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Update on Sri Lanka Bombings; Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media; Colorado Man Killed in Sri Lankan Attack; Trump and Sons Sue Congress; Armed Militia Detains Migrants. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:09] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim Sciutto has the day off.

And we begin with this tragic breaking news.

Police and troops in Sri Lanka this morning are scrambling still to put an end to that horrific terror attack that the government admits it should have been able to prevent.

Take a look at this.

All right, that was the scene this morning near one of the churches, the catholic churches that was bombed on Easter morning, along with three luxury hotels in several cities. Unlike those explosions on Easter Sunday, which killed at least 290 people, this one was set off by police after they spotted a bomb in a van. At about the same time, police uncovered 87 detonated as a bus depot.

Still, no claim of responsibility, but U.S. officials say these attacks seemingly were inspired by ISIS.

The Sri Lankan government says it is, quote, very, very sorry that it failed to act on multiple warnings that terror attacks could be coming.

Let's go to my colleague, Sam Kiley. He joins us now from the Sri Lankan capital.

Sam, this is devastating. Our heart is with all of them right now.

What can you tell us in terms of what investigators are saying and the response? And this -- I mean huge admission from the government that they missed this.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An amazing admission, really, Poppy, isn't it? And the reason for that is that members of the legislature, indeed ministers themselves, have been leaking against their own government since almost day one of this atrocity on Sunday, Easter Sunday. First, with a memo from -- which was written by the assistant

inspector general of police to his colleagues warning that Sri Lankan intelligence had information that indicated that a suicide attack of some kind was being planned. That was about nine or ten days before the atrocities. And then earlier in that month, we understand from officials here, they had intelligence from an international intelligence organization warning of a complex attack of the sort that we did indeed see unfold. Three churches, three hotels attacked, and then two more explosions during police operations against suspects, one at a house and one at a hotel. That was all on Easter Sunday.

On top of that, as you say, there's been this controlled explosion of another device here in the capital, Colombo, and this mystery of the 87 detonators. Now, detonators are absolutely critical, clearly, to plotting any kind of terrorist attack, getting hold of explosives quite easy or making them -- making them go off requires commercially produced detonators. Very hard to make them at home.

So this is a significant development in the context of the United States suggesting that there was an Islamist connection, but so far no Sri Lankan official, Poppy, has said that, only that this must have been part of a more multinational than just local plot.


HARLOW: OK, Sam Kiley, we really appreciate you being there, and thank you for that reporting.

Let me go now to Matthew Rosenberg, national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

So many questions, Matthew, for you this morning. And I guess I'm just going to begin on, why now. I mean since, you know, the civil war there ended in 2009, you had basically a decade of relative calm. Why now and what does this tell you?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Sri Lanka has very deep sectarian divisions. I mean the civil war there was between the majority, which were Sinhalese, they're mostly Buddhists, and the Tamil Tigers, who are Hindu. There's also a Muslim minority. There has been violence against that minority. And political leaders on all sides have kind of sought to whip up and make those sectarian appeals in an effort to kind of promote (ph) themselves and, you know, this is the result of that, you end up seeing violence.

HARLOW: Are you surprised that there has not been an official claim of responsibility yet?

ROSENBERG: No, not entirely. You know, when I hear people say, well, it looks like it's ISIS inspired --

HARLOW: Right.

ROSENBERG: What is ISIS is a question at this point. If you or I carry out an attack and we say it was ISIS or were ISIS-inspired, it doesn't really say much. And, look, Sri Lanka also has a long history of attacks of terror.

During the 20-year rebellion of the Tamil Tigers, that was the separatist group, the Tamil separatist group ran, you know, they helped perfect the suicide vest. They even had a squad that they called the Black Tigers, which was their suicide squad. So this is, in some ways, the attackers are now and violence in Sri Lanka is -- you know, if it's an Islamic plot is new to Sri Lanka, but terror -- acts of terror in Sri Lanka are not new.

HARLOW: So the -- the authorities in Sri Lanka are looking namely at this group that certainly before yesterday I had never heard of. I think most Americans hadn't heard of it, the National Thowfeek Jamaath, right?


HARLOW: They've been known in Sri Lanka for vandalizing Buddhist statues, et cetera, but that was the extent of it. I mean is that a group that you think is equipped to carry out so many deadly, coordinated attacks?

[10:05:10] ROSENBERG: Look, I think most people anywhere in the world hadn't heard of them before yesterday.

HARLOW: Right.

ROSENBERG: It depends. You know, like I said, these things aren't that hard to make. And Sri Lanka has a long experience with people making suicide vests, making explosives. That knowledge exists on the island. It also exists elsewhere. It's easy to transmit. The detonators that Sam pointed out, those are hard to come by. But, again, you can obtain them.

And Sri Lanka wasn't ready for this. You know, I have stayed in two of those hotels that were attacked.


ROSENBERG: Neither one had any serious security because, you know, there was no history of this kind of thing. It wasn't something that you thought you had to worry about.

HARLOW: Right. All right, Matthew Rosenberg, we appreciate the expertise, as always. Thank you, my friend.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

HARLOW: So, right now, all of social media in Sri Lanka has been blacked out by the government. The government's censoring sites like Facebook and Instagram in an effort to stop the flow of misinformation about the attacks.

Let's bring in my colleague, Brian Stelter, our chief media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

That's big. It's not the first time the government of Sri Lanka has done this.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: No, and it shows that countries all around the world are making these choices about the cost of social media versus the benefits. And it's a very different debate depending on the country. Here in the United States, with a long history of freedom of speech and protections of freedom of speech --

HARLOW: Right.

STELTER: This would be a shocking move. In other countries, like Sri Lanka, less shocking. In India, for example, there's been a scourge of misinformation. There's been instances where people get hyped up based on lies on social media and they commit acts of violence.

So there was a fear in neighboring Sri Lanka that inflamed tensions and fear and heightened concerns of what's going on there would cause additional violence, additional emergencies. And that is according to the government why they decided to turn off these sites temporarily.

But it is a drastic move and it shows that many different countries are struggling with what to do with social media.

HARLOW: Yes. Obviously, this comes in the wake of the horrific attack in New Zealand --


HARLOW: Where that viral video of the attack was spread so rapidly on social media.

What is the Sri Lankan government going to do in terms of when it determines, OK, now we -- you know, we deem it appropriate to turn it back on.

STELTER: Right, acceptable. And this is day two. And according to companies that monitor these sorts of things, the Internet is still very much slowed down in Sri Lanka and these sites are still very hard to access.

And here's what one tech expert, Ivan Sigal, wrote on Twitter. He said -- he pointed out the difference between a few years ago versus today --


STELTER: In terms of how companies are reacting. A few years ago we'd view the blocking of social media sites after an attack as outrageous censorship. Now we think of it as an essential duty of care to protect ourselves from threat.

Now, that's a view from a skeptic, a critic of these social media giants saying they're not doing enough -- they're not doing enough to protect users from misinformation and actual fake stories that spread in the wake of emergencies.

Facebook, however, says, hey, we use our site -- our site is used to connect loved ones and friends and family after emergencies. This is exactly when you need social media --


STELTER: In order to communicate you're safe, your family is safe.

HARLOW: Are they --

STELTER: So that's definitely the tension.

HARLOW: Are they responding this morning, Facebook, which, of course, owns Instagram, about Sri Lanka specifically?

STELTER: Right, Facebook --

HARLOW: Are they saying we oppose this or --

STELTER: Right, Facebook owns Instagram, of course the main Facebook site and WhatsApp --


STELTER: Which is oftentimes used nowadays in many of these countries to spread misinformation. They are saying they're working hard as ever to try to stamp out misinformation, to try to report it, flag it. This is the daily game of Whack-a-Mole --


STELTER: That has real world consequences.

HARLOW: I assume they don't like their sites being shuttered there, right?

STELTER: That's right.

HARLOW: All right, Brian, thank you very much for the reporting.

All right, we now know a man who lived in Colorado has been identified as one of the victims killed in this series of attacks.

Let's go to my colleague, Scott McLean. He joins us live in Denver.

What can you tell us about him?


So we know that there have been four Americans at least killed in Sri Lanka in these Easter attacks. And the first one we can now identify as 40-year-old Dieter Kowalski. He is originally from Wisconsin. He had been living in Denver. And initially in the hours after this, colleagues of his had reached out to our CNN social media team saying that his -- they were having trouble getting in touch with him. His phone had been answered by police. And that's when they really started getting worried about him.

We now have confirmation from both his brother Derick (ph) and from his company, Pearson Education, that he was in fact one of those victims.

His brother put out a very brief statement on Facebook saying that he saw his friends as his family, and, quote, we have all lost a brother today. The CEO of Pearson, it is an educational publishing company, also put out a statement saying that he was killed at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel just after arriving on the ground there when one of those bombs went off. He said that he had been doing engineering type work and that he was -- he took pride in his work. He was a -- fun to be around. He was a problem solver that you could really give your biggest engineering challenges to and he would jump right in and fix them.

[10:10:00] We also know that this was not his first time in Sri Lanka. He had gone there previously on a work trip as well. The company says it has about 800 employees or so in Sri Lanka. They also have, obviously, an operation here in Denver as well. They are doing what they can to support those colleagues.

But, again, we're learning more about Dieter Kowalski, but we know, at least at this point, Poppy, that both his company and his brother are confirming that, sadly, he is one among the victims here.

HARLOW: OK, our thoughts with his family, of course.

And, again, big headline, four Americans killed in this series of attacks.

Scott, thank you for the reporting.

All right, to politics. We're also following breaking news this morning. The president, along with the Trump Organization, suing to stop a congressional committee from getting its hands on their financial records.

Plus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a conference call with Democrats today to discuss what they do in the wake of the Mueller report. Is impeachment off the table completely?

And the FBI arrests a member of a U.S. armed -- of an armed group of U.S. citizens who are allegedly rounding up and detaining migrants at the border. Human rights groups call it kidnapping. A member of the ACLU will join us.


[10:15:37] HARLOW: All right, breaking news. CNN has learned that the president and his sons are suing Congress. This is an effort to stop House Democrats from obtaining the president's financial records.

Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with more.

So, what can you tell us? Big deal.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this -- this -- yes, indeed it is, Poppy. This all came after Michael Cohen, the president's former attorney, longtime personal fixer, testified before the House Oversight Committee and alleged that the president improperly and potentially illegally inflated his net worth as he tried to purchase the Buffalo Bills football team.

Now, afterwards, Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the committee, sought to get information from the accounting firm that would have financial data of then individual private citizen Donald Trump and determine whether or not Michael Cohen's allegations were correct. Well, that film, Mazar, came back and said, we'll comply, but you need to issue a subpoena first. So Cummings turned around and issued a subpoena. Now, the Trump legal team pushing back, saying that the company should not comply with the subpoena because in the view of the Trump Organization, that exceeds constitutional limits.

Now, in this lawsuit that was filed in D.C. federal court in D.C. today, it says, because Chairman Cummings' subpoena to Mazar threatens to expose plaintiff's confidential information and lacks a legitimate legislative purpose, this court has the power to declare it invalid and to enjoin its enforcement.

Now, they -- this lawsuit goes on to say that the subpoena is the, quote, weapon of choice of Democrats. They say there's no reason for them seeking this. But only ratcheting up the stakes and the fights between the House Democrats, who are not getting much compliance or any compliance from the White House over a range of its investigations. They've tried to go to individual firms to try to get data, financial data. Separate committees are subpoenaing banks for other information involving the Trump Organization.

But you see the new tactical here launched by the Trump Organization, try to prevent those companies from complying with Congress. We'll see what the courts ultimately say, but a pretty dramatic move this morning to try to prevent these records from being turned over to House Democrats.


HARLOW: Indeed, fascinating. Manu, thanks very much.

Let's talk about this with former FBI special agent and legal analyst Asha Rangappa, and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu.

OK, so, Shan, let me begin with you. Is there any precedent for this?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not aware of any precedent, and I haven't had a chance to actually look at the complaint. But from what little I've seen of it, what's interesting is the president's suing in his personal capacity, as opposed to having White House Counsel do anything.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: And they're seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

What's important about that is for the injunctive relief to occur -- and an injunction is something which blocks an action or forces an action -- they're going to have to show -- they have to do a preliminary injunction first, and that standard requires them to show a substantial likelihood of success. So it's going to be decided very quickly on that legal issue. And I think he's going to have a tough uphill battle on that point because I think it's hard to challenge the legitimacy of Congress' oversight ability.

HARLOW: OK. And so, to that point, this is, again, filed in district court in D.C.

Asha, in terms of the legitimacy here of this, you know, congressional reach or ask, if you will, here's what the Trump Organization said. Our Cristina Alesci just got a statement from Trump Org general counsel Alan Garten. Quote, it's an unprecedented overreach of congressional authority.

I suppose that's going to be up to the courts.

Is it?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think -- I agree with Shan that this is going to be an uphill battle for the president, for three reasons.

So, first of all, Congress has the power to tax under the Constitution --

HARLOW: Right.

RANGAPPA: Which also gives them oversight power over, you know, tax fraud, tax evasion, enforcement of the tax laws. But more specifically, this particular law was passed in 1924, the law that they are requesting these tax returns under. After a major scandal called the Teapot Dome Scandal, which involved corruption within the executive branch. And the idea here was to create the ability for Congress to be able to see tax returns of public officials to identify potential conflicts of interest or issues that are compromising their behavior, which is exactly what's going on here.

[10:20:02] And the third reason is, these are third-party records. They belong to an accounting firm. These are not coming from Trump or the IRS himself, and so there could be a standing issue on whether he can actually stop these from coming out.

HARLOW: Oh, that's interesting, even though they are his returns or corporate -- his corporations' returns, since they've been, you know, farmed out, if you will, to an outside accounting firm, will he have standing? Well, that's really interesting.

Shan, so there's the president as a like, you know, a civilian and a citizen and the personal side here, and then there's him in the office. Is there a distinction here on what they can -- you know, where they may have more -- Congress may have more of this authority to request him, you know, during his time in office, than beforehand. I'm just wondering if you think the courts will see that separately, and/or will they see the president himself personally and the Trump Org records separately? WU: I think there is a distinction, but I think it's actually going to

hurt the president because, as Asha was pointing out, that particular law was passed so Congress can look into these issues. And this is the perfect setting for it.

And the fact that he is a sitting president, I think, only adds to the oversight authority. And as an atmospheric, when the court looks at that, I think they're going to look at this differently than if, you know, Congress was like subpoenaing some shop owner's records --

HARLOW: Right.

WU: And the shop owner saying this is a terrible invasion of my privacy. Trump, by nature of his office, there's a very strong public interest in it. And, of course, some of these themes with the potential conflicts of interest also go along with the whole emoluments clause lawsuit that's going on as well. So I think all of that's going to weigh in favor of Congress being able to use the law.

HARLOW: Asha, let me ask you this, though, does -- does the president, his legal team, Trump Org, need to win on this to be successful, or do they win simply by being able to tie it up in the courts, right? If they don't get the ruling they want in the district court, appeal it up to the appellate court. It could go as high as the Supreme Court, right? I mean is that a win, just run out the clock here?

RANGAPPA: Right. I think what Shan mentioned about the injunction will be key. So if the court determines that it's likely to succeed on the merits and issues an injunction, then, yes, it will tie it up and then you'll -- there will be some appeals. But I -- I actually think that this kind of issue would move fairly quickly, I think, because of, you know, the fact that it's essentially two branches of the government and it involves public interest issues and because Congress has, you know, a very broad oversight authority. But I do think that part of the strategy here is to tie up the issue so that they cannot come out.

HARLOW: OK. Shan, before we go, let me just get you on something different. And if anyone missed this great interview that Jake Tapper did yesterday with the president's private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, they should go back and watch the entire thing.

This really struck me when Jake kept asking him about Don McGahn and the three times that Don McGahn told Mueller's team, look, the president told me to, you know, fire the special counsel. Here's how Rudy Giuliani explains the whole thing.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The guys' got three different versions of something as important as this. You know what you do? You say, I can't rely on him.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": Are you suggesting McGahn is lying?

GIULIANI: No, I'm telling you he's confused. TAPPER: So he's confused.

GIULIANI: He gave three different versions.

TAPPER: So, let me ask you a question. McGahn --

GIULIANI: But the special prosecutor comes to the conclusion he's definitively telling the truth.


HARLOW: I mean they're different words, Shan, but if you go back like we did and you read the special counsel's report and the three times that McGahn is quoted here and saying -- he's saying the same thing, right, the meaning the same thing. How effective do you think Rudy Giuliani, though, is for the president in the court of public opinion on this?

WU: I think, as always, as you're pointing out, Poppy, his point here is not a legal strategy, it's a PR strategy. So to the extent that he gets on air and makes these arguments, I think he's being as effective as he can be towards those folks who want to believe the president.

The problem with what he's saying legally, of course, is that's exactly why you would want McGahn to come and testify. If there's anything that seems inconsistent or confusing, you're going to want him to testify before Congress to fully explain that.

HARLOW: Right.

WU: So that's kind of going to end up backfiring for Giuliani.

But as far as a PR statement, I mean it's fine to say he's got inconsistent statements. He's unreliable. But as a legal strategy, I just don't think that takes him very far.

HARLOW: All right, thank you both. Asha, Shan, nice to have you. We appreciate it.

Next, this story. Armed men at the U.S./Mexico border are rounding up and detaining migrants. The group's not affiliated with Customs and Border Protection or federal authorities at all. So who are they?


[10:29:20] HARLOW: All right, in just a few hours, a member of an armed militia group accused of detaining hundreds of migrants will be in court in front of a judge. The FBI arrested Larry Mitchell Hopkins last week. He is a member of a United Constitutional Patriots, a group that has been stopping migrants at the U.S./Mexico border before turning them over to U.S. border patrol.

Our Nick Valencia has more on who this group is and why they're causing such a stir on the border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). U.S. border patrol. What are you guys doing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The man speaking in the video is not a border patrol agent, but he appears to be acting like one. Here he gives commands to the migrant group, some of them children, which he has just intercepted.

[10:30:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Yes. There you go.

VALENCIA: The clips were posted to the Facebook page of Jim Benvie, a member of the United Constitutional Patriots