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EARLY START

What's Next for Bombing Investigation?; Trump Defends Racial Profiling After NY/NJ Bombings; Clinton Stresses National Security Credentials; "Serious Blow" to Syrian Ceasefire. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2016 - 04:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight: New clues linking a suspect to the series of bombings in New Jersey and New York. That suspect now facing attempted murder charges. But could they be upgraded as the investigation cast a wider net?

CNN's live team coverage starts right now.

Good morning, everybody. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Nice to see you. It is Tuesday, September 20th, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

We have major new developments overnight in the investigation into the man authorities say planted bombs in four locations in two states over two days. Twenty-eight-year-old accused bomb Ahmad Khan Rahami has been charged with attempted murder of police officers. Officials tell CNN he is the, quote, "main guy", but they have not determined whether anyone else may have helped him.

Rahami is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan. He travels to that country several times and was questioned each time he returned to the U.S. Rahami was captured just hours after officials sent an alert with his picture to millions of cell phones in the region. It all ended with police and Rahami in a dramatic shootout.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is live for us this morning in Elizabeth, New Jersey, at the Rahami family home.

Jessica, give us the latest on the investigation.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, John, you said it, John. Rahami was taken down in that gun battle in neighboring Linden, New Jersey. He lived right here in Elizabeth, New Jersey. And now, he faces a litany of state charges, including five counts of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He is now being held on $5.2 million bail.

But while the manhunt is over, the investigation is just now ramping up. Investigators want to know was Rahami helped or assisted in this plot by other people. Also, does he have ties to foreign terror groups? Now, we know that Rahami did spend significant time overseas, including in Afghanistan where he was born and also Pakistan where he married a woman there in 2011.

We also know that Rahami spent a significant amount of time in Afghanistan. In fact, he was there from April 2013 to March 2014. And every time he came back to the United States, he did go underscore screening, but he was never flagged. So, immigration officials and investigators in this case want to know if he was in fact radicalized.

Now, Rahami underwent surgery in the hospital yesterday. He is now being held on $5.2 million bond. And the investigation into this continues. And we understand from the bar owner who actually spotted Rahami inside the vestibule in his bar yesterday morning, Rahami was there sleeping.

And we talked to the bar owner. And he described how it all went down. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARINDER BAINS, BAR OWNER: The first cop closed in, he just looked at him. He's still sleeping and his hoodie was over his head. The second cop pulled up in and he just wake him up. And right away, he went to his left to pull I think I'm sure the gun and I couldn't hear the conversation because I was across street, in the door way, you know?

And right away, he pulled the gun and he shot twice. I was like shaking a little bit. When a cop pulled out his gun and at that point in time, I realized that, OK, this is the guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: And the FBI launching a raid at the Rahami family home here in Elizabeth, New Jersey. That happening yesterday.

Now, Rahami's family owns the chicken restaurant just underneath their apartment, it's right here in Elizabeth. This chicken restaurant has been great cause for commotion and concern in this neighborhood. In fact, the neighbors said that there was commotion and there were issues, and the Rahami family actually filed a lawsuit in 2011, saying that they were being harassed. And that lawsuit was settled and terms of it were undisclosed.

John and Christine, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. A lot going on for us. Jessica, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Let's talk about some more of these significant new developments overnight in that bombing investigation. A law enforcement official tells CNN a handwritten note was found with the unexploded bomb in Chelsea. It included references to previous terrorists, including the Boston bombers. One thing investigators urgently want to know, did the bomber had help? Was he part of an organized terror ring?

An official says the suspect was not initially cooperative with police who are trying to question him. Joining us now with the latest, CNN's Ed Lavandera. He is in New

York's Chelsea neighborhood.

Good morning, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine.

Well, 23rd Street here, between 7th Avenue and 6th Avenue back open to traffic, everything moving smoothly. As you can see here, the mangled awning, this is the site where the explosion took place on Saturday night.

But it was the site four blocks north of here where one of the unexploded pressure cookers was found that is yielding the most clues.

[04:05:04] That fingerprint -- according to a senior law enforcement official, a fingerprint was found on that pressure cooker and it's what led authorities to identify Rahami as the suspect and the man that they were looking for in this case, as well as the note that contained ramblings and talks about other terrorist, including the Boston bombers. So, a lot of information gleaned from that device that was found four blocks north of here several hours after the explosion here. And that's what led authorities to quickly move and start to identifying Rahami as the suspect and leading to the alert that went out Monday morning, and with the quick apprehension of him as well.

And investigators also say, sources are telling us that Rahami's also connected to not only the two locations here in New York City, but also the explosives found in Elizabeth with five pressure cookers as well -- or five pipe bombs that were found in a bag, and also, along a parade route in New Jersey over the weekend.

So, investigators combing through all of that evidence, piecing all of that together trying to figure out indeed if Rahami is, they believe, acted alone at this point, or if he had a wider net of help in all of this. So, that's one of the things that they continue to look at.

They are also looking for two men seen on video carrying one of the duffel bags away from the scene on 27th Street. It doesn't appear these men are connected, but authorities want to talk to them -- Christine and John.

ROMANS: All right. Ed for us in Chelsea this morning -- about six minutes past the hour -- thanks for that, Ed.

BERMAN: All right. A new report this morning says that nearly 900 people who had been ordered deported or removed from the United States were later able to get citizenship because of a flaw in the fingerprint system. The DHS inspector general says nearly 150,000 older fingerprint records were not digitized and that they could not be easily searched to detect someone who had been ordered deported, later applying for citizenship under another name. A spokesperson says DHS is reviewing those citizenship decisions and working to digitize the old finger print records. Just four months left in his term, President Obama will make the case

for more humanitarian aid to Syria today when he addresses the United Nations. The president is set to announce new U.S. plans to help Syrian refugees with similar commitments expected from other countries. The president tried to calm nerves yesterday in the wake of the bombings in New York and New Jersey, saying we all have a role to play in winning the global war on terror.

ROMANS: Outside groups are crunching the numbers on Donald Trump's revised tax plan. The Tax Foundation, which advocates for lower taxes, finds that plan will cost between $2.6 trillion and $5.9 trillion. Now, that's less than his original proposal which had a $10 trillion price tag. This new estimate is a wide range because Trump's plan for business tax plan is unclear. At issue, whether he would apply a flat 15 percent rate to just corporate income or all business incomes.

Still, the Tax Foundation does say Trump's plan would mean lower taxes for everyone, but not equally. The bottom 20 percent would see a 1.2 percent drop in their tax bill. The middle class just slightly more than that.

Look, John, at the top 1 percent. The tax plan still gives the largest tax cut to the very rich.

BERMAN: You know, it's astounding. The pass through issue which I know is complicated, but you are talking about a $1 trillion variance and very squishy answers from the Trump team what he really intended to do there. So, that's something they need to be pressed on, for sure.

All right. Eight minutes after the hour.

National security at the forefront this morning in the 2016 race. This following the bombings in New York and New Jersey. Donald Trump suggests that profiling is the way to go. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:12:52] ROMANS: In the wake of the New York and New Jersey bombings, Donald Trump is repeating his support for racial profiling. According to Trump, it may be the only way to keep the homeland safe.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our local police, they know who they are. They are afraid to do anything about it because they don't want to be accused of profiling.

Do we have a choice? Look what's going on. Do we really have a choice? We're trying to be so politically correct in our country. And this is only going to get worse.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, both candidates are using the attacks to paint the other as unfit to handle a terror threat. Trump in Florida, seeking to bolster his case for getting on undocumented immigrants.

We get more from CNN's Sara Murray.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, John and Christine.

Donald Trump took the stage here in front of the packed house in Florida and he immediately tied the latest string of attacks to immigration policy, saying that a strong immigration security is the same as national security and insisting that if he is elected president, he will bring an end to attacks like this on U.S. soil.

TRUMP: My highest duty as president is to protect our citizens and to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I will honor that duty to the fullest extent every single day and I will never waiver and I will tell you that I consider a sacred obligation -- sacred.

MURRAY: Now, Trump also made yet another call for an ideological test for any immigrant who wants to come to the U.S. That's something that has been controversial in the past. But he is betting on the notion that a muscular tone that a strong stance is what voters want heading into Election Day.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is betting that a steady and her experience as secretary of state will be able to carry her to the finish line. Now, we'll see the two of them on stage together in a less than a week for that first presidential debate.

But as for today, Donald Trump is back on the campaign trail, this time in the battle ground state of North Carolina.

Back to you, guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: All right. Thanks to Sara for that.

Hillary Clinton hitting back and hitting back hard against this from Donald Trump. Clinton accuses Trump of being a recruiting sergeant for ISIS.

[04:15:01] She also stresses that she believes she has the steady hand and experience to keep the country safe.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John and Christine, as Donald Trump has been blasting Hillary Clinton for being weak and part of the Obama administration's failure in his words in the war on terrorism, she is pushing back hard, saying Donald Trump's rhetoric has been a recruiting tool for ISIS. This is now front and center in the campaign with 49 days to go and now just six days before that debate. Her words yesterday were unsparing.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We know that a lot of the rhetoric we've heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS, because they are looking to make this into a war against Islam.

ZELENY: By saying that Donald Trump has been a recruitment tool for ISIS, she is opening a new line of conversation, a new line of attack here in this campaign. Strength and security have long been a conversation but they have taken on an urgent tone. Now, they are front and center in the campaign.

A presidential campaign once seemed to be about the economy has now turned into a conversation about national security. Donald Trump going hard after Hillary Clinton on immigration. This is going to be a central discussion here over the course of the next week with the first debate next Monday night here in New York, key on national security.

The Clinton campaign believes there is strength and experience can be used here as an advantage. But Donald Trump's arguments for changes may muddle all of that -- John and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that.

OK. And then there's this from Donald Trump Jr., after he tweeted an image comparing Syrian refugees to Skittles. The picture shows a bowl of candy and text that reads, "If I had a bowl of Skittles, and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful?" The clear suggestion is that allowing refugees into the U.S. could come at a cost if even a few are radicalized.

Trump also tweets, "This image sends it all. Let's end the politically correct agenda that doesn't put America first."

On that image, he said that's our Syrian refugee problem.

Skittles' parent company issuing a response overnight, reading, "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don't feel it's an appropriate analogy. We will refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing."

Interesting. This is just the latest for Trump Jr. who was criticized last week for using a Holocaust reference to complain about the media letting Hillary Clinton get away with mistakes.

BERMAN: You know, I encourage you all to read Philip Bump of "The Washington Post" who overnight, whatever you think about the alleged insensitivity of comparing Skittles to refugees, Philip Bump knows the math is just radically out of whack with Donald Trump Jr. saying there.

ROMANS: Was it Kato? I have to look at. I think it was Kato who did this analysis.

BERMAN: Yes.

ROMANS: You have one in 3 billion chance of being killed or attacked in this country by someone who is a refugee, one in three billion.

BERMAN: Indeed.

All right. There's another piece of political news that has a lot of people talking this morning. Could a Bush be backing a Clinton? Namely, could former President George H.W. Bush be now voting for Hillary Clinton? That word comes from a candidate no less. Robert Kennedy's daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, posted this picture on Facebook of her with President George H.W. Bush saying the president told me he's voting for Hillary.

Now, it's no secret that many in the Bush family are no fans of Donald Trump. Remember what happened between Trump and Jeb Bush in the primaries.

A spokesman for the former president neither confirms nor denies this claim. Hmm.

ROMANS: Hmm.

BERMAN: All right. A convoy of much-needed aid for Syria comes under attack. Who is responsible and could this be the final straw for the crumbling cease-fire? We are live in Syria, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:23:19] ROMANS: Welcome back.

The State Department this morning expressing outrage over the bombing of the United Nations aid convoys in Aleppo. At least a dozen people were killed in the air strikes on Monday. It's not clear if they were hit by Syrian or Russian planes. It comes with the U.S. and Russia at odds over efforts to stem the violence in Syria.

Meantime, the Syrian military declaring the week-long fire over. Can it be revived?

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen following developments for us. He is live for us this morning in Damascus.

Hi, Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christine.

The U.S. is saying it is not really paying attention to what the Syrian government is saying. They say they're agreement for a cease- fire was not the Syrian government, it was with the Russians. And they now expect the Russians to bring the Syrians back into the fold to try to stop the violence in Syria. But by all accounts, from what we're hearing around the Aleppo area,

it looks as though this cease-fire is all but dead. You don't only have the strikes that hit the aid convoy, you also have a lot of fighting that went on in eastern districts of Aleppo, which is the rebel-held area of that town. Activists there are saying that strikes were raining down like, quote, "rain" there in that area. They say at least 30 people were killed and many others were wounded.

And the efforts to try to save people from the rubble were also hampered by the fact that there's no electricity. And all of this happened in the dark. So, very difficult for those rescue crews to operate there.

Then, of course, there is the international outrage about the convoy being hit. At this point, unclear who exactly hit that convoy. The United Nations only saying that it was hit, not saying whether it was an air strike or may be some sort of ground fire.

The U.S. believes it was an air strike and coalition planes were area. So, they say it must have been the Syrians or the Russians, and they also expect the Russians to come forward and clarify that situation.

[04:25:08] And this is tragic in many ways, not just because of the loss of life, 12 people killed, but this was aid destined for some 78,000 people in the area. So, certainly, another big blow to try to stop the violence and to try to help those people who most need it on the ground here in this devastated country, Christine.

ROMANS: What a nightmare. All right. Fred Pleitgen, thank you for that, Fred.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

We have new developments in New York and New Jersey bombing investigation. We know what clues led police to the suspect, as more of the charges perhaps could be upgraded. And also, new developments in the investigation into whether anyone else was involved.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)