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Coordinated Bombings In Sri Lanka; President Trump, His Sons And The Trump Organization Now Suing House Democrats; Democratic Field For President Is The Largest In History. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2019 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there and thank you for being with me on this Monday. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We begin with the breaking news on the coordinated bombings in Sri Lanka that killed at least 290 people and injured at least 500 others making it one of the deadliest terror attacks since September 11.

Just moments ago, a Sri Lanka government minister told CNN, U.S. and Indian Intelligence Agencies warned about imminent attacks, but that the Country's Prime Minister was unaware and was kept in the dark. The Sri Lankan government is now apologizing after admitting it failed to act on multiple warnings prior to the deadly Easter blasts.

Explosions went off at three churches during worship services there while suicide bombers targeted four luxury hotels. At least four U.S. citizens are among the dead according to one U.S. official and we are just learning the identities of two of them -- a fifth grader from Washington D.C. His name Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa and Dieter Kowalski who was on a business trip from Denver. He was an employee of Pearson Textbook Publishing.

This dash cam video purports to show the moment when bombs went off at St. Anthony's Cathedral, the windows now pulverized glass and rubble. At St. Sebastian's church, recovery crews are lining up clothing and shoes to help identify the dead. And the Sri Lankan government has decided to temporarily blocked social media sites including Facebook, Instagram, which they say have been recently used to incite violence in the country. But the outage has made it difficult for some to make contact with loved ones who are still missing.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

And Will, tell me more about the attack and who are investigators thinking was behind it.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Brooke, you don't need to look any further than this road right here, Galle Face Drive, which is normally a very busy, you know, bustling tourist filled thoroughfare, and yet it is dead empty tonight, aside from the police and heavily armed security officers and soldiers who are out here on patrol because there's a curfew in effect throughout the city.

People don't want to go outside. They don't want to be in public areas, because they don't know if this terror network that their government is now telling them about, telling them that that the government was warned about and ignored the warnings, they don't know if it's going to strike again.

And so at this stage, what we know is that six suicide bombers have been identified. These are guys who were seen on security video wearing backpacks walking into high-end hotels, the Shangri La, just down the street there, one of them which is closed right now. And two others within a couple of hundred meters of where I'm standing. They walked into the hotel buffet, blew themselves up. They walked into churches full of worshipers on Easter Sunday and they blew themselves up.

They found 87 detonators at a bus station here in town. They found a six-foot pipe bomb on the main road near the airport. So they're looking for more bomb components and more importantly, Brooke, they're looking for more suspects because they don't know how big this terror group is.

The U.S. believes it is likely ISIS-inspired based on the sophistication, the shock value, the targets -- foreigners and Christians -- but they don't know if ISIS was directly involved if they are here in Sri Lanka helping to assemble the bombs. These are all unanswered questions.

And so you know, you have hotels like this one where guests have to have their luggage, you know, sniffed by bomb sniffing dogs. You know, people are nervous. This is reminding them of the 26year Civil War they had in this country that ended 10 years ago. There used to be a lot of suicide bombings. People thought that Sri Lanka had moved past that and now you have hotels and bars like this, bars that are sitting empty.

Nobody wants to come. Nobody wants to be outside. Nobody wants to be anywhere where the public is assembled, Brooke. So that is the situation on the ground here. The terrorists, at least in the short term have gotten their way. They have scare people off the streets. And there's a state of emergency expected to go into effect within the next 30 minutes.

The government trying to do everything they can to contain this situation, shutting down social media, but also shutting down the city itself. So they can go anywhere they need to go as quickly as possible to search for these suspects.

BALDWIN: Such a beautiful country and you know, popular among vacationers and 10 years of peace and now this. Will Ripley, thank you very much as we try to get some answers here. One of the six explosions took place at the Shangri La Hotel as Will said, where so many people were gathered for Easter brunch, and among the victims from that attack celebrity chef by the name of Shantha Mayadunne.

She was popular in India and the U.K. Her daughter apparently posted this image on Facebook minutes before they were both killed and those explosions.

[14:05:09] BALDWIN: And a father from the U.K., Ben Nicholson just confirmed that his wife, Anita, 14-year-old son, Alex; and 11-year-old daughter, Annabel were all killed in the blast and he released a statement, and I want to read it in full for you, he wrote, "Anita was a wonderful, perfect wife and a brilliant loving and inspirational mother to our two wonderful children.

Alex and Annabel were the most amazing, intelligent, talented and thoughtful children, and Anita and I were immensely proud of them both and looking forward to seeing them develop into adulthood. They shared with their mother, the priceless ability to light up any room they entered and bring joy to the lives of all they came into contact with."

A U.S. official tells CNN that the group responsible for the attacks was inspired by ISIS. So with me now, Amar Amarasingam, he's an expert on extremism and terrorism and a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. And so Amar, thank you so much for being on with me. And we wanted to talk to you because, you know, I was reading your tweets. And you said, you have been studying this for 15 years and have never seen anything like this attack. How do you mean?

AMARNATH AMARASINGAM, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, THE INSTITUTE FOR STRATEGIC DIALOGUE: Well, it's just a tragic set of events because I study both Sri Lanka as well as terrorism more broadly. And my work on Sri Lanka is mostly dealing with, you know, the context of the war, post war reconstruction and things like that.

So when I woke up to this kind of news, it was a kind of weird worlds colliding moment for me where everything kind of came together. And we haven't seen these kinds of attacks at this scale and this caliber in Sri Lanka, since the middle of the war. It was kind of a complete and utter shock to me in terms of the number of people involved and the sophistication of the weapons and the bombs involved. So it was pretty surprising.

BALDWIN: When you add to it also the timing and the target, I mean, for people who aren't as familiar with Sri Lanka, I was looking at census data today, 7.4, just 7.4 percent of Sri Lankans are Christian. We know this happened Easter Sunday, you know, targeting Christians during one of the most holy days on the calendar? Why this target, Amar, and what would this suggest to you?

AMARASINGAM: I think the target selection is actually what is the key point that suggests to me that this was probably at least inspired by international terrorist group of some kind, whether it's Al Qaeda or ISIS.


AMARASINGAM: Local grievances, particularly -- local grievances, particularly in the Muslim community, in the Tamil community, they have really no reason to kind of target tourists at hotels and churches and things like that. The grievance of the Muslim community is largely with the state and the grievance of the Tamil community is largely with the state and there are celebrations, numerous celebrations in Sri Lanka, going on all last week, religious events all last week, and nothing happened in any of these kinds of events. And so this kind of bizarre focus on the Christian community, out of

nowhere, really suggests to me that this isn't kind of borne out of local grievances or local groups that just kind of planning and plotting locally, that there was some kind of inspiration, probably some kind of guidance coming from abroad.

But as of -- you know, I checked ISIS channels just before I came on here, and still no claim from ISIS or Al Qaeda. So it's a bizarre situation where it seems like the target selection likely points out abroad, but no group has claimed responsibility yet.

BALDWIN: Six suicide bombers, 87 detonators found by police at a bus station in town, you know, the investigators say this was highly coordinated, perhaps to your previous point. What do you make of all of that?

AMARASINGAM: Yes, I mean, Sri Lanka is not used to -- they're not kind of new to the attacks in its capital city. I mean, during the Civil War, there were countless attacks on buses and other sites in the capital city. But that was a long time ago. And we've had 10 years of relative stability, with very little bombs going off.

And so this this kind of came as a complete shock to people not only that there was an attack, but that the level of sophistication with this many people involved coming out of nowhere was, I think, quite a surprise for people.

BALDWIN: Coming out of nowhere, Amar.

AMARASINGAM: Which is why you're seeing -- sorry -- which is why you're seeing a lot of the --

BALDWIN: No, exactly, Amar Amarasingam, thank you so much for your voice in all of this. We really appreciate you. We're going to come back to this story here in the developments out of Sri Lanka.

But first, the battle lines between the Trump White House and Democrats in Congress just got more entrenched. President Trump, his sons and the Trump Organization are now suing House Democrats, and in particular House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings to block a congressional subpoena of the President's financial records.

You'll remember, the House Oversight Committee just issued that subpoena and that was just last week.

In the lawsuit, Trump's lawyers accuse House Democrats of being, quote, "Singularly obsessed with finding something they can use to damage the President politically."

Harry Litman is a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and former U.S. Attorney.

[14:10:07] BALDWIN: And Harry, is there any precedent for this kind of thing?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I'll tell you one thing there's not a precedent for, which is the President suing members of Congress personally. There's all kinds of doctrines that make it normally that the President would not sue Cummings himself. So that's very unprecedented.

The arguments are close to unprecedented. The arguments are no valid legislative purpose. It's the exact opposite, ironically, of what Trump said to defend his actions in the immigration case, "You have to defer to me," "You can't second guess." Here, he is saying no valid legislative purpose of oversight, and yet, we just -- we saw when Michael Cohen testified, there's a lot of standard oversight that Congress would be going into. So unprecedented parties and a nearly unprecedented set of arguments.

BALDWIN: Well, as we all know, Congress' job is oversight. But the President's lawyers are claiming quoting the lawsuit here that "Chairman Cummings has ignored the constitutional limits on Congress' power to investigate. Accordingly, investigations are legitimate only insofar as they further some legitimate legislative purpose." Is that Harry -- is that an accurate assessment of congressional investigative powers?

LITMAN: It's an accurate assessment, but it's easily met here. Yes, you have to have a valid legislative purpose. You can't do it for the heck of it. But it's very clear that it is broad what those purposes could be. And we have someone who has who has been misstating his income or possibly that that leads to a lot of possible concerns, and very obvious oversight responsibilities as happened with Cohen, and it's just going to be a hard slog.

And as to all the statements, again, the opposite of Trump versus Hawaii, when they said, "Ignore what I said about the Muslims and watch what I do," and here the same thing. Yes, there's political back and forth. But the question is, is there a valid legislative purpose, and you have to defer to the Congress just as you had to, to the Executive. So he's got an uphill battle?

BALDWIN: Well, you mentioned a hard slog. I mean, what's the next step for Democrats? What where does this even go?

LITMAN: Well, this particular suit goes to the District Court. And if the District Court doesn't allow it, and my best guess is a won't, they will get the subpoena, and they'll get the information from the third party, the accounting firm, that Trump is trying to keep from turning over.

Then what do they do with this financial information? That and the 438-page report and the other information they're going? That's their big political, and I would say, moral quandary. How much are they going to probe knowing the difficulties of an ultimate end game that involves impeachment? That's a really big question.

BALDWIN: Harry Litman, good to see you. Thank you very much.

LITMAN: You, too, Brooke. Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Just in, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just wrote a letter to Democrats ahead of this big conference call tonight on a potential -- Harry just mentioned it -- impeachment of President Trump here, which she says and Rudy Giuliani claims there's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians. We'll ask a retired CIA chief what he thinks about that.

And already it is the biggest field ever, now, another Democrat just jumped in as we expect even more, how does each stand out? We'll talk about that. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:17:55] BALDWIN: Up on Capitol Hill, the divide over what to do about the Mueller report how to deal with it is causing some pretty public headaches for Democrats.

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will attempt to unify her caucus when she holds a conference call at five o'clock Eastern to discuss next steps. And in a letter sent to her colleagues just moments ago, Speaker Pelosi says the President Trump has quote, "At a minimum engaged in highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior."

She goes on to address the intraparty friction adding that quote, "While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth." And she added that it is her words also important to know that the truth can be gained outside of impeachment hearings. From the House Speaker there.

But for President Trump's inner circle, the Mueller report is already in the rearview mirror and Rudy Giuliani is back in the familiar role trying to influence the court of public opinion while downplaying Mueller's findings on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.


RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: Any candidate in the whole world in America would take information --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: From a foreign source? From a hostile foreign source?

GIULIANI: Who says it's even illegal? There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.

TAPPER: There's nothing wrong with taking information --

GIULIANI: It depends on where it came from.


BALDWIN: Steve Hall is a CNN senior national security analyst and a retired Chief of Russia operations for the CIA.

Steve, good to have you back. Let me first just begin with Elie Hoenig. He is one of our CNN legal analysts and he responded to Giuliani by citing U.S. law and this is what he tweeted, "It shall be unlawful for a person to solicit, accept or receive a contribution or donation from a foreign national."

So my question for you, you know, just yes or no? Is there as Giuliani claims nothing wrong with taking information from Russia? Make your case for me.

STEVE HALL, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: There's all sorts of things wrong with it, Brooke, and you know, Giuliani himself makes the distinction in his comment there, you know, is there is there anything illegal about it or is anything wrong about it? So those are two different distinctions which you could talk about ethics and you could talk about what the law is.

[14:20:03] HALL: Look, Giuliani is either just being extremely quaint, or what he is doing is he is supporting employers in the White House. And I'll leave that to viewers to figure it out.

But if anybody came to me and said, "Hey, I'm a candidate for office," or "I'm a politician here in the United States," or "I'm considering running," or even if I'm a rich businessman, I would argue very -- that they need to be very thoughtful and very careful about who they deal with if they're talking about the Russian government, or really any other adversarial nation. The Russians are poised to take advantage of this, and they'll do it every time.

BALDWIN: But to that point, you know, when you watch the interview, when Giuliani then is pressed, and he was asked, you know, if he would take information from a foreign source, Giuliani said he probably wouldn't, and that he would have advised against it out of an abundance of caution. So why advise someone not to do something if there was, quote, "nothing wrong"?

HALL: Yes, well, there's clearly again, from a counterintelligence perspective, all sorts of things that could go wrong with that. I mean, the Russians are looking, of course, as are other adversarial nations to gain access, to gain leverage and to be able to blackmail and do all those sorts of things.

But I would argue we need to do, Brooke, in this country and I'm not a lawyer, but I would argue that what we need to do is tighten up those regulations, tighten up those statutes, tighten up those laws, so that you can't make that distinction that Giuliani tried to make, which is it, well, you know, there might be something wrong, I might not advise it. But it's not illegal.

But we have to make that stuff illegal, because it really gets into our democratic process, which is no place for Russia to be.

BALDWIN: Well, speaking of other adversarial nations, there is an election coming up. And if the President's top lawyer says that there is nothing to see here, my question is, what signal does that send to other nations, not just Russia, other nations around the world?

HALL: Sure. I mean, it's open season. And again, from a counterintelligence perspective, you just kind of shudder because everybody is going to be coming in and trying to influence and they've seen what Russia has successfully been able to do. And they've seen from the Mueller report, at least initial response that people can walk away from this and suffer maybe not significant legal consequences unless you end up getting caught lying or something like that to Congress.

But the act of actually accepting this information, and cooperating with, talking to foreign governments, when it comes to our electoral process, that's something that needs to be tightened up. And I think I would really challenge Congress to tighten up those laws, which they're going to be reticent to do because they need the money, right. That's how it works. So it's going to be a really tough, tough row to hoe.

BALDWIN: Open Season, so says Steve Hall. Steve, thank you very much. Good to have you back.

HALL: Sure.

BALDWIN: There is now a new candidate in the 2020 presidential race, and if he won, the 40-year-old Marine Corps Veteran would be the youngest President ever. But is he so different from all the rest and while the candidates may have more in common than you think.

Plus, new details on the missing five-year-old in Illinois who police say was not abducted and did not run away? What police have just told us about this little boy's mother.


[14:27:28] BALDWIN: Listen to this, by the time we get to the end of this week, a record 20 Democrats will have announced they are all running for President and we're still waiting on former Vice President Joe Biden who is also expected to announce sometime this week.

But not only is this the most diverse field in modern political history, it is also the largest surpassing now those 17 Republicans who ran for the nomination back in 2016. So we go to CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large Chris Cillizza here with a closer look at who is in and how they stand out?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Okay, this is easy, Brooke, who is in basically everyone. Problem solved. Back to you. No, okay.

BALDWIN: And we're done.

CILLIZZA: What's interesting, try to analyze this. I've snuck my head into one of these headshots. Not true. But based -- I mean, look, there's so many people running for President this does not include, by the way, this does not include Joe Biden, okay. So this does not include everyone who we expect to be in the race, as you said, by the end of the week.

A quick point here before we go on, why are there so many candidates? Why is this the largest in modern political history, and it's breaking the record set in 2016 by Republicans? Because running for President is good -- political business and good business, generally speaking.

Not everyone here is running to win. Some people are running to get their name out. And I'm just looking, you know, Seth Moulton who got in today, Massachusetts Congressman, very unlikely to win though Donald Trump is President, so I never say you can't win, but very unlikely to win, but will run will be on a debate stage, will get his name out there. Maybe if a Democrat wins the White House, he is mentioned in the administration, in the Cabinet, maybe he is mentioned as high as VP.

If a Democrat loses, he comes around again in four years and says, "I ran last time. I had a message that needed to succeed. I'm running again." So there's a top tier here -- Sanders -- Bernie Sanders, Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and I'd put Amy Klobuchar in that that top five-ish.

Everybody else running for a chance of catching fire or of being in a Cabinet or getting their name up there.

Now let's go -- because you mentioned, not just big, it is diverse across a lot of things, okay. So this is -- we have six sitting senators. Remember, there's only 47 Democratic senators. So one out of every seven of them are basically running for office.

We have six either current Members of Congress or former Members of Congress. This is fascinating to me, two mayors. We actually have four total mayors because two of the guys who are governors used to be mayors, but the big mayor that everyone's talking about is the mayor of South Bend, India, Pete Buttigieg. He will be one of the people I know, that we're having in Town Halls this evening in New Hampshire.

One former Obama administration, so two governors or former governors and two people with no political experience. This is kind of interesting over here, and I only highlight it because remember, Donald Trump was someone with no political experience, and he's currently the President of the United States.