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Bombs Sent To CNN, Clintons, Obamas, Ex Attorney General, Maxine Waters; No Explosions, Nobody Hurt at This Point. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired October 24, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Acting differently and rewarding those who practice civility and want to reach across the aisle instead of punishing them. Right now, if you talk about as a candidate reaching across the aisle, that end up in your opponent's ads, not yours. That has to change.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: It's often said politicians will act out of fear of consequence even before conscience. Senator, thank you so much for joining us. Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona. Appreciate him coming in here spontaneously. Leaves out here in New York City at the CNN citizen event a couple days ago. Let's take a break here. The good news, nobody was hurt. The better news, life is getting back to normal. Maybe we'll be coming from the studio sooner rather than later. Please, stay with CNN.


CUOMO: All right. Thank you for joining us. We are in our continuing coverage from outside the time warner center. Of course, that's the home of CNN's offices. The good news is people are going back inside. So, any intention to kind of scare us out of the norm has failed. As did the devices that were sent around. Authorities are saying up to as many as six devices have been tracked to this point. More could develop. They seem to have been a coordinated series of mailings to different people, all of a political or media relevance or persuasion. The package to CNN was addressed to former CIA chief John Brennan. He does not work for CNN. Authorities right now is telling us the investigation is ongoing. They do not know who is responsible for sending these packages, whether it's a person or persons, whether it's international derivation or domestic. Because of how the targets that were done, it may be home grown. There's a lot of sophistication that goes into the forensics. The most important piece of information is that no one got hurt. Thank god for that. There could be more. People could learn from what went wrong this time and do it differently the next. The targets raise a speculation of urgency about what this was about and what this was intended to communicate.

So, let's go to a couple of locations that received this. Let's start down Washington DC that's where Suzanne Malveaux is because President Obama was a target of the recent mailing of suspicious packages. Suzanne, what do you know from there? SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris, he was one

of the targets here. We're at the Belmont Row, this is in the very prestigious neighborhood disclose to Embassy Row here in Northwest Washington right down the street is his home. Try to get out of the way here. Can you see that second speed bump, the fence right there is where the Obamas live?

I've been in touch with their spoke spokespeople throughout the day to see if there's a statement or tweet they'll be putting out. So far nothing. They've referred us to the Secret Service and D.C. police. They tell us this suspicious package was found and identified at a postal processing center. It came nowhere near the Obamas, they were in no danger whatsoever. It was similar in functionality to the one found earlier in the week sent to George Soros, the big Democratic donor.

It was identified that an investigation has of course ensued. Chris, we're probably in one of the most safe places in the country that you can imagine because the public address is known of the Obamas, that they do live here on this street. The Secret Service here 24/7. There are barricades behind me on this very road. People have to produce their I.D. you can't just come down here.

The Obamas don't just have a mail carrier pull up with their mail. So, there is a very specific process. There are many high-profile people also on this street. The first daughter, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, they live one mile south as well as Jeff Bezos. I did notice a couple things different here today, and that is the police presence. That is more to help corral the reporters and crews to make sure the streets remain clear and also a U.S. secret service agent as well as a bomb sniffing dog, made sure to do a security sweep of our equipment and cameras to make sure there are no bad actors among us as we cover the story, Chris.

CUOMO: Thank you so much, Suzanne. Appreciate having you at the scene here. Unsophisticated is a part of the theme here, the devices reportedly crudely made. There is a lack of sophistication there. We also see that in the sending of these. For instance, here at CNN the package was addressed to someone who doesn't work at CNN. And CIA former chief John Brennan's name was misspelled. Now, down in Florida, a package arrived for Debbie Wasserman Schultz at her locale, however, it was addressed to the former A.G. Eric Holder. What do you see? With Brennan and CNN, you got media types. Right now, Brennan is now an active member of the media. What do you see with former A.G. Eric Holder.

[15:40:00] What do you see with Debbie Wasserman Schultz? They're both Democrats. Rosa Flores is down there in Florida right now.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, within the past half hour, we have learned of another suspicious package. You mentioned six packages earlier. We're just learning about another one. I just got off the phone with Miami Dade P.D. who tells me their bomb squad is headed to 22 miles south of where we are. Where Miami Dade is responding, the FBI will be taking over because they are responding to the office of a Congresswoman. As you look behind me, you see a lot of activity. There are local, state and federal authorities responding to the Congresswoman's office. Authorities tell us that it all happened at about 10:27 today, this morning. That's when the evacuations went out. The FBI and local authorities responded to this office.

Let me show you exactly where this is. The building where you see the Jeff exiting, we've been seeing bomb squad enter and exit. We've seen a bomb robot enter and exit. And just after 2 p.m., Chris, local authorities here told us that we should be on alert for perhaps a noise but that we shouldn't be alarmed. We of course asked does that mean this package is going to be detonated? Local authorities did not answer that question. They did ask us not to be alarmed. We haven't heard anything since 2:00. We have seen that robot exit. We've seen officials go in and out.

Members of law enforcement, the FBI telling us that FBI agents are in this building. They're trying to render this package safe. Local authorities telling us that in the process of rendering this package safe, Chris, is where we could hear some kind of noise. Again, they're not saying if they're going to detonate it or not. The other tidbit of information they did give us is that this morning when that evacuation order went out, the Congresswoman was not in this building. All of the buildings that you see behind me, Chris, they've all been evacuated under just precautionary measures because they don't know exactly or at least not telling us, Chris, exactly what that package is.

CUOMO: All right, appreciate it, Rosa. Thank you very much. Let us know if we have information we need to get to and we'll come back to you straight away. The investigation is ongoing. It's going to have a lot of layers. One you may not have heard of yet is the postal offices. Why? Because they have excellent investigators tracking packages. Whoever did this was naive enough or looking for practicality over discretion and used the Postal Service. So that will be another way of leading to it.

One of the things being overlooked here is the inertness of the potential packages, meaning it couldn't have gone off. It looks like a bomb, it has some of the trappings of a bomb but it is not in fact a viable bomb. That's not so important to investigators. Investigators are more concerned about threat assessment, who sent it, why they sent it, what it could mean, even if these were elaborate hoaxes.

They're meant to look close, to scare. That is still the question of urgency about who wants to send that kind of message. It means a little less on one level because god forbid the person they're sent to can't get hurt but it doesn't make it less urgent in terms of detection. That's part of the process going on.

Then you have this larger context, which even if everything that happened here today at CNN and everywhere else has nothing to do with the political climate, let's make that assumption, for the sake of argument, international, it's random or done by somebody not of their right mind, it's still scary enough to give us a moment of pause, see how our leaders react and see who reflects about our mutual recognition about where we are and what needs to change.

I want to bring in Brian Stelter because you have been looking at this and there was of course instant examination of what the President would say. The vice President went out first this morning in a tweet and the President following saying he agreed wholeheartedly. People thought he should've come out first. I've been slow on hyper examination because I believe one of the graces of this moment is it gives you a chance to realize how you approach things and how your tone is matters.

[15:45:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As you just said, there's no need, no reason to assume motives, to assume anything at this point. But we do know what all of these targets have in common. These are all targets that have been criticized mercilessly by right-wing outlets, by fringe groups on the internet and by some right-wing commentators. Already there's an awful rush to claim it's a false flag operation, people like Rush Limbaugh, who have a lot of influence, a lot of fans are out there saying awful things. But as you said it's a matter of leadership.

I think it is worth noting after five and a half hours, our colleagues are allowed back in the building here, the President of CNN, Jeff Zucker, just came out with a strong statement about Presidential leadership and about the President's comments earlier this afternoon that may have left a lot to be desired. Zucker said "there is a total and complete lack of understanding by the White House about the seriousness of their statements about the media, the president and especially the White House press secretary should understand their words matter." Then the statement concludes, "thus far they have shown no comprehension of that."

Zucker saying there needs to be a wake-up call to the White House not just about attacks against CNN, not just about rhetoric against this network but against the media writ large. Because as you mentioned earlier John Brennan happens to be an NBC media commentator. This could've happened the NBC today or CBS or other networks. Thankfully it did not there is no indication of other suspicious packages at other media companies but this has to be a wake-up call and Zucker communicating that through a statement just now.

CUOMO: We have some of the things that are just demonstrable as fact and some that are suggestive. Demonstrable as fact, our job has changed. I am not talking about the evolution of our need to check power. But the security.

I've been in riots where I have less security that we now have on a regular basis. Because there's a real threat. Sometimes joking around I say they're protecting the situation to keep me from people who are going to come up. Even in this mood, this urgency of this could have been bad, we should readjust. There's still people walking about saying Cuomo communist, CNN communist. Where do you think they got that? Would you think that language came from?

Nobody said that to me pre-Trump. There is something about the reality that the talk creates action. For the president he has a great opportunity tonight. He's having another rally. He said we need civility. We only know what he shows. He's the leader. Tone comes from the top very often. What will he say tonight and what does it mean?

You can say CNN was targeted because of what they did but if that's true, there should be a lot of other people targeted because there is a fascination in the media now with exaggeration. And I cannot tell you how often fringe outlets -- you I can tell because you cover it and you know it better than anybody. The idea of lying, twisting what is said to make you an inimical factor in American society, it not just you're wrong, it's not just you're inaccurate, it's you're a bad person, you're not American. There a lot of outlets do that. They're almost exclusively on the right and on the far-right fringe. That is something you have to assess at this point if you want to take a look at how objectively things are.

STELTER: The issue is dehumanizing other people because you think they're on a different side than you. It is one thing to criticize coverage to complain about bias. It's another to suggest a figure is evil or a network is evil because you don't agree with what they do. Unfortunately, that's the territory we are in these days. I would also add this is also about other figures that have been targeted and political figures targeted. It wasn't just CNN today. As you have been saying all day. It was other outlets as well. But all of it goes back to the rhetoric that comes from the top. And I think that is why you saw Laura Trump today sending out a fundraising email saying we need another wake-up call to the media. That email accidentally came out two hours after the scare here. That may be inappropriate language.

CUOMO: It's definitely inappropriate language. It is that Trump is given a forgiveness that is unusual in politics. I think the benefits. I often say the book that someone like you should write will be that Donald Trump is the luckiest man in the history of the game because he benefits from things that were there before he got there. He's exacerbated them.

He's symptomatic, not the cause, disaffection with politics, low expectations for integrity and truthfulness and honor from those in public service. A culture that's become increasingly negative, that's become more comfortable because of social media, using insults as a proxy for insights, as I always say. But it is just magnifying. And he has harnessed that. He uses it.

[14:50:00] Now he's in a box. Now he says we need civility when he goes out of his way to be uncivil. He's been calling for hatred toward exactly the groups and individuals that were just targeted. Does that remove any responsibility for those who did this? Not at all. You made your own choices when you decided to do this. But we are going to see what he does tonight. When he comes out and says, we need to be civil, there is no apology needed to say it doesn't ring quite true.

STELTER: One more point to make about that. Oftentimes at these rallies, you hear chants of "CNN sucks," chants of "fake news," lock her up about Hillary Clinton. Every time that happens he could tamp it down or cause it to get louder and oftentimes he wants it to get louder. Every day, our political leaders, not just President Trump, who we're not blaming, obviously. We're not talking about blaming an individual other than the perpetrator. But every day, political leaders can make things better or worse. They can make things hotter or cooler.

CUOMO: There's no question about it.

STELTER: And we're making it cooler lately.

CUOMO: Because it works. It works. If you look at it organically, negative ads always work best in campaigns. Him attacking his opponents.

STELTER: It doesn't work for the families walking by right now, does it? I just want to make sure they're safe.

CUOMO: That's true. That's the benefit of an exigency. Thank god, nobody was hurt. But it gives a chance to examine. And sometimes words become things. Words become deeds. Not that he means this. And actually, I would assume the President doesn't think anybody is going to act on it. He thinks it's entertaining. He thinks it works with his base.

STELTER: He likes reporters a lot sometimes.

CUOMO: But today is one of those moments where you got to look and say what you say matters especially in a position of leadership. How you treat each other matters. So now we have that, this culture argument, which is going to go on. We'll see what he does tonight. We saw Rush Limbaugh came out of the box hot, blaming this on Democrats, saying they did this. The same with the caravan. There is an echo effect and exigency on driving negativity. It works for guys like him. How he stays popular, fueling the fire of people who want to stay outraged. That's his choice. Everybody has a choice to make about how they do their job.

So, let's leave one problem and get to another they're trying to solve right now. Let's get to Jeff Beatty. He's worked on these types of investigations, specifically what we were talking about earlier. Jim Sciutto reporting the anthrax scare we lived through many years ago. He was involved with those investigations. And Mr. Beatty, thank you for joining us. What does your experience inform you to in terms of what they're going to be doing now?

JEFF BEATTY, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICER: Well, I would like to share with you the intelligence officer perspective of this, which raises two important questions. But first, just to follow up on something you and Brian were saying and something that the governor of New York, your brother, had said. Even Jeff's reporting on the President's comments. We have an opportunity today to step back from the precipice. And I hope that CNN and other major media outlets will challenge our leaders in both parties to issue a joint communique, a Congressional joint resolution, to condemn, as governor Cuomo said, call for civility, and condemn hostility.

And I hope that we seize this moment to do that, and I hope somebody gives him a deadline. So, by tomorrow night, we want to see you all gathered around a table, reading from a joint communique. So that's my man in the street take on this. And as a lecturer in national security studies, it's best for U.S. national security for us to step back from the precipice.

But then, Chris, to your question about what do you make of this? Well, as an intelligence officer, two things really pop up to me as questions that need to be answered soon. And one of them is, who benefits? You know, when something happens, you say to yourself, who benefits from this?

So, while it's most likely that it is what it appears to be, an unsophisticated attack, somebody is going to benefit from it. And the question has to be answered, who benefits, and while we look at all different investigative leads, that's one thread that we want to be pulling on. Who benefits from it? And you made mention to it a couple of times, Chris, about the inert nature about these explosives. You know, we were talking up in Boston when the Tsarnaev brothers were able to put together a couple of crude IEDs out of pressure cookers. Now, if those two guys could do that, you know, tell me why not a single one of these explosive devices, if they were explosive devices, actually functioned?

You know, we've seen before components put together that were not going to function. In fact, if you look at the affidavit that was filed in the Times Square bomber case, ATF had to recombine the ingredients in order to make it a functioning explosive. And yet the guy behind that was an engineer. So that's a big question. Why didn't they go off, and who benefits from this? And that will be part of this corollary investigation, as well as the forensic evidence that might be contained in each of the packages and things like that.

[15:55:00] CUOMO: And look, you know, you do have the remote possibility at this point, according to investigators, these were hoax devices. These were things --

BEATTY: That's right.

CUOMO: Made to closely approximate the real thing, because that was the level of sophistication the person had or their intentionality, that they just wanted to scare.

BEATTY: Right. But then who benefits from the hoax device? Who benefits?

CUOMO: I think it takes you back to the same place. I'm with you. First of all, the person who sends it. But also, whatever kind of political agenda they're trying to motivate would still be the beneficiary. That doesn't change all that much. But -- and neither does your initial analysis. With all due respect to my brother, you know, everybody right now is saying that we have to take a step back and we have to be more civil and we only know what they show.

And you guys have taught me that well in the intelligence field over the years, that, you know, you have something that's for information and something that's for action. And they're saying the right thing right now. We'll see what they do. The President has an opportunity tonight. And even though we're in a little bit of a mode of mildness right now, because we're dealing with a little bit of a trauma, nobody should be kidding themselves. The ugliness and invective that comes out of the White House specifically from the President matters. I'm not saying it's directly responsible for what happened today. It doesn't need to be. There are other reasons. There are other pressures that could have led somebody to want to do something like this. But it matters. And when he had a rally last night, calling out these same kinds of people who were targeted and the media, you can't think it has no effect.

BEATTY: I don't disagree with you at all, to borrow one of your attorney terms. I don't disagree with you. But, you know, I think that we have seen calls for incivility on both sides of the political spectrum. That's why I'm hoping there will be some sort of joint communique where we actually see in the same place at the same time Democrat and Republican leaders saying, enough is enough. You know, if people are keeping score at home, so far, the only people who have had any blood spilled have been the Republicans. And, you know, we don't want to see anybody else's blood spilled on the right or the left of this. But I really hope, Chris, that you and the media are going to be able to make them be good to their word and make our leaders get together with joint resolutions out of Congress and joint communiques from our national leaders and then we'll find out, you know, who benefited and why didn't these bombs go off.

CUOMO: Well, look. You've got the specific concern of who did this and why. And how do you stop them? We've got to get that done. The larger challenge is ever present, it seems these days, and the media has a role, as well. Each of us decides how we do our job. What we decide to empower in covering it and how we decide to do that. Calling out lies is important. Telling people, the truth is even more important. And Mr. Beatty, you were doing that for us today. So, I appreciate you doing it. Thank you for your perspective. As we reported earlier, the investigations continue, but the good news is, life is going on as normal. If the goal was to scare people into some type of frozen stasis, it didn't happen. Life is back to normal. People are going inside CNN. The news continues, and so does our coverage. We'll take a quick break. Please, stay with CNN.


CUOMO: We're in continuing coverage outside the CNN offices. Life is continuing as a very scary morning, at least five suspicious packages picked up, addressed to different politicians and to CNN. Obviously, the intent was to scare. None went off. No one hurt. But a message was certainly sent as the investigation continues, so does our consideration of how to make this better. Jake Tapper picks up our coverage now.