Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Alabama Senator Doug Jones; President Trump Criticizes Media After Package Bombs Found; Officials Warn There Could Be More Bombs. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 25, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:11]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news, the FBI confirming the discovery of 10 packages containing suspicious devices believed to be explosive, primarily targeting Democratic officials currently or formerly at the top levels of the U.S. government, as well as others known for backing liberal causes.

Law enforcement just revealed examination of the packages is under way at the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, and initial results show that powder in some packages did not pose a biological threat. We're not talking about powder in the explosives. We're talking about separate powder.

New today, two packages addressed to former Vice President Joe Biden were found in different locations in Delaware and a package addressed to actor Robert De Niro at his production company's office in New York City. It's still unclear whether there are any other devices out there. And authorities do not yet know who is behind this attack, nor the motive, though, moments ago, authorities in New York just assured the public this way:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES O'NEILL, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: I can say with certainty that we will identify and arrest the person or people responsible for these acts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It has not yet been definitively established how lethal the weapons are, though as of now they have been described by law enforcement as rudimentary, but functional.

All of the individuals targeted are either prominent Democrats or high-profile critics of President Trump and people that President Trump has personally attacked. It is important to emphasize just how unprecedented this all is.

Someone apparently tried to maim or kill two former presidents yesterday, as well as a former secretary of state, a former vice president, a former attorney general, and current members of Congress, among others.

Many Americans in this moment are looking to President Trump to unify the country. And President Trump expressed that sentiment once in prepared remarks yesterday. Since then, the president has taken on a different tone, claiming that the media is to blame for much of the anger and division in society.

That sentiment from the president came just hours after CNN's New York bureau received one of the pipe bombs, although it was addressed to former CIA Diro John Brennan.

Let's get right to CNN's Miguel Marquez, who is live for us in New York.

And, Miguel, just minutes ago, law enforcement held a press conference, along with the mayor of New York. They said any device could device could be dangerous until proven otherwise.

What else did they have to say?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, they're urging anyone that has any doubts to call FBI, call police and be on the lookout for anything, while they're saying that the city is perfectly safe and there is no credible threat right now against any part of the city.

But they did specify that some of these devices did go through the post office system. Others may have been hand-delivered. Also saying many of these devices, eventually all of them will be on their way to Quantico, Virginia, the FBI headquarters, where they will dig into them and try to figure out who is behind this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): At least 10 bombs now discovered from New York to Washington, Florida, and California, the latest, two suspected bombs sent to former Vice President Joe Biden. At least one was misaddressed, both earlier today, sitting in U.S. Postal facilities in Delaware, just miles apart.

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: I just want to make a note of the apology for the idiotic behavior of my president.

MARQUEZ: Overnight, another package discovered addressed to actor and Trump critic Robert De Niro at his downtown Manhattan film offices, TriBeCa Productions.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: The device was removed successfully. Thank God, there were no injuries. The really quick- witted work of a security guard there at that facility in Tribeca is to thanks for the fact that nothing happened and no harm was done to anyone. MARQUEZ: The package sent to De Niro similar to the one addressed to

former CIA Director John Brennan and sent to CNN, six U.S. flag forever stamps, but no postmark.

The bomb sent to CNN ultimately delivered by courier, the return address, the Florida congressional office of Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The device is now in the hands of forensics experts, who will look for the bomb-maker or makers' signatures on the packaging and the devices themselves.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A low I.Q.-individual, Maxine Waters.

MARQUEZ: Two devices also sent to Trump critic California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, one intercepted at a congressional mail sorting facility just outside D.C., the other at a post office facility in Los Angeles.

Similar packages sent to President Obama and Hillary Clinton were intercepted before reaching their homes. The package to billionaire and Democratic donor George Soros appeared to be placed in his mailbox.

[16:05:01]

The device to Former Attorney General Eric Holder was sent in the mail, but was returned to Wasserman Schultz's office in South Florida, which, like, the others, used her address for the return.

Law enforcement sources calling the devices rudimentary, but functional, and at least one was packed with projectiles meant to inflict greater damage, the FBI calling them potential explosive devices.

WILLIAM SWEENEY, ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Any device could be considered potentially dangerous and treated as such until proven otherwise.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Now, a couple of other things CNN is learning about this investigation.

Authorities are not giving any credence to the ISIS flag. They say it was a spoof ISIS flag that was on some of the devices. That's something you can get online. They're also saying that -- they're still calling these potentially explosive devices, but not sure why they did not go off, whether the bomb-maker was good enough to make sure they didn't go off and just wanted to scare people, or if they just didn't know what they were doing and built a bad bomb.

All that under investigation right now -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez in New York, thanks so much.

Let's go now to Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama. He serves on the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Senator, obviously, you have some experience with this. You helped convict two Klan members who were responsible for killing four black children in a 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham. You certainly know about hate in this country and about bombs. What do you make of this attack?

SEN. DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA: Well, first of all, Jake, I think we ought to recognize and commend the FBI and the first-responders that have worked.

They potentially saved a number of lives in getting to the facts, getting to these packages and getting them out of the way, getting them to where they can be analyzed very quickly.

You know, Jake, it seems to me that where this is, is there is some deranged person or persons out there who has just taken it upon themselves to inject themselves into the political discussion in a level that is very, very dangerous.

I think that we have got to make sure that we start dialing back our rhetoric. What I have seen here is similar to the Unabomber. It is similar to others who want to control the political dynamic. That's what appears to be the facts here.

And I think the FBI right now is probably doing a tremendous job in analyzing every aspect of these bombs and the materials that it was sent in.

TAPPER: You heard the police chief say that he can guarantee with certainty that this individual or individuals will be caught.

Your prosecution of the church bombers, the two Klan members, that came 40 years after the crime. And the truth of the matter is, we still don't know the person who is responsible for this current threat. Is it possible we might never know who did this crime?

JONES: Well, sure, it is possible, Jake.

But I think there is a lot of things that have changed since that bombing in 1963. Our FBI, our postal inspectors, the Secret Service do -- their technology is so much greater than it is today. We have DNA databases, we have fingerprint databases, we have all manner of ways where we can trace the materials.

That's one thing that is going on right now. They're taking every piece of that -- of those devices and analyzing them for their source of origin, comparing them to each other.

And so there's a lot of things that can happen. I feel confident that sooner or later the person or persons responsible will be apprehended. But it will take some time.

I go back to the Eric Robert Rudolph of the bombing of the Olympic parks in 1996. The folks in Atlanta did a tremendous job with that. But it was not until two years later, when he exploded a device in Birmingham at a women's clinic, that Rudolph's name first appeared as a suspect based strictly on an eyewitness testimony.

So, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that we will let play out and see how things go. But I have every confidence in the FBI and the postal inspectors, the Secret Service and our local law enforcement that are involved.

TAPPER: There's a big concern obviously that there is a danger here, not only to those high-profile officials who are being targeted, but also by the postal workers, the couriers, everyday Americans who work in mailrooms who might come in contact with these potentially lethal devices.

What do you say to people like that who might be worried?

JONES: I tell them just to be vigilant, be alert. Those are the kind of things I think -- you know, our postal folks are trained right now. We have got an incredible group of people that work in the post office. They're trained.

They're looking out for these things now. And I guarantee you that throughout all law enforcement and throughout all government, with all public officials, both in the Congress and in the state offices across the country, people have now been looking at these packages. They've seen what to look for. They have seen what to expect.

Everybody is going to be on high alert. If anything at all is out of the ordinary, you err on the side of caution and make sure that you bring it to someone's attention.

It is a potential issue, though. It is not just the intended targets, but those people that are going to handle those, innocent folks. Just as you said, the church bombing case, it was four innocent children that died. It wasn't the civil rights leaders. It was four innocent children that died.

[16:10:05]

So we have got to worry about all manner of folks in our population, not just the intended target.

TAPPER: So, there is the shooting of the Republicans who were practicing baseball last year, threats against Senator Flake, threats against Senator Collins, the ricin threat against President Trump, this bomb threat against a number of high-profile Democrats.

How concerned are you and your colleagues about the tenor and the political environment right now? Have you taken any specific precautionary measures?

JONES: You know, Jake, we just have been -- we have been vigilant all the time.

The beginning of my campaign last year, we were always vigilant. When you have such a divisive political rhetoric that we hear now, you have to be cautious. We talk to the family. We talk to staff. I'm sure every member of Congress is doing the same thing. I think every governor, every mayor is probably doing the same thing

right now, telling people to be vigilant. We have to try to make sure -- and I talked about this last year. You all covered my campaign. I talked about injecting civility and respect for people and having disagreements that we can agree to disagree on.

We have got to dial it back. It is not a problem just simply on the right with the president of the United States. It is a problem on all sides. And we saw that last year with the shootings of the congressional leaders. We saw it in the ricin incident recently.

This is a problem that can escalate. What I think people have to understand is that really words have consequences. And we have to watch those words, because we don't know whether it is a supporter or an opponent who might take those words and take them to a new level that is going to be threatening to someone in the United States.

TAPPER: How do you think President Trump should be leading in this moment? And how do you think he is?

JONES: Well, I think he did the right thing, obviously, yesterday, when he first condemned the violence. I think Vice President Pence did the right thing when he condemned the violence.

I don't think it is appropriate to blame the media. This is not an issue, Jake, of just ugly negative campaigning, negative media. We have had that for centuries in American politics.

This is about where you really condone violence, when you talk at rallies about roughing up reporters or commending congressional -- members of Congress who had body-slammed members of the media. It is about talking about enemies.

When you use the word enemy, it raises a threat level, and unlike just calling somebody a silly name. That's the kind of rhetoric I think the president needs to be very careful on and just go ahead and dial it back. Don't point the blame at somebody else.

And I -- make no mistake, I'm not simply pointing the blame at the president. This is a societal problem that we have got to start working at, at a grassroots level, and we have to demand more of our politicians, we have got to demand more of our candidates to have a civil dialogue and so that we can progress together, not separately.

TAPPER: A man who put away a couple of evil bombers, Democratic senator Doug Jones of Alabama, thank you, sir, for your time. Appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Will the devices currently being examined in Quantico provide a key clue about who mailed those bombs?

Plus, reporting from inside the White House about how the president plans to address the attacks going forward. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:52] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news.

FBI and NYPD officials saying that all the suspicious devices are now being analyzed at the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

Let's discuss these developments with our law enforcement experts.

Art, let me start with you. We still don't know how many more devices there are. We talked about this yesterday and there were six, now there are ten.

ART RODERICK, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, we got to remember only a day and a half into this. And some of these devices were hand delivered and came back through the Postal Service, so it took a good 24 hours before those actually turned up. We've got ten devices now, none of them have gone off, the public still has to treat these as extremely volatile devices. We don't know if there's any others out there yet.

We should probably in the next 24 hours, 48 hours, probably see are there any more of this ilk out there. You know, any still addressed to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, do the envelopes look the same?

TAPPER: Yes.

RODERICK: At this point, we have been lucky. They all do look the same and everybody is keyed on to it, especially when you look at what happened at Mr. De Niro's mail office --

TAPPER: Right.

RODERICK: -- the NYPD office that recognized, you know, all the press photos from yesterday.

TAPPER: Exactly. Josh Campbell, all of the devices have been sent to the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia. Why?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So in these types of instances you want a unified command that would be doing the analysis. You don't want different laboratories spread out looking at this, the same people, they'll be able to identify patterns, be able to use the expertise of the FBI is known for at Quantico, they have the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytics Center or TEDAC, which is this world renowned repository of intelligence and expertise that processes devices again in order to investigate and gather clues.

What we have been told in talking to some sources that the first device went to Soros, it was actually shot on site by the bomb squad whenever they showed up, to render it safe. But once it appeared this was turning into several devices, they wanted to keep as many as they could intact in order to gather evidence, we're told five of those were transported down to Quantico and are about to undergo analysis perhaps that's going on right now as we speak, Jake.

TAPPER: Anthony, the FBI described these as potentially destructive devices, potentially destructive devices. None have gone off. What does that mean?

ANTHONY FERRANTE, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT BOMB TECHNICIAN: Whether or not they have gone off is irrelevant, right? These are -- these have all the makings of an explosive device. And until a certified bomb detection renders that safe and clears it and says definitively this is not an explosive device, everyone, general public, law enforcement, should treat these as real devices.

TAPPER: And, Jonathan, let me ask you, CNN has learned that investigators believe some of the packages may have originated in Florida. Does that indicate anything?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, listen, early on in the investigation, they're running down every single lead that's possible. And, again, the investigators are taking every aspect of each device there forensically, looking at it. They're looking at the packages, working through the JTTF, the Secret Service as part of that, bringing into the threat intelligence matrix.

[16:20:01] They're looking at how can we build an overarching investigative matrix to make attribution to who is doing this.

So, right now in the investigation, they may think it is coming from Florida. But that may change within the hour, within the day, within the week. This is -- we're in the infancy of the investigation.

TAPPER: So, Art, the law enforcement has said that these devices were rudimentary, but functional.

RODERICK: Right.

TAPPER: And yet none of them as far as we know has gone off. You said to me yesterday, you thought that that possibly is the intention. Maybe they're just designed to scare.

RODERICK: It is. But we can't look at it like that. I mean, law enforcement might think that, the public cannot be lulled into a sense of safety. They have to -- we have to treat every one of these devices as lethal, as Anthony said.

I think here, the key part too is we have the JTTF involved. Now, the hub seems to be New York, but there is 102 JTTFs around the country and 4,000 state, local and federal offices assigned to these JTTFs and they're able to track down all these leads, so there is a ton of resources here being put into this case.

This is number one in the country right now, and probably internationally, because we are sharing that information back and forth with our partners overseas also.

TAPPER: So law enforcement will start off, Anthony, with the assumption that this is the worst possible intention, the worst possible scenario could have happened -- in other words, mass murder, presidents, former presidents killed, secretary of state, et cetera. But it's possible at the end of this, we'll find out something else. FERRANTE: That's absolutely right. I mean, we talked about the

devices being rudimentary. That's all it takes. It doesn't take a lot to create an explosive device, especially a pipe one. It can be lethal, even though it's rudimentary. In this case, yes, as Art said, the full resources of the federal government, local, state, are all pursuing this matter. It is the number one priority, they're working together. The bomb technician community is one of the closest knit groups within law enforcement community.

There is only a small handful of bomb technicians in the United States. I assure you, around the country, they're communicating, sharing intelligence, real time, to help find out who the person or persons responsible for this.

TAPPER: And, Josh Campbell, you think with ten devices, at least two of them distributed -- delivered by courier, if not more, there would be an abundance of clues. We keep hearing urgent pleas from the FBI, from the White House, passing on the FBI's information, from NYPD, for help from the public.

Does that suggest that they don't have that much in terms of leads or information?

CAMPBELL: Well, we're told as much, and speaking with some of the law enforcement sources about how far along they are and actually narrowing this down to a person or persons, we're told that this is, as Jonathan was saying, very much in the infancy right now. They don't have a person in mind. Again, this is their crowd sourcing, trying to gather the tips and gather that information. With respect to the method of delivery, again, these are two data points.

On one hand, you have the United States Postal Service being used as a method of delivery. That gives me greater comfort knowing it is going through the postal service because since the anthrax attacks of 2001, since the Unabomber, the Postal Service has become so experienced and the capabilities plussed up so greatly that they can track packages as they transit across the United States with great ease.

The courier is more interesting because, again, you lose some of the capabilities but you have witnesses. Police officers and law enforcement will no doubt be trying to identify the couriers, identify the companies to interview them, to gather information about who actually tasks them to actually make delivery.

TAPPER: Jonathan, what is the FBI, the Secret Service, other law enforcement agencies, what are they doing now to try to identify the would-be bomber or bombers?

WACKROW: Well, listen, law enforcement right now, they're looking at all of the evidence to date. But there is also something else, Jake, that's really important. None of the devices have gone off to the intended target, thankfully.

However, we don't know with the notoriety that this is garnering on media, we don't know if there is a change in attack methodology by this individual. You know, we don't know if he's transforming from his intent to cause just basic terror to intent to cause harm. And that's what's really, you know, where law enforcement is trying to quickly make that attribution and get this person in custody, we want to make sure that doesn't transcend any further down the behavioral continuum.

TAPPER: Anthony, you worked in the White House and the FBI. Does it matter whether or not this is being investigated as, quote/unquote, terrorism?

FERRANTE: I don't think so. I would say no, this is a serious matter, ten devices mailed to various people throughout the country, this is the number one priority right now, the federal government, and I assure you full resources are being put behind this.

[16:25:00] Whether or not it is terrorism, international terrorism, domestic terrorism, they're still getting the full resources it deserves.

TAPPER: All right. How confident are you that we're going to find out who did this?

RODERICK: I'm very confident. We have the best people in the country working on this. Really this is an unprecedented event here. We've got two assassination attempts on two former presidents here. So everything that is being done can be done. And I'm fairly sure that we will have people in custody here shortly.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks, one and all, for the expertise. I really appreciate it.

Well, that was short lived. President Trump called for unity and then blamed the media for the tenor in the environment these days. Why he likely won't be changing his tune anytime soon. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Sources telling CNN the president believes it's wrong to discuss his rhetoric in the context of the explosive devices sent to prominent Democrats, Trump critics and CNN. The president feels he's being linked unfairly to these acts of potential violence which may explain why after delivering a somewhat measured nonpartisan condemnation of the crimes at first, the president pretty quickly began blaming the media for the tense environment, tweeting this morning, for instance, quote, a very big part of the anger we see today in our society by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the mainstream media that I referred to as fake news.