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Exploding Package at University Investigated as a Hoax; Lawyer Says Alex Jones Knew Lies Would Spike Viewership; Harris Rebranding Effort; Age of Congress on the Rise; Tropical Storm Fiona Forms in the Atlantic; Backlash Over NBA's Short Suspension of Owner. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 15, 2022 - 06:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, a new theory in the explosion at Northeastern University in Boston, law enforcement officials say they are examining whether the employee who reported the incident may have lied to investigators. They say he may have staged the incident himself.

With me now is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller, who's been way ahead on every aspect of this story.

What's leading them to now think that this may not be real?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, the elements of the crime are just, frankly, strange. You have something that explodes, but then when you get to the package, there's no trace of explosive, there's no initiator that would have activated explosives. So, then this story develops. While it was a pressurized, hard plastic container. And then the lab manager opened it up, he was blown back by the pressure inside.

And then there's the curious aspect of the note, which basically says that the lab manager and Mark Zuckerberg were engaged in a worldwide plot -- secret plot with the U.S. government for massive mind control based on work going on in the relatively obscure Northeastern University virtual reality lab. So, a lot of questions.

To be clear, the lab manager was quoted in "The Boston Globe." I reached out to him yesterday at school and through email. But "The Globe" got him and he said, no way, no shape, no form is this a hoax. This guy is out there. He's dangerous. He has to be caught. And he has not diverted from his original account in any of the interviews he's given to police.

BERMAN: All right, that is very important.

Let me just read part of the note here. People can see what part of it said here.

We are sick and tired of the craziness that you are building and using us all as human test subjects. We are watching you, in all caps.

So, again, he denies this to "The Boston Globe."


BERMAN: What would the ramifications be for someone staging this?

MILLER: Well, at the base level, from a state crime, it would be falsely reporting an incident and all that comes with that. On the federal level, it could be more serious. But they have a lot of questions.

On the other hand, this is an investigation. And, you know, you can't get tunnel vision. You have to - you have to keep an open mind. Crazier things have happened. So, what they're doing is, they're going through the process, video canvass, do we see that package coming into the school, who's carrying it? Backtracking his movements. Looking at the movements of other people. Forensics on that, DNA, hair, fibers. So, a lot of work still going into this.

BERMAN: No doubt. And, John, I'm sure you're going to be all over it. Thank you so much for your reporting this morning.

MILLER: Thanks, John.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A lawyer for Alex Jones' Infowars admitting false statements were made about the Sandy Hook shooting for money. The testimony coming at a trial to decide how much money Jones owes for claiming the school shooting was a hoax.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins us now.

Brynn, what can you tell us.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, it's already been an emotional two days of trial where the lawyer representing some of these families who lost their children, their loved ones that day is asking this jury to send a message with how much money they should be rewarded. They brought to the stand a woman hired by Infowars just two weeks before this trial. Her job, to represent the company at this trial. So you can imagine there was a lot she didn't know. Prosecutors trying to show that Jones profited immensely off his lies and he made money hand over fist after repeatedly calling the elementary school massacre a hoax.


GINGRAS (voice over): Alex Jones back in court this week. A Connecticut jury is determining how much money Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems, must pay in damages to the families of some Sandy Hook victims and an FBI agent who responded to the gruesome school massacre.

This stems from a Connecticut judge finding Jones and his company liable for defaming the plaintiffs in this case back in November 2021 through his false statements in the weeks and months after 20 first graders and six adults were killed.

ALEX JONES: They staged Sandy Hook. The evidence is just overwhelming.

GINGRAS: An attorney hired by Jones to testify for Free Speech Systems, Brittany Paz, gave hours of testimony on Wednesday about Jones' Infowars show.

BRITTANY PAZ, ATTORNEY AND CORPORATE REPRESENTATIVE FOR FREE SPEECH SYSTEMS: If he reads it somewhere, he will just broadcast it elsewhere. So, he doesn't do any independent analysis of what he's reading elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recall the comment he made where he said, I did deep research and it just pretty much didn't happen, right?

PAZ: Essentially that's what the quote is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's what he wanted his audience to believe, right?

PAZ: That's what he said on that particular occasion.

GINGRAS: Paz admitted on the stand that false statements were made about the Sandy Hook shooting.


PAZ: I don't think that we disagree with -- that there were false statements made in connection with the Sandy Hook litigation - or, not litigation, I'm sorry, but in connection with Sandy Hook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And one of the things that Free Speech Systems doesn't disagree with, that it acknowledges, is that the title of the video, "Connecticut school massacre," looks like false flag, witnesses say is false.

PAZ: I don't disagree with that, no.


GINGRAS: Jones has made a fortune off merchandise and sales of supplements. An attorneys for the plaintiffs tried to prove that Jones knows the more traffic his videos get online, the more sales for his company.

PAZ: He knows what he's talking about translates into sales, yes.

GINGRAS: The attorney for the plaintiffs also showed analytics from Jones' site that online traffic skyrocketed during the months following the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And 4.6 million to 6.3 million users, correct?

PAZ: That's what it says, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It goes from 24.9 million page views to 35.7 million, right?

PAZ: That's what it says, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you know that from December 14, 2012, all the way through the end of January, Alex Jones and Free Speech Systems were repeatedly publishing claims that the shooting was staged, correct?

PAZ: I believe so, yes.


GINGRAS: Now, in the first couple days of this trial, we've also heard from an FBI agent, some family members, talking about how, for the past ten years, they felt their lives were in danger because of the lies spread by Alex Jones.

Now, Jones has not been in the courtroom for this trial so far. He is expected to testify in his defense. He did in that Texas trial last month where a jury awarded one family nearly 50 million in damages. We'll see how this jury sways This trial, rather, is expected to last several weeks. And, of course, Brianna, we're watching it closely.

KEILAR: We certainly are. Brynn, thank you for that report.

Vice President Kamala Harris looking to raise her profile. We have details on her new midterm campaign swing, next.

Plus, Senate Republicans divided on abortion. CNN's Manu Raju chases down their responses.

And this --




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's black! Yes, yes, yes, yes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. I can't wait to see this.


BERMAN: Check out this response to Disney's new live action "Little Mermaid." What this kind of representation means for so many young girls. That's ahead.



KEILAR: New NCN reporting this morning, details on Vice President Kamala Harris' attempts to rebrand and her targeted campaign plans ahead of the November midterm elections in an effort to raise her profile after a sometimes rocky start as vice president.

Joining us now is CNN's Isaac Dovere with more on his reporting.

Tell us about this, Isaac.

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: Well, look, we all know that she had a tough start as vice president. There were a lot of frustrations with her inside her own office, inside the White House, out among the larger political universe. But she has really zeroed in on a centralized plan for the midterms. It's focused on getting African American voters jazzed up about Democrats and Joe Biden, it's focused on women and it's focused on young people. And the uniting theme through all of it is going to be talking about abortion rights, which she is going to talk about as an issue of freedom and liberty and make that appeal to people.

And, for the White House, this is really important. They're looking at Joe Biden needing to bring up his own numbers and bring up Democrats' numbers with those groups especially. And with women looking like they could be incredibly important in this year's election, Harris moving into that very central role.

KEILAR: Does this midterm swing signal any larger plans for 2024?

DOVERE: Look, one of two things is going to be happening six or eight months from now. Either she's going to be running as Joe Biden's running mate, the running mate for a president who will be 82 years old in 2024 and be there as a crucial validator, or if things suddenly change, she could be running for president herself.

And you see, I was at the Democratic National Committee meeting on Saturday right outside D.C., and she was talking about how she wants to bring all the politics of the midterms, the Democrats doing well in November, together into a role that would be there for her. Look at what she said here talking about how she wants to be that deciding vote to change the filibuster to codify abortion rights and to codify voting rights.

KEILAR: Very interesting reporting. Thank you so much, Isaac. We appreciate it.

DOVERE: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, Congress could very well have its first members from generation z this year. Twenty-five-year-old Karoline Leavitt won a Republican House primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, and Maxwell Frost, who's also 25, won a Democratic House primary in Florida last month. So, if you think this signifies that Congress itself has been getting younger. Well, if you think that, you would be wrong.

Joining me now is Harry Enten, CNN senior data reporter, who is ageless, I should note.


BERMAN: Congress, not so ageless. ENTEN: No, it is not so ageless.

So, look at the percentage of Congress persons over the age of 70 years old back in 1982, just 5 percent. We get up to 9 percent in 1992. But I was pretty steady between '92 and 2002. Then look at 2012, all the way up to 16 percent. And now, in 2022, look at this, 23 percent of the members of Congress are over the age of 70.

BERMAN: Can I just tell you one thing, though, if you look at pictures from Congress in 1982, they all look older. I think there's an element of people are aging better. They don't look as old as they did in 1982 when they looked - you know, they'd all been smoking and everything else. That aside, part of this may be the voters themselves, right?

ENTEN: The voters themselves are getting older. It turns out some - in some ways Congress is actually more representative of the elector at large. So this is the percentage of voters who are over the age of 70. In 1980, it was just 9 percent. Then we see basically steady between '92 and 2008. A little bit more than 10 percent. But look at 2020, an all-time high, 16 percent of voters were over the age of 70 and it's expected to continue to rise over the next 40 years.


BERMAN: That is so interesting. And, in a way, Harry, older voters are over represented. Explain.

ENTEN: Yes. So, over the age of 70. If you look at the percentage of all Americans who are over the age of 70, it's just 10 percent. But, of course, you have to be 18 or older to vote in an election. So, look at the percentage they are of adults. They're 13 percent. Look at 2020 voters, 16 percent are over the age of 70. So, older folks are much more likely to actually cast a ballot, even among adults.

BERMAN: They punch above their weight is what we say in the (INAUDIBLE)

ENTEN: That's exactly right. Older folks go to the polls.

BERMAN: Now, what do people think about age limits for members of Congress and elected officials as they're getting older?

ENTEN: Yes, should there be an age limit for elected officials? The majority say, yes, about 54 percent say it should - there should be one and it should be set at 70 years or younger. So, the majority don't necessarily claim to like the fact that there's so many people now over the age of 70 in Congress. Then there's about 15 percent who say, yes, it should be set at 80 or 90. And there's only about 27 percent who say that there should, in fact, not be an age limit.

BERMAN: So, this is what they say, Harry, but what do they do, these voters?

ENTEN: Yes. Yes, it turns out that sometimes polls don't necessarily capture what people are actually going to do at the ballot box. So, how do you feel about an over 75-year-old presidential candidate? This was polled back in 2019 before the 2020 primary when, of course, remember, Joe Biden was over 75 years old and won the presidency. There was just 37 percent who said they felt enthusiastic or comfortable with an over 75-year-old presidential candidate. The clear majority said there were reservations or felt very uncomfortable, at 62 percent. But then they went on and they voted for Joe Biden.

BERMAN: Yes, sometimes voters say silly things.

I just want everyone to go back and look at pictures from the '80s and '70s. I would say that, you know, 75 is the new 45.

ENTEN: I think - I think that's right. You know, the health and the fact of the matter is, is, I think, as we age, we look better too, John.

BERMAN: You look great, Harry.

ENTEN: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Thank you very much.

So, a new book reveals that Melania Trump told her husband that he was, quote, blowing it, on the pandemic response.

KEILAR: Plus, LeBron James hits the NBA over the decision to only suspend a team owner for a year after multiple racist slurs.



KEILAR: Tropical Storm Fiona over the Atlantic is moving toward the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico today with winds of 50 miles an hour or more.

So, let's get now to meteorologist Chad Myers, who is keeping an eye on Fiona.

What is Fiona doing right now?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It gathered a little strength overnight, to be honest. I mean, at this time yesterday, the Hurricane Center wasn't even thinking it would be a named storm yet. So, we saw the big blow up there as the sun set. Right now, a 50 miles per hour storm.

This weather brought to you by Safelite, your vehicle glass and recalibration experts.

So, yes, we always know about this cone, left or right, will it move to the north of the islands or to the south of the islands. But it does have the area at a 60 mile per hour storm. The National Hurricane Center taking it through the islands over the next couple of days and then into the Atlantic as we work our way into the weekend.

A beautiful couple of days across the Northeast, though, for you. How about 74 in New York, 71 in Boston, and even in the 60s across upstate New York. We'll take that. It will get warmer, though, as we work our way -- by the time we work our way into the weekend, D.C. will get almost to 90. So, enjoy the cool air while you have it.

KEILAR: Yes, I am not loving almost 90 degrees in late September.

MYERS: Yes, I know.

KEILAR: I'll tell you that.

Chad, thank you so much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: So, the NBA has hit Phoenix Suns and Mercury managing partner Robert Sarver with a $10 million fine and a one year suspension after an independent investigation found he engaged in hostile, racially insensitive and inappropriate behavior. But that punishment - the lightness, I guess, of the punishment is not sitting well with some of the biggest names in the game, including LeBron James and the biggest star on Sarver's own team.

With us now, CNN business correspondent Rahel Solomon.

Rahel, what are they saying.

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you know, this was an independent investigation about a year in the making. It covered 18 years of reported behavior. And when the punishment came down this week was widely viewed as a letdown, a slap on the wrist.

The punishment, $10 million, which is the NBA maximum, and a one-year suspension from the league. The behavior, according to the report, racially incentive and inappropriate behavior by Robert Sarver, including repeating the "n" word when recounting the statements of others. The report commissioned by the NBA said Sarver also, quote, made many sex-related comments in the workplace, made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and, on several occasions, engaged in inappropriate physical conduct towards male employees.

Sarver saying in response, while I disagree with some of the particulars of the NBA's report, I would like to apologize for my words and actions that offended our employees. I take full responsibility for what I have done. I'm sorry for causing this pain, and these errors in judgement are not consistent with my personal philosophy or my views - or values, rather.

But the league's decision has left critics scratching their heads and others shaking their heads in disappointment. Some wondering why this fell far short of what we saw with Donald Sterling, who was banned from the league and forced to sell the L.A. Clippers after being recorded making racist comments, though he denied he wasn't racist.

The league saying, in Sarver's case, there was no finding that this misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus. But the NBA's most powerful player not buying it. LeBron James tweeting in part, I love this league and deeply respect our leadership, but this isn't right. We, at CNN, have reached out to the NBA for comment.

But, John, at the heart of this is workplace culture and critics point out that in many jobs, many, let's be real, not all, this person would have been fired. This is likely not the end of this as more fans, as more players weigh in.


BERMAN: Yes, I think that's what we have to watch for is how many more players, how many more Phoenix Suns players and Mercury players begin to weigh in.


BERMAN: Rahel Solomon, thank you so much for that.

So, disaster averted. The White House, just a short time ago, announced a deal to prevent a nationwide freight rail strike. We are live with the latest.

KEILAR: Plus, the highest-ranking Trump White House official so far complying with a Justice Department subpoena related to January 6th.



SINGING: Lite Brite. Lite Brite. Turn on the magic of colored lights. Lite Brite. Lite Brite. Make a face to glow at night.


KEILAR: So, all these years later, and you probably still remember that jingle, Lite Brite among the dozen finalists this year for the National Toy Hall of Fame. The other include Pound Puppies. I was a big fan of Pound Puppies.


The game Bingo, Masters of the Universe, Nerf toys, Pinatas, Spirograph and the Top.