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ISIS Claims Responsibility for Manchester Terror Attack; At Least 22 Dead, 59 Wounded In Manchester Terror Attack; Soon: Intel Chief Testifies Amid New Russia Revelations; Trump Asked DNI, NSA To Deny Evidence Of Russia Collusion. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. News breaking by the minute this morning in last night's horrific attack in a concert in Manchester, England. That concert filled with teenagers and children. This morning ISIS claimed responsibility. And at this moment, police are conducting raids in connection with this bombing that killed at least 22 people, including children.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And we've just learned the identity of two of those young victims. An eight-year-old girl, Saffie Rose Roussos, described by those who love her as simply a beautiful little girl in every aspect of the world. Also, an 18-year-old girl, Georgina Callander.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's happening?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Also new this morning, police say they have arrested a 23- year-old man in connection to the attack. As of now, they are not identifying that man or the apparent suicide bomber. We're covering all aspects of this breaking story. Let's go straight to Manchester where we find our Clarissa Ward.

Clarissa, what are you learning?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, John, good morning. Well, we have a lot of developments for you today.

We are learning that authorities have conducted two separate raids in and around the city of Manchester. There has been a controlled explosion in at least one of those raids. No word yet as to whether there have been any arrests. But as you mentioned, we do know that a 23-year-old has been arrested in southern Manchester in conjunction with last night's attacks.

You also touched on the fact that ISIS on their sort of Amaq News Channel is also now claiming responsibility for this attack saying that, quote, "a soldier of the caliphate planted explosive devices." You'll notice the plural word is used there, devices.

Previously, we have seen ISIS claim responsibility for attacks that they did not necessarily coordinate. They are opportunistic. At this stage, we cannot confirm that ISIS did, indeed, coordinate this attack or whether it may have simply just been ISIS inspired. But that is what authorities are working to drill down on right now.

They do know, they believe, the identity of the individual, the lone male suicide bomber who was responsible for the attack at 10:33 p.m. last night as those people were leaving that concert. And for any of our viewers who know this pop star, they know how popular she is with young people.

And speaking to that, as you mentioned, the two casualties that we can now confirm, those dead, eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos from Lancashire. She was described by the head mistress or principal of her school as being a beautiful little girl, loved by everyone for her warmth. Also, 18-year-old Georgina Callander. And we do know from authorities that there are at least 12 children that's 16 and under who are still injured.

This is a devastating attack on a very tight knit community. People here feeling in shock, feeling sadness, feeling outrage. And some concern and fears as well as police go about the business of trying to find out who may have facilitated this attack, who may have helped this suicide bomber build his bomb, who may have helped him with his funding, and whether ISIS did indeed coordinate the attack as they are now claiming. Poppy and John.

BERMAN: All right. Clarissa Ward for us in Manchester following all the developments there. Thank you very, very much.

The President of the United States following these developments as well. He is, of course, on his first overseas trip. That is his helicopter right now. Marine One just arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. He is about to leave Israel for Rome.

It's showing Jerusalem there but I think he's arrived at the airport, which is in Tel Aviv. I think he is on his way to Rome very, very shortly where he will be meeting with the Pope in Vatican City, among other things.

The President did comment on the attacks overnight. He condemned the attacks. He mourned the loss of innocent life. By the way, he also had a conversation with Prime Minister Theresa May of Great Britain as well. He called the people who perpetrated these attacks losers. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So many young, beautiful, innocent people living and enjoying their lives, murdered by evil losers in life. We cannot stand a moment longer for the slaughter of innocent people. This wicked ideology must be obliterated. And I mean completely obliterated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. There is the President as we look at these live pictures on Marine One about to board Air Force One and, as John said, take off from Tel Aviv and head to Rome. He will then go to Vatican City. And we're going to track all this, but let's get to our panel as we watch this to talk about what we're learning, these fast-moving developments about this terror attack that has transpired.

[09:05:05] Paul Cruickshank is with us, CNN terrorism analyst. Mike Baker is here as well, former CIA operative and co-founder of Diligence LLC. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a counter terrorism expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Paul, just to you first. You're so dialed in with all of your sources on this. We know there is this arrest of a 23-year-old. We know there was an apparent suicide bomber. Neither of them have been identified, Clarissa was noting. Was it ISIS directed, ISIS inspired? What are you learning?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, what we do know is that British investigators think that they have identified the suicide bomber. They're working to confirm that information until they're absolutely certain. But I was going to give them a big step up here in this investigation in terms of trying to figure out if this individual has other co-conspirators out there, if there's a terror network behind this atrocity.

If there is, that would be very concerning because other members of that network could move forward with attacks. There may be a bomb maker out there. Though we have seen a number of terrorist attacks and plots in the West since 9/11 where there's only been one individual involved who has made the bombs and then moved forward to either plot or carry out an attack.

They'll be doing a lot of forensics right now at the scene, trying to figure out how sophisticated and powerful this device was. The more it was sophisticated and powerful, the more likely it is there is some kind of network behind this and the more likely it is that there may be some overseas connections.

ISIS stating, without any evidence, that this individual was a soldier of the caliphate, as they put it, just about an hour ago releasing that statement on their official Nashir telegram channel, a somewhat unusual move.

Often, they first put those statements out on their sort of semi- affiliated media agency, Amaq, but they're putting a lot of energy behind circulating these claims in various languages right now. But no evidence whatsoever offered that they were behind this, and they're not identifying the fighting name or anything like that of the perpetrator, so maybe they've just seen all these media reports, and they're being opportunistic here.

BERMAN: Again, you're looking at live pictures of President Trump and his wife, Melania Trump, there leaving Israel right now to continue his first overseas trip. He heads to Rome very shortly. As we continue to watch this, let's continue our discussion about the terror attack in Great Britain.

Mike Baker, to you, the fact that there is now a second person under arrest, the suicide bomber, of course, died in the attack. A second person now under arrest. This ISIS claim of responsibility, whether or not it's valid or not. What does that tell you?

MIKE BAKER, CO-FOUNDER, DILIGENCE LLC: Well, look, I've worked with MI5 and MI6 over the years in counter terrorism and terrorist operations, and they have moved remarkably quickly on this one. Eight or nine hours after the attack, in talking with contacts that I have over there, they had identified the attacker.

They had started moving on talking with people who knew him, who were associated with him. They started tagging and identifying and searching locations. So, you know, I would be extremely surprised if this turned out to be just this individual, just the attacker.

BERMAN: Why?

BAKER: There tends to be a process, protocols, in target assessment, in choosing an attack site. I suspect there was support there in terms of surveillance and narrowing down the target. I suspect there was support in development and building of the device. So I think that, you know, the idea that this might just be the one person and there is no other individuals involved, I think, is pretty remote.

HARLOW: We also have our Oren Liebermann with us as well, our Jerusalem correspondent as well. How is it being taken, Oren, the comments the President chose to make, saying I'm not going to call this terrorist a monster because that would sort of aggrandize him and calling him a loser? What has been the reaction there from what the President said?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were comments that were actually echoed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they spoke together, saying we all need to defeat these losers.

Interestingly, when Trump spoke again, that's when he gave his big speech at the Israel Museum, he stayed away from that kind of terminology. He didn't use the word "losers" or "monsters." Instead, he used the more traditional tack against terrorism, saying we need to defeat extremism and terrorism.

Let's remember, that was the overarching goal of this trip to begin with. It was a trip meant to visit the Saudis in Riyadh, the Israelis here, the Palestinians in the West Bank, and to combat extremism and terrorism. And that was a large part of his speech and the focus of what he said in Saudi. And then just a couple of days later, the first major terrorist attack under President Trump happening in Manchester, England.

[09:10:13] So this was really his first chance to respond to that, and he made a statement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. And that's where he made that comment, that they're evil losers of life. Again, just a couple of hours later, when he gave his major speech, he talked about combatting extremism and terrorism wherever it comes from.

And he says that all people of the Middle East of all faiths -- Jews, Christians, and Muslims -- all peace loving people need to work together. Those were comments that were received well here, the need to work together to build a foundation of peace for all children. And he referenced that a lot, building a foundation of peace for a life without fear for all children here -- Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Oren. Stand by for us again. We're watching now Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, as they get ready to board Air Force One to leave this part of the President's overseas trip. We, of course, are talking about the terror attack that took place in Manchester, England overnight.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is with us as well. You are an anti-terror expert. Your assessment of the overall threat level in Britain in the nature of this attack, the overt barbarism involved here, attacking a concert with kids, the message being sent here.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Yes. The barbarism of it is extraordinary. This is seen by so many people as being much more callus and in many ways, much more personal than these attacks usually are because of who the victims are going to be, given who the singer's fan base is. It's going to be teenage and younger girls. You can see the first two victims who were announced are ages eight and 18.

And for a suicide bomber, it's extraordinarily personal. You have to choose who you are standing beside, often looking victims in the eye and choosing exactly who you want to kill as you blow yourself up. Very different than a bomb that's put in, for example, a trash can, which, you know, is personal in its own way, but a bit impersonal in that you don't see the victims. In this case, the suicide bomber would have to stand right next to them and choose who he wanted to kill.

As to the overall threat level in Britain, British police and security services have disrupted an unprecedented level of ISIS attacks. If you look at Europe overall, what we could see there, I think, we could describe as a nightmare scenario for the continent. You know, people who have worked on this for a while, as everyone on this panel has, will remember the days when we could count the number of major post- 9/11 attacks on a single hand, and they were known by their dates, like 3/11 and 7/7. In the past three years, you've had an utter explosion in major attacks in the continent.

HARLOW: Paul Cruickshank, back to you. I mean, when you look at the country that was chosen and the city, why Manchester? Because if you look at London, right, 200 miles away, it is one of the most heavily surveilled cities in the world. Why Manchester?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, Manchester is a major British city, one of the three biggest cities in England. So if a terrorist or terrorist group is plotting an attack, it is going to be one of the sort of the city's locations --

HARLOW: But is it closely surveilled as London is?

CRUICKSHANK: Yes. I mean, the British security services are aware that the threat to this country is more than just a capital city threat. They've been aware of that for some time. In fact, all the way back in 2009, there was a major al Qaeda plot, which was thwarted, which was targeting a shopping center in Manchester. So it's been in the crosshairs of global jihadists before.

Groups like ISIS and al Qaeda realize that wherever they attack in the U.K., they're going to get a lot of media exposure, especially at a very high profile concert like this, at a major venue with a very famous American singer headlining. For them, that's the sort of ideal target. And the kind of arguments that they're going to make, as horrendous as they are, are these air strikes from the U.K. and other countries, as they argue, have been killing their people inside the so-called caliphate. And this is pure naked revenge from their point of view.

BERMAN: Mike, take us inside the investigation now. As you know, there are, what, you know, 12 hours or so after this original attack. What is happening right now? What is important to do in Day One?

BAKER: Well, on Day One, I mean, first of all, you got to lock the place down. Obviously, there is the triage side of things, but from the investigative point of view, you lock it down. You start gathering up everything forensically. And that is, you know, a standard set of protocols.

So you go through, you gather up all the pieces, parts, remaining fragments of the device or devices that are used in the attack. And what does that give you? Well, you might pick up a serial number for a particular component. Part of that perhaps. If you get lucky, that might take you to a purchase point for that particular component.

[09:15:09] What does that do? That might give you a credit card receipt or a way of purchase or CCTV footage from that particular location that gives you another operational lead. You have the DNA that also works. You've got the CCTV footage.

But the only city in the U.K. that has more CCTV coverage than London -- or than Manchester is London. It's basically number two. So you pull all those files out and you know, it's confirmed that basically what they get is footage of the attacker arriving at or near the site.

What do you do with that? You walk it back, look at previous footage, try and determine if you can find that same individual perhaps with others doing their pre-attack surveillance on the site

Then you start gathering the list of associates and doing what they have been doing over the past several hours, which is starting to talk to people who know the individual, whether they're friends or family or associates, suspects perhaps as the individual arrested.

You start identifying and searching addresses known to be associated with the attacker or individuals that know the attacker that may be suspects. So you step through all of this. Again, you know, MI-5, the Domestic Security Service, Metropolitan Police, greater Manchester Police unfortunately have a great deal of experience in all of this.

Manchester has seen attacks previously. You can go back all the way to 1996. They had a rather horrendous truck bomb. Luckily no fatalities during the trouble. So they know how to do this. They know what to do.

BERMAN: Mike, standby. Paul, thank you so much. We have an eyewitness on the phone right now.

HARLOW: We do. We do Zac Haniff. He was in arena last night during the concert when this happened. Zach, can you hear us?

ZAC HANIFF, U.K. CONCERT BOMBING WITNESS (via telephone): Yes, I can hear.

HARLOW: Thank you for being with us. You were on the upper tier when you heard the explosion. Walk us through what happened next as we look at images of all of this and then what you saw when you went outside.

HANIFF: So, yes, I was on the upper deck like you said. We saw the whole arena. It was literally as the final song finished, she walked off stage and the lights came up. There was this huge like explosion sound. I honestly thought it sounded like a mic dropping or like a speaker blast.

Because in that moment you don't think of anything like that. You think obviously it's something -- you know, it is not going to be that crazy. It wasn't until a few seconds after that people were screaming and rushing out towards the exit.

We had no idea why. People were asking why, what's going on. People rushing toward the exits. When we finally got out of the arena into the lobby, which is where the explosion actually occurred, everyone was trying to get out of these two double doors and people running around screaming, crying. We just had no idea what was happening.

And then people are throwing the words around, bomb, grenades, and explosion. There was young children crying, like shouting for their parents on the phones, trying to find each other. It was crazy.

BERMAN: Zac, let me ask. Are you and all your friends doing OK today?

HANIFF: Yes. So my best friend, we went and she has to go back to do a dance performance today, but we are absolutely fine. We got home OK. Her seat was like a lot closer to the explosion, but obviously the explosion was in the lobby. It wasn't actually where the audience are, but she was closer to it than we were.

She said that she felt the vibrations from the explosion. And as you walked out, you could smell this horrible, distinctive burning smell. It smelt like burnt plastic. It was horrendous. Yes, but she's OK and all my friends are OK.

HARLOW: Zac, I mean, you said that security was really tight at the beginning of the evening, just getting into anywhere around the venue. Is that right?

HANNIF: Yes. So they were like super cautious. They were checking peoples' bags. They weren't patting people down. They were checking people's bags, but it's not a case of getting into the arena. It is getting out. So obviously when this concert nearly is finishing, there is thousands of kids that want to meet their parents.

The parents are going to come into the arena to meet them. So the doors are just left open freely. Probably within the last half hour up to the end of the concert so people can go in and meet their relatives and family. It would have been then that the terrorist walked in.

I don't think a terrorist would have been in from the start because bags were being checked. There was a lot of confusion with that. It would have been at the end when the doors are freely opened for people to get their kids.

[09:20:12]BERMAN: Zac Haniff, we are glad you are OK. What a horrible, horrible event that you were -- you had the misfortune of being a part of. But thank you, we're glad you're OK. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Still to come for us, a new bombshell report, the president asked two of the nation's top intelligence chiefs to deny the existence of any collusion with Russia during the campaign.

HARLOW: And moments away, one of those intelligence chiefs, Dan Coats, will testify on Capitol Hill. You can bet he will be asked all about that reported request from the president. More on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right, moments from now, the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, will testify on Capitol Hill. CNN has confirmed that according to multiple officials, President Trump asked Director Coats as well as the director of the NSA to publicly deny any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election.

HARLOW: All right, so as we get ready for DNI Coats to testify in front of this Armed Services Committee, it is pre-planned. It's supposed to be about worldwide threats.

[09:25:05]You can bet he will likely be asked about this very odd, odd and troubling request apparently from the president. For more, we are joined by our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, in Washington. Laura, what more do we know about this?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Poppy, the president fiercely denies any coordination between his campaign and Russian meddling in the presidential election. But we have now learned from sources that back in March, after then FBI Director James Comey publically revealed for the first time that the FBI was investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign associates and the Russians.

Trump then privately made a plea for help to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, as well as to Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency in the hopes that they would essentially prejudge the FBI's investigation into Russia while it is ongoing and publically push back against any allegations of possible collusion in the same vain as Trump has been doing.

Now we're told both Coats and Rogers were uncomfortable with the president's request and refused to comply essentially. And the White House is not confirming or denying these reports, only saying that they are the product of illegal leaks from anonymous sources.

BERMAN: All right. Laura Jarrett for us in Washington. Again, we will keep our eye on this hearing with Director Coats when he is asked about this and you can bet he will be. We will bring that to you.

Want to get reaction now on all of this. Joining us Congressman Steve Russell from Oklahoma. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Before we ask you about this, we want to get your reaction to the horrible attack overnight in England. You are the father of five children. You raised five kids. I have to imagine, along with so many others, you watched this news in horror.

REP. STEVE RUSSELL (R-OK), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Well, I think the entire world does and it reinforces the fact that we can't work this out with barbarians. We can't sit down over coffee and accommodate them. Prime Minister May is correct when she says that our way of life will prevail. It is very important that we not only pray for the victims and the families but also the investigators, especially right on the heels of the scene. It will be very important so they could get those necessary leads.

HARLOW: Let me get your take on this testimony we are about to hear from DNI Coats. This comes in the wake of a pretty stunning report overnight first from the "Washington Post" and then from us here at CNN that the president went and asked one on one, DNI Coats and also the director of the NSA, Admiral Mike Rogers, to come out and publically say, look, there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Asking that before the investigation into that had been concluded whatsoever, it is a request that made them, we are told uncomfortable. It is a request that they denied. They told the president, no, we cannot do that in so many words. Do you think that is an appropriate request from the president? The White House is not commenting on it at this time.

RUSSELL: Well, I think it is first important to hear exactly whether through third party reports what Mr. Coats would have to say and his testimony. We'll get the most accurate statements there. But I do think that the president has in his executive branch his cabinet and his people that he turns to. What we don't know is was he seeking options? Was he seeking council? Because he talking through this with his advisors and administrators, those are that in charge of these intelligence agencies, that's what we don't know and that's why this testimony will be --

HARLOW: Let me just ask you because we have confidence in our reporting and our reporters who have this from their sources that they trust very much. If this did take place, as our reporting says it did, is that a question you are comfortable with from the president to two of his top intel officials?

RUSSELL: I think anybody that's a leader, I know when I was in charge of 1,000 soldiers, there were a lot of things that would come up and I would ask what are my options, what are the things that I can do. I would have an officer that would often tell me, sir, you can't do that.

So again, it goes back to what the testimony will be from Mr. Coats that we find out what the context was. It is one thing to have reports, but it is another thing to have the eyewitness accounts.

BERMAN: Indeed, we are waiting to hear from Director Coats. Hopefully he will clear that up. But if these conversations did happen as reported, they're hardly alone, sir, because we have heard, you know, the reports that Director Comey was asked about his loyalty by the president of the United States.

We heard that Director Comey, the fired FBI director was asked if he would be willing to basically drop the investigation into Michael Flynn. Is there a pattern here? Do you see any pattern of the president trying to push off or slow down or muddy the waters in these investigations?

RUSSELL: Well, if we have the propensity to go in that direction then that's the way we'll view it. If we also look at Mr. Comey's testimony where he said that to his knowledge, there was not anything that would have violated these tenants in later testimony. We have to take him at his word also. Having a memorandum for record is important. I do it.