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Sri Lanka Government Suspects International Terrorists behind Attacks; Democrats Hold Call on Mueller Report; Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) is Interviewed about the Mueller Report. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:16] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it is the top of the hour. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has the day off.

And we begin this hour in Sri Lanka, where more than -- more than a day after 290 people were killed in these coordinated series of bomb attacks, the horrors are still unfolding there.

All right, that is what police are calling a controlled detonation near a church that was already devastated from the bomb attacks yesterday. It happened while police elsewhere in the capital were seizing dozens of detonators at a bus station.

So far no group has claimed responsibility, but the Sri Lankan government, which first accused a home grown Islamist group, now says an internal network must have taken the lead. The government also admits that it failed to act on numerous warnings that terror attacks could be coming. And now, this morning, the government says it is, quote, very, very sorry. The blast hit three churches and three luxury hotels in fairly quick succession on Easter morning.

Our coverage begins with my colleague Ivan Watson in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, where we're getting new headlines almost by the minute.

Ivan, what can you tell us at this hour?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, at this hour we're standing in front of one of the catholic churches, one of three that was bombed on Easter Sunday. This is St. Anthony's Shrine. The other two churches were in two completely different cities. And there's still a substantial police and military presence here. And, moments ago, the bomb squad finished investigating a number of scooters and tuk-tuks (ph) that they were worried about suspicious about. A couple of hours ago there was a massive blast here, a controlled detonation of a van that was parked, you know, barely 200 feet away from the church. And that triggered some real fear among traumatized residents of this neighborhood who witnessed their neighbors and loved ones killed in the church on Sunday morning.

The authorities have imposed a curfew. They're -- it will go into effect really in about an hour and a half here in Colombo for the second straight night. The stock exchange is closed, schools closed. Another precautionary measure, they've shut down access to social media for fear of rumors being spread at a time when they're dealing with, as the housing minister put it to me, a brand new type of terrorism that Sri Lanka has not faced before.


HARLOW: A brand new type -- a brand new type of terrorism and a big apology, as I said, Ivan, from the government this morning.

What can you tell us about the arrests so far?

WATSON: They have arrested, the police say, at least two dozen people. And, mind you that in one of the raids they conducted on Sunday afternoon, the house they were investigating, detonations went off and killed three police officers there, wounded another. And so that's why the security forces are on alert and are worried that a threat may still be out there.

We don't have details on the people that they've detained thus far, but we do know about a document between the heads of different security departments. They shared earlier this month, warning about the threat of possible suicide attacks against catholic churches, like the one right here. And those threats were attributed to a little known local Islamist group called National Tawheed Jamaat that had previously been accused of defacing Buddhist statues. It is an enormous leap logistically to go from vandalism to carrying out coordinated deadly attacks across three cities on the type of scale that we've seen here, which is why the health minister has suggested this must have had some kind of international terrorist links.


HARLOW: That's right. That's right. Ivan, thank you very much for all that reporting there from the Sri Lankan capital. We'll get back to you soon.

We are learning more about the group that may be behind the attack, the one that Ivan just mentioned.

Let's go to the Pentagon. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is there.

Barbara, what can you tell us about the group that Ivan just mentioned -- I think for many people waking up this morning, this is the first time they have heard of that group -- and what else you're learning in terms of who may have been behind it.


I have to tell you that a U.S. official says -- who is familiar with this latest information, he says, this official, that the latest initial assessment is this group, the attackers, were inspired by ISIS. That is a very significant development if this initial assessment pans out, inspired by ISIS, not necessarily directed directly by them, but inspired by the ISIS movement to carry this out.

[09:05:17] Look, the complexity of the attack, multiple cities, multiple attackers, this takes organization, money, planning. It takes a lot of people adhering to a certain ideology. So this is something that the U.S. believes is the initial assessment that ISIS inspired these attackers and this attack.

The U.S. now, the State Department, warning Americans in Sri Lanka to be very careful. There could be additional attacks at any time. Telling Americans to be careful being in hotels, restaurants, public spaces, tourist areas.

And we also now know the name of one man, Dieter Kowalski, who resided in the United States, in Colorado, he was killed in this attack. His employer this morning, Pearson, remembering him as being big hearted and a fun loving man, a very loyal employee of that company.

The Sri Lankan government, of course, as Ivan just reported, continuing to investigate all of this. But if ISIS is proved to have inspired this attack, this is going to be a very serious warning for the west. This is what they've been worried about, that ISIS is able to reach out to countries far beyond its traditional areas of Syria and Iraq. A lot of concern about how all of this happened.


HARLOW: And I think, Barbara, that's such an excellent point, it goes to the argument that even though there has been such success in shrinking the size of ISIS and the territory of ISIS, right, in that region, still how far do the tentacles reach beyond and what inspiration can they cause?

We appreciate the reporting, Barbara, thank you.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, just moments ago, saying this is America's fight, too. That is a quote from him.

Let me bring in my experts. Terrorism expert and CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen is here, as well as Jimmie Oxley, explosive expert from the University of Rhode Island.

Peter, you are, you know, at the front of knowing what inspires attacks like this. Barbara's reporting that this may have been ISIS- inspired. But also this -- this little known group that Ivan just reported on, National Tawheed Jamaat (ph), again, mainly known for doing things such as vandalizing Buddhist statues.

Do you think it could carry out something like this?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't know, but I'd be very surprised if it was just this group. I mean this group has had no profile at all. And, in fact, what's interesting, Poppy, is, ISIS has had really scant ability to recruit in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan officials say that 32 Sri Lankans had joined ISIS. This was in 2016. Well, compare that to say Tunisia, where 6,000 Tunisians joined ISIS. Or even France, where 1,500 French citizens joined ISIS. So the ISIS kind of profiled inside Sri Lanka is pretty -- has been historically quite small.

So if indeed, as Barbara is reporting, that this is ISIS-inspired, or as the Sri Lankan government is saying, that this is connected to an international terror network --


BERGEN: You know, that is pretty sobering because, you know, we could see other kinds of similar kinds of attacks taking place.

HARLOW: Jimmie, the devastation that we've seen just from these pictures, and then the controlled detonation that, you know, the authorities have done in the wake of this, what do the scenes of devastation tell you about the type of explosives that have been used, and maybe what that could tell us about the bombers?

JIMMIE OXLEY, EXPLOSIVES EXPERT, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND: Well, the devastation itself could be many things. Even in this country we see a hot water heater going bad and taking out a house. What we're looking for now is actually the fragment of the container, the initiating device. And you also have to think about what is available. Usually we look for materials that might be ready available in the country --

HARLOW: Right.

OXLEY: Whether that be a fertilizer-type bombing. I'm thinking, though, that when we saw the bombing in Bali a number of years ago, that material was ordered in, in large scale, the -- for that particular device.

The initiating system is going to be quite telling and the fact that they had controlled detonation means that there was forensic evidence to collect.

HARLOW: Right.

Peter, I was stunned this morning to wake up to the message from the government apologizing.


HARLOW: I mean admitting, so soon after this attack, that they had missed multiple warning signs. Quote, we saw the warnings and we saw the details given. We are very, very sorry.

How can you miss something like this? How can intelligence miss these multiple warnings?

[09:10:04] BERGEN: Well, you know, there's always a lot of signals. The question is, you know, what are -- what -- what's noise and what's really the important signal to look at.


BERGEN: I mean but if you think back to the summer of 2001, Poppy, the CIA was repeatedly warning in memos that were circulated inside the U.S. government about a potential attack. Where and when that attack was going to happen that would -- they didn't have the level of detail. But to me it was very refreshing that a government actually apologized, you know, so quickly. We don't tend to see a lot of that these days.


BERGEN: Taking responsibility for this, you know, for this lapse.

HARLOW: That's true. But I think, Peter, the question then becomes, OK, what needs to change in the intelligence protocol? What would --


HARLOW: If you were advising the Sri Lankan authorities right now, what would you say to them?

BERGEN: Well, they're in a tough spot. I mean I wouldn't be advising them, but I would make this observation that, you know, the terror -- they had a terrible problem with terrorism, including suicide terrorism, throughout the long civil war, which ended a decade ago. And they basically felt that they, you know, that they had got the terrorism problem sort of sorted out. And, you know, I -- I'm not defending this lapse, but I am saying they had reason to not -- this kind of terrorism by their own account is sort of unprecedented. And it is just human nature to kind of close the door after the horse has bolted the barn.

And that was true in the United States after 9/11. We -- you know, you no longer could get, you know, through an open cockpit door on a plane.

HARLOW: Right. Right.

BERGEN: And so I think this is just the nature of how these things happen, which is that, you know, an event happens and then the protocols change. But the protocols don't change before the actual event.

HARLOW: Yes. That's a really important point.

Jimmie, to you finally, what will be done with the materials that the authorities are gathering right now? I mean obviously we saw that controlled detonation they just had to do a few hours ago. What now?

OXLEY: Well, it will go back to their forensic lab where there will be a lot of photography taken. There is always a chance that there are fingerprints on the device, especially if there's any tape or packaging to look at, so physically looking at the material. And then, of course, the standard chemical analysis, generally GC or LCMS, to look at what material was used.

But more important is to try to figure out who had that material and track it back to the suspects.

HARLOW: Yes. Right. And if this is the first of more plans that they may have had. Again, you have, you know, 290 people killed, hundreds and hundreds injured and that death toll may rise.

We appreciate the expertise. Peter Bergen, Jimmie Oxley, thank you both.

Hours from now, to politics here in the United States, hours from now Democrats hold a high-stakes call after the Mueller report. The big question, do they push on impeachment?

Plus, talk about building anticipation. Former Vice President Joe Biden finally officially going to announce that he's running for president. How will he shake up this crowded race?

And the video went viral. Now a Florida deputy is under investigation after he appears to slam a teen's head into the ground. Look at that. We'll talk about it ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing!

He's bleeding!




[09:17:18] HARLOW: Hours from now, House Democrats will hold a pretty critical phone call on their reaction to the Mueller report, right, and what do they do next. This as key party leaders wrestle with the decision of whether to move forward with articles of impeachment against the president.

Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with more.

I mean the divide is wide between leadership and folks like, you know, Rashida Tlaib and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. You wonder if they can come to an agreement on all this.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Democratic leaders want to make very clear that they want to move forward on the investigative front. They want to look into potential obstruction of justice, have hearings in the House Judiciary Committee, bring in Bill Barr, the attorney general, bring in Bob Mueller, the special counsel, bring in potentially others, including Don McGahn, the former White House counsel. Even as the base, the Democratic base is pushing very hard for impeachment. Some in the Democratic caucus also believe it's time to start discussing impeachment. That is not the route that Democratic leaders at the moment want to go down.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, made very clear in the last several days, including yesterday, he wants to bring in some key players as part of this investigation into obstruction of justice. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We have to hear from Barr. We have to hear from Mueller. We have to hear from other people, like Don McGahn, whom we're going to call. We have to get the entire report, including the redacted material, so we can evaluate it and so the American people can know what was going on and can make judgment.


RAJU: So tonight they'll discuss this in that evening conference call about their plans going forward. Expect that leadership and the chairman to lay out what they want to do in terms of hearings in the days and weeks ahead.

And on the Republican side, much different. In fact, I just had a chance to talk to one member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Joni Ernst of Iowa, who is here in the Senate. She told me that she does not think that the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee will look into these matters much further. She said they're going to focus on judges. She said the House is, quote, all over this. And I said, would you want to bring in Bob Mueller in the Senate Judiciary Committee. She told me, I didn't know if that is necessary. So you're seeing a clear division about how this is going to go down in the weeks ahead. House Democrats, of course, trying to pursue it pretty aggressively.


HARLOW: That's really interesting, Joni Ernst's comments say a lot there, right. You -- you know, I'm not sure it's necessary to hear from Mueller.

All right, thank you very much, Manu, great reporting.

Let's discuss. Errol Louis is here, CNN political commentator and host of the great podcast "You Decide." If you are not subscribed, you should.

OK, so you say that Trump -- your words, Trump has long since mastered the art of distracting. But Bill Barr is going to testify for two days next week. Mueller is probably going to testify. Don McGahn, it sounds like he's going to be called. Can the president continue to distract and succeed at that, even with all of these folks up there?

[09:20:02] ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's got his A team in place, between Mr. Barr and Rudy Giuliani, who did a masterful job, frankly, on CNN --

HARLOW: He really did, didn't he?

LOUIS: And a bunch of other shows, and just throwing smoke. You know, I mean, saying it's really about Obama, it's really about the Clintons, there needs to be an investigation, this is all fake. You know, he uses his Twitter feed aggressively just to sew doubts and so forth. And that's actually what they have to do at this point because, you know, it's early, but there's been one Reuters poll of all American adults. So we don't know how, you know, representative it is, but it's a whole lot of people. And, you know, 47 percent are saying the president should resign. Forty percent are saying that impeachment is proper. That breaks down obviously along partisan lines if you start to go a little bit deeper. But the reality is, the more people hear about this, the less confident they are about this White House.

HARLOW: Can I ask you, though, about what the Democratic Party in the House does, right? So we know where Steny Hoyer stands, the number two. We know where Pelosi stands and sort of how cautious they've been on this. Even Jerry Nadler yesterday on "Meet the Press" didn't go as far as to say, yes, we should move forward with impeachment. Now you've got that. But then you've got Representative Alexandra Ocasio- Cortez or Rashida Tlaib or Ayanna Pressley, et cetera. I mean how are those two factions in the House going to come anywhere close to the same page on this?

LOUIS: You know, it's interesting. It's -- I don't even think of them as factions. I think of them as just -- political -- politically in different positions. The existing --

HARLOW: OK, but do they ever get on the same page?

LOUIS: Well, I mean, look, I think they're going to end up on the same page. And that same page is more investigation, more talk about this, but doing it in such a way that it doesn't inflame and enrage and motivate and mobilize Trump's base. So it's kind of a fine line.

HARLOW: What is that? How do you (INAUDIBLE) that? Is that a quite investigation?

LOUIS: Well, I mean, an investigation that sounds like it's responsible.


LOUIS: That doesn't sound like it's overkill.


LOUIS: That doesn't seem to be giving into sort of rhetorical excesses. And so where you see like a Jerry Nadler, believe me, he is no less liberal than any member of the United States Congress.


LOUIS: When you see him sort of trying to say responsibly and walk this line and say --


LOUIS: Look, we need to find out more, we need to find out more --


LOUIS: That's the leadership's way of saying, and I suspect it will come out of their call today, that's their way of saying, let's just keep talking about it.

HARLOW: All right. So Mitt Romney promised when he was running for Senate that he would speak out when he didn't agree with the president on something or his party. There have been very few Republicans to speak out in the way he has. He's really on an island right now in terms of his response of the Mueller report. He said he was, quote, sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by the White House, by the president.


HARLOW: Will he remain on an island?

LOUIS: I think he will remain on that island. That island is called ruby red conservative Utah, where he happens to hail from a family that's almost like Mormon royalty, right? So --

HARLOW: So he can politically do this?

LOUIS: He is in no danger. He just won election. He's got six years. You know, so he's in no danger what so ever.

Others, I think, are in a trickier position and they have all decided, almost uniformly, that they either want to get out of politics, meaning they'll take on the president head on, or they'll keep their mouth shut and sort of hope for the best and let the next person take the first bullet, let Mitt Romney step out there.

And we should also be clear, Mitt Romney is not a vote for impeachment, you know. He'll speak out. He's appalled. You know, but if you look at the number of votes he's going to cast in favor of nominees from this administration, policies put forward by this administration, he's not really an anti-Trumper.

HARLOW: And that means that you think there -- if this -- if impeachment would ever make it to the Senate, obviously it wouldn't get a two-thirds vote, but you think there wouldn't be a single Republican senator to vote (INAUDIBLE)?

LOUIS: Very few. Very, very few. Very, very few. And the reality is, I think they're going to hope to just kind of ride this out. That the 2020 elections are not shaping up for them. It's a very tough map for them as far as the Senate candidates who are going to have to run. It's going to be very tough for them with these polls that are starting to emerge. And with a charged up Democratic-led House that's going to extend these hearings and this inquiry as long as they possibly and responsibly can. I mean you're surest indicator, Poppy, is that we're about to get the 20th candidate. You know, everybody from --

HARLOW: I know.

LOUIS: The former vice president to every town supervisor in America seems to think that this president is vulnerable. There's a reason that they're thinking that.

HARLOW: Five of them will be on CNN tonight.


HARLOW: Five back-to-back town halls.

LOUIS: With more to come, I bet.

HARLOW: More to come.

Errol Louis, thank you very, very much.

If Democrats do decide to pursue impeachment, it would start in the Judiciary Committee. Up next, I'm joined by the vice chair of that committee. Let's talk about where she stands.

And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Another busy week for corporate earnings. Investors will be watching some key economic reports due out in just minutes on existing home sales for March.

Stay with us.


[09:29:03] HARLOW: Move on or fight, fight, fight is a big decision that Democrats will make. They'll have a call over it today, in just a few hours.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania. She serves as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee.

A busy few weeks ahead of you, congresswoman. Thanks for being with me.


HARLOW: All right, so let's begin here. You're an attorney. Based on your experience in the legal field, based on what you read in the Mueller report, do you believe the president's offenses are impeachable?

SCANLON: You know, I think we still have to do work on that. The Mueller report lays out that Mueller was unable to clear the president of obstruction of justice and then he gives us roadmap. His -- that whole second volume of his report is essentially a prosecutorial charging document in which he lays out the evidence that he found of obstruction of justice in at least ten different instances. And then he gives us more. He gives us 14 other criminal prosecutions that he had to refer out because they were beyond the scope of his report.

[09:30:08] HARLOW: Right.