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Victims Of Mass Murder At A Synagogue In Pennsylvania were Identified and Remembered; President Trump Is Offering Calming Words About The Massacre In Pittsburgh; Republicans Claimed Mail Bomb Scares Were All A Liberal Plot; Aired 7-8p ET

Aired October 28, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:06] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thank you for joining us. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt here in New York in tonight for Ana Cabrera.

Tonight a vigil is held in the city of Pittsburgh, people of all faiths coming together to honor the 11 people killed in the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. This shooting we are told is the worst attack against Jews in U.S. history. The Pittsburgh community coming together to mourn and share memories of the victims, and that's where we start.

Among them, 66-year-old Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a longtime primary care physician from the area. His nephew writing on Facebook quote "he always wore a bow tie. There's just something about guys who wear bow ties, something youth, something fun, and that is a word that definitely embodied my uncle, fun. You know how they say people - there are people who just lighten up a room. You know that cliche about people whose laugh is infectious? That was Uncle Jerry."

Also among the dead, Cecil and David Rosenthal. They were brothers, described as inseparable, members of a center in Pittsburgh for the disabled which put out this statement, saying in part, quote "Cecil's laugh was I infectious. David was so kind and had such a gentle spirit. Together, they looked out for one another. They are inseparable. Most of all they were kind, good people with a strong faith and respect for everyone around."

Then there was 97-year-old Rose Mallinger. She was the oldest victim. A friend saying that despite her age, a friend said, Rose was spry and vibrant, someone who had a lot of years left.

Then Daniel Stein, he was 71. His son posting online quote "my mom, sister and I are absolutely devastated and crushed. Our lives now, we are going to take a different path, one we thought would not happen for a long time."

So many stories tonight. And as we learn more about the paths of those in this close-knit part of Pittsburgh who lost their lives, tributes are pouring in.

So let's go right to CNN Sara Sidner. She is there in Pittsburgh where those people gathered this evening to support one another and honor those who were killed in this attack. Sara, so much grief today, so much grief this weekend. But a real

sense of a community coming together. How are people there reacting tonight?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's true. It's that combination of when people get hit with something like this that really shakes their core. And we talked to so many people who felt themselves asking questions and questioning everything after this because of the sorrow that it brought them, because of the people that they lost, the friends and family members they have lost.

Hundreds of people showed up here and told there is a memorial here in Pittsburgh to mourn those who were lost, to celebrate those and their lives those who are lost. But we heard from so many people around the world, truly from everywhere from Israel to here in Pittsburgh. And we are hearing from so many people who knew these victims. This is a very tight-knit community, it is the seat, really, of the Jewish community in Squirrel Hill. And so you are meeting so many people who have some sort of tie or they certainly know someone who knows someone who is familiar with this synagogue. Three different congregations worshiped in this synagogue. Everyone knows someone who was directly affected by this.

We also heard from the mayor. And of course, he has been speaking poignantly and fiercely about the people of Pittsburgh and how they are dealing with this tragedy.


MAYOR BILL PEDUTO, PITTSBURGH: Let me tell you something about Pittsburghers. We are tough. We are proud of our blue-collar roots. And we are not the type of people that react to threats or actions in a way that ever takes back from us. We will drive anti-Semitism and the hate of any people back to the basement on their computers in a way from the open discussion and dialogues around this city, around the state and around this country.

We are resilient people. We will work together as one. We will defeat hate with love. We will be a city of compassion welcoming to all people no matter what your religion or where your family came from on this earth or your status.


SIDNER: The prime minister of Israel has also sent his notes and condolences. And we got some of that today. And I just want to read you one line from something that he wrote to the people who have suffered so much here in Pittsburgh. He said after the holocaust many hope that anti-Semitism would finally be relegated to the dust bin of history. And he says bluntly, it wasn't.

That is generally the sentiment here. A lot of people cannot believe that this happened here in this community where people are so friendly and loving and warm and open. But it did happen here, and now everyone is trying to figure out how to deal with it -- Alex.

[19:05:08] MARQUARDT: That's what we keep hearing from everyone we speak to there, how close-knit a community this was.

Sara Sidner there in Pittsburgh, thank you very much.

And I want to bring in Dr. Jeff Cohen. He is a member of the Tree of Life synagogue who lives across the street as well. And he heard the shooting when it began. He is also the President of the Allegheny General Hospital, which is the hospital that is currently treating the shooter.

Dr. Cohen, thank you for joining us tonight. Again, our deepest condolences to you and the community there. I would like to ask you to take us back to yesterday morning and the moment that you first realized something was going on. How did that unfold?

DR. JEFF COHEN, MEMBER, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: Sir Alex, my daughter and I were upstairs on the third floor. And all of a sudden we heard this noise that neither of us had heard before. I ignored it and she said, you know, what is it? And then the next thing she said the street is just parked up with police cars and then she yelled for me to come downstairs.

My wife was very upset in that her mother, otherwise known to us as the Bubster (ph) usually goes to Saturday morning services at Tree of Life. So we finally found her. She decided to sleep in yesterday thankfully. And I went outside and all this unfolded.

I was standing outside and I saw the first group of police come in. And they literally were running down my street right over my shoulder. They were huddled behind a brick column. And the first two officers had confronted him at the front door of the Tree of Life.

These folks were trying to figure out how to get in the building. And we heard a series of gunshot wounds, I can't tell you how many, 20 to 30. And at that point, you know, things happened very quickly. The SWAT team assembled. And make no doubts about it, these folks ran to trouble. They went, put themselves in harm's way to try and save Pittsburghers' lives.

The people in that synagogue are known to me. They are known to my family. They are decent people. They are kind people. They are not a threat to anybody. And we had to sit outside. And later, we realized they were executed for no other reason.

The only thing I could do is I sat with EMS guys that if I could be of help, you know, put me in, let me see if I can help somebody. And I had access to the tactically radios in what is going on. And the SWAT team, the bomb squads, they were very professional. They went and tried to save as many as they could, and it was unfortunately too late.

At the same time I heard that the shooter was going to be sent to my hospital. So I was sending texts to the director of the emergency room, Paul Porter, as to what to expect and be ready. The entire city went on a mass casualty alert. The folks at (INAUDIBLE) and in Allegheny west were all ready for mass casualties, and fortunately there weren't any. So we got the shooter. What's ironic is that one of the nurses, in

fact the nurse that came in that respond to the mass casualties there whose father is a rabbi in the south hills. He took care of this guy. He did everything he could. He was extremely professional. And I can't tell you how proud I am of the people at AGH and the people at mercy and the people at Presbi, they took care of people. They ran to the trouble and they solve people's problems.

So it is a little bit of what on yesterday was awful.

MARQUARDT: Yes. Doctor, we keep hearing about the heroism of everybody who rushed to that scene. The special agent in-charge of the FBI there saying it's the worst crime scene he has ever seen.

Doctor, I imagine as President of this hospital where the suspect is being treated, you have conflicting emotions about that. So if you could speak to that. But also, do you have any update on the shooter's condition?

COHEN: So I have been invited to a Steeler game a couple weeks ago. And my inclination was I had to get back to normal life, so I went to this. I talked to the nurse that took care of him before I went down to the game. And he and I broke down in tears as to what this all meant. I went to the game and came back. And I went to see the shooter and the cops that were guarding him.

You look at him, I wanted to try and understand, why did he do this? And I have no answers. I asked him, how are you feeling? And he was sort of groggy. He said I'm feeling OK. And I introduced myself as Dr. Cohen, the President of Allegheny General and I left.

The FBI agent in-charge looked at me and says I don't know how you did not that because I'm not sure I could have. It's time for leaders to lead. All the chaos that's going on, the gentleman didn't appear to be a member of the Mensa society. He listens to the noise. He hears the noise. The noise was telling him his people were being slaughtered. He thought it was time to rise up and do something. He is completely confused. And the words mean things. And the words are leading to people doing things like this. And I have had it appalling.

[19:10:40] MARQUARDT: Well, it is an extraordinary to hear that capacity to forgive considering what just happened to your community and to your friends.

You mentioned that he was groggy. Can you speak to what his wounds are? How serious they are? What the treatment is?

COHEN: The specifics of this I'm not going to go into. He was treated by our team. They took very good care of him. You know, the conflicting emotions of the people who were there, we have one very simple mission at Allegheny. It is we take care of sick people. We don't ask questions who they are. We don't ask questions about their insurance status or whether they can pay. To us they are patients. And it makes it very simple for our staff to do the right job. So I will tell you that I'm very proud of them. They did a great job. They answered the bell. And isn't that ironic that somebody who is yelling in the ambulance and in the hospital I want to kill all the Jews is taken care of by a Jewish nurse and there's a Jewish hospital President that comes in to check on him afterwards.

MARQUARDT: Well, that certainly speaks to who you are and who the staff at the hospital are. And from what we have been hearing, what that community really represents.

So Dr. Cohen, our thoughts are with you all tonight at the hospital and in Squirrel Hill. And we wish you all the best in what I imagine will be some very difficult hours and days ahead. Thank you for joining us.

COHEN: Thanks, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, CNN special coverage from Pittsburgh continues right after this quick break.



[19:16:39] MARQUARDT: As family, friends, and neighbors gather at a vigil in Pittsburgh to remember the 11 people killed in yesterday's synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, we are getting new details about the suspect.

Sources have told CNN that Robert Bowers, 46 years old, he legally purchased three of the handguns that were used in the attack. What's not clear is that the fourth weapon that was used, which is an AR-15 assault-style rifle was legally purchased or not.

Bowers now faces as of yesterday 29 charges including hate crimes.

So for more, let's go to CNN's national correspondent Miguel Marquez. He joins us live from Pittsburgh.

Miguel, we know that the FBI is looking into these guns. They are also looking into whether there's surveillance video of the attack. What else have you learned?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The more we dig into Robert Bowers' life, the more disturbing a picture we find. FBI on the official side, FBI, ATF, federal agencies are going through his home. They have searched at many, many hours. They have gone through his car. They are looking for the surveillance video.

But the picture we have of Robert Bowers for those who knew him for many, many years from, neighbors who saw him occasionally, this was a man who was almost -- he was opaque. He almost didn't exist in society. He was quiet, someone who knew him for many years said he was a lost soul, somebody who couldn't hold a job, just moved around, seemed like he couldn't quite figure it out. Somebody who never spoke up. Somebody who never uttered a bad word. And never spoke up, was like a nonperson, basically, and that's what made it so difficult for them to understand that was the person. And one woman I spoke to whose son went to school with him, her

reaction was when she heard it was him was just, no, no. She just couldn't believe that this was the person because he, in her words, didn't have a mean bone in his body. They never heard him say anything about Jews.

That was the outside of Robert Bowers. Inside, deeply troubled, a deep well of hatred towards Jews and others, expressing that online and in not exactly private but in places that people who aren't in that world wouldn't be looking.

And this is somebody who had expressed concern about the caravan, for instance, coming up and these were invaders as he called them and was worried they were coming to slaughter his people is what he wrote just before.

Seventeen days before he carried out this act, he posted regarding a specific Jewish organization, HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society that has resettled immigrants from all strives, all countries, all religions from many, many decades now. And he singled them out as a concern about bringing these invaders in when they made a video down in the border regarding that caravan. And that was one thing that he keyed on. And when he went into that synagogue, he said he could no longer stand it. They were bringing in people to slaughter our people. He couldn't - never mind the optics, I'm going in -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: Yes. We hear that time and again about these mass shooters, there's just this dichotomy, this split where they have there are no red flags in their public lives around other people and then they just have this very dark online presence which, of course, now investigators are digging into.

Miguel Marquez there in Pittsburgh, thank you very much.

So joining me now to break down the latest in the investigation, CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, a former FBI supervisory agent.

Josh, the authorities have the suspected shooter. They have his weapons. You and I were remarking a short time ago at how quickly the authorities were able to gather evidence and learn a lot about the suspect. So what more are they trying to learn?

[19:20:31] JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, they are really looking at three key areas. Obviously, they have him. They want to do that interview. But setting that aside, the first thing they are going to look at are his associates, the people that were in his orbit, his family, his friends, again, trying to paint this picture of who this person was to get that motivation.

Secondly, they are looking at his physical presence. We know based on some of the reporting, that re team on the ground, they are looking at residences, addresses that are associated with him, perhaps a place of employment.

And then lastly, this has been the most troubling as we have learned more about him is his digital presence. MARQUARDT: Right.

CAMPBELL: His social media post. A lot of this disgusting anti- Semitic comments that he has made, they want to get that full picture of him, again, in order to help prove their case. But it also helps try to figure out, OK, if they see this kind of activity again could that help them prevent in the future perhaps to prevent something like this. It is all part of the investigation.


So we know that there were three pistols that he had on him that were legally purchased. And you reported yesterday that he had a license to carry, an active one, for 20 or so years, I think, and that he had in that time purchased some six guns. The big question now, is this AR-15. It is assault-style rifle which many have purchased legally. But why is it so important for law enforcement to determine now whether that was legal or not?

CAMPBELL: So it tells us whether or not he was a prohibited purchaser. So we know that he had three of them that were purchased legally. But that would tell us is he didn't have any type of conviction or any type of prohibition that would stop him from gathering firearms.

So as you look at this rifle that he has now, the AR-15, this is obviously a weapon that has been used in several deadly mass shooting attacks. So there's the larger debate about access in the country, but also they want to get a sense of what weapons were actually used and how did he obtain it. Again, it goes to proving the case at hand and also looking at the larger picture, is this a medium that people are getting access to that, you know, is maybe too easy if you have people that now are predisposed to hate and violence and all the vitriol we have seen online. So that will all be part of this discussion.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well, Josh Campbell, as always, love having your expertise. We know you will stay with us. Thanks very much.

CAMPBELL: Thanks, Alex.

MARQUARDT: All right. Coming up, two big tests and two different responses. President Trump is offering calming words about the massacre in Pittsburgh, but does veer into conspiracy theory and blame when it comes to a mail bomb spree.


[19:27:07] MARQUARDT: Between attempted bombings, shootings and mass murder, it has been a week of terror here in America. And in times like these, the nation often turns to its leaders, in this case, the commander in-chief, President Trump. So here he is shortly after yesterday's mass shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It's an assault on humanity. It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from our world.


MARQUARDT: Now earlier this week the President also condemned the pipe bombs that were mailed to several of his critics as well as to us here at CNN. He also called for unity before going back to attacking the media.


TRUMP: The media's constant unfair coverage, deep hostility, and negative attacks, you know that, only serve to drive people apart and to undermine healthy debate. For example, we have seen an effort by the media in recent hours to use the sinister actions of one individual to score political points against me and the Republican Party.


MARQUARDT: And then earlier today, the President seemed to revert even more. He went after Democratic mega donor Tom Steyer on twitter, the President calling him wacky and saying that he came off as a quote |crazed and stumbling lunatic during an interview here on CNN. Steyer was one of the targets of last week's mailed pipe bombs.

So with us to discuss all this is CNN Presidential historian Tim Naftali and CNN's senior political analyst and former adviser to four different U.S. Presidents, David Gergen.

David, let's start with you. The President has been speaking quite a bit since the shooting at the synagogue yesterday morning, different rallies as well as he was taking off to go to Indianapolis. What do you make of the President's response so far?


Alex, you just interviewed Doctor Cohen, the head of the hospital there in Allegheny and a member of that synagogue and he said something that is very important. That this is a time for leaders to step up. And he also said leaders have to understand that their words matter. Their words matter.

And I don't hold - I don't think anybody should hold Donald Trump personally responsible for what happened in Pittsburgh. You know, you have lunatics in our society who are loose with guns, but I do think he bears special responsibility for two things.

One, he bears special responsibility for the moral tone of the country. That's what we expect our Presidents to do, especially in times of crisis to bring us together. And Donald, you know, Trump has, in effect, unleashed the dogs of hatred in this country. And then, so he had nothing to do with this. As if the two things are not connected.

But what we know is this fellow Bowers went in and shout at the synagogue and ordered to go after Jews who were trying to help refugees settle in this country. And he did because he wanted to kill Jews for what they were doing with this caravan that is coming.

Now, who has whip up all of the fake hysteria about that caravan? It is a red tag group that is coming up to Mexico from Honduras. It's been the President and his team. And then they have an acts with somebody that action on what they said and shoots people.

I think the President needs to bear some public responsibility, acknowledgment that he has to be part of the solution too. He can't be part of the problem. He has to be part of the solution.

I think the second thing is, this shooter reportedly had 21 guns. What in the devil, why are we still in the place where a madman like this can get so many guns? That's the President's responsibility as well.

[19:31:09] MARQUARDT: And the President essentially ruled out when he was asked yesterday about whether anything should be changed on the gun control front, whether is he going to have that debate and he again brought up that line of, well, maybe if there had been an armed security guard in the synagogue, this might have ended differently.

Tim, turning to you. You have shared with us that your father survived narrowly a program where he was born in Romania that you have several family members who died at (INAUDIBLE). You also mentioned that you feel that this is a canary in coalmine moment. And this is what we have been discussing all weekend is that despite in anti- Semitic incidents and whether this is a much more dangerous atmosphere for Jews in America.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I mean, the first thing I want to say is that you do not have to have relatives who experienced, survived the holocaust to be trauma and to be touched deeply when someone targets people for their faith or for their religious, or their identity. Yes, my family did survive, not all of them, the holocaust.

I think that David's words are powerful when he talks about Presidents. My God, if I think of the number of times David Gergen has written speeches for Presidents when this country has been in a dark place.

This is a moment for the President to remember that he is the head of state. And as head of state he should understand when we come to a tipping point in our national behavior, when you have the most murderous attack on Jews in American history, after you have had a pipe bomb spree that is targeted against his critics or critics of his administration, that is the moment for the President to turn to everyone, not just his supporters, to everyone and say we are better than this. We have an important midterm coming up, but let's fight it the way Americans have fought, the right way. He is not doing that. And so yes, I believe that anti-Semitism is sadly a canary in

mineshaft. It's a warning that our national environment, our political environment is toxic. We have seen it in the '40s. We saw it in the '50s. We saw it in the '60s. We saw it in the '70s. We saw it in the '80s. We saw it in the '90s.

Whenever our politics get toxic, we are in that situation again, just ahead of the midterm, this is the moment for the President to go to Pittsburgh to meet with those who have lost loved ones and to speak to all of us and say we are better than this. And he has not doing it. Hasn't done it so far.

MARQUARDT: I mean, his defenders would stand up and say that he very quickly came out and condemned this as an anti-Semitic attack and the FBI is obviously investigating this as a hate crime, but then you are saying he reverts to old tropes?

NAFTALI: Well, let me put it - make this point. And David mentioned this too. Let's not fall into the debate about what responsibility Donald J. Trump bears. Anti-Semitism predates Donald J. Trump. White nationalism and the poison it represents predates Donald Trump. He has just established an environment where some of those haters feel more comfortable.

In any case, he is President. He can correct all of this with a number of national actions, let alone statements, so let's give him that chance. But I don't think he is going to take it. He has never done it in the past. Look how he dealt with Charlottesville.


NAFTALI: This is another Charlottesville moment. Will he once again fumble the ball? I suspect he will. I'm sad to say that but I just think it is true.

MARQUARDT: And I want to bring up Charlottesville.

David, I want to play you and our viewers a piece of sound when our Wolf Blitzer interviewed then-candidate Trump back in 2016 when he was running for President. He asked him point-blank about anti-Semitic death threats that were being sent to reporters by supposed fans of his own, of the future president. Let's listen.


[19:35:19] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, SITUATION ROOM: He is anti-Semitic --.

TRUMP: I don't know about that. You mean fans of mine?

BLITZER: Supposed fans of yours.

TRUMP: I'm very angry. You will have to talk to them about it.

BLITZER: But your message to these fans is?

TRUMP: I don't have a message to the fans.


MARQUARDT: David, there, the President refusing to condemn those attacks at the time then afterwards he became President and he referred to those Nazi demonstrators that Tim as just mentioning in Charlottesville as very fine people. He said they were very fine people on both sides.

Do you think the President really understands the power of his office and the power of his words?

GERGEN: He doesn't seem to. I sometimes wonder whether he is in denial because that frequently I think seems to be the case on many other issues.

I think Tim is absolutely right that this is another Charlottesville moment. And what is important to understand, and Tim can speak to the history of this as well, is that if you look at the history of America, what you find is that racial and ethnic hatreds continually simmer just below the surface of our politics. And it is the job of President to cools them down to make sure they don't erupt. And this President has done just the opposite.

He has put them on boil. And that's why now we are seeing eruptions, just you know, these three different cases in the course of a week, where there is pipe bombs, the shootings in Kentucky or now these horrific shootings in Pittsburgh.

Tim, I think he needs to find something -- you can't do it before the midterms, but some way he can have a retreat with future leaders of Congress and talk about how we can put our politics in a different place.

MARQUARDT: David Gergen, Tim Naftali, no better voices to put the context around all of this. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for joining me.

GERGEN: Thank you.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right. Well coming up, crisis management. What happens inside the White House during a major event like the Pittsburgh massacre or last week's mail bomb spree?

We will talked to someone who helped prepare the Presidential daily brief under President Obama. That's coming up next.


[19:41:50] MARQUARDT: In just the past week America has seen no fewer than three major moments of fear and terror. There was a mass shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh. That immediately came on the heels of 14 pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats across the country. And then there were also the race-targeted killings of two African-Americans in Kentucky, altogether a sad week here in the U.S. filled with hate.

At times of crisis like this past week defines Presidents and that brings to us your weekend Presidential brief, a segment that we bring to you every Sunday night that highlights some of the most pressing national security information that the President will need when he wakes up tomorrow.

So joining us now is CNN national security analyst and former national security council adviser Sam Vinograd.

Sam, you have been in these types of post immediate crisis situations, just the way under with President Obama. What do you think President Trump's team is briefing him on?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: In these kind of situations, Alex, the briefing agenda typically follows several simultaneous and complementary lines of effort. First, the President need to know what we know about the most current event, in this case, the massacre at the synagogue yesterday including what new evidence has come to light in the investigation, what we know about the suspect and what we know about who else he may have been in touch with. Because the second agenda item would really focus on part reporting.

In an environment like this, the threat level is higher. We have had a massacre at a synagogue, a shooting at a supermarket and the all bombs sent. This could inspire others to follow the perpetrator's lead. And so, the team will brief the President on any additional threats and whether any additional resources are needed.

Typically, the third piece of that briefing would focus on the strategic response. We are responding to these events but we also want to prevent more going forward. And this is where I think the President is going to fall down. A strategic response to hate crimes and a political assassination attempts has to really rely on self- reflection by all of us, including the President.


VINOGRAD: And the President thus far has been unwilling to say what role he may have played in inciting this hatred, which really, really handicaps any kind of strategic response going forward.

MARQUARDT: All right. Very little self-reflection.

To that point about potential copycats, when you look at these different events, shootings outside a grocery store, murders, a massacre at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, and then attempted assassinations, what does that reveal about the possibility of more attacks like these down the line?

VINOGRAD: In any post-crisis environment, (INAUDIBLE) is very high. But I actually think that the President's response to these attacks makes it more likely.

Presidents lead by example, and the President's example in this case and the form of his response actually amplifies the route drivers of the violence in the first place. We know that the suspect in the mail bombing campaign pedaled conspiracy theories. He is infatuated with him. More the President hours before the suspect was charged had bomb in air quotes pedaling a conspiracy theory.

We know that the suspect in the mail bombing campaign was deeply, deeply targeting Democrats. All the targets were democrats. Yet the President treated the victims of this terrorist attack so differently. He didn't name them. He didn't call them. And it was like he was viewing these victims through the lens of their voting record rather than saying these are Americans. And I want to sympathize with them.

[19:45:03] MARQUARDT: All right. Sam Vinograd, the closest we can come to a fly on the wall in the oval office during the presidential briefing. Thank you so much for joining us.

All right. Now coming up, the counter story that unfolded this week that the mail bomb scares were all a liberal plot, a false flag operation designed to drive up votes for Democrats just before the midterm elections. That's next.


[19:49:47] MARQUARDT: This week we have seen two men who had dark online lives allegedly carry out absolutely heinous crimes. One we now know is an anti-Semite who told police that Jews needed to die as he shot up a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Just minutes before the shooting, the suspect posted a version of a growing right-wing conspiracy. The theory involved the idea that liberals are funding the caravan of migrants currently heading up to the U.S. through Central America. The other man a self-scribe described white supremacist allegedly mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democratic officials and to CNN here in New York.

Now during the week-long manhunt, some conservatives argued that was also a liberal ploy. Take a listen.


[19:50:30] RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Republicans just don't do this kind of thing. Not one of these bombs went off. And if a Democrat operative's purpose here is to make it look like, hey, you know, there are mobs everywhere, the mobs are not just Democrat mobs. It might serve a purpose here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say I will repeat it's a high probability that the whole thing is setup as a false flag to gain sympathy for the Democrats, number one. And number two to get our minds off the hordes of illegal aliens approaching our southern border.


MARQUARDT: So for all this, I want to bring in CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter. He is also the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" here on CNN.

Brian, in both these cases, Rob Bowers of Pittsburgh, Cesar Sayoc who was apprehended in Florida, they appear to have been acting on theories, conspiracy theories that have been given life and fuel by the right, particularly by right wing media.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it's important to recognize the context that these crimes were committed in. Obviously the perpetrators are the ones responsible for these crimes. They are the ones to blame. But public leaders, public officials, folks in the media, they create a context. They create a culture and a climate for certain crimes. And some of that false flag talk, that's a shame on them.

Let's go back to that in a minute, though. What happened in Pittsburgh over the weekend, what happened in Pittsburgh Saturday morning was foreshadowed by this killer. According to his own social media footprint, if you look at the alleged gunman's account on gab, we can show you one of the posts he posted six days earlier. He said I notice this change in people saying illegal. Now they say invaders. I like this.

Now, what is he talking about there? He is talking about the migrant caravan. He is talking about the idea that these thousands of folks are coming up from the south. Then a few minutes before the shooting he posts again talking about the same topic, invaders. He says I'm going in, meaning I'm going into the synagogue.


STELTER: So what we see here is this suspect thinking of a right-wing talking points about an alleged invasion. Obviously there's not really an invasion going on, but that's been the talk on right wing talk shows, on right wing websites for the past couple of weeks.

Now, I'm not saying there's a clear link between that rhetoric and this gunman, but that is the term he was using. He said he was fury and he liked it.

MARQUARDT: And that migrant caravan is being supported by George Soros who is also being now and talk about by prominent conservatives including the President. But -0-.

STELTER: Right. George Soros, the favorite target of anti-Semites. So this time last week a bomb shows up in his mailbox. And there's been a lot of talk about him, not just in the past week or months, but for years on right wing radio and right wing television.

MARQUARDT: Right. It stunned. It has gained traction.


MARQUARDT: It is like it has been given a real injection. He has just become this sort of catch all boogeyman for conservatives.

STELTER: Yes. Boogeyman is the perfect word.

Right. I was about to say boogeyman. That's how Lou Dobbs and others portray Soros. Dobbs has been in hot water for a couple of days for a segment he had

talk about Soros --.

MARQUARDT: The FOX News' host.

STELTER: Yes. And you know, I got to say, Dobbs, he has been behaving this way for a while. But he has been called out for this segment that first aired Thursday, re-aired on Saturday all day long.


STELTER: Here's a clip of what this guest was talking about on Lou Dobb's show.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a criminal involvement on the part of these leftist groups. It is a highly organized, very elaborate, sophisticated operation. I have that for the highest levels of the Guatemalan government. They are investigating those groups criminally. And I strongly urge President Trump and attorney general Sessions to do the same here. A lot of these folks also have affiliates who are getting money from the Soros occupied state department, and that's a great, great concern.


STELTER: There it is, Soros occupied state department. Now the lines really closely with an anti-Semitic trope, the idea that Jews secretly run the government. So -- I don't want to curse, but this stuff was airing on television all weekend long.

FOX has now apologized. Here's a statement from FOX Business. They say we are not going to air this episode again. This guest's comments were awful. They condemn the rhetoric. They say the guest will never be back. But this is one of many examples of the kind of talk that we hear on the far right.

MARQUARDT: Right. And we heard Rush Limbaugh talking about how conservative can never do this. Could be, Brian, it is incredible to see mainstream conservative voices talking about this false line operations. Now that Sayoc has been apprehended and is clearly a supporter of the President's, have they retracted any of that?

STELTER: A few of these folks did. But most have not. Most have just kind of pretend they never said it in the first place.


STELTER: There's also been false flag talk about Pittsburgh which again is also always never hear this nonsense. It's so hurtful to the victims and the families of the victims.


STELTER: This is not just a right wing problem. There are Klux (ph) on the left spreading conspiracy theories as well. (INAUDIBLE) has spread a lot of hate on twitter. Twitter has to account for that. But right now Facebook, Twitter, these other social networks have a lot of soul-searching to do about what they allow on their platforms because we are seeing some people use these platforms for hate.

[19:55:15] MARQUARDT: True.

All right, Brian Stelter, always, a lot of perspective. Thank you so much for joining us.

STELTER: Thank you.

MARQUARDT: All right. We will be back with much more of our continuing coverage right after this break.


[19:59:53] MARQUARDT: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt in this evening for Ana Cabrera.

Tonight, be begin this broadcast with the names.