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FBI: Pensacola Terrorist Radicalized As Far Back As 2015; President Donald Trump Spent Weekend Talking Up Baseless Obama Conspiracy Theory; Attorney General: Don't Expect Criminal Inquiry Of Obama Or Biden Based On Probe Into Russia Investigation's Origin; Massachusetts Begins Four-Phased Approach To Reopening. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: I am John King in Washington. Back to our big coronavirus news in a moment, but there are some other developing news today involving the Justice Department and the investigation into the last year's shooting by a Saudi military trainee at a military installation in Pensacola, Florida.

The Attorney General and the FBI Director just moments ago confirming CNN reporting on a very big development on that investigation. The Saudi military trainee who killed three U.S. sailors the Justice Department now says was a long time Al-Qaeda operative.


BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The FBI finally succeeded in unlocking Alshamrani's phone. The phone's contains information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes Alshamrani's significant ties to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Not only before the attack but before had he arrived in the United States.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The evidence we've been able to develop from the killer's devices showed that the Pensacola attack was actually the brutal combination of years and planning of preparations by a long time AQAP associates.


KING: Our Justice Correspondent Evan Perez joins us with more details. Evan, pretty startling there, we have not heard the world's Al-Qaeda quite some time.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, let's just pause from it and think about that. Not since 9/11 has Al-Qaeda been able to carry out a deadly attack inside the United States at least a directed attack which is what the FBI and the Attorney General today were saying.

This shooter, the attacker in Pensacola Mohammed Alshamrani was radicalized as far back as 2015 according to the Attorney General. And according to the FBI Director this was years in the making. According to them, Alshamrani was in regular contact with operatives from the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and as far as recently the night before the attack, he was in touch with some of those same operatives and some of the same AQAP operatives before he carried out this murderous attack.

The breakthrough in this investigation John came because the FBI was able to bypass some of the security features of the apple iPhone that belonged to the attacker. The FBI had asked the Apple to help them breakthrough some of the encryption and were not able to get that assistance according to the FBI.

And so as the result the FBI had to do it themselves. As a result of this investigation, they have been able to now date back a lot more and getting a lot more information about Alshamrani's radicalization. They were able to identify the people he was in touch with.

Some of the information that came from this iPhone was also used in preparation for an air strike which killed a prominent member of AQAP earlier this year, John. And so the Attorney General finished his conversation or his discussion there at that press conference by saying that he's going to ask for legislation to try to require companies like Apple to enable some kind of method for law enforcement to be able to get into these phones and not have to breakthrough the way they did the way they did months later in this case.

Again that's going to be a big, big issue for Apple and for the tech company because they argued that encryption protects the privacy of Americans and of their users. And so they're going to be fighting this idea of the need of legislation to require the FBI to be able to get into these phones wit court order, John.

KING: And Evan, of course the Attorney General doing a press conference therefore there will be questions about other subjects in recent days. His boss the President of the United States has been ranting a largely free of facts about President Obama and Former Vice President Biden about what the President sees as there an nefarious role in the launch of the Michael Flynn investigation again there are no facts that anything improper was done. Listen to the Attorney General when asked whether he's going to investigate President Trump's predecessor.


BARR: As for President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today I don't expect Mr. Durham's work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man. Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others.


KING: What do we make of that?


PEREZ: Well, I think there is a big announcement for the White House and for the President as you know John the President and his campaign really have been pushing the idea that Joe Biden committed crimes that President Obama may have committed crimes in whatever it was at the beginning of the Russia investigation.

The Attorney General is saying that from what he sees so far and John Durham by the way the prosecutor that Barr has brought into takes a look at the origins of the Russian investigation. John Durham is working on this, has looked at this issue.

And the Attorney General says from what he's seeing there is no reason to believe that there is going to be a criminal investigation of Former President Obama and Former Vice President Biden.

Of course we know John that as Barr has pointed out that Durham is continuing his work. He says that there are other things that could end up having a criminal charge as a result of this investigation. And he also tried to put the rest of the idea that the Justice Department is being used for criminal purposes or for us political purposes as a result of what John Durham is doing, John?

KING: Have to keep watching, that is as goes through. But stern words from the Attorney General back to his boss there at least for now. Evan Perez, I appreciate it right there. Let's try to connect the dots there. The President tried to turn attention away from the pandemic and more to his conspiracy theory.

The President on Friday saying we are going back to normal vaccine or no vaccine but then he spent most of the weekend including time at Camp David based on trying to gin up support for his baseless conspiracy theory about President Obama. Let's get straight to the White House with CNN's Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, the Attorney General just essentially saying in a polite way my translation sorry, no Mr. President?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was saying that's not what it is going to lead to where you are going to see any kind of prosecution like that. And that comes after you know last week we saw the President pushing that in the Rose Garden when he was asking of what specific crime was he accusing the Former President of committing? He said it was obvious but of course he did not answer the question.

And it has been something that our sources have said the President has continued to fixate on over the last several days. Even over this weekend at Camp David that he described as an incredibly successful working weekend.

And of course that is something that the President has been focusing on while so many of his aides are still focusing on the pandemic at hands and what's going to be next with this and having meetings on that?

And John, we should let you know what's just going only right now. Yesterday we heard from Peter Navarro that's the President's top trade adviser who has really a pretty wide portfolio. He has his hands in a lot of different things. And yesterday he was very critical of the CDC saying that they let the country down when it came to testing.

Because remember they did have that test and basically health officials say it was sloppy lab practices that the test ended up being contaminated. It was stalled for weeks and it was not until the end of February that they got it fixed.

That's what Peter Navarro was talking yesterday. But we just had the Health and Human Services Secretary do an interview with Fox News, where he pushed back on Navarro saying that his comments are inaccurate. Listen to exactly what it was with Alex. We don't have the sound of Alex Azar talking about that.

But he said his comment were inaccurate. He said they were wrong. He said that basically the issue with the CDC did not have basically the option to scale up testing. And he said they fixed it within a matter of weeks.

But John, that was really the main criticism. As that it took weeks to fix that. And that is what so many health officials have said was one of the reason for that bungled roll out of testing here in the United States which we're seeing is just now starting to be ramped up in way that many states and staffs have started to say okay, we are starting to get a handle on this. But it is notable the dispute that's happening between the President's top Trade Adviser and the HHS Secretary.

KING: One constant of this pandemic has been inconsistent answers from the administration and another constant has been finger pointing if you will internal squabbling about whom is to blame? Kaitlan Collins, appreciate that from the White House for us.

Let's bring in our Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, I want to get to Secretary Azar and some of the pandemic messaging in just a moment. But one of the interesting questions for me today if you listen to the Attorney General of the United States who was on the record, he was the record saying he believes the FBI at the end of the Obama Administration over stepped its bound.

He believes the FBI was investigating then candidate Trump beyond its authority to do so. The Attorney General has been quite clear about that and there is no doubt that the President shares that view probably had it before the Attorney General.

But Bill Barr said today we can't allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum-up criminal investigations of either candidate. I read that as a message Mr. President you may think they did this to you but that does not mean you can do it to them.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In any other administration an Attorney General saying that he or she is not going to investigate the Former President or Vice President would be no dove scenario. In this administration, this Attorney General saying that is huge news.

[12:10:00] BASH: And I read it exactly the way you did. That was the message not just to the American public or the press core in the room, that was a message to his boss, the President of the United States, saying I am not going there on this no matter how much you want me to use the lever that I have as the Chief of Law Enforcement Officer to do something unprecedented which is to go after to prosecute Former President in this way. I'm not going to do it.

He's getting the same push back on Capitol Hill from Committee Chairman who he's pushing Republicans who he's pushing to investigate. Having that kind of comment from the Attorney General who carried the President's water in a big, big way at the end of the Mueller investigation is a big message and a big deal.

KING: A big message there. The President without a doubt will continue to try to make this part of the campaign. Again he's trying to drag Joe Biden down again he is trying to stir the attention away from the coronavirus response, his response. As we move through the pandemic and now the economic reopening.

But another interesting part of this, the President if you go back to February and March, the President was very complementary of the World Health Organization also complementary of his own Centers for Disease Control and there are some tensions there right now. But listen to Alex Azar today.

The World Health Organization had a global meeting conducted virtually. We know the administration has turned now trying to blame more and more blame China. Listen to how blunt Secretary Azar was discussing this to the World Health Organization?


ALEX AZAR, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control. There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed and that failure cost many lives in an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak.

At least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations with tremendous cost for the entire world. We saw that W.H.O. failed at its core mission of information sharing and transparency when member's states do not act in good faith.


KING: That's a double 2 by 4 today the end of the W.H.O. and to China right there from the President's point man.

BASH: Absolutely, there is no subtlety in the message that we have already been hearing from the administration and the President's re- election campaign. That was the latest in the messaging which is the international organization China in particular is to blame for this. It is not an accident that that's the messaging because that is what internal polling is showing them has the best residents with voters that matters. It is one thing for that to come out of the campaign it's another thing for that to come out of a very important agency and any time or place but particularly the HHS now at a time of a global pandemic. That's the way Secretary Azar is playing it.

At the same time he's also playing sort of the political card on the international stage and for the President's reelection efforts. He's not singing from that song sheet when it comes to the CDC as you were just talking about with Kaitlan.

I mean, clearly a part of the Trump play book is to continue to go after and not just international organizations but the deep state, the CDC is now become part of that and you know institutions and the government that don't do its job. And Secretary Azar is defending the CDC even though one the President's top officials, economic officials Peter Navarro threw the mud over the bus over the weekend.

KING: While increased finger pointing internally only adds to increased reporting about the source of the finger pointing internally. And I think that's one thing the administration does not want and especially in the rear view mirror looking especially at the last months of February and March. Dana Bash, I appreciate your insights on those both important issues there.

Up next for us, two northeast states have been the holdouts when it comes to reopening but it is about to change.



KING: Massachusetts today became the 49th of the 50 states to begin the reopening process. Let's show you a map here. New reopening measures taking effect in dozens of states today, in Tennessee, capacity of restaurants and retailers lifted today. Casinos reopen in Arkansas.

All of Florida now under Phase One of the state's reopening plan as - Miami-Dade counties allows restaurants to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Gyms are part of the next wave of businesses to reopen in Texas today. Connecticut and Massachusetts have been the last two hold out.

But Massachusetts today announcing just last hour it is ready to ease rules on places of worship and to allow constructions and manufacturing to resume beginning today with some restrictions. More sectors including curbside retail and barber shops will reopen next week.


GOV. CHARLIE BAKER, (R-MS): This after it will hinge fundamentally on personal responsibility. As everyone knows we are not helpless in this fight and we all have roles to play and you have proven time and time again you can play them.


KING: Joining me now is adviser to Joe Bahena he serves on Governor Charlie Baker's Advisory Board on reopening. He is also Senior Vice President of Joseph Abboud Clothing Manufacturing Company.

Mr. Bahena it is good to see you. Massachusetts is 49th there have been people around the country saying why is Massachusetts waiting? Are you confident as you advice the Governor that Massachusetts is ready or what are your questions?

JOE BAHENA, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, JOSEPH ABBOUD MANUFACTURING: We are absolutely confident John. Listen the state has really allowed the help they get to guide the way if you will.

KING: You say guide the way if you will, we have new reported cases that are certainly going down but still a pesky number if you look at a 1000 cases if you look at it there. But you believe flattened enough on the right trajectory or are there any concerns as you start moving people around and people start interacting that the number still hangs around a thousand is going to go in the wrong direction?

BAHENA: Listen, John, I think the way we see it is the trend is going the right way the data is showing us the right thing.


BAHENA: Unless it's a phased approach right there's four phases. And you know we're going do - we're going to open businesses methodically along with services and activities to resume. And the idea is that we're going to watch to data yes and if you know we're going to continue through the phases as a data allows but always making sure that the health data is really leading the way.

KING: So take us inside your experience because what you do is part of the experiment as we go forward at Joseph Abboud your manufacturing suits are here in the United States. So you've also switched and we have some photos I know, how to make some masks in this process?

But you have people you see right there in this case there is social distancing the worker has a mask on. But your people handing supplies to each other moving around the factory floor as you take on this new task and I'm sure people thank you for producing masks as well as your clothing take us inside what you have to do in a factory building to make sure how you can keep your workers safe?

BAHENA: Sure. Sure John of course, yes. Listen so first of all always happy to talk about Joseph Abboud Manufacturing. Our biggest goal here is worker safety right? And as we pivot fitted to making face masks and that's all we're doing right now is making facemask.

We've been close pursuit manufacturing since March 17th. But what we're looking at is the same thing that everybody should be looking at face coverings, social distancing, washing hands thoroughly obviously we're doing extra sanitation throughout the building and them being vigilant right? So making sure that that we're checking people's temperatures when they're coming in. We're asking them a series of health questions and really asking them to self report and be responsible. As the Governor said in a news conference it's everybody's responsibility and if we all work together we're going to be able to continue through the phases and fight this virus.

KING: Joe Bahena, I really appreciate your time today. Best of luck in the days ahead Massachusetts is my home state, I watch them all but I watch some a little bit more closely than others. I will admit, we'll keep an eye on Massachusetts. Joe, thank you very much.

BAHENA: Thanks a lot John, I appreciate it, appreciate your time.

KING: Thank you sir, we'll see again. And as we continue the conversation Texas many argues now heading in the wrong direction. Two weeks after loosening some stay at home restrictions you can see right there at the state log its highest ever one day case increase over the weekend.

Let's bring in Doctor Umair Shah he's the Director of Harris County Department of Public Health, Doctor thank you for being with us. Some people see that number the spiking cases and they say the Governor reopened too early.

What the Governor's staff says is you know what no we're testing more people that are why we're seeing that higher number and if you look at hospital capacity and other metrics you're doing okay. What do you - how do you see it?

DR. UMAIR SHAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH: First of all John thanks for having me and I do want to say that it's probably both. We do have more testing that's happening especially in areas where we're focusing on targeted groups but at the same time we're also recognizing that we have reopened and people are mixing and so we don't know how those two equations coming together or how that really is impacting the overall equation that we have?

KING: And so you - let's look at Harris County first the confirmed cases. You see it - you know in the middle of April it went up but then you're coming down then on May 15th you go back up again. I don't want to over read any one day and so you have your dashboard behind you.

Put that in with the Texas 14 day trend and again you could argue whether you look at - there is Harris County that's came down, Texas flat maybe nudging up a little bit in recent days. As you look at this you know it's easy to grab one piece of the data and say great or bad. Give me your overall assessment and are you nervous or do you think you're on the right path in this reopening?

DR. SHAH: You know John I think there are a couple things to say. First of all judges all go our county elected official in our county leadership as well as Mayor Turner in the city of Houston in our region, we have taken some very aggressive and appropriate steps to fight this virus. And our community listened and throughout this process I will say that we have been successful as a community. And that's fantastic but it is a tale of two cities because now we're reopening and I think we have to remember that this is not an either or it's an and.

It is possible to reopen but it's also possible to reopen with health and safety in mind. And obviously it concerns us because this virus is taught us that it is the most squirrelly virus around that we have been able to find all sorts of different patterns and activities and issues.

So yes absolutely, it concerns us because we don't know what's lurking around the next corner? But we also recognize people have lost jobs and there's an economic impact all these decisions and we want to also assure the safety while we reopen. So yes, I'm concerned the public health community is concerned and we want to make sure public health is driving those decisions and that's critical.


KING: Dr. Shah, I really appreciate your insights. Good luck in these very important days and week or two ahead as we get the big test from the Texas experiment. We'll keep in touch.

DR. SHAH: Thank you so much, John. I really appreciate it.

KING: Thank you sir. And when we come back the President's Obama obsession?