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Violent Attacks On People Of Faith Across America; Iran Warns Of Consequences After U.S. Airstrikes; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Announces He Has Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2019 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, two violent attacks shaking religious communities around the world. In Texas, a gunman kills two people during Sunday service, the entire ordeal livestreamed on the church website.

In New York, a man bursts into a large Hanukkah celebration at a private home, stabbing five Jews, that man now facing federal hate crime charges.

In the 2020 race, Bernie Sanders is trying to convince voters that his Medicare-for-all program won't cost them their jobs. Will healthcare become the deciding factor for voters.

And they saw it coming. New reports show the president's staff knew there would be congressional outcry over the decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine. What that means for the president's impeachment trial?

But, first, the last weekend of 2019 ends in violence and bloodshed as people at worship are attacked in New York and Texas, less than 24 hours apart, in what are being described as acts of pure evil and downright hate.

In New York we're following breaking news. Prosecutors there have filed federal hate crime charges against a man who allegedly stabbed five people who were attending a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi's house. This comes as police say they have discovered handwritten journals expressing anti-Semitic sentiments in the suspect's home.


JOSEPH GLUCK, SURVIVED STABBING ATTACK IN RABBI'S HOME: I started hearing right and left his big machete knife. I came back in, grabbed the coffee table on the floor, hit it on his face, and that's when he came back outside after me. He told me, hey, you, I'll get you.

And he started walking towards me, and I was going before him like a few feet screaming, he's coming, he's coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Then in Texas, a gunman opens fire at the West Freeway Church of Christ, killing two parishioners as they prayed. However, police say it really could have been much worse. A congregant who was carrying a gun shot the perpetrator just six seconds into the attack.

Video of the shooting was captured on the church's livestream. I do want to warn you, this is graphic, it is disturbing. This is the moment when a member of the congregation fights back, stopping the shooter who had entered the church and sat down in a pew among other churchgoers, pulling out a shotgun and opening fire a short time later.

We're going to have more out of Texas here in just a moment. First, though, let's go straight to Brynn Gingras in Monsey, New York with more on the breaking news there. Did these journals that were found by authorities at the suspect's home lead to these hate crime charges? Brynn, tell us about this.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly part of the evidence that investigators have laid out in great detail, Brianna, for these federal hate crime charges, five of them now against Grafton Thomas, the 38-year-old, who is currently behind bars on attempted murder charges and $5 million bail.

But, again, there is so much detail in this criminal complaint file by the Southern District of New York, starting with the attack that happened here in the home behind me. Authorities say when Thomas walked in, he essentially said, no one is leaving. He had his face covered and he started going out on a rampage, allegedly with that machete that he was holding.

Five people were injured in all. One person we know had a skull fracture. But according to the complaint, someone's finger was also severed.

We also know that Thomas fled the scene and authorities told us that he was pulled over in Harlem about two hours after this attack occurred. And according to this complaint, he had blood on his hands, on his clothes. He reeked of bleach. We also know that investigators pulled from his car a cell phone as well as a machete and a knife.

And then, according to this complaint, they found even more evidence inside his home, including a machete packaging, according to the complaint, also an anti-Semitic writing in a journal, as you just detailed for your viewers, Brianna.

We also know, according to this complaint, that investigators found searches online with anti-Semitic undertones. For example, one of the things he searched was German Jewish temples near me.

So this raises the question of his motive, right? This is one of the things that investigators say that they have been trying to figure out, especially since Thomas actually lives about 30 minutes from here, so why he picked this particular rabbi's house to carry out this attack is still unknown at this point.


Some of these questions being answered, certainly, in this complaint but still a lot of questions out there at this point, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, and knowingly on such an important night as well. Brynn, thank you so much. We'll continue to follow this with you.

Let's discuss this more now with Evan Bernstein. He's New York Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League. Evan, thank you for talking to us. This is terrible, what we've been seeing. This is just one of many attacks. There was an attack on Jewish New Yorkers almost every day last week. What do you think is behind this?

EVAN BERNSTEIN, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: There are still a lot of questions. The fact that is there is that the Jewish community right now is being targeted. Just in the last two-and-a- half weeks, we had the Jersey City shooting and murder that took place there, and then the unbelievable spate of attacks that took place in Brooklyn last week, and now during a holiday of Hanukkah, the stabbing that took place in the ceremony, and the party that was taking place in the rabbi's home in Monsey. It has been an absolutely unbelievably difficult time for the orthodox community here in the New York/New Jersey region, and it is something that has to stop. The community cannot continue to deal with these kinds of attacks on what seems to be almost a daily basis.

KEILAR: And so you just heard Brynn's report that the perpetrator lived about a half hour away, so clearly seemed to go out of his way to target this area. And for people who aren't familiar, this is Rockland County. This is one of the largest per capita populations of orthodox Jews in the country. You've actually been to the scene there. You mentioned a little bit about how the community is doing. They can't continue. This is obviously not sustainable. They're living in fear. Tell us about what you're hearing from them.

BERNSTEIN: So I got to the scene on Saturday night about 11:00 and I stayed until 6:00 the next morning, working with law enforcement and talking with community members. And the common theme that I heard from community members in the Monsey area around that synagogue is the enormous fear they have for their children. They really feel like their lives are being completely affected in how they can worship, how safe they feel.

There are a lot of interconnectors between the Monsey community and the Brooklyn Jewish community. A lot of family members have families in both communities. So if something happens in Brooklyn, it also deeply affects Monsey and Rockland and vice versa.

So when these things were happening the week before, it certainly was affecting the community in Monsey. So then to have that attack take place place. People are just terrified. And they really are afraid to walk to a synagogue, they're afraid to be able to practice in the way that they want to.

A lot of people left the Brooklyn community for safety reasons. They wanted to go to a more suburban area, a more safe lifestyle which they felt was in Monsey, and that has now been shattered for a lot of these people. And it's so disconcerting and so sad for this community that they're having to go through this.

And people that want to celebrate Hanukkah, they want to celebrate Hanukkah and there's been so many victims over this past Hanukkah that so many now will never be able to celebrate Hanukkah in the same way, and that is a real tragedy.

KEILAR: And I know that you talk about social media. How do you see social media playing a role in this?

BERNSTEIN: Yes. Social media is a place right now where people are getting really activated in learning how to hate. We've seen that, unfortunately, in Pittsburgh, in Poway, even in Jersey City. And we're going to learn more as we hear about the hate crime charges taken against this individual in Monsey, the writings, and we'll see whether or not maybe he's been activated online.

So many people now are getting their hate online. It's a place where you can go on to chat rooms and get information and get activated and get radicalized. And you can have lone individuals. They're not necessarily affiliated with any one large group. It's radicalized as they want to be, and hear from people they give affirmation to their thoughts on this blog and chat rooms. And they put things out there and they get affirmed and they feel that this has become normal and okay for them to think this way, and then, unfortunately, we see people acting out.

Clearly, we don't know enough yet about what happened in Monsey and we're waiting to see what law enforcement finds.

KEILAR: Speaking of radicalization, I mean, that's something -- when you're talking about terrorism and sort of lone actors, that's something we talk about. You've heard New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, vowing to propose a law that would make New York State the first to treat these kinds of incidents as domestic terrorism. Let's listen to what he said.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We have to change the laws to call this what it is. This is terrorism. It is domestic terrorism. These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, color, creed.


That is the definition of terrorism.


KEILAR: Would it change anything to label it as this? I'm curious what your view is on defining this as domestic terrorism.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, I think as long as law enforcement agencies understand that and it can certainly amplify what charges and potentially what kind of conviction and sentencing would happen, I think it's important. We saw the same thing in Jersey City, where the attorney general of New Jersey and Governor Murphy supported it being called an active domestic terror in Jersey City during that shooting.

So I think it's important that states now start looking at these things because these are terrorist acts. These are things that are terrorizing our community. Just because it's on domestic soil, on American soil, does not make it any less of a terrorist act, in our opinion. And I think it's important now that law enforcement and elected officials are looking at it in that way.

KEILAR: Evan, thank you so much. We appreciate you talking to us. Evan Bernstein with the Anti-Defamation League.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Meantime, in Texas, we are learning more about the heroic congregants that helped take down a gunman. Lucy Kavanof is near the scene there in White Settlement, Texas. Tell us what you're learning, Lucy.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. We don't have any more information about the motive of this gunman, but we do have more information about who he is. The FBI described him as a transient individual who's had numerous run-ins with the law, multiple arrests in different municipalities. He was not on any known watch list.

We just a few moments ago we heard from the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, who offered some more details. He said this individual, the shooter, didn't have a direct connection to this community, but that he may have spent a bit of time here because this church had often opened its doors to transient and homeless individuals. The attorney general said he believed this was a lonely individual who possibly was struggling with mental illness. Again, this is coming from the Texas attorney general.

We are now getting more information about the heroic individual who helped take down the shooter. Jack Wilson is his identity, his name, he's been formally named. And take a listen to how the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, described him.


KEN PAXTON, ATTORNEY GENERAL, TEXAS: He was a reserve deputy and had significant training. He had his own shooting range and taught other people how to shoot. He taught many people in this church how to be prepared. So he's not just responsible for his actions, which ultimately saved the lives of maybe hundreds of people, but he's also responsible for training a lot of people in that church.


KAFANOV: And, Brianna, Jack Wilson issued a statement. I want to read you a short bit of that. He wrote, the events at West Freeway Church of Christ put me in a position I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists and I had to take out an active shooter in the church.

We know that there was nearly 250 people inside that church behind me yesterday during the services when the firing began, the shooting began. The death toll could have been much higher had this individual not responded and taken out the gunman. Brianna?

KEILAR: Indeed, he stopped him so quickly. Lucy Kafanov in White Settlement, Texas, thank you for that report.

The U.S. striking back at Iranian-backed militants for attacks on American military personnel, bombing five facilities in Iraq and Syria and raising tensions with Iraq and Iran.

And new details over the White House's decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine. A new report shows top Trump aides knew that Congress would blow its lid. Among them, Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, who famously admitted it was a quid pro quo what the president proposed to the president of Ukraine and told reporters to get over it.

And Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis vowing to fight after being diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.



KEILAR: Iran is warning of consequences after the U.S. carried out airstrikes on an Iranian-backed militia group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. hit five sites in what is calling precision defensive strikes. The Pentagon blames the militia group for a series of attacks on military facilities housing American forces. And one of these attacks on Friday resulted in the death of an American contractor.

CNN's Arwa Damon is following all of these developments. Tell us the very latest, Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Iraqi government is quite incensed at what took place. In fact, the Iraqi caretaker, Prime Minister Adil Abudl-Mahdi, had told the U.S. secretary of defense, Mark Esper, not to carry out these attacks as he was being informed of them about half an hour before they took place. Afterwards, he said that this was a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.

We also heard from the militia that was targeted, a group called Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is under this umbrella of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces that were instrumental in the fight against ISIS but were never fully under control of the Iraqi government, and many of these groups, Brianna, do have longstanding ties to Iran. In fact, during the U.S.-led invasion then occupation of Iraq, these groups were largely being funded, trained and armed by Iran.

This particular group that was being targeted put out a statement calling on its fighters to get ready for yet another battle to push the American enemy out of Iraq. The Iraqi government has also said that it might be time to review its relationship with the United States. So it's caused quite a lot of concern in Iraq, to say the least.


And a lot of this concern also centers around the fact that Iraq, for quite some time now, has been asking both Tehran and Washington to stop using it as a proxy battlefield because of just how destabilizing that is. And Iraq right now is already going through an extremely unstable period.

So add to that all of this and you really have a recipe for a potential further escalation, which is, of course, what everyone is worried about, Brianna. Because what we know well from recent history is that destabilizing a country like Iraq, that does not stay confined to Iraq's borders alone.

KEILAR: No, it does not. Arwa, thank you so much, Arwa Damon.

I want to bring in retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is a former Pentagon Press Secretary and he's CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst.

And this -- we heard Arwa explain this. Iraq is saying this is a violation of their sovereignty, the U.S. attacking these Iranian- backed militants, but I know from the U.S. perspective, there is a sense of -- a sort of a feeling of, well, isn't that rich?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC: Yes, right, there is a feeling in the Defense Department about that since the Iraqi government hasn't complained about the fact that Iranian-backed Shia militias in their territory is also using sovereign Iraqi space to attack U.S. and coalition forces, forces, I might add, that are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.

KEILAR: So what does that say about who they're more aligned with, afraid of, beholden to?

KIRBY: It's really an indicator of how the squeeze the Iraqi government is in right now. Remember, there were huge protests in the last several months against the government for corruption, malfeasance, poor governance. They have a long border with Iran, they need a good relationship with Iran, they are aligned religiously, if you will, Shia to Shia, so there's tension there. But they also need the United States and they want the United States on the ground to go to help, to continue cleanup operations against ISIS.

So the Iraqi government is in a very difficult position right now.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Afghanistan, because even as the Taliban and the U.S. preliminarily reach this ceasefire, we see this big attack over the weekend. Taliban killed ten afghan soldiers at an army base. There are many people looking at this and they're very skeptical about whether a ceasefire will hold. What do you think?

KIRBY: I'm also skeptical. I think the recent history would advise us to be skeptical. Look, there's two things we know about the Taliban. One, they're not trustworthy, and two, they're not monolithic. And so when you're negotiating with them, and I'm not suggesting we shouldn't continue to pursue diplomacy here, you need to realize that not any one faction or any one individual leader in the Taliban speaks for all of them. So it points to the difficulty of trying to find a diplomatic solution.

It also, I think, I would hope, give some counsel to the administration not to be too abrupt in their decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan without anything concrete in return by the Taliban for that.

KEILAR: Yes. And that seems like very much a possibility, right?

KIRBY: Right, just pulling troops out precipitously like this could just give the Taliban a win with nothing in return, that we get no assurances from them.

KEILAR: Russia, so the president, over the weekend, has a call with Vladimir Putin, and we learned about it from the Kremlin, right? So the Kremlin says this call has happened. They release a readout pretty promptly and the White House says nothing until this morning. What does that tell you?

KIRBY: Well, it's hard to define what's in their head, and it's also difficult, look, to beat the Russians to the punch. I mean, that was my experience at the State Department. You hang up the phone and they're out with a readout immediately.

KEILAR: This is a while.

KIRBY: Exactly. This is head of state to head of state, much different level. And, yes, we're days after this. And they haven't even -- the White House hasn't even acknowledged the call.

So I think, look, if it was a perfectly fine call, to use the president's phrase from Ukraine, they ought to put a readout and take the mystery out of it rather than having everybody speculate about what was discussed.

But, clearly, look, any -- there is no other foreign leader that Trump talks to that is more consequential right now other than maybe Xi in China than Vladimir Putin. And the American people have a right to know what that conversation was all about, what was discussed, specifically any assurances that were made either way.

And we certainly have the right to know whether he once again brought up election interference, which is really important since now that we're almost into 2020.

KEILAR: And they're interfering, as we speak. Rear Admiral John Kirby, thank you so much.

Expect Congress to become unhinged. That was the warning acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney got before the president put a hold on military assistance to Ukraine. There are new documents shedding light, and who raised the alarm before the president proposed a quid pro quo.

Plus, Senator Bernie Sanders is spending the weekend on the campaign trail and working to reassure voters that his Medicare-for-all plan will not cost them their jobs.




KEILAR: Civil rights icon and Democratic Congressman John Lewis makes a sad announcement about his health. He says he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He said, I have been in some kind of fight for freedom, equality, basic human rights for nearly my entire life. I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now. While I am clear-eyed about the prognosis, doctors have told me that recent medical advances made this type of cancer treatable in many cases, that treatment options are no longer as debilitating --