Return to Transcripts main page


Nationwide Manhunt for Serial Bomber Going After Trump Critics; Police Investigate Nine Suspicious Packages; Trump Blames Media, Opponents for Turbulent Political Climate; Brennan to Trump: Your Critics will not Be Intimidated into Silence; NYT: Chinese, Russian Spies Listen to Trump's Cell Phone Calls. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 25, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: No, we don't. And yesterday was a demonstration of that. We work hard to report the news as it happens factually. Poppy and I were in touch with the New York Police Department. Others in law enforcement getting the facts out as they were happening, double checking those facts. And that was a demonstration yesterday of what CNN does.


SCIUTTO: And our colleagues and other news organizations do. No, not fake news. We work hard to get it right. That's our job.

HARLOW: Yes. Our first job was to get out of this building safely, along with everyone else. And by the minute we walked out the door on to the sidewalk, you guys know where that is, Jim had already confirmed with his sources that this was an explosive device that had made it inside the building. And then we proceeded to report, we were up on the air I think within five, 10 minutes with this cell phone signal that they got up, but, you know, of course, we thought about our kids, as everyone did.

Everyone in this building, the people that work in the mail room, the security guards that keep us safe every day, everyone was thinking about their loved ones and their kids, and they shouldn't have had to do that, guys, as you know, just for doing their job.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we were hanging on your every word. You were giving us information when we couldn't get back into the building. We were getting all our information from you, as was the world. I can't believe how many people I have heard from, as well as other colleagues, who sometimes are competitors but colleagues in the news media.


CAMEROTA: Who were applauding your work yesterday in the heat of that moment. So thank you, guys.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. I think the important thing is to let you go do your job now. Keep on reporting. Get the story out there.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We got that job. We still got -- (LAUGHTER)

HARLOW: We'll be here doing it every day, right?

SCIUTTO: Doing our job. It's a team effort.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And we felt very well taken care of by the team.


SCIUTTO: Thank you, guys.

HARLOW: Thanks to everyone. All right. We'll see you guys back here tomorrow morning.

Let's get to all the breaking news this morning. Jim and I are so glad to be here and we are so glad you're with us.

A manhunt for a serial bomber, new packages being discovered this morning and the mayor of New York City says you can expect more. Right now police here in New York City are investigating a ninth package addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden now, and found in Delaware. We are closely watching that. We of course have our team headed there right now.

SCIUTTO: Hours before that, also this morning, an eighth suspected mail bomb was discovered in New York City just downtown from here, sent to the production company of the actor Robert De Niro. De Niro like the other targets, this is the one commonality of this, also an outspoken critic of Trump and at times a target of Trump's own rhetoric.

Seven other bombs have been sent to the following. Former President Bill Clinton, former President Barack Obama, here to CNN, two to Congresswoman, Democratic Congresswoman, Maxine Waters, one to her D.C. office, another to her California office. Another package to the Democratic donor George Soros, another sent to former attorney general Eric Holder. That was sent to the return address, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

What is the commonality of all those people and places, they are people who have criticized the president and have been the subject of the president's ire -- public ire.

HARLOW: So what does the president do this morning? Setting aside a message of unity and taking aim at the media. This morning instead of defending the free press, the president took to Twitter and here's what he wrote.

"A very big part of the anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposefully false and inaccurate reporting of the mainstream media that I refer to as fake news. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description." Well, Mr. President, you're wrong. We report the facts here every

day. We will continue to do so every day, and that won't stop regardless of what you say.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely not. Couldn't agree more.

Let's go first to Evan Perez. We want to keep you up-to-date on all the breaking details out of Delaware now.

So, Evan, this would be number nine and a package that they have been looking for since yesterday addressed to the vice president.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. This is a package that appears to have been -- it was addressed to Joe Biden, the former vice president. And based on the similarities with other packages, the Postal Service was scrambling last night to try to track it down. It appears what happened, according to the picture that we have there of the package from one of our affiliates, it appears that there was not enough postage on the package, and so therefore it was returned to sender.

So the sender, according to the package there, is Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Of course, we don't believe that she actually sent this package. But the package then appeared to have gone back to Florida. And so they were trying to figure out where it was. It appears that they've now located it at that facility there in -- near Wilmington, Delaware. And now the work begins to analyze it, to see whether or not it matches all of the other characteristics of the other bombs that have been found around the country now.

It appears, though, that all of the -- they at least know where this one is. But it does underscore the possibility here that law enforcement has been worried about, which is that there are the possibility of other packages that are going through the mail somewhere in the country. We saw that of course this morning with the wake-up this morning at -- in Tribeca with the eighth package that was confirmed there at the studios, I'm sorry, the building of Robert De Niro's company.

[09:05:10] So I think that's what the concern is, is that these things are still perhaps somewhere in the postal system and they're trying to make sure they find every single one of them.

SCIUTTO: Evan, just a quick follow there. Is there any doubt as law enforcement responds to this that the packages themselves, based on what they know now, were functional, potentially functional and dangerous?

PEREZ: Right, exactly. And so the FBI in their press release, and you know, Jim, the FBI doesn't say a lot these days and it takes a lot of work for them to even issue that press release yesterday with a photograph of what these packages look like and they called them potentially destructive devices. Those are the words that the FBI uses because of the analysis that they've done so far, which has found a substance that they believe could explode. And so, look, is this something that's going to bring down a

skyscraper? Is this something that matches something that could bring that kind of force? No, it doesn't. But someone handling this could be hurt. That's the principle here that the FBI, that all the law enforcement agencies are working on, that someone could be harmed.

And look, whoever is doing this is apparently trying to harm these people that it's addressed to. But the issue is that these packages are handled by mail carriers, they're handled by clerks. These are the little people who are going to get hurt by this, most likely. Perhaps even law enforcement. So that's the real concern here is that this contains something that could explode and could cause harm to those who are handling it.

SCIUTTO: We're just seeing here the Governor Cuomo has said that these bombs were capable of detonation.

PEREZ: Right.

SCIUTTO: Though they did not detonate.

HARLOW: Right.

PEREZ: Exactly.

HARLOW: He'll join us in just a few minutes.

All right, Evan. Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Let's go now to Miguel Marquez. He is in New York City with more on the mail bombs sent and discovered this morning, sent to De Niro.

Miguel, down there in Tribeca, in Lower Manhattan, what are you learning?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a bomb that is similar on the outside. The packaging is certainly the same as we have seen in other instances, those six Forever U.S. flag stamps, but no, it was not sent to the Post Office. There was no mail stamp on it, so it was maybe hand-delivered here to Tribeca Productions. It was found in the mail room by quick thinking security person here on site.

Officials also saying that it looks the same on the inside. There was an x-ray taken of it before it was carted off to the Bronx where the NYPD has a facility where they will investigate it. And on the inside, it also looks similar to those other packages.

Now Robert De Niro obviously a longtime critic of President Trump. It may not be surprising that he and his production company would also be targeted. Mr. De Niro and Jane Rosenthal, who has run Tribeca Productions for years, released a short statement to our Brian Stelter, saying, "The building was evacuated. The building is open. Everyone is safe. This is not what free speech should look like." So some nervous moments here this morning. NYPD on it right very

quickly just after -- right around 5:00 a.m. and within a couple of hours they had it in a containment truck. They moved it up to the Bronx. And now they are looking into it to see if there are any tell- tale signs in this latest device.

Back to you, guys.

HARLOW: OK. Miguel, thank you. Keep us posted but again similarities, a lot of similarities there.

We're going to analyze all of this with our experts in a minute. Our Evan Perez back with us to talk about other devices that were found -- Evan.

PEREZ: Well, that's right, Poppy. Look, at this point they now have what they believe to be eight devices. And this is a serial bomber. So the FBI is doing everything it can to try to not only look at all these different devices, they are trying to get them all to the lab in Quantico. And the first analysis that they've done is has identified some kind of material, perhaps a sulfur material, that could come from fireworks, for instance.

And so they don't know yet exactly who is making this, what the construction is, whether it matches a recipe that could be, for example, found on the Internet. We know that there is a lot of these bomb recipes that are -- you can find on YouTube and in other places on the Internet. And so the work for the FBI at this moment is to try to isolate where these packages were mailed from.

There could be a lot of clues in the packages themselves. For instance, the stamps, where were they bought? The envelopes. Who made the envelopes? Where were they ordered from? There is a lot of clues that they're working through now at this stage. And so the urgency is there. You can see that in the FBI statement that was issued last night. They put out photographs like this one to show people what to look for and to make sure that if they see something like this that they stay away from this.

At this point, as you said, the commonality appears to be Democrats or people who have been critics of the president.

[09:10:04] The package that was sent to CNN was addressed to John Brennan, the former CIA director, who doesn't work at CNN, but he has appeared on CNN's air and has been critical of the administration.

Now we don't know the motivation at this point. There is -- all the possibilities are still on the table, but that commonality is obviously something that they are studying -- guys.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, thanks for keeping us on top of the news. We will be coming back to you as the news breaks.

HARLOW: Yes. Let's get reaction from our experts right now.

CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano is with us, our counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd, and retired ATF special agent David Chipman joins us.

Phil Mudd, to you first. Look, nine now and counting. Potentially the major says expect more. A lot of commonalities here. No suspects named. What's your reaction this morning?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Nine risks to the public. But you also have, to put it bluntly, nine opportunities. If this person isn't a professional, the opportunities you have with each one of these packages include everything from whether you can track the package or the courier, tracking compared to 10, 20 years ago, tracking in U.S. postal system, or with package carriers is really good to whether this person, the bomb maker, accidentally left some trail in the package, for example, a fingerprint or a hair.

As I see these packages expand, I look at every single one of them as an additional opportunity, there's one other thing I'd say and they're also an indication of intent. This person is so committed to doing this that they're multiplying risk at this rate. They're going to keep going until they're stopped, I think.


SCIUTTO: Yes. David Chipman, as you look at this based on your own experience in law enforcement, packages with workable explosive devices inside, but apparently not to -- not designed to explode on contact or on opening like you might with a letter bomb, what does that tell you?

DAVID CHIPMAN, RETIRED ATF SPECIAL AGENT: I think first we have to start that there is nothing fake about this. This is an unprecedented wave of devices sent. In my 25 years, I have certainly encountered similar devices, but I can't recall a single instance where there had been this many at one time. So I know that the first responders are treating these like the real deal. First responders aren't relaxing too soon, and the public shouldn't as well. This is very serious.

I think, as the previous guests pointed out, for the trained investigator, though, the unexploded device can provide a wealth of information. We've already heard today that different delivery methods were used. Sometimes through the postal service, other delivery methods. We have -- I've seen pictures where maybe there is a timer, maybe there are different kinds of pyrotechnics in there.

You know, it is not common that someone will buy nine timers at one time. And so that could be a very good clue.

HARLOW: Good point.

CHIPMAN: But right now this is ongoing, and it's real and it's happening, and I know that's how law enforcement is treating this. They're probably not speculating much yet on motive because they want to be focused on not getting hurt or having members of the public hurt.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: The point about those purchases.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: They're clues essentially. I remember going out with the New York Police Department here, and they would go to hardware stores, for instance. And if someone bought a lot of acetone, which is an ingredient in homemade explosives, they tried to get the word out that hey, someone comes in and do that.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: To alert law enforcement. So it's little things like that that can lead to whoever is responsible.

HARLOW: To tie it all together.


HARLOW: James Gagliano, to you, you were with us on the field as we were reporting, you know, on the streets in New York about this. 24 hours later, what is your reaction given all we now know?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That it's mind boggling that it was seven months ago this week that the Southwest was terrorized by Austin serial bomber.

HARLOW: Right.

GAGLIANO: Eighteen days. How quickly can law enforcement put these pieces together? As the previous two guests have states, they have a treasure trove of information from these unexploded devices, or inert devices. And it's also important from the homeland security perspective, we always look at things from a macro level. We're trying to keep America safe, secure and resilient.

But in reality, it's the granular level. It's the front line folks. It's not just the police officers or the FBI who is responding, brave folks they are. But it's the people inside those mail facilities or in the CNN mail room.

HARLOW: Right.

GAGLIANO: Where this morning the eagle-eyed security guard that looked at that package and said, hey, I saw that on the news, and there is something wrong there. That's what we need, is people to be extra vigilant right now.

HARLOW: All right. Stay with us, everyone. We have a lot more to get through. We have to get a quick break, a lot of news ahead. We're on top of all of the breaking news as new packages, potentially explosive devices appeared just this morning.

SCIUTTO: And so much for a message of unity. The day after the president calls for the country to come together, he attacks the media once again for, quote, "a very big part of the anger." Is this the message the White House wants to send? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: New packages are being investigated this morning and two more similarities to Democrats and to Trump critics.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, let's bring our experts back in, Philip Mudd, the targets, what did it tell you?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'd be careful about drawing conclusions. When you are on the inside, there is a difference between facts and speculation. On the outside, I can tell you, obviously, it looks like someone has a political motivation. You could also flip that around and say, I suppose there is a small chance that someone wants to embarrass critics of the president by pretending that the bomber is one of them.

On the inside, I'd be more focused on things like the forensics and what the package delivery is showing than on motivation is. Someone just said a moment ago, motivation is nice for speculation, but right, now it doesn't tell me much about who the --

HARLOW: Yes --

MUDD: Subject is with one exception. People like the Secret Service have to be looking at previous suspects, people who have issued threats and seeing if there is anybody in the past who has issued threats against these individuals that might match up to the threats that we're seeing today.

[09:20:00] SCIUTTO: James, Phil mentions the possibility there, the idea that it was someone trying to act like they were --


SCIUTTO: You know, a critic of these various voices. Is there a precedent for that?

GAGLIANO: Yes. Let's go back in history. What you're referring to, Jim, is a false flag operation. That comes from the Barbary pirate days where pirate ships would run up, you know, the flag of England or the flag of France and then try to move towards a vessel, unsuspecting vessel --

SCIUTTO: Right --

GAGLIANO: And then hop on board. Is there a precedent? I'm trying to think in my 25 years in the FBI, and again I'm kind of a student of history when it comes to the criminal justice and this stuff. I can't recall one like this on the criminal side. I certainly can't on the intelligence side.

I think it's important to note right now, to Phil's point, most important thing is safely getting advice inside the total containment vessel which the NYPD had. The big, round egg-shaped device --

HARLOW: Right --

GAGLIANO: And to describe it to the viewers, it is like an inside-out dive vessel. Meaning, instead of being a submarine where you want to keep the pressure from getting inside, you want to keep the pressure inside of this thing. They will take it up to Robin's neck, they're probably use a bomb robot to remove it. They need to have a controlled detonation, they will, if not, it will then probably be transported down to Quantico where our scientists and our investigators will go over it with a fine tooth comb.

HARLOW: This is amazing to think, I mean, how many of those have we seen by the way, in the last 24 hours? The one yesterday from the -- you know, the device that was delivered here to the one this morning in Tribeca, so real. Thank you, gentlemen, all for your expertise this morning very much, we appreciate it.

GAGLIANO: The president is condemning threats of violence, but not taking any responsibility for his inflammatory rhetoric. He is blaming the media this morning, though.


SCIUTTO: This morning President Trump once again targeting the media and apparently placing some of the blame on us, our colleagues and other news organizations for a series of suspected mail bombs. The president tweeting the following: we're quoting here, "a very big part of the anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the mainstream media that I refer to as fake news."

That doesn't exist, just as a fact-check there. There is no purposely reported false news. We cover the news. We report the facts.

HARLOW: And we will every day right here. This morning, the former CIA Director John Brennan, to whom that package was intended to be received here at Cnn yesterday, despite the fact that he does not work here -- well, he responded to the president this morning.

Brennan tweeted in part, quote, "stop blaming others, look in the mirror." He also told the president, quote, "your critics will not be intimidated into silence." And that's true.

SCIUTTO: We're going to stay on top of this as it develops and certainly we've been told repeatedly by law enforcement officials that their concern is the possibility of more packages. We started this morning --

HARLOW: Of course --

SCIUTTO: With that concern expressing it, and then of course in the last several hours, two more packages added --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: To the list. You now have nine total.

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: So far.

HARLOW: This morning also, another story that we're covering. The "New York Times" is reporting that Russia and China are listening to the president's private cell phone calls. The "Times" says aids have repeatedly warned him that his personal phone is not secure. The president taking to Twitter this morning, calling this story "not true".

SCIUTTO: Joining us now is one of the reporters behind that piece. Matt Rosenberg; national security correspondent for the "New York Times", also a Cnn national security analyst. Matthew, this appears to be a security breach, does it not, for the president to use an unsecured line that he's been warned is being monitored by China?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, it would be, but he's the president. He can do as he pleases on these issues. You know, his predecessor President Obama got an iPhone in the final year of his administration. His iPhone was stripped down. It couldn't make phone calls, it had all the apps taken off, the NSA kind of re-did the software and the hardware.

Obama kind of compared it to a glorified iPad touch, I guess. Trump has wanted more. He likes to talk to his friends, he likes to talk to contacts outside the White House and he likes to use his cell phone because the calls are not logged.

In the White House kind of logs for John Kelly and other people, the White House can see who he's always talking to. But cell phones, it doesn't matter what device you use, any call made on a cellular network is really insecure and very easy for a foreign government to intercept. So that's what the Russians and Chinese have been doing.

HARLOW: Right, so Matthew, I mean, given your reporting and the number of -- it's not just former administration officials, it's also current administration officials who you spoke with, and they spoke to you guys because -- not trying to undermine the president, but because they're concerned about national security, right, and what this means.

Can you explain for our viewers what I found most fascinating about this reporting is what you've learned about how China in particular is using this information that is gleaned from the president's conversations to try to persuade him in certain ways, even on the issue of trade.

ROSENBERG: So the big issue here is that, it's not so much you're going to hear something secret, it's that --

HARLOW: Right --

ROSENBERG: Anybody listening will be able to hear what the president is thinking, what arguments kind of get him going. What points land when he's talking to people, what does he think of various issues? And the Chinese, the U.S. has found out, are using this information they're learning on these calls. And then trying to go to people he speaks to. Get to their friends and through the friends of friends, kind of influence the friends of Trump who will then influence Trump to kind of cut back on the trade war, have more personal meetings with President Xi. The Chinese correctly -- the President Trump, President Trump, places great value on one-on-one meetings over -- above all else. And so the Chinese have tried to take what they've learned and run an influence campaign on the president.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, though, we don't know that the president has not shared or referenced classified information on those calls. There was an incident early in his presidency where he shared classified information in the Oval Office --


HARLOW: With the Russians --

SCIUTTO: President. Do we know that he has it or we just don't know that he has shared classified information on those.