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As Trump Points Finger at Media, White House Rejects Any Responsibility For Recent Attacks; Another Suspicious Package Sent to CNN. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 29, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president insists his words have nothing to do with national tensions.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news. The man accused of the worst attack against Jews in American history faces a judge, as we find out more about how his online rage turned into a disgusting act of violence.

Then there's the Trump-supporting mail bomb suspect, also in court today, as another suspicious package is intercepted on its way to CNN. President Trump throwing more gas on the fire in his war with the media.

The White House today give President Trump an A-plus, refusing to take any responsibility for stirring up any rage in America. Is it fair to ascribe the president any role in tearing apart the nation?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead. Minutes ago, the White House press secretary defended President Trump's response to a series of major traumatic events gripping and in some cases terrifying the nation.

Sarah Sanders claiming that President Trump has brought the nation together. She says he bears no responsibility for tensions, and despite the president directly blaming the media for tensions, Sarah Sanders claimed he had not blamed anyone.

She said a lot of things that were difficult to believe, and in some cases some things that were just plain false.

As just an example of how upside-down this afternoon's press conference was, at times, she made the assertion that President Trump was elected by -- quote -- "an overwhelming majority" of 63 million Americans.

Now, obviously, the president won the electoral vote. But his almost 63 million popular votes were overwhelmed by Hillary Clinton's nearly 66 million. Now, that's a small thing, but it was a telling departure from reality. The tone from the White House today was striking, considering that

many Americans are mourning today and still others are just scared. On Saturday, an anti-Semite murdered 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh after writing angry, hateful messages, many blaming Jews for helping those migrant caravans.

And while that shooter was not a fan of President Trump's, he thought Trump was too controlled by Jews, the shooter did seem to be enthralled with one of the president's favorite topics these days, the caravan of migrants in Mexico that the president continues to demonize.

The president today continued to tweet histrionically about it, still weeks away from the border, writing -- quote -- "This is an invasion of our country."

The president's blame of the division and hatred and anger and outrage in the country on the media continued. He tweeted today again that journalists are -- quote -- "the true enemy of the people."

This, of course, comes the week after a Trump supporter sent pipe bombs to the president's stated nemeses, including CNN.

And, in fact, hours after that tweet, a third suspicious package addressed to CNN was intercepted. Law enforcement officials tell CNN that the bombing suspect had a list of more than 100 people to whom he intended to send IEDs, which means more of these devices could be out there right now.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

And, Jeff, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, when asked if the president was going to keep the harsh rhetoric, she said he's going to continue to draw contrasts as we approach next week's midterm elections.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And, Jake, at the first White House briefing in -- at the first White House press briefing, excuse me, in 26 days, she used the word contrast over and over again to explain why the president intends to keep up his campaign schedule and keep up his rhetoric in the week before the midterm elections.

Now, the president, she said, has not blamed anyone. But we have seen him placing blame all over. One thing he hasn't done, accept any of the blame for leading to this climate of deadly political heat.


ZELENY (voice-over): With Pittsburgh poised to bury victims of the horrific hate-driven slang at the Tree of Life Synagogue, President Trump opened his day not consoling mourners, but falsely blaming the media.

At 8:03:00 a.m. today, he tweeted: "There is great anger in our country, caused in part by inaccurate and even fraudulent reporting of the news. The fake news media, the true enemy of the people, must stop the open and obvious hostility and report the news accurately and fairly. That will do much to put out the flame of anger and outrage."

At a rare White House briefing today, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denounced the mass shooting.


ZELENY: But defended the president's words.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The very first thing that the president did was condemn the attacks, both in Pittsburgh and in the pipe bombs. The very first thing the media did was blame the president and make him responsible for these ridiculous acts.

ZELENY: But attacking the media is how the president chose to use his bully pulpit today, not by calling out the anti-Semitic views of the gunman, who police say shouted he wanted all Jews to die, but through deflection and a familiar tirade against the press.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I would have a much different tone, frankly, if the press was even-handed, if the press was fair. I would have a much different tone all the time. But I'm fighting the media.

ZELENY: After 72 hours of unspeakable violence in America, two African-Americans slain outside a Kentucky grocery store, a Florida man charged with sending pipe bombs to Trump critics, and the synagogue massacre, the president initially denouncing the hate crime at a weekend rally.

TRUMP: The vile, hate-filled poison of anti-Semitism must be condemned and confronted anywhere and everywhere it appears.

ZELENY: But his compassion and grief quickly evolved into an airing of his grievances.

TRUMP: And if you don't mind, I'm going to tone it down just a little bit. Is that OK?


TRUMP: No. Well, you're from Illinois. I had a feeling you might say that.

ZELENY: The president is facing a mixed reaction as he and the first lady plan to visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, said he welcomed the president.

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: The president of the United States is always welcome. I'm a citizen. He's my president. He's certainly welcome. ZELENY: But that view is hardly universal, with Lynnette Leaderman, a

former president of the congregation, asking the president to stay away, unless he firmly denounces hate speech.

LYNNETTE LEDERMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: I do not welcome this president to my city, because he's the purveyor of hate speech. The hypocritical words that come from him tell me nothing.


ZELENY: Now, that is exactly the climate the president and the first lady are walking into tomorrow when they are scheduled to go to Pittsburgh.

I'm told by White House officials that the White House is still working with the Pittsburgh mayor's office and others for the president's schedule.

It's unclear if he will be meeting with family members. They do not want to interfere with the grieving process, even the burials that are likely to be under way tomorrow.

But, Jake, it certainly is a fine line. But after that, the president is scheduled to go back to campaign rallies, holding some 11 over the final week before the midterm elections -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

And let me ask the viewers and also our experts here, obviously, the only people responsible for the actions of the bomber and the shooter are the bomber and the shooter.

But, that said, more philosophically, why do we consider it important, why is it a standard in our society for politicians to not inflame passions among supporters with demonizing language and conspiracy theories and ugly rhetoric?

Does that standard not exist because we fear it could result in violence? Is that not why this standard exists?

MONA CHAREN, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: That's part of the reason. It's not just violence.

It's also that we're a nation of very diverse groups and we have to focus on what unites us. Otherwise, the potential for balkanization of the American public is very high.

And in the last number of years, we seem to have lost the capacity to have any generosity of feeling about people on the other side. This is a well-discussed phenomenon of horrible polarization. And then, of course, there is the fear that it can lead to violence. Every single political figure has an obligation, especially regarding the nuts on their own side, to be aware there are some unstable people out there who can easily be turn over, flipped over the edge into taking action that's violent. TAPPER: I want to play some sound from Marco Rubio. This was in

March 2016. He's running against Donald Trump. So, that's the context. But take a listen to what Rubio had to say about the inflammatory language that then candidate Trump used.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I know people like it that Donald Trump says whatever he wants and what they feel like saying. But presidents cannot say anything they want. Presidents have to understand that their words have consequences, often, life-and-death consequences for real people in the real world.


TAPPER: David?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, so what is the -- is the question, did the president hear -- you can't start out saying the president is not responsible for this.

TAPPER: I said, no, the people responsible are the bomber and shooter.

URBAN: But you can't start out saying the president is not responsible for this, play some sound and say, is the president responsible for this?

TAPPER: No, I'm saying, is there not -- what is the reason that we say politicians need to have -- need to restrain themselves?


URBAN: Listen, I agree.

Look, the rhetoric on all sides needs to be dialed back. All sides.


URBAN: Don't say, no, Symone.

It needs to be dialed back on every side. Absolutely. This isn't started just with Donald Trump. Let me finish. This hasn't started just with Donald Trump. Balkanization in politics has been happening for years and years.

TAPPER: One hundred percent.

URBAN: I served on a panel a decade ago with the former press secretary -- with the press secretary for Bobby Kennedy who said jet travel was to blame for, you know, lack of civility in the public discourse, because members of Congress didn't sit around and weren't friends with each other so they hated each other.

(CROSSTALK) URBAN: It's been going on for a long time. And this isn't about whataboutism. This isn't about -- if we want to get to the bottom of why people hate, there's a great op-ed today in "The Wall Street Journal" which says, look, let's take this out of political context and really examine, what are the roots of anti-Semitism, of racism?



URBAN: Right. OK. So what are the roots of that? Are you going to say Donald Trump is the problem?


SANDERS: No, let me tell you something. It's not just politicians. It is -- there are public officials.

I'm talking about media professionals. The rhetoric is dangerous. What Donald Trump and his movement, but not just him, but his movement, and people before him have done is usher in an era where it is OK for the nastiest parts of society to come to the front.

This is not both sides, because I want to be clear. It was Nazis who killed Heather Heyer and white supremacists that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.


SANDERS: It's terrorism. No, no, no.


SANDERS: Folks that are -- you know, the women that showed up at the Capitol to protest and raised their voices with sexual assault didn't kill anybody.

What we saw last week was terrorism. That's what that is.

URBAN: Absolutely.


SANDERS: Those are acts of terrorism. And we need to be very clear. And there is nothing to equate with terrorism. There is nothing to equate on the left with the white supremacy that we are seeing.


URBAN: It's horrific.

SANDERS: And so it is incumbent upon Donald Trump, it is incumbent on folks in the Republican Party.

And I'm saying that, because that is the side, that is the political party that has been stoking this. TAPPER: Julia, you know this firsthand, because you wrote a story

about first lady Melania Trump. And it was just a straight story.

It had some positive things, it had some negative things, whatever. She hated it. The president's supporters hated it. They attacked you and President Trump refused to criticize his supporters.

He said you need to take it up with them.

JULIA IOFFE, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, he said I have no message for them. And, furthermore, when Melania was asked about this, she said I provoked the anti-Semitic, frankly, death threats. People were calling my house at 1:00 in the morning, saying, hi, you ordered a homicide scene cleanup. Or, hi, you ordered a coffin to your house.

TAPPER: Sending pictures of you in an oven and all sorts of things.

IOFFE: Right, right, or a caricature of a Jew being shot execution- style, with the subject line being, "We're on to you."

And I think it's interesting now that Melania is -- or the first lady is now -- her campaign is Be Best and it's against cyber-bullying, but when there was a clear example of cyber-bullying, she said, well, the victim provoked it.


IOFFE: Please don't interrupt me.

I have to agree which Symone here. I think this president, one of the things that he really launched his presidential run on is talking about Islamic radicalization.

And this president has radicalized so many more people than ISIS ever did. I mean, the way he talks, the way he -- the way...

URBAN: That is -- that just -- it's unconscionable for you to say that.

IOFFE: The way he talks, the way that he allows these people -- the way he winks and nods to these groups, the way he says, I know I'm not supposed to say it, but I'm a nationalist, the way that he hems and haws when he has to condemn these people, and kind of gritting his teeth, kind of says, fine, OK, I condemn this.

But then...


URBAN: Hold on. For you not to push back on that...


TAPPER: You're about to push back.

(CROSSTALK) URBAN: That's irresponsible.

For her to say, the president of the United States has radicalized more people than ISIS is irresponsible.

TAPPER: OK. You disagree with it.


URBAN: It's irresponsible, because it's not true. It's factually not true.

You can -- based upon what? How many camps have you gone to and interrogated ISIS folks? Do you know? What do you base that upon?


IOFFE: ISIS had like 10,000 members. I think the president has far more supporters who espouse an equally hateful ideology that dehumanizes other people.


URBAN: And, Jake, you raised on TV this yesterday. You raised this yesterday.

When Louis Farrakhan sat next to Bill Clinton the other day, where was the outrage? Where was the outrage of the Jewish community?


SANDERS: Hold up now. What does Louis Farrakhan have to do with me? This is craziness.


URBAN: I'm not talking about you, Symone. I'm talking about the Democratic Party.


SANDERS: I really believe that we should be able to have a conversation and get to the root of the issue. And the root of the issue is that the president of the United States has aligned himself with white nationalists, with the nationalists. He called himself a nationalist.


SANDERS: He has aligned himself with neo-Nazis.


CHAREN: But get back to Jake's original question, why does it matter if the president doesn't do this or does do it, right?

TAPPER: Right.

CHAREN: And it matters because whether the American people thought this through or not, we do care about our president setting a moral tone.

And at moments like this, we need him to. It feels, you know, very unsettling and nervous-making for people to see a president who is reluctant somehow to condemn evil, call it by its name.

URBAN: He just called it out.

CHAREN: Yes, but he does in this very mechanical way.

URBAN: He didn't do it well enough for you?


CHAREN: And then he backs up. Hold on a minute.


IOFFE: He didn't. He didn't.

CHAREN: The fact is, the president has a special responsibility. He is a moral actor.

And you're right. You can do whataboutism all day. I have done it throughout my entire career, not whataboutism, but pointing out the left's hypocrisies and the left's incitements.

But when you're president, it's different. You can't just point to some person on the left and say, you know, well, they -- they did something bad, and then say, so it's -- so it's OK for the president of the United States to do it.

URBAN: The thesis around this table is, the president wants an unsafe future for his Jewish grandchildren. That's the thesis.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: No, I don't think -- I don't think people are saying that.


CHAREN: No, he's indifferent -- to whether he is sending coded signals to some people.

URBAN: So he's indifferent --

JULIA IOFFE, CORRESPONDENT, GQ MAGAZINE: He knows his grandchildren are going to be just fine with secret service protection.

URBAN: They're not going to have it for the rest of their life, Julia.

TAPPER: Here's my question.

URBAN: Can you say that with a straight face?

TAPPER: So, Sarah Sanders today said that she cited Eric Holder saying -- talking about kicking people. And Eric Holder went on to say he meant it figuratively.

CHAREN: It was awful.

TAPPER: I'm not supporting it. I'm just trying to provide the full context. Hillary Clinton saying, when our opponents are that bad, we don't need to be civil. Exactly.

Either it's important for leaders to set moral examples for their supporters or it's not. And so, that's what I don't understand. Why do we have this standard? I know --

IOFFE: The thing is, Hillary Clinton is -- has never been president. She is now a leader, a Democratic leader. So is Eric Holder now in this capacity.

President Donald Trump is the president of all of us. And he has to send a message to all of us. Not just the people who come at his rallies and say CNN sucks, and beat up reporters. And the caravan is full of criminals and Middle Easterners. He is the president of all of us. Not just his Jewish grandchildren.

You know, like, to focus it just on his Jewish grandchildren, he's my president too. And I'm a Jewish citizen in this country and I feel deeply --


TAPPER: I want to ask --

URBAN: I had dinner last night with one of my Jewish friends who came here, supported by -- was brought here --

TAPPER: The same refugee company.

URBAN: The same refugee company, right. Huge supporter, works for the administration.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What does that have to do with the president stoking the flames?


URBAN: I understand. That's my point. So, you feel the way you do because of your political beliefs. He feels the way he does --

SANDERS: There's not --


CHAREN: You're saying there's absolutely no problem with the tone that the president has set.

URBAN: No, I'm not saying that.

CHAREN: It sounds like that.

URBAN: No, I'm not.

SANDERS: Do you have issue with his tone, yes or no? It's a yes or no question.

URBAN: No, it isn't.


TAPPER: Here's my question for you. This is a legitimate question that I think a lot of conservatives really honestly feel, that when people say President Trump's words have an effect on especially the Florida would-be bomber, let's just focus on him for now.

But it's not fair that media doesn't hold Bernie Sanders responsible for the supporter of his who shot up that baseball field and almost killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. He was -- now, I asked Bernie about it at the time. I said, do you think -- you know, do you think calling for a revolution, et cetera, incites people? He denies it, he decried the violence, et cetera.

But explain why you think it's different because there's a lot of -- and I really mean this -- a lot of good faith people, conservatives, who think this is a double standard.

SANDERS: Bernie Sanders is calling for a political revolution of ideas. He has never incited violence. He has never talked about beating up protesters. He has never called anyone the enemy.

He has said that Wall Street should be held accountable and they should go to jail for bringing America to the brink of collapse. But he has never incited violence. He's never othered anyone. And when there were folks in our coalition that were doing that, I and others and the senators spoke up against that. I think that's why this is different.

Donald Trump has had ample opportunity to check his coalition. He has yet to check it. We see story after story. I don't know if it was -- I forget which outlet reported it. But it was reported that Ivanka and Jared had to coast and cog and pull Donald Trump into giving a strong statement.

That's problematic. Let me tell you why rhetoric matters.

CHAREN: Or to lower the flag to half-staff.

SANDERS: Yes. To lower the flag to half-staff and say something about Pittsburgh. This rhetoric matters, because people that are not in the majority, people that are in marginalized communities are literally under attack. They are fearing for their lives when radicalized people see what the president and his supporters and folks are saying, they it's okay.

TAPPER: Everyone --

SANDERS: That's why --


URBAN: So specifically --

IOFFE: It's not the president of the United States.

URBAN: -- what would you like him to say?

SANDERS: I would like him to stop stoking -- I would like him to stop -- one, I would like him to stop calling himself a nationalist. I would like him to not just call for civility, but say I too have contributed to this and from this day forward I'm going to be better. I would like him to not condemn anti-Semitism in one breath and call CNN the enemy of the people in the next.

TAPPER: You all are staying here. We're going to have a lot more to stick around. The two accused faces of hate in court today. What happened when the suspected mail bomber and synagogue shooter faced their judges, and putting the weight of the presidency behind baseless claims? The conspiracy theories that filled the accused murder's head and Twitter feed. Stay with us.


[16:23:22] TAPPER: I want to take a moment now to remember the 11 victims of Saturday's anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Jerry Rabinowitz was a primary care physician in the area known for wearing bow ties and for making his patients feel at ease.

David and Cecil Rosenthal were brothers. One community member tells CNN that David was known for having a kind and gentle spirit while Cecil had an infectious laugh.

Rose Mallinger was 97 years old. But she was still spry and vibrant. She always offered a hug and a smile whenever she saw you.

Bernice and Sylvan Simon were a married couple who just wanted to give back to people and be kind, according to their neighbor of nearly 40 years.

Daniel Stein's nephew described him as a dedicated congregant with a dry sense of humor.

Joyce Fienberg was a former research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. One of her former students said she treated her students as if they were her family. And she lit up a room with her huge personality.

Richard Gottfried was a dentist. He opened a dental practice with his wife. Many of the families in the area were his patients. Melvin Wax was a passionate member of the synagogue. His sister said

he was always one of the first people to get there in the morning and was, quote, always full of jokes.

Lastly, Irving Younger. He was known for his big smile and big hand shake, which is fitting, since he was a greeter at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Our hearts and our thoughts are with these victims, and their loved ones and their community. May their memories be a blessing.

[16:25:02] The man accused of committing that awful and hateful act appeared in court today. He's now being held without bond. Also this afternoon, the other man, the one accused of sending at least 14 pipe bombs to CNN and critics of the president faced a judge in Florida.

From Miami to Pittsburgh, we have correspondents covering both of these huge stories. We're going to start with CNN's Miguel Marquez who's live in Pittsburgh covering the horrific mass shooting there.

Miguel, we know that the shooter expressed a hatred of Jews online. But would that hatred -- would his anti-Semitism have been obvious to a casual observer?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look. He was not posting to the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, Jake. You'd have to know where to look in order to find it. This is a guy whose life we have dug into deeply. He barely cast a shadow in this world. And now, he is charged with the biggest attack and murder of U.S. Jews in U.S. history.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Robert Bowers in court, cuffed and in a wheelchair, officially charged. Twenty-nine counts in all from murder to obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, a hate crime. The government may seek the death penalty.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was an attack on all people of faith. It cannot and will not be tolerated. He will be subjected to the death penalty, perhaps.

MARQUEZ: Investigators now digging deeply, searching Bowers' home, sending a bomb robot in first to ensure there were no explosive traps. They have also searched his vehicle and are looking for closed circuit video that might have captured Bowers prior to the massacre, and doing a painstaking investigation of the crime scene itself.

ROBERT JONES, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: This was a large, complex crime scene. And much work remains to be done.

MARQUEZ: Bowers had 21 guns registered to him. He took four into the synagogue -- three Glock handguns and an AR-15 assault style semiautomatic rifle. The Glocks he purchased legally. It is not clear how he obtained the AR-15. Investigators also recovered a shotgun from Bowers' car. JONES: We continue to conduct interviews, scrub social media, review

possible surveillance camera video and exploit digital media to determine how and why Bowers committed this terrible act.

MARQUEZ: Bowers' social media reads like a road map of hate and murder. He was particularly concerned about the caravan of central- American migrants and appeared to key on reporting from Fox News, right wing social media and highlighted by President Trump's own tweets that Middle Easterners may be mixed in with the migrants. All claims without evidence.

Bowers reposted this anti Semitic view on immigration on his account on October 4th: Open your eyes. It's the filthy, evil Jews bringing the filthy, evil Muslims into the country.

Like the president, he referred to migrants as invaders. He had particular hatred for HIAS, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which helps resettle immigrants in all backgrounds.

In his only post: HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in.

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: At that time, I could hear the gunfire getting louder. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave them. There was nothing I could do.

I was not in the space at that time. I had run to safety as I called 911. From what I've been told, I was the first caller. And I stayed on the phone for about 20 minutes. It seemed like an eternity.

MARQUEZ: The dead were the bedrock of the congregation. Among them, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, brothers David and Cecil Rosenthal, and a couple married 60 years, Bernice and Sylvan Simon.

Their deaths and the grotesque massacre has shaken this city of steel to its foundation.


MARQUEZ: What is most terrifying about this situation is that people that we spoke to who have known this man for decades say he never had an unkind word. He didn't even speak up. He wasn't boisterous. He was never angry. He never uttered anything anti-Semitic. And then this.

One woman we spoke to, who's known him for many decades, said he was a lost soul -- Jake.

TAPPER: Miguel Marquez in Pittsburgh, thanks.

Now, let's go to Miami, where the man charged with five federal crimes for allegedly sending at least 14 pipe bombs is also in court. This comes as yet another suspicious package was intercepted today, this one addressed to CNN in Atlanta.

CNN's Rosa Flores is outside the courthouse in Miami.

And, Rosa, the would-be bomber was fairly emotional in court today, you say.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was. He was crying, Jake. His face was red. His eyes were full of tears. His temples were popping. His body was shaking.

All this while he was sitting in the jury box in his tan jumpsuit, shackled by hands and feet, and his hair in a pony tail. This was a very short hearing, as we expected. The judge informed him of his charges.