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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Terror in Sri Lanka; Democratic Presidential Field Grows. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:22]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Our world lead now: CNN learning this afternoon that a fifth-grade boy from Washington, D.C., is one of the almost 300 fatalities in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks since 9/11.

U.S. intelligence officials tell CNN that the series of coordinated explosions that rocked Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were likely inspired by ISIS. At least four Americans are currently among the 300 dead.

CNN's Sam Kiley reports, this all comes as the Sri Lankan government is now apologizing for failing to heed intelligence warnings from both the U.S. and India.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, new video shows one of the alleged suicide bombers carrying what church officials believe is a bomb in his backpack. He pats a toddler on the head as he crosses the church courtyard.

State TV in Sri Lanka identifying him as a suspect in one of the bombings. Without hesitation, he strides on, enters a side door of St. Sebastian's Church close to the altar. The next frame, priests say, shows him exploding his bomb, killing at least 122 people who were celebrating Easter mass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It blasted in such a way there were children, there were women, and all close by, and all were blown up almost. So we have hundreds, more than 100 people who were killed on the spot.

KILEY: The Sri Lankan military says at least six suicide bombers are thought to have attacked two other churches and three five-star hotels within minutes of one another, all around the same time.

Local and U.S. intelligence officials believe that this slickly coordinated plot is the work of an international ISIS-inspired terror group. And it could strike again soon.

A security dragnet was thrown across the entire country with a state of emergency announced, as they uncovered more of the murderous plot. In Colombo, a bomb squad performed a controlled explosion of a suspicious van near St. Anthony's Church, one of the scenes of Sunday's attack.

And a 6-foot pipe bomb was found close to the airport, along with nearly 90 bomb detonators at the city's bus stop. Sri Lanka's government had warnings from U.S. and India that attacks were imminent and publicly apologized for failing to heed them.

RAJITHA SENARATNE, SRI LANKA CABINET SPOKESMAN: Very, very sorry.

KILEY: On April the 11th, a memo from the deputy inspector general of police advised Sri Lankan officials to raise security due to a potential attack. The government spokesman can't hide the truth from the families of more than 500 injured and nearly 300 dead, four of them Americans.

SENARATNE: As the government, we have to say and we have to apologize to the families and the other institutions about this incident.

KILEY: Now the cleanup begins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the people are shouting, weeping, and we can't realize what happened. We can build up our church, but we can't build up our lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KILEY: Now, Jake, among the dead, fifth-grader Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, and he -- a young lad from Washington, D.C., and Dieter Kowalski, a young man from Denver, Colorado, both of them killed in bombings inside one of the five-star hotels just a few hundred yards from where I'm standing here in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital.

A devastating day for the country, and, clearly with this state of emergency now coming into force, things could get potentially worse -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sam Kiley in Sri Lanka, thank you so much for that report.

Joining me now is former CIA counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd and former FBI supervisory special agent Josh Campbell.

Excuse me, Josh.

(SNEEZING)

TAPPER: Excuse me.

Bottom line, was this an intelligence failure?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think it's too soon to say that, Jake. When I was in the FBI, I served on one of our global teams responsible for conducting investigations actually in Southeast Asia and -- Southeast Asia.

And we routinely shared information with our counterparts. And we don't know yet if this is information that came from Western officials, but if that's the case, I have seen these types of reports that have been handed over. Sometimes, they're very rich in detail. Sometimes, they're very vague.

We don't know what information was passed on yet. Once we get a greater sense of what that is, then we will be in a better position to decide whether this was a failure.

TAPPER: Yes. And I apologize for the sneeze. It is pollen season here in Washington, D.C.

Phil, I want to ask about what Josh just said, because sometimes you hear, there's a warning and the government didn't hear it. From what we know about the warning that the United States provided, that India provided, is that enough that could have prevented this horrific attack?

I mean, as far as I know, it didn't say, these attackers were going to be targeting Christians worshiping on Easter.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: If you want to study a warning, I would just ask you to look for a few specifics.

[16:35:01]

You have time, place, people, device, those four characteristics. If you have a general warning something might be coming up in a country of 22 million, 23 million people, in my intelligence world, you have to have specificity to go to officials and say, here's the place you want to guard, here's the kind of device you might want to look at, here's what the cell looks like.

A generic warning might sound ugly to the general public. In my world, that's a dime a dozen. You need more than that.

TAPPER: And, Josh, the level of coordination here was extraordinary, three different cities, eight different explosions. Churches were targeted. Western hotels were targeted.

What does that tell you about who conducted this?

CAMPBELL: Yes, no question this was highly sophisticated. And we have heard reports that this may have been ISIS-inspired.

I tend to suspect that that's probably the case here, just based on a number of characteristics. There's a difference between directed and inspired. We haven't seen an actual aim of responsibility coming out from ISIS.

But this was the one thing that folks like Phil and I always worry about, is people going to the battlefield. And where do they go next? Where do they take that hatred? And it appears -- and, again, this is early on, but it appears as though that type of inspiration was at least at play here.

TAPPER: Phil, take a listen to the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, speaking today on the threat from ISIS and other terrorist groups.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The destruction of the caliphate was important and it mattered, and the takedown of these threats from other geographies as well. But, sadly, this evil exists in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "We have taken down the threat substantially, but, obviously, the evil does exist in the world."

Is there -- I mean, assuming this group was ISIS-inspired, which is the best that U.S. intelligence thinks now, I mean, does that -- is there anything that changed vis-a-vis Syria and Iraq and the presence and the defeat of ISIS and the caliphate, the geographical caliphate there, vs. Sri Lanka?

I mean, does it have any effect?

MUDD: There's a couple things that have changed.

First of all, you have got to believe, despite this event today, that the threat diminishes over time. For example, in Europe compared to where we were three, four years ago, you can't get to Syria to train. So, by definition, you are going to have fewer people coming back with high-tech skills.

That said, this idea that a geographical caliphate and the decline of a geographical caliphate is the endgame, ISIS and al Qaeda were ideas that can be disseminated on social media. That social media is seen right now, I'm sure, in Sri Lanka, so let's not focus too much on statements about the decline of a caliphate.

I want to see the decline of the idea.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd and Josh Campbell, thank you so much.

We are just hours away from one of the busiest nights and the biggest nights of the 2020 campaign so far, as the Democratic field keeps growing.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:55]

TAPPER: The 2020 lead today, a swelling field of Democratic presidential candidates, with 19 names now in the race and more on the way.

In a YouTube video released this morning, Marine Corps veteran turned Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts announced that he, too, is running in 2020.

But as he launches his campaign, a different high-profile name may quickly steal the spot. As CNN's Phil Mattingly reports, we're learning how former Vice

President Joe Biden is now planning his likely campaign rollout this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The historically large Democratic presidential primary...

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would be honored if you would join me in this mission.

MATTINGLY: ... now adding another candidate in the mix.

MOULTON: I'm running because I'm a patriot, because I believe in this country, and because I have never wanted to sit on the sidelines when it comes to serving it.

MATTINGLY: Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, combat veteran and member of the House, launching his campaign Monday. But Moulton's entrance won't be the last this week, with the biggest outstanding Democratic name ready to green-light his own campaign.

Sources tell CNN Vice President Joe Biden, who leads the field in national and early primary and caucus state polling, will put an end to the long-running will he or won't he?

Biden is expected to announce his candidacy in a video this week, followed by travel to early primary states next week. Biden would make it an astounding 20 candidates officially running to take on President Trump in 2020, with disparate records, messages, and potential coalitions, a fact that underscores the efforts by candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren to break out on policy.

Warren on Monday releasing the most sweeping, aggressive plan to curtail the estimated $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S., a $1.25 trillion plan to cancel loan debt up to $50,000 for households earning less than $100,000, implement free public college, and expand grants for lower-income and minority students for housing, food, and books.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not just paying the tuition. It's how they pay for books. It's how they pay for the expenses of having a baby taken care of, if they already have a child at home, or being able to cover commuting expenses. Or maybe it's a chance to live in a dorm and have the kind of college experience that other kids get.

MATTINGLY: Warren to pitch that plan and more tonight on CNN, when she and four other candidates take part in series of town halls from New Hampshire, a prime-time event for five top-tier candidates, all looking to break out of an increasingly expanding pack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And,Jake, Senator Warren's advisers made clear that she will make crystal clear tonight in the town hall that her lane, the one of in-the-weeds-policy proposals, is both durable and something that will eventually lead her back into the top tier of candidates.

It's a gamble, one they acknowledge, but one they believe, even though there's lagging fund-raising and lagging poll numbers, Jake, that will eventually pay off.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly in Manchester, New Hampshire, thanks so much, Phil.

And speaking of New Hampshire, we're learning that Biden is planning to visit Iowa this week, but he trails in a new poll of New Hampshire Democrats out today from the University of New Hampshire. Take a look at this.

Thirty percent of Democratic voters in that state say they prefer Senator Bernie Sanders.

[16:45:00] He's from neighboring Vermont, of course, to be the party's nominee. 18 percent go for Biden, 15 percent are with South Bend Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, and you have Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, rounding out the top five with five percent, four percent.

So I have to say that is a stronger showing than I would have thought for Buttigieg and -- I mean, the second place is not bad but a weaker showing that I would have thought for Biden who is obviously been campaigning for president off and on since 1987.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I think that it's still very much a wide-open field and it's really difficult to make determinations based on the early polling especially before any of these candidates appear on the debate stage.

Now it's not unusual for Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, the people who have the most name recognition to be at the top of the pack, it has certainly been impressive too many people that Mayor Pete Buttigieg who is relatively unknown until just a couple of months ago has sort of shot to this top tier of candidates in the eyes of many.

I think a lot of that will be resolved in the eyes of voters will be twofold. There will be the policy disagreements what variations on healthcare or a free college tuition or education, you know what are the policy proposals that they will put out.

And then, of course, there's the elephant in the room which is what will there -- be their approach to taking on Donald Trump and what are some of the questions around impeachment and the post-Mueller debate that they're going to have to contend with as candidates.

TAPPER: Speaking of college loan debt, I mean Bernie Sanders in 2016 campaign heavily on a plan of free tuition. Elizabeth Warren says her new plan goes further because it adds on getting rid of student loan debt. Do you buy her argument that eventually all these policy rolls out -- roll outs are going to pay off for her? I have to say 4 percent, she's from neighboring Massachusetts. She

also is a national figure and a known entity. That is not as strong showing as I would have thought among New Hampshire Democrats.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's right. And if you're her team, I think you're trying to find ways to have traction at this point. Obviously, she wins the policy primary, but winning the policy primary doesn't typically win the presidential primary. She came out of strongly for impeachment. I think that was clearly an effort to gain traction at a time when she was not.

She also has been spending almost as much as she's been raising. So if you're on her internal team, you're looking at the -- you're looking at the race right now and you're thinking we have a couple of months to gain traction and really make a move here.

She was Bernie Sanders arguably before Bernie Sanders was Bernie Sanders and she probably should have run four years ago, and she maybe could have won the primary, but that doesn't matter at this point. I think at this point she has to decide if she can make traction to still be in the race in the fall.

TAPPER: Of course the inevitable question, who's going to pay for it whether it's student loan, debt, or college tuition. Elizabeth Warren actually preemptively put out taxing plan to tax the -- what she calls the very rich. And she says that that will pay for other ideas to help the middle class. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: For two cents on the dollar, we could pay for universal childcare, universal pre-k, universal college, and not back the student loan debt burden for about 43 million Americans and still have nearly just short of a trillion dollars left over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That, of course, will be portrayed if she becomes the nominee by Donald Trump as she wants to tax you, she wants to tax you, not just the wealthy but all of you.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, it doesn't seem to be the policy differences among the Democrats are going to be dispositive. They're all going to be for some versions of obviously expanding health care and helping with tuition and so forth. I guess Sanders strikes me as the one who's distinct. I do think this certain number -- I mean it will be Sanders and probably everyone else I think.

And Sanders used to be the one candidate who's got a real base. I mean he seems to me sticky -- sticking right at 30 percent the polls. To me the lesson so far though in that New Hampshire poll shows us so well that this is a wide-open race in the way that it often isn't, you know. There's often a front-runner, one challenger emerges. It's the front-runner against the challenger (INAUDIBLE) or something. This one strikes me. Sanders, maybe we'll stay at 30 but it's just as

likely that someone we've almost never heard of Buttigieg, two months ago right, could easily be the main challenger. Not Joe Biden, not Elizabeth Warren, not Kamala Harris, or one -- or it could be a three or four or five-way race with a couple of those other candidates, or someone -- maybe Seth Moulton will take off. We'll have the Moulton- Buttigieg young veterans in their 30s showdown.

TAPPER: Add Tulsi Gabbard to that. That's the other veteran --

KRISTOL: OK, those three. That would be fun. That would be fun.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, Amy Klobuchar will be in the Town Hall this evening, the Senator from Minnesota. Her argument obviously is that she can win in Trump country. She has been a very popular vote-getter in Minnesota which almost won for Trump, but she's won over Trump counties. Take a listen to her making this argument.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): I am from the middle of the country. I'm the only one in the race that has repeatedly won Trump counties and Trump districts to the point where three times in a row. I have won every single congressional district in my state including the rural ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:08] TAPPER: And for Democrats who want to win, that could be a compelling argument.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly could and that's what she's saying. Essentially, I can beat Trump. That's why she's saying she could win those counties, and that's what the Trump campaign and the Trump White House seems to be more concerned about. Because if they could run against Bernie Sanders seeing that pull there, that is kind of essentially their dream because they feel like that's a pretty easy campaign for them to set up.

They can draw a stark contrast between the President and people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren but not so much with people like Amy Klobuchar who's been the one candidate really who's not been afraid to say no to some of those policy proposals like Medicare for all, the Green New Deal. She's been the one who's been much more moderate on those proposals.

So that's the question is that someone like that can beat the President, but it doesn't seem obviously they know either way. They don't know if they should go to more extreme in the impeach and the more Medicare for all proposals or if they should follow the Amy Klobuchar route. And the Trump campaign is kind of banking on them not figuring that out until the end.

TAPPER: Seth Moulton is talking a lot about how he did four tours in Iraq. He's a Marine veteran. What do you make of his chances? He's new today so I want to give him an opportunity to chew over him a little bit. I mean, is he offering something that other candidates are not?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think he's just someone who thinks he has nothing to lose. Some -- there are some candidates who want to elevate their profile and he's someone who challenge the establishment, defeat a long-term incumbent, so it shows that really anyone can try and use opportunity to make a name for themselves.

TAPPER: And you don't want to miss tonight's CNN major town hall event live in Manchester New Hampshire, five presidential candidates. Senator Amy Klobuchar out first at 7:00 p.m. Eastern followed by Senator Elizabeth Warren at 8:00 Eastern, then Senator Bernie Sanders at 9:00, Senator Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg round up the night at 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

In our "EARTH MATTERS" series now on this Earth Day, climate change is having an impact on the world and the United States right now. But as CNN's Bill Weir discovered, even many of those Americans being hurt right now don't believe that climate change is real.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN ANCHOR: In the heart-sick heartland, the great floods of 2019 are setting the worst kind of records. It was a month ago when heavy snow melted so fast and a bomb cyclone rained so hard, water overwhelmed the army corps of engineers and levees in six states.

The floodwaters came with such force, they ripped open grain silos across the Midwest, contaminating the crop with toxic water and ruining the livelihood of so many farmers who had been storing their grain in order to survive the trade war with China.

Most American farms are not fully insured against this kind of disaster. And in Hamburg, Iowa, 70 percent of the homes had no flood insurance at all. Mold is spreading, the ball field is still a lake, and downtown is a ghost town, where the only sign of life on this day is a visitor from the west, here to warn the nation that this is just the beginning.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know, unfortunately, that what we see here today is just a precursor of many, many more intense floods in the future, because of climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please welcome Governor Jay Inslee.

WEIR: The Washington governor is the first person in history to build a presidential campaign around climate change, a topic discussed for about five minutes in the last three presidential debates.

You need, was it, 65,000 individual donors, to get on a stage at the debate.

INSLEE: You bet.

WEIR: How many you got now?

INSLEE: We have a ways to go.

WEIR: If you keep this topic in the debate, in the minds of voters, even though you're polling less than one percent, is that a victory, or for you are you really thinking you got a shot at the Oval Office?

INSLEE: No. My intent is to serve as president of the United States.

WEIR: Recent polls show that Iowa Democrats now list climate change next to health care as a top concern. And after disasters like this, you would think even skeptical Republicans might join them.

So do you have water service here now?

RON PERRY, MECHANIC, HAMBURG, IOWA: No. We have no water and no heat.

WEIR: But Ron Perry down at the Risky Business Auto Shop is not buying what the governor is selling.

WEIR: The governor is here because he believes that all of this damage is the direct result of climate change. Do you see it that way?

PERRY: No, absolutely not. I blame it on the Corps of Engineers, totally.

INSLEE: You can't expect the Army Corps to solve this problem if the Trump -- when the President of the United States is telling them to ignore clear science.

WEIR: How do you convince a guy like Ron to vote for you?

INSLEE: Well, I don't know for sure. Not every -- I don't expect everyone to vote for me just well over 50 percent.

WEIR: No, I get that. But you know, you use the moonshot analogy. When Kennedy said, we're going to the moon, Republicans didn't argue that there's no moon, and this is a million moonshots put together.

INSLEE: Well, I tell you, the way you do it is you defeat Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been telling folks that this is a Chinese hoax and when you have someone that is so willfully ignorant. That person has to be removed from public life and that's what I intend to do.

Look, what wins support here is a recognition of economic growth and vitality. The fact that we've got jobs and, wind turbines, and solar power and electric cars, and batteries, you don't have to have an argument about parts per million of carbon if you've got a lot of people going to work, and that's my message.

[16:55:19] WEIR: Since his state just rejected a tax on carbon, that would be an ambitious future. This is the grim present, a dying town, planting season in peril, and another flood warning in the forecast. Bill Weir, CNN, Hamburg, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks, as always, to Bill Weir for that report. Any moment now, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going to lead a call -- a conference call with House Democrats to decide whether impeachment is the right way forward for the Democratic Party. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)