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Violent Attacks on People of Faith Across U.S.; Anti-Defamation League Responds to Anti-Semitic Attacks; NYT: E-mails Show Mulvaney's Key Role in Halting Ukraine Aid; NYT: Bolton, Pompeo, Esper Tried to Convince Trump to Release Ukraine Aid; Interview with Former Rep. Bill McCollum, R-FL; Iran Sends Warning after U.S. Airstrikes Hit Iran- Backed Militia in Iraq & Syria. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 11:00   ET



RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

People of faith on edge this morning, following two horrific attacks over the weekend. The most recent one happening in Texas, where a gunman began shooting inside a church during Sunday services. The gunman shot two parishioners before being killed by members of the church security team. Those two parishioners died, as well.

That incident happening the day after Saturday's stabbing spree at the home of an orthodox rabbi in suburban New York. The attack there left five people injured as they gathered to celebrate Hanukkah.

A survivor who fought back against the attacker described the terrifying scene during an interview on CNN this morning.


JOSEF GLUCK, ATTACK SURVIVOR: I was sitting in the rabbi's dining room, just when the rabbi finished the candle lighting ceremony when the attacker came in.

He first stood in the entry room and started hitting people right and left with his big machete knife. I don't know what it was. And that's when I started to run out through a side door, together with all the people in the dining room.

I came back in, grabbed the coffee table that was on the floor, hit him in his face, and that's when he came back outside after me. He told me, hey, you, I'll get you.


NOBLES: We're covering both of these horrific attacks. CNN's Brynn Gingras is in Muncie, New York, and Lucy Kafanov is outside the church just west of Ft. Worth, Texas.

Let's start with Lucy.

Lucy, walk us through exactly what happened during the shooting.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ryan, it happened so quickly. Less than 24 hours ago, the gunman dressed in dark clothing walked into the church, he sat down in a back pew, he then gets up and appears to have an interaction with one of the church members before pulling out a long gun and opening fire. Two armed volunteers respond swiftly, taking him down.

The whole thing captured on camera, because those services were live streamed.

And I should warn our viewers, the footage is incredibly disturbing.





KAFANOV: The whole thing playing out over six seconds.

The reason why there were these armed church security volunteers, Ryan, was because of a previous mass shooting in 2017. And 26 people died in the Sutherland Springs Texas church shooting. In the wake of that, Texas enacted legislation, allowing licensed handgun owners to bring firearms into the church. That is why those armed volunteers responded so quickly.

The casualties could have been much higher. There was 242 people inside that church.

The volunteers being praised as heroes. Take a listen.


JEFF WILLIAMS, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: The true heroes in this are the people who were sitting in those pews. The citizens who were inside that church undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners.


KAFANOV: We're now waiting for more information regarding the motive, as well as the identity of that shooter -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Lucy, what else are you learning about the gunman at this point?

KAFANOV: Well, they haven't revealed his name, but the FBI did say that he was known as a relatively transient person, with roots in this area. We know that he's had many run-ins with the law. Multiple arrests in multiple municipalities. We also know that he hasn't been on any sort of a watch list.

So that is the bare bones information that we have at the moment. Obviously, the question everyone here is asking is why -- Ryan?

NOBLES: Lucy Kafanov, live just outside Ft. Worth, Texas. Lucy, thank you for that report.

Meanwhile, in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling the stabbing at a rabbi's home an act of domestic terrorism. He has ordered the state police Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate the attack, which comes as New York's Jewish community deals with a surge in anti- Semitic violence.

Governor Cuomo says there have been 13 anti-Semitic attacks just this month alone. CNN has been able to independently confirm 11 of them, which you can see on your screen.

Let's get now to Brynn Gingras. She is live outside the home where the stabbing took place.

Brynn, give us the latest on the investigation there.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN: Ryan, right now, we know that authorities are really trying to figure out a motive for this suspect, 38-year-old Grafton Thomas.

His home is about 30 minutes, 40 minutes from where we are here, where the rabbi's house is. So it's unclear right now to authorities why he picked this home as his target, being so far away from his house.

We know that there were investigators inside his house, taking out evidence, hopefully trying to point and paint a clearer picture of what caused all of this. But at this point, authorities are not releasing a motive.

However, this suspect's family has released a statement through his attorney, essentially saying that he is not anti-Semitic and that he has a history of mental illness, of schizophrenia, and they're trying to say that is why he went on this rampage.


Now, again, it is a rampage that has really struck this community. This particular town in Rockland County -- Rockland County has the largest Jewish population per capita in all of the United States.

So everyone here really on edge as authorities continue to try to get answers as to what caused all of this.

NOBLES: So, Brynn, can you tell me how authorities are responding to these anti-Semitic attacks?

GINGRAS: We know they're actually stepping up patrols in this area, but also at places of worship and in synagogues. But not just in this town, Ryan. It's happening all over the state. We heard Governor Cuomo talking about that, but even the mayor of New York City saying they're doing the same there.

Again, the suspect was arrested in New York City. He traveled there and was arrested about two hours after the attack happened here.

And we know about that attack that happened earlier this month in Jersey City, just how far New York City, where it was a deadly attack inside a kosher supermarket. So this whole area is really stepping up patrols.

But you pointed out, you know, before coming to me about how Governor Cuomo pointed to those incidents. This community says that they are really trying to, you know, educate, not just law enforcement, depending on law enforcement, they want to try to educate this community on how disastrous this hate can be.

NOBLES: All right. Brynn Gingras, live in Muncie, New York. Brynn, thank you for that report.

New York's Jewish community wants answers and actions after these violent incidents. The Anti-Defamation League says, quote, "New York has a growing problem. This is at least the tenth anti-Semitic incident to hit the New York area in just the last week. When will it be enough? The Jewish community is under assault. All of America must hear our cry."

And joining us now to discuss this is Oren Segal, the director of the ADL's Center on Extremism.

Oren, I want to play for you some sound from this morning from the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshippers were killed last year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And he's been talking about this fear that's prevalent in the Jewish community right now. Take a listen.


JEFFREY MYERS, RABBI, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: It made me sort of wonder, I don't recall them selling licenses to have open hunting season on Jews, but it sure can make Jews feel that way.


NOBLES: That's pretty stark. Would you agree with that assessment?

OREN SEGAL, DIRECTOR, CENTER ON TERRORISM, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: The Jewish community feels like they're under attack. And this is not something that has just transpired over the last 10 days. You know, you look back to Pittsburgh and what we just heard and Poway and Jersey City and we've had over, you know, 1,500 anti-Semitic incidents for three years in a row.

So you can understand why the Jewish community is on edge and fearful for their security and safety.

NOBLES: So we do see a lot of leaders coming together, responding to this quickly. Obviously, the governor has called it an act of domestic terrorism. Do you feel that the state of New York, the city of New York, are doing enough to combat this problem? SEGAL: Listen, it's really important that there are more patrols,

that law enforcement is doing a great job in terms of identifying some of the perpetrators.

But law enforcement is not the answer to stopping anti-Semitism. Right, if you want to really make an investment in the future, in the fight against hate, it starts with education.

And so we need to make sure, as we're doing in Brooklyn, bringing our No Place for Hate programs to that community, that you teach people at a young age how to identify hate, how to not be a bystander, and how to be an ally.

Hopefully, that moves the needle in the long-term. But certainly in the immediate, we need more protection.

NOBLES: There are so many heartbreaking aspects of this story. But one thing that really struck me is you're hearing some Jewish families afraid to put menorahs in their window during the Hanukkah season, perhaps even parade to wear a yamaka in public.

Are you hearing stories like that? Are there folks of the Jewish faith that are fearful right now to display their faith publicly?

SEGAL: We are hearing those stories. And in particular, this focuses on the orthodox community, which is just more visibly Jewish in terms of the clothes that they wear, et cetera. And that's very serious.

But I think it's really important for every story of fear and anxiety is to tell those stories of resilience. Just yesterday, in Muncie, on the eighth day of Hanukkah, they all went out into the street and they celebrated and said that we are not going to be devastated by one act.

And so those stories of resilience and the Jewish community coming together, it's not a monolithic community, we are all together in this moment, and that brings hope to be able to overcome what we are experiencing.

NOBLES: How much does the Jewish community lean on its history to help it through instances like this? This is not the first time that Jewish people have been the target over the course of history.

SEGAL: It's not the first time that Jews have been shave been the target. But this is 2019. It's not unreasonable to expect, certainly in this country, that Jews would not experience what we're experiencing.

This only way Jews have overcome over time is because we have fought against that. Sitting back is not an option.

NOBLES: The big difference between now and the instances in history has been the rise of social media and the access that those who want to espouse these awful hatred-filled views can do so on pretty large platforms. How much do you think that's contributed to that rhetoric actually turning into reality?


SEGAL: In this day and age, it's easier to find anti-Semitism than at any other time in human history. People are reaching, recruiting and radicalize through weaponizing social media, harassing, targeting Jews and others through social media.

So the volume there outpaces what we see on the ground, but the linkage is part of the story.

NOBLES: Do you think that these Silicon Valley tech companies, much like I asked you about leaders here in New York, should they be doing more to combat this type of extremism on their platforms?

SEGAL: The simple answer is, yes, they need to be doing a lot more. They need to make sure that people don't have ability to leverage and exploit their platforms wherever they want for hatred, anti-Semitism and glorification of violence.

NOBLES: Oren Segal, obviously, a very difficult time for your community. We appreciate your voice in all of this and good luck going forward.

Also, newly obtained e-mails and documents raise more questions about President Trump's inner circle and the decision to withhold aid from Ukraine.

Plus, President Trump and Vladimir Putin spoke by phone over the weekend about, quote, "matters of mutual interest." Why did it take so long for the White House to release its own summary of the call?



NOBLES: This morning, new information about two witnesses who Democrats would like to see testify in President Trump's impeachment trial, acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and former national security adviser, John Bolton.

The "New York Times" reports that Mulvaney e-mailed an aide on June 27th, saying, quote, "I'm just trying to tie up some loose ends. Did we ever find out about the money for Ukraine and whether we can hold it back?" And that the aide replied, "It would be possible, but not pretty. Expect Congress to become unhinge."

"The Times" also states that Bolton, along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a previously undisclosed meeting with President Trump and that they tried but failed to convince him that releasing the aid was in the interest of the United States.

Joining me now to talk about this, former Congressman Bill McCollum. He was once of the House members chosen to be a manager during President Clinton's impeachment trial. So he has unique insight into all of this. So, Congressman, first, given this new information in this "New York

Times" report, these e-mails showing Mulvaney's role in attempting to block that Ukraine aid, then the greater opposition to withholding aid by Bolton and some of these other top security advisers, how important now does it become for Mulvaney and Bolton to testify during the Senate impeachment trial?

BILL MCCOLLUM, (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Well, first of all, I don't think they've shed any really substantial new light, because withholding aid itself is not unusual for a president to do for various reasons. For example, in this case, ostensibly, to get the president of Ukraine to ferret out more corruption than had been done by his predecessors.

But even so, if you want to get those two to testify, I think you've got a real battle over executive privilege. They are very close to the president, they're in the White House, they're top staff.

The Democrats on the House side did not choose to pursue the court avenue to try to contest that fact. I don't think they would have success if they did, but they didn't try.

So at this point in time, I don't see them as being witnesses. I don't see them as being called or, if there's an effort to call them, I don't think it's going to go very far.

NOBLES: The point that you make there about the difference between withholding the aid for whatever reason, but tying the withholding of aid to compelling the government of Ukraine to investigate Vice President Biden, his son, that's the missing link there, right?

Wouldn't them testifying during the Senate trial at least attempt to try to close that link or eliminate that as a possibility?

MCCOLLUM: Well, certainly, I think most people feel there's a missing link, if you will here, in terms of sufficient proof. The case is very weak going over there, with respect to Article I, which is the one that says or alleges that the president withheld the aid in order to get at Vice President Biden or to do something political for his own advantage.

I don't think that the Republicans ever got to present their witnesses on the other side. It would be interesting to see a trial with witnesses.

When we tried to Clinton impeachment case, we were allowed three witnesses, only by deposition. And it was an effort to prove our case.

So if the House managers want to present witnesses, I would hope, as I had hoped in the Clinton trial, that the Senate would allow a certain number of witnesses to be presented.

If Mulvaney and Bolton could somehow be brought forward, by virtue of subpoenas that would be honored or voluntarily, that would be fine, as far as I'm concerned. But the bottom line is this, though. I don't think even if you take

on face value that the president withheld the aid in order -- in large pressure to get at a political enemy, which I don't believe is the truth -- I don't think that's what happened.

But assuming that's the case, I still don't see it rising to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor, such as you had in the Clinton impeachment trial or you had, with, for that matter, for Andrew Johnson, or you had it who was the president of the United States after Lincoln was assassinated, or in the case of Preside Nixon, which did not go to trial. But it was clear that they committed real crimes.


NOBLES: Congressman --


MCCOLLUM: And we don't see those crimes here.

NOBLES: So let me see if I can make sure I understand you 100 percent. So you're saying that if we had a convincing evidence -- and we should point out that there are many Democrats who do believe that evidence already exists. But in your mind --

MCCOLLUM: Correct.


NOBLES: -- even if there were clear evidence that linked specifically the investigation into Hunter Biden and Joe Biden to the withholding of aid, that that does not rank as a high crime and misdemeanor in your mind?

If that's the case, explain why.

MCCOLLUM: Well, it doesn't, in my mind. It does not rank as a high crime and misdemeanor, because, first of all, there's no crime here. There's an alleged abuse of power.

The fact of the matter is that the aid is being withheld and it may be offensive, it's inappropriate, it's something that you can carry to the election next year and argue that the president has done a number of things that you don't agree with.

But just withholding the aid on that basis doesn't strike me as one of those types of things that I would remove a president for. And that's really the issue.


NOBLES: But, sir, just to -- withholding the aid because you specifically want them to investigate a political enemy, isn't that involving a foreign government in our election, in the United States election? Isn't that a serious problem that goes beyond just inappropriate conduct by a president?

MCCOLLUM: Well, it's not quite the same thing as saying, hey, we want to involve the foreign government in somehow tampering with the actual election process itself. You're simply saying -- you're assuming you take the extreme and take for its face value, which, again, I do not believe you can prove that case and I don't believe they ever will.

I believe the president's motives were to have corruption more broadly investigated, because the Ukrainians had been involved in a lot of corruption and had been involved in our election in 2016, which is what really irritated that president. And they never had a chance to present those witnesses --


NOBLES: But, sir, if I could stop you --


MCCOLLUM: Assuming what you say is true --


NOBLES: But there's never been any type of established evidence that Ukraine was specifically involved in tampering with the 2016 election. The Intelligence Community has --


MCCOLLUM: Well, there has been. There has been. Actually, there have been. There was the woman operative, if you will, from the Democrat National Committee, who went over to the Ukrainian embassy, seeking evidence against the president.

You had the cooperation of the ambassador, not only on that occasion, but speaking out against Trump in that campaign.

You had things going on inside Ukraine that appear to have shown that the then-president of Ukraine was very much supportive of Mrs. Clinton's election and outspokenly trying to help to do that.

Does that mean the Russians didn't tamper? No. It's not one or the other. I would suggest that both did.

And that's why suppressing the effort to bring witnesses, not allowing the Republicans to bring the witnesses in the Intelligence Committee hearings, was a big mistake and an unfair thing.

But coming back to the facts of the case, let's assume, though, that everything is true, that the president was really withholding the aid, which he did for a little while, in an effort just to get at Biden. That alone to me is not tampering in our elections in some way with a foreign government tampering. It's asking them to investigate a possible corruption.

Let's suppose that Vice President Biden's son, Hunter -- now, I don't think the vice president himself is being accused here of doing something wrong. But let's assume his son was on Burisma's board. And Burisma is clearly a corrupt organization and the principle owner is an oligarch who still to this day is known to have been involved in highly-level corruption in Ukraine.

So let's assume that that's an investigation that the president did want. And he wanted it of Biden and he hoped that it would result in something bad about Biden for presidential election purposes, that's not calling on Ukraine to help him in the election, as it is calling on them to investigate the corruption they should have investigated all along.

And if it just so happens, that helps him with the election and his motive wasn't good, we don't like his motive, that's not a reason to remove him from office. It trivializes impeachment, in my opinion.

NOBLES: Congressman, there are obviously a lot of very differing opinions to your view on that. But we are unfortunately beginning -- unfortunately going to have to leave it there.

We appreciate your perspective, especially given your history during the Clinton impeachment.

Congressman Bill McCollum, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MCCOLLUM: Thank you, Ryan.


NOBLES: Still to come, Iran now warning the U.S. of consequences after a series of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The latest from the Pentagon, coming up next.


NOBLES: Iran is threatening to retaliate after U.S. forces carry out airstrikes against five targets Iraq and Syria that the Pentagon says are tied to an Iranian-backed militia. The U.S. military says that militia is behind a series of attacks on joint U.S./Iraqi bases used by American forces.

One of those attacks, which happened last week, left an American contractor dead and several other U.S. servicemembers injured.

CNN Pentagon reporter, Ryan Browne, joins us now.

Ryan, what can you tell us about these airstrikes?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Ryan, as you said, these strikes were part of an effort by the U.S. to get Iran and its proxies there in Iraq to stop its attacks on joint U.S./Iraqi bases.

There had been some high-level diplomatic efforts prior to these strikes. Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Esper had been calling their Iraqi counterparts, stressing the need for them to get these militia groups under control. But it had little avail.

And we saw that deadly Friday attack against that U.S./Iraqi base that led to the death of an American contractor and wounded several other U.S. servicemembers.

Again, the U.S. military felt it necessary to conduct these strikes, hoping that it will deter Iran and its local allies from conducting any additional strikes.


But again, this has really complicated the situation. It's unclear. As you said, Iran has warned of consequences. Some of these militia groups have threatened to strike back. The Iraqi government has criticized attacks, saying it was a violation of their sovereignty.