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Suspicious Devices Sent to CNN Office, and Homes of Obamas and Clintons. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 24, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You can't lose sight that these looks like an attack on Democrats and progressives. That is a big clue now.

Now, again, we don't know what's the full spectrum is here. We don't know if we'll find addition devices. But, that is a glaring commonality that we see. And so, now what investigators will be doing is, you know, no doubt fanning out, contacting other high profile officials in order to just, you know, at least make them aware of what's going on if they're not already. But again, you know, look through their mail, look through their, you know, their facilities in order to try to identify, you know, items like this before they come about.

I also think it's important, Jake, just from the pure construction and, you know, as we look at this totality here that none of these devices appear to have detonated. Which to me tells me that you're dealing with a certain level of sophistication. You know, someone who, you know, isn't a master bomb maker, that doesn't necessarily reduce the lethality, but at least it tells me that this isn't someone who was a -- an expert who is able to go, you know, from construction to, you know, flash to bang and actually make these detonate.

We've seen a number of these instances at least in the past year where there were individuals who had some type of grudge who were sending crude devices if you remember several months ago around the Washington area to military facilities and to the law enforcement intelligence agencies. Again, very crude devices that didn't disrupt. They found the person in short order, there was a recent case, you know, involving a suspected (INAUDIBLE) that sent around. Again, very crude, very rudimentary, they found the person in short order.

So, again, we're not dealing with a master bomb maker here. I think if were, these devices would have detonated. It doesn't reduce the lethality, it doesn't reduce the (INAUDIBLE) the law enforcement will be using but I suspected this person will be caught sooner or later.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And these in terms of just the criminality of it, I mean, there have been threats against all sorts of politicians. Senator Susan Collins recently -- hold on a second, Hillary Clinton is speaking right now. Let's listen up.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: -- various public figures and a news organization. Many of you and others across our country have asked after me and my family and I'm very grateful for that. We are fine, thanks to the men and women of the Secret Service who intercepted the package addressed to us long before it made its way to our home.

Everyday, we are grateful for their service and commitment and obviously never more than today. But it is a troubling time, isn't it? And it's a time of deep divisions, and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.

We also have to elect candidates who will try to do the same, who will set goals that will lift up every single Floridian and American, who will look into the future to understand what are the challenges we have to meet today so that our children and our grandchildren have the quality of life and the opportunities that we hope for them.

Usually, when people ask me how am I doing, which happens quite often. I say, well, as a person, I'm great. As an American I'm worried. And it's actually for the same reasons.

Partly why I am so great is because with no offense to anyone, I have the most fabulous grandchildren in the entire world. But because I do now have these little precious people, I worry about the direction of our country, I worry about what kind of --

TAPPER: All right, that's Hillary Clinton, we were just taking a little bit of that. She was commenting on the threat to her and her family, the suspicious package mailed to her residence in Chappaqua, New York.

Let me bring back Josh Campbell. And, Josh, one of the things that she was talking about, Hillary Clinton was talking about was just the political violence that we've seen. By which I'm not referring to people exercising their First Amendment right and yelling, I'm talking about people making threats to Senator Jeff Flake or Susan Collins, people shooting a bunch of Republican congressmen playing baseball, bombs, or what appear to be bombs sent to John Brennan care of CNN, the Obamas, the Clintons, George Soros.

Is this an era where there has been an actual increase in this. I mean, I'm old enough to remember anthrax being sent to newsrooms and to senators in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

[12:35:02] But historically, does this seem to be more of a problem now or are we all just paying more attention to it.

CAMPBELL: No, it certainly seems that way. I mean, if you look at how toxic our political climate has become. If you look at how polarized we are as a nation. Yes, it feels like there is this increase.

And one thing that's interesting, Jake, is, you know, immediately after some type of catastrophe or here it looks like an averted catastrophe with these devices, people always say, while it's too soon to start talking about the method of attack here. I think that's nonsense, because as a former investigator, I can tell you one group of people that are ultimately immediately looking at the method of attack. That's the investigators who are trying to determine what happened.

And in situation like this, obviously, you have the construction, you have -- you know, how did this person gather the material, but there's also the motivation, there's also the why, something motivated this person to do this. Something inspired him, perhaps someone inspired him to do this. And if we don't identify what that is as a nation, then, you know, we're whistling past the graveyard, these things are going to continue.

The political debate will continue, obviously there will be a back and forth. But again, I think in a situation like this, we have to get to a point where we're at least adult enough to stop and try to figure out what caused this to happen, what motivated this. That's the only way you're going to stop it from happening in the future.

Now, a lot to this, Jake, well, obviously if we determine -- once this person is actually apprehended and brought into custody, we'll know the full scope of the motivation. But as we look at this as members of the public, as members of the media and, you know, through the lens of an investigator, it is hard not to look at these commonalities on one hand and to compare that to just how toxic the political climate has become on the other.

TAPPER: All right, Josh Campbell, thanks so much. Stick around, we have more for you. But I want to bring in Pamela brown right now, our White House correspondent

Pamela, you have some news about a new threat?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. A law enforcement source tells myself and my colleague Josh Campbell that there was a suspicious package that was addressed to the former Attorney General Eric Holder. It was the wrong mailing address, the return address on that suspicious package was to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. So that package was sent black to Debbie Wasserman Schultz because that was the return address.

So again, this is new information coming into our newsroom according to law enforcement sources that there was an additional package addressed to the former Attorney General Eric Holder under the Obama administration. It was the wrong address so it was returned to the address on the package to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. We can also confirm that on the suspicious packages sent to both former President Obama as well as the Clintons that the return address on their was to Debbie Wasserman Schultz as well according to these law enforcement sources that we've been speaking with.

We're also getting some information in that the San Diego Union Tribune has been evacuated. The building has been evacuated because there was a stack of suspicious-looking packages there. There was no indication at this early stage in the investigation whether those packages are connected in any way to the other suspicious packages that have been sent.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela, just to underline this, we have been told by law enforcement sources that the return address on the package sent to George Soros on Monday was Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Pamela, you're telling us that the packages sent to the Obamas and the Clintons also had the Debbie Wasserman Schultz return address. And just to underline we don't think that that's real, we don't think Debbie Wasserman Schultz sent these. And the reason that her Florida office was evacuated is because, this same person falsely using her return address sent a package to Eric Holder, the former attorney general under Obama, it was the wrong address so it was returned to her Florida office. Is that what I understand?

BROWN: Yes. And of course we want to underline the point as you mentioned there, Jake, that we do not believe that of course it was -- that it was supposed to be her return address. Clearly whoever was behind this put her return address on it and the package was sent to an address who this person either believed belonged to Eric Holder, the former attorney general. We don't really know the circumstances around that but it was the wrong address, and so it was sent to the return address which was to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. But again, we do not believe that she was actually behind that. Whoever was behind these suspicious packages put her return address on the package to George Soros, as well as to the Obamas, the Clintons and now we're learning to a package that was addressed to the former Attorney General Eric Holder, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela, thanks so much.

Let me bring back Josh Campbell who helped break that story with you. So, we now have another package mailed to another Democrat, Eric Holder, the former attorney general under President Obama, same pattern, this fake return address from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic congresswoman. What more can you tell us? It doesn't sound like this actually interacted with Eric Holder or his office at all?

[12:40:02] CAMPBELL: No, it didn't. And Jake, as we've been covering this, we've been doing some reporting in and out of speaking with you here, and spoke with one law enforcement official who actually indicated what we've been reporting that there was a device that was addressed to the former attorney general, but it was the wrong address so it was actually returned to sender. As we've been reporting that return address listed as the former chairman -- chairwoman of the DNC.

Investigators I'm told once they saw the return address, they knew that obviously this wasn't the perpetrator, the person putting the return address. And that also obviously became part of this larger investigation. And then when they started connecting dots to the rest of these devices that obviously was an additional data point or additional clue, and then now the same law enforcement person telling us that the devices themselves have that same commonality.

So again, all -- it appears that at least the question as far as now whether it's connected that we're past that. The question is now, are there other officials that are now on the lookout. Obviously law enforcement officials as we mentioned will be pinging other high profile people just to put them on notice, that look, seeing an increased pattern here. But that is the scary part about this, Jake, is that, obviously there hadn't been a device that detonated yet, but we're not in the clear yet because we're not still sure at this point whether there are additional devices to come.

TAPPER: All right, Josh Campbell, stick around. Let me bring back Art Roderick. In this use of a well known Democratic congressman's return address is not funny, it's not mischievous, it has a particularly devious intention?

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, absolutely. I mean, that to me is to make the package an innocent type package so that the person will open it. Which could indicate that the triggering device for this particular bomb is the opening of the package. So to put Debbie Wasserman Schultz' return address on there and the packages get mailed out to -- it look -- it appears at this point in time, all Democrats, you know, they're going to look at this package and say oh, it's something from Congressman Schultz, when they open the device, it explodes at that particular point in time.

Forensics will tell us that. But it's interesting that all the packages so far have had her return address on there, so that's going to be a key bit of information that law enforcement is going to blast out to everybody around the country. To make sure that everybody's aware, hey, you know, if you're getting a package from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, call us.

TAPPER: Double check. And let's just go through this list again. So, we know that one of these packages was sent to George Soros, the Obamas, the Clintons, John Brennan care of CNN's New York office. And now Attorney General Holder. That's five of these devices. I mean, this person, it seems, wants it to kill a lot of people?

RODERICK: Yes, and the forensics will tell us that. Bu, it is quite obvious that they are targeting Democrats here. You know, we have five packages, hopefully that will be it. I'm not on the optimistic side of this, it seems like every hour, something new turns up here. But that's a key bit of information that should be blasted out everywhere.

TAPPER: And let me bring in Evan Perez who has some new reporting on the incident going on in San Diego, where they have shut down part of the street because of a suspicious package right near the San Diego Union Tribune. Evan?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. And so the first reports came from the staffers for that newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune, but we're also told that inside that office building is also a field office for Senator Kamala Harris of California. Obviously, once again, this appears to fit the pattern that we've seen with the other devices, the other packages that are being investigated right now. As Art pointed out, all appear to be directed at or involving Democrats. And obviously, Kamala Harris has been someone who's been front and center in the news, playing a big role in the Kavanaugh hearings recently, so perhaps she and her high profile has attracted this attention from whoever is sending these packages.

Again, at this point, law enforcement is of the belief that these devices are all linked. They appear to be similar of the built and they -- that the belief is that these are devices that while they're rudimentary could hurt someone, that they are functional and they could hurt someone if they go off. So that's the reason why there's been this reaction from law enforcement not only here Washington but in New York and now in San Diego. That office building that was evacuated there in Downtown San Diego appears -- it's the home of the San Diego Union Tribune as well as the office of Senator Kamala Harris.

Jake.

TAPPER: But we don't know what it is in that package, yes, just to be clear?

PEREZ: That's right. We do not know what's in that package that's being investigated. The San Diego Police Department I'm told said that the devices were abandoned items, now it turns out -- the San Diego Police is now updating saying that the device that they were investigating appears to be abandoned items, including a football, some books, a shoe among other items.

1[2:45:04] Again, this is all from Officer Billy Hernandez who is the officer commenting there in San Diego. So it appears that the package that was believed to be addressed to someone in that building, either the Union Tribune or to Kamala Harris, it appears that they have decided that this is not something that is a -- an explosive device, Jake.

And one last thing that I want to add to our reporting from -- you know, the first package that was brought in, that got the attention of law enforcement, the one that was sent to George Soros. I'm told by law enforcement source that that one did not come through the mail, it was actually placed at that location. So it's not clear who put it there, but perhaps that's another clue in this investigation that whoever placed it there maybe connected, maybe the person who's behind all of this and may have actually traveled to that location to drop off that package.

Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks so much for keeping us updated. Let's go to New York right now where we're expecting any minute a briefing from the chief of the NYPD as well as Mayor de blasio and Governor Cuomo.

And Athena Jones is on site. And Athena, not to sound to alarm us about this, but if these packages are serious devices, rudimentary but serious with the intention of actually causing mayhem, we are talking about an attempted mass murder. We are talking about five packages sent to five different locations at least Eric Holder, the former attorney general, the Obamas, the Clintons, John Brennan care of CNN's New York offices, and George Soros in Westchester where the intention was to kill as many people as possible.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, and we just got the two-minute warning, they're going to be briefing us very, very soon. We're going to see officials appearing at the mic ass you mentioned. At least in this location, the Time Warner Center contains not just offices, several floors, more than dozen floors of offices, but also hundreds of shops (INAUDIBLE).

Here you see Mayor de Blasio and others approach the mic. I'll step away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to go.

JAMES O'NEILL, NYPD COMMISSIONER: All right. Good afternoon everyone (INAUDIBLE) NYPD and all of our law enforcement departments responded towards this suspicious package. Our intel (INAUDIBLE) secured the area and began a search of the building.

Responding officers identified the device that appeared to be a live explosive device. NYPD, bomb squad, responded, secured the device and they removed it for investigation.

Additionally there was an envelope containing white powder that was discovered as part of that original packaging. And we're in the middle of investigation that right now. The area has been swept with dogs and equipment and found no additional threats besides the white powder. And we're working with our law enforcement partners, we responded quickly to secure the scene.

NYPD is currently deploying resources securing areas around the city out of an abundance of caution. If anyone sees something that looks suspicious, please call 911. Anyone with information about this incident today, or about incidents in the New York area, please call 1-888-New York City safe.

We've seen this before and we've seen worse. And we will not be intimated, and we will bring these perpetrators to justice.

Mr. Mayor?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK: Thank you very much, Commissioner.

What we saw here today was an effort to terrorize. This clearly is an act of terror, attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence. I want to make very clear, the people in New York City will not be intimidated. That we're going to go about our lives undeterred, because the very concept of terrorism is to change us and we will not allow that to happen.

You cannot be terrorized if you refuse to allow the terrorists to win, people in the city have shown time and again that they stand up in the face of these efforts to intimidate. And I want to thank the people of New York City for the way they're handling this situation today.

I also want to thank our first responders, Commissioner, to you and all the men and women of the NYPD, thank you for your extraordinary efforts to today, to FDNY, Office of Emergency Management, our state partners, our federal partners, everyone works swiftly to address this situation and contain it.

[12:50:08] I also want to commend everyone at CNN for the professionalism with which they handled this very troubling incident.

We at this time do not have other credible and specific threats against locations in New York City. I want to let all New Yorkers know, you can go about your daily routine knowing the NYPD and all these other agencies are here to protect you. It's important to note that this is ongoing investigation, as we have more information, we will provide it. But I emphasize, there is no specific threat against any other location in this city at this time.

That said, the NYPD and all our partners have re-enforced our very clear and visible presence at key media locations around New York City and other important locations. So you will see a lot more police presence, that should be reassuring to all New Yorkers.

Finally I want to say, this is a very painful time in our nation. And it's a time when people are feeling a lot of hatred in the air. And incidents like this exacerbate that pain and exacerbate that fear. We cannot let the acts of a very few change who we are. It's really important at a moment like this to remember, the vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of New Yorkers are good people trying to live in peace with each other.

There are a few people, and we don't know who they are today, but there are a few people trying to tear us apart through acts of violence. It is imperative that we ensure they fail. It is imperative that we act as the good and decent people that we are.

This is a moment in history that's painful, but it will pass. This too shall pass. But today, the most important point is, everyone can rest assured the NYPD and all other agencies are out before us to protect the people of this city and to make sure that they can go about their lives safely.

Thank you. Governor Cuomo.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Thank you.

Thank you, Mayor, thank you, commissioner. First, let's remember that we have the best police force and the best law enforcement agencies on the globe. And we want to thank the NYPD and the State Police and the FBI and the joint terrorism task force, the Secret Service, all have -- who have worked together and have coordinated, and we should take comfort in that level of professionalism that we have in this city and in this state.

As everyone is aware, there have been a number of packages that have been received. Last night there was -- the Secret Service detected a package at the residence of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. They notified the State Police and the NYPD. We personally checked on the president's residence in Chappaqua at about 4:13 this morning, and everyone was fine there.

This morning obviously, we have the CNN package. And I want to echo the professionalism with which CNN has handled the situation and the cooperation that they have brought to this situation. So I would like to thank them for that.

This is the world we live in. Terrorism, the attempt to spread fear is the world that we live in. It is heightened lately, the mayor's exactly right, there are more tensions than usual. But this is the world we live in.

Also a little perspective. The first terrorist attack in New York City was 1993, 25 years ago. It was the bombing of the World Trade Center. So in some ways this is nothing new. We have lived with this a long time.

Actually my father was governor at that time. This has been a circumstance of being who we are and where we are. We are New York and we are an international icon and somewhere an international target.

[12:55:07] Terrorism only works if you let it work. What they are trying to do is scare us and destabilize us and we will not allow that to happen. We are New Yorkers, we are smart, we are tough, we are resilient. And we will not allow these terrorist thugs to change the way we live our lives.

They fail unless we allow them to win. And we will not allow them to win.

Now as the commissioner said, you'll see increased police presence from the NYPD, from the State Police, from the MTA Police, from the Board Authority Police. You shouldn't be alarmed, there will be more police on subways, more police on the streets, more police at crossings. As the mayor said, that's not because we know any specific threat, it is just a precaution because we are smart. And because we have the best talent on the globe when it comes to this.

So we will take every precaution we can. But we will not let terrorism win. Not today, not ever. Thank you.

BRYAN PAARMANN, COUNTERTERROR CHIEF, NEW YORK: Good afternoon, I'm the special agent in charge, Bryan Paarmann, that's P-A-A-R-M-A-N-N. The special agent in charge of the FBI's joint terrorism task force here in New York City.

As the governor outlined, this begins on Monday night with a package that was delivered to a residence in Westchester County. That was responded to by the Westchester County Police, the Bedford Police, and FBI special agent bomb technicians. That package was disrupted and taken to the FBI lab.

Overnight, late last night, we received word of the package that was delivered to the Clinton residence -- or was intercepted before delivery to the Clinton residence in Chappaqua, New York. That is also going to the FBI lab.

And after that, we were notified by the Secret Service to say they had received a nearly identical package in Washington addressed to the Obamas. At that point, we began to take additional proactive steps. We had gone to locations the day before associated with the first individual that was targeted. Today we went out to offices of elected officials, media outlets, and television. And in fact, when the package was discovered here in the CNN mail room, we had NYPD personnel present who were showing them what these look like and what to be on the lookout for.

So at this point, we are talking with other FBI field offices, (INAUDIBLE) about other incidents that are (INAUDIBLE) in other places. But sufficed to say, it appears that an individual or individuals sent out multiple similar packages. We have been working with corporate partners and the private sector, we have prepared a product to the NYPD shield program which goes to approximately 20,000 of our private security partners instructing them on what to look for, what the characteristics are, and renewed tips on handling of suspicious packages.

At this point, we're in a very early stage of the investigation, this is being led by the joint terrorism task force here in New York City, with the FBI and the NYPD. We have had assistance from the New York State Police who are part of that task force, and assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. So it's a big group effort.

The incident here today, once the package was discovered, emergency services was notified. They called the bomb squad, the bomb squad was able to safely remove a device contained in that package, using the total containment vessel (INAUDIBLE) or in simple terms the bomb truck, that is going through our range at Brodmann's net, where FBI special agent bomb technicians will work with our people on how to get it to the next stop which should be the FBI lab. So all of these evidences can be examined together.

There is an additional issue which is being worked on now, which is within the package which that contained this suspected device, there's also some kind of powder that's being tested now downstairs. So the mail room area is still being contained while we go through the various steps to test that. And a field test, package it up safely for removal and deacon that area and anybody who came on contact with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to take -- just keep in mind this just happened.