstate New York. It's about an hour out of New York City. But it's interesting that the Secret Service is saying this morning that the packages were actually identified during routine mail screening. So I think at this point we don't know exactly how close to the residences the packages actually got.

But it was late last night the Secret Service is saying that a single package was addressed to our former first lady Hillary Clinton. And then it was early this morning that mail screeners discovered a package to former president Obama. They were intercepted at that point. Neither person received the packages at all. They were never at risk, but there is, as Shimon said, a full criminal investigation now with federal, state, and local partners because they have to find out who is sending these. Are they correlated?

And they are treating them as an explosive device. We don't know if they've confirmed that they are explosive devices, but they are treating them as part of this very important investigation right now.

SCIUTTO: Tom Fuentes, on the line as well, CNN senior law enforcement analyst, also a former FBI assistant director.

As you look at this, and again, this is early. We're just learning about this in the last 24 hours. The FBI has made no conclusions about who's behind this and how they are linked, but they see commonalities here.

[10:05:04] When you see that, how concerning is this -- would this be if this is one person targeting multiple former officials with explosive devices?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Jim, it is concerning. But at this point, you know, the linkage is from the basis that it's coincidental that packages would be mailed to the homes of two former presidents almost simultaneously. But the Secret Service does all the screening of any mail addressed to any of these residences, known residences of former presidents. They're under lifetime protection. So this would automatically happen to screen their mail for anything suspicious in the mail that gets sent to them.

Once, you know, a suspicious package is determined or an actual explosive device, the FBI has jurisdiction if there's any potential harm or actual harm to a former president, former first lady, or our two former presidents in this case. So that's why they think it's so coincidental. They're small packages. They were sent in the mail.

Now beyond that, I've talked to officials at FBI headquarters. They're not going to say anything at this point beyond that. The analysis will try to determine whether the explosives were actually constructed from the same type of material, in the same manner, what the detonation was going to be like. All of that information would then lead them to a more definitive conclusion that the same person or a small group of persons constructed the devices and sent those devices in the mail.

HARLOW: One of the -- as we also bring in James Gagliano, CNN law enforcement analyst, retired FBI supervisory special agent, one of the interesting notes when you look at the -- you know, the explosive device that ended up in George Soros' mailbox as well is that it is reported from "The New York Times" that that was not delivered by the U.S. Postal Service. So if you're trying to figure out -- these are within 10 miles of one another, the Clintons' home and Soros' home, and obviously all Democrats. Right? And you're trying to determine if this is the same entity or person carrying this out, what is the first thing you're looking at, James?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. Well, first of all, Poppy, the FBI has to treat this as a terrorist act. Right? So we know that there are bomb components involved in this. And generally speaking, there's four parts to a bomb that investigators will be looking at. They'll be looking at what type of power supply is used. You know, those are typically, in this type of devices, a battery. What kind of an initiator. Those are typically like blasting caps.

Obviously the bomb maker chooses a particular type of explosives. It could be PTEN. It could be C-4. And then the switch. And the switch is typically a trip wire or a trip plate, or they could be initiated by a key fob or cell phone. So somebody would have to be in the area to do that.

I agree with Tom. It's tough right now until they've had a chance to really disassemble these bomb components to make the linkage. The only thing that they could possibly have to surmise --

HARLOW: James -- James Gagliano, sorry to jump in. Let's go back to Shimon, our crime and justice reporter, who has some important breaking news on this front. Another development.

Shimon, what are you learning?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, that's right, Poppy. So this comes from law enforcement officials from our CNN's Evan Perez, who said that another pipe bomb or possibly a suspicious package, explosive device addressed to the White House was intercepted at a White House mail screening area. We're told by officials that device, that suspicious package, is similar to the ones that were sent to Soros' home and similar to the ones sent to the homes of Clinton and obviously Barack Obama. What we've been reporting this morning.

Now we're told by this official that the device appears to be rudimentary but functional and that also more concerning here even is that the White House one, the package that was addressed to the White House also contained projectiles. So clearly this is a growing situation here. Certainly scary now when now we have at least four suspicious packages, which all appear to be linked, now sent to various political locations.

You have the White House. You have addressed to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros. So obviously this is growing. Certainly the FBI, Secret Service, all over this. We're told that more people are being brought in to investigate this. And the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force is taking the lead on this investigation.

SCIUTTO: Listen, that's significant. These are no longer suspicious packages.

HARLOW: Right. SCIUTTO: The FBI is saying that they were rudimentary but functional.

HARLOW: Functional.

SCIUTTO: That means they were explosive devices. And to have projectiles, I mean, that's -- excuse me. That sounds like a fire alarm here. We'll keep you posted on that. But to have projectiles, that is a feature you will often seen in bombs that terrorists use in Afghanistan, elsewhere, ISIS has used that kind of bomb before.

Doesn't mean it's exclusive just to those kinds of terrorist groups, but that is a significant development.

Tom Fuentes, if you're still hearing us here, they're connected now? The bombs targeting Soros, Clinton, Obama, and the White House.

[10:10:01] The FBI says that they were functional. How significant?

FUENTES: Well, it's significant that it wasn't just a hoax then. If the bombs are capable of exploding, they're capable of, you know, inflicting bodily harm or death on somebody, so it's more than just sending a hoax just to get, you know, public attention, the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm, like maybe somebody just did in your building. But if it's an explosive device it's more than just an idle threat or something to try to get attention. It's an actual device that could hurt somebody.

HARLOW: OK. We're going to jump in. There's a fire alarm here.

SCIUTTO: There's a fire alarm here. You might have heard it in the background. We're going to find out what the latest is here at CNN.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.

SCIUTTO: We're going to be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[10:15:30] RENE MARSH, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Rene Marsh in Washington, D.C. We are following some developing breaking news. We can tell you at this hour, the Time Warner Building in New York City has been evacuated. Jim and Poppy Harlow, who you saw anchoring, they had to evacuate the studio.

We're going to bring in CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, tell us, what do you know about what's happening in New York City at this hour?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So as we were coming on the air just a short time ago with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto, who were anchoring from our set in New York, the fire alarms started going off. Our viewers perhaps could see that. Our building in New York has been evacuated because the NYPD is now investigating a suspicious package, something that was sent to the building at 10 Columbus Circle, which is in New York, and it is our -- basically our offices in New York, the building that houses our offices in New York.

I'm told by a law enforcement official that the bomb squad is responding to the office to check on this suspicious device. We don't know if the package was actually addressed to CNN or to someone else in the building, but as a precaution, the building there, the NYPD along with the bomb squad, have said that the building should be evacuated. And they're going to respond and investigate the package.

Obviously growing concern given all the news that we're reporting here this morning about explosive devices being sent to the former president, President Obama, to Hillary Clinton. We also just moments ago reported that a fourth explosive device was sent to the White House and intercepted in a mail room.

And now authorities, obviously as I've been saying this morning, are increasingly concerned that there could be more packages, more explosive devices that were sent elsewhere, perhaps around the country, in other cities. So taking no precautions obviously -- taking over-precautions here, I should say, in that they're now evacuating buildings. If they see something suspicious, authorities in New York certainly are on heightened alert because some of these devices were sent to areas in New York.

The NYPD there has stepped up security around locations out of concern. So obviously now we're waiting to learn exactly what was in this package at the Time Warner Center where our offices have been evacuated.

MARSH: OK. Shimon, stick with us. We're going to go live now on the phone to Jim Sciutto, who was anchoring but is now outside of the Time Warner Building.

Jim, if you can hear me, I guess the first thing I want to hear from you is what is happening now and what are you seeing at this moment?

SCIUTTO (via phone): OK. We're standing outside our headquarters here. There's a New York -- Poppy Harlow is here with me. There's a New York Police Department Bomb Squad Unit here. Also members of the Strategic Response Group. The New York Police Department has a very fast-acting, quick-response group to respond exactly to incidents like this one, including incidences that are suspected of involving terrorism.

So we have -- actually I'm accounting four or five different police units here now at the New York police officers here with the responsibility of removing Poppy and myself, all of our CNN colleagues, there are, well, a couple hundred of us now, out on the street here.

Obviously serious enough to evacuate the building, take us off the air from New York. And listen, as it happens, Poppy and I were reporting on the air about the series of other explosive devices received at the residences of Clinton and Obama, at the White House now, and with the new suspicions that those devices were linked. Of course, the question now, whether this one is linked to those.

But certainly the timing is, at the very least, suspicious here. And again, just as we're standing here on the street, the police being very cautious, as you would expect them to be. They want us to get as far away from the building as possible because if it is indeed an explosive device sent here, they want to reduce the risk to all of us here. And they don't know if there's something else that might be connected to it.

MARSH: Right. So, Jim --

SCIUTTO: We are seeing a robust response from the New York Police Department here.

MARSH: Jim, we don't have images right now of outside of the building, so if you can set the scene for me, do you get a sense from where you're standing where or the general vicinity of where this device may be in relation to the Time Warner Building?

[10:20:05] SCIUTTO: Well, let's see, the police have not told us exactly where the device is, I don't believe. If it's been mailed in CNN, like other organizations in this day and age, they have a screening process for suspicious packages so we don't know. And I can't see from here. In fact, I've taken a picture which I'm going to tweet out now, we don't see an obvious device that's been singled out or cordoned off on the street here. I'm just trying to get a better look.

I will tell you, there are a dozen police vehicles now. And again those officers part of the Strategic Response Unit.

MARSH: I'm going to interrupt you --

SCIUTTO: It's not clear if the device entered that building. That -- it's not clear if the device was able to get inside the building.

MARSH: OK. Stay with us, Jim. We're going to go back to Shimon Prokupecz, who's live in the newsroom here in D.C. And you have more information.

Shimon, what can you tell us now?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. Rene, I'm being told by a law enforcement official that, in fact, this suspicious package was found in the mail room, so obviously probably sent through the mail, at 10 Columbus Circle, which houses our offices in New York.

I'm told that when they looked at this package, and obviously I have to tell you security all across the country this morning, at offices across the country, has been increased, and folks, you know, looking for these kinds of perhaps suspicious packages. Something in that package concerned them. I don't want to get too specific about it, but there are things in this package, items in this package that were discovered at our offices in New York that concerned security, perhaps the staff in the mail room, that they decided to call the police given the news of this morning, given what's going on with these other explosive devices.

The police have moved in, and they're obviously taking every precaution. But I'm told by officials that there are things in this package. They don't yet know if it's explosive material. But certainly there are things in this package that make it look very suspicious and has them concerned. And that's why we're seeing our offices in New York evacuated.

I'm also told that the area around Manhattan, around our building, just about a block south, 57th Street, is being shut down.


PROKUPECZ: So really what we see in these kinds of situations, the police and the fire department responding, closing down the area, evacuating buildings.


PROKUPECZ: So serious concern here from the police in New York.

MARSH: All right. Shimon, stick with us.

We also have Tom Fuentes, who's joining us here.

Tom, I want to bring you into the conversation because right now we're talking about over a span of 24 hours, we have five suspicious devices that have been intercepted. You're looking at this all unfold. What do you make of all of this?

FUENTES: Well, Rene, from my perspective, it looks to me like some type of domestic terrorism. Somebody is trying to cause chaos and it may not necessarily be one side against the Democratic Party or another side against the Republican. The fact that we have now the White House receiving a package, obviously with a Republican administration, and now CNN or the area of CNN, the complex of buildings at Time Warner in Columbus Circle in New York, receiving a suspicious package.

MARSH: And we're actually look at -- we're actually looking at a photo that Jim Sciutto just tweeted us from outside of the building there. So sorry to interrupt, but that is a photo of the large police presence there responding outside of CNN. But go ahead.

To you, you said this looks like a case of terrorism.

FUENTES: Yes, domestic terrorism, someone trying to get -- you know, cause chaos basically in our process. And now you have buildings being shut down, two former presidents' residences receiving packages or mail directed toward those residences. Fortunately, most of the large public buildings, particularly federal buildings in Washington, use off sites to have their mail screened long before they actually get to the White House or the Capitol or Department of Justice, State Department, FBI headquarters, the Pentagon. They're not received at the building first and then screened.

MARSH: Right.

FUENTES: So the offers some degree of protection, and the same thing with both former presidents, Clinton and Obama. Secret Service screens their mail so that they're somewhat protected from that. So that's why you have this screening process. And now because of an abundance of caution, they're going to make sure that any possible building receiving anything suspicious is going to be closed down and a major investigation and search launched at those buildings.

MARSH: Well, Tom, walk me through this right now because, I mean, clearly this is all unfolding as we speak. What is happening now from the law enforcement perspective? Detail it for me as far as what steps are currently being taken now.

FUENTES: Well, the first step is the examination of the devices.

[10:25:03] How are they put together? Do they look like they were made by the same person or small group of persons? How were they packaged? How were they going to be detonated? And then where were they mailed or delivered from?

These were placed in the mail to come to the Columbus Circle mail screening or the White House mail screening or the Clinton and Obama residential screening process. Where were they mailed from? Does that indicate again a small group of persons or a single person? Then the actual devices will be forensically examined in detail for hairs --

MARSH: All right, Tom --

FUENTES: -- fibers, fingerprints, anything like that that can link someone later.


FUENTES: To the --

MARSH: OK, Tom. Just pause for me one second because we do want to get back outside of the CNN center. We're following this breaking news. The Time Warner Building has been evacuated and we're joined right now by the anchors who were -- they were anchoring at this hour but had to evacuate, Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto.

What are you guys seeing now at this point?

HARLOW: So, Rene, I want to tell you that we are outside safely. All of our CNN colleagues that we know of are outside right now. Everyone is safe, as we can see. We do have some reporting. Jim was just able to confirm, I believe, Jim --

SCIUTTO: The Strategic Response Group, they are the team that responds to situations like this, they're very quick. They get there within minutes or seconds, (INAUDIBLE) like this that may be tied to terrorism. They say that the device is inside the CNN building. That it was a package that was mailed that made it into the building.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Caught apparently at screening of the building. But as you see (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: (INAUDIBLE) despite the fact that (INAUDIBLE) they're still concerned about the safety.

HARLOW: And to catch our viewers up, about just a few -- 10 minutes ago we heard the fire alarm go off while we were anchoring the show, reporting on these explosive devices, suspicious packages delivered to the former presidents' home of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, George Soros and the White House. And minutes later we were told suspicious package at CNN, evacuate immediately. The lights shut off. We walked down six flights of stairs. We're out here.

They're now moving us, Jim and I and everyone here from CNN, all the way down the block towards 9th Avenue, very far away.

MARSH: And what's the sense, guys? I mean --


SCIUTTO: -- out of the building. And remember, just as we were on the air before this happened --

HARLOW: You can hear the --

SCIUTTO: -- the concern from the FBI was these various packages are linked. Of course the (INAUDIBLE) this package linked to the other ones.

HARLOW: Of course, those were in upstate New York, in Washington, now this is in Midtown Manhattan. The police here saying quick, quick, quick, move, move, move. They want us not even across the street, Rene, from CNN. They want us across the avenue, as far away from the building. And by the way, it is not just CNN. (INAUDIBLE) right at the heart of (INAUDIBLE), right by Central Park.

SCIUTTO: Just to set you the scene, the response here -- and again, one of our colleagues is walking backwards here. (INAUDIBLE). There are dozens of vehicles here. There's a fire engine. There are ambulances that's up here. As I said earlier the New York Bomb Squad Unit right in front of the building.


SCIUTTO: They're taking this very seriously.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: And there's another fire truck arriving as well. They're taking it very seriously. (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Yes. You have the best of the best here, you know, for precaution, should this be a danger. But again, this is a huge -- huge response. There are ambulances, police vehicles, fire trucks. They have actually completely brought us now to West 58th Street. This is one of the main thoroughfares in the middle of New York City that is now completely shut down to pedestrians.

SCIUTTO: (INAUDIBLE) when the president comes when he stays in (INAUDIBLE), road block east of here. This is downtown New York right in the center. And it's showing the level of seriousness with the response we're seeing here right now.

Keep in mind, these New York Police Department teams, they train for this. They train for quick response, get on the scene immediately when they face threats like this. And it was only a number of months ago, you remember the attempted explosive device --

HARLOW: Yes. Right.

Rene, are you still with us? Can you hear us?

MARSH: Yes, we are still here.


MARSH: Thank you, guys, for kind of laying the land here. I just want to reset before we turn things over to Wolf Blitzer. Again, you guys are there outside of the Time Warner Building. To be very clear, authorities found this suspicious item inside of the Time Warner Building. According to Shimon Prokupecz, it was inside of the mail room.