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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

First Look at Mail Bomb Suspect Since Arrest; Suspects Van Had Pro-Trump Stickers, Targets Over Dem Opponents; Trump Makes First Comments Since Mail Bomb Arrest. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 26, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


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[16:31:12] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news. New video just in to CNN, giving us our first look at the mail bombing suspect, Cesar Sayoc, since his arrest. It's a perp walk. You're looking at him being escorted by law enforcement from FBI headquarters in Miramar, Florida.

He has a criminal history with eight arrests dating back to the early 1990s. He faces up to 48 years in prison for the five federal crimes charged today. We're back with this breaking news story and a major piece of evidence.

This van where we now know Cesar Sayoc was living. It was adorned with stickers and posters supporting President Trump and Vice President Pence and Democratic opponents with targets over their faces.

CNN's Tom Foreman is at the magic wall.

Tom, the van is quite conspicuous and might actually be important when it comes to the law enforcement investigation as to motive.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's certainly attracted the attention of people who may not have noticed him on social media, but right down the road, you could see them, any time you went by. And some people were so interested in this, they actually stopped and took photographs of it and put it online, saying, look at this. I've seen this truck here.

Let's look at this front window and some of the details of that window. If you see it here, you can see the top is basically support for Mike Pence and Donald Trump, that whole team there. The second line, sort of inexplicably is mainly about sports, although there is some reference to Trump in there, but has to do with a boxing match, and that sort of thing.

But then when you get to the bottom part, Jake, that's when you get into the really nasty stuff. This corner down here where you see the crosshairs on Hillary Clinton, on a picture of Barack Obama on a tricycle, on the filmmaker Michael Moore, on Jill Stein from the Green Party, from our Van Jones here at CNN. And other images that have a very sharp sense that somehow these people need to be targeted in some manner. And then beyond that, if you go to the other image in this other

window down here, you can see, again, a whole amalgam of things. Support for the president up here and then some motions over here about abortion rights. The Seminole tribes mentioned numerous times by this man. And then there are religious references, support the military. And down here, again, general support for America, and a series of country music singers there.

It's very interesting to look at this, Jake, because clearly, even if you look in the van windshield, you can see this tremendous amount of clutter up here. This is the sort of thing that was drawing attention of passers-by even before all of this began, enough that some of them -- the moment they saw it, said, yes, I've seen that vehicle -- Jake.

TAPPER: Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

One law enforcement official telling CNN the suspect was telling investigators he didn't want to hurt anyone.

CNN's Evan Perez joins me now.

And, Evan, is the suspect still cooperating, and what else have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he is no longer cooperating. He has retained an attorney. So he's no longer talking to the FBI. But initially he did talk to them a little bit and said he did not -- he didn't believe that these devices would have hurt anyone. He didn't intend, certainly, to hurt anyone.

But obviously, that's not the way law enforcement is taking this. They worked very hard over the last 24, 36 hours, and some of the key things, according to the criminal complaint that we now see, confirmed some of the reporting we earlier today, which includes that at least two of the IEDs, two of these bombs, the FBI was able to recover DNA that they believe belonged to Sayoc.

So that was very key in this investigation. That's something the FBI had in its possession.

Another thing was a fingerprint from one of the packages, one of the bombs that was sent to Maxine Waters, the congresswoman. That was also very key, according to this criminal complaint that the Justice Department has filed.

So, a lot more investigative work. This case is not over for the agents still working this, because obviously they want to know a little bit more about what was his motivation, whether or not there's still any more packages out there.

[16:35:09] We know there was one that was being investigated today that was addressed to Tom Steyer, who's a Democratic fund-raiser, donor. So, a lot more work for the investigation to come, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Phil -- let me bring back my law enforcement panel.

Phil, let me start with you. Cesar Sayoc, he also threatened you and your family on Twitter.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: He did. I -- you know, let me be coldly analytic here. The last hour is tough. I had to call my family and tell them this was going to break today, that this man threatened me with death on Twitter. I was not aware of that.

You know, we are correct and General Clapper is correct. Let me repeat it so we ensure we understand what question we're asking. The question is not whether the president of the United States is responsible for a disturbed human being who threatens an act of murder. That is not on the table. Of course, the president is not.

I'm an analyst, though, so instead of getting emotional, let me go cold. When 50,000, 100,000, 200,000 people go to rallies, when millions of people watch you on the screen, if you threaten people, some of those individuals, maybe 1,000th of 1 percent, are going to take you seriously. The question is whether the president takes risk off the table by stopping threats on social media.

It's not whether we hold him responsible for the acts of a deranged person. Stop threatening people because the implications are, people like me have to call their family and say, thank god, he's in prison, because otherwise maybe he shows up at my house.

TAPPER: Josh, what are the biggest clues as an investigator you would take away when looking at that van?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, you know, we've talked about the commonalities so far and the targets set, and obviously now we have these disturbing messages on social media. But the van itself, there's what we can see from the outside, obviously, a lot of the messaging that we see there on the pictures, a lot of political paraphernalia on the side. You know, the CNN sucks -- again, it's painting this portrait of someone whose views appear, at least in line with some of the invective we have seen from the president and others going after our network, going after, you know, other politicians. So that seems to be in line.

The question, Jake, is going to be what's inside. And that is if investigators actually find evidence that, you know, the bombs were either transported or perhaps assembled in that vehicle, there's some question as far as whether the subject actually lived inside the vehicle. One question I had is we see the SWAT officers there, transporting it. I find it difficult to believe they would quickly transport a vehicle that contained evidence of explosives in it.

So, again, there's a lot we don't know that will be processed. But there is a looming question as far as where the devices were actually assembled, and then where the mailing was actually done. And the last question, Jake, which may come from an interview with the subject and may come from other evidence is, are there other devices out there. And there will be a number of ways investigators will be able to determine that. But until that final determination is made, they're not going to give

the all-clear.

TAPPER: I was wondering that, too.

And, Evy, let me ask you -- how concerned would law enforcement be about explosive material in the van but the van could be rigged with explosives?

EVY POUMPOURAS, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: I would think before they decided to transport the van, they would check the van, make sure there is nothing in there that could detonate, like those are -- that is just standard protocol. You're going to make sure before you move anything, or even before you enter a house or a residence, you're going to make sure everything is rendered safe, that there is nothing there that could go off.

So, I'm sure they followed that protocol before they decided to transport the van.

TAPPER: You're probably right.

Phil, what do you think law enforcement is doing right now to determine how long this has been planned, his operational capability, whether others are involved?

MUDD: Well, we had the first indication that he was speaking initially. Those questions aren't about what happened. I'm guessing those questions are about imminent threat. Are there other bombs out there, are there people who participated in this. We heard he lawyered up, so I presume he's not speaking anymore.

But as soon as they gain access to van -- we had a report on a cell phone, his cell phone pinging, which helped identify his location. I want to know every contact on that list. I want to know text messaging records.

I want to talk to his family. I want to look at his social media posts, not only to look at who he communicated with, Jake, but to see if he participated in a community of people that not only might have encouraged him, but might be encouraging other people. You can build, in short, a network of understanding around someone's life using that digital profile, really quickly.

TAPPER: Josh, a lawyer who represented Sayoc told CNN he wasn't surprised that the devices suspected and accused of assembling and mailing did not explode. He questioned his former client's ability to successfully devise and execute such a scheme. Obviously, Sayoc initially told law enforcement that they were never intended to go off.

Does it matter whether these devices were capable of detonating?

CAMPBELL: It doesn't in the long run, because it's still terrorism. Now, a lot of people -- we've heard folks trying to analyze this over the last 72 hours, and there seemed to be a narrative, well, either he has a master bomb maker or he has to be a complete dolt.

[16:40:03] I would argue somewhere in between is also possible. He could be someone who, you know, at least has researches and has sophistication, but perhaps doesn't take it all the way to creating a device that's going to explode and kill. But the reason I say it doesn't matter in the long run here, and obviously we're grateful there were no injuries or loss of life, but this is still terrorism.

His goal appears to have been to instill fear, to, you know, cause anxiety for political reasons. That is terrorism. So whether it went off or not, he is still facing potential serious charges in the long run, Jake.

TAPPER: So we've been digging into the suspect's social media accounts, which are, as you know, filled with political attacks, many directed at those he eventually allegedly targeted with these devices. I want to focus on just a couple.

One of them is a reply to President Trump. President Trump criticizing the media and on August 30th, and President Trump tweeted, I just cannot state strongly enough how totally dishonest the media is, truth doesn't matter to them, they only have their hatred and agenda, this includes fake books which come about me all the time, always anonymous sources and they are pure fiction. Enemy of the people.

Now, to that, the suspect, Cesar Sayoc, replied, directly to that tweet from the president, saying, CNN sucks, holding up a posted photograph of him holding up a sign which said "CNN sucks". In another tweet, the suspect replied to a CNN tweet. The CNN tweet shows CNN's chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, in the briefing room, asking Sarah Sanders, please say that the press isn't the enemy of the American people. And Sayoc seems to -- he replies to that tweet and seems to threaten Acosta, our own White House correspondent, writing, quote, see you at the next rally.

Evy, let me ask you. I'm not a law enforcement official. And obviously, as has been said by plenty of other people, the bomber is responsible for his actions, no one else is responsible for his actions. But that really does seem like somebody who really wants to take cues from the president, wants the president's approval. And that, I assume, is something that people are considering when trying to figure out motive.

POUMPOURAS: You know, we've been talking about this, and I've been with the various presidents, both formers and current President Barack Obama. And when you go to these rallies and there's sometimes tens of thousands of people. And people get revved up. I mean, this is a very influential position, person.

And when somebody of that level speaks, sometimes people take that and listen to it, like they take it to heart. And you can see people getting obsessed with the individual. And that's where -- you know, as an agent, we would get individuals who would show up to the White House, write letters. I mean, this is something very common for us in our line of work, because people almost think like, yes, he is speaking to me. He's addressing me.

And so, you know, yes, your words do matter. You do affect other individuals in the way you speak. And it's something that you have to be very careful with when you are on that level.

And then also, Jake, you also don't know how everybody is going to receive that message. We have individuals with a lot of mental health issues who can hear that message. And we don't know the current state of the suspect we have. We don't know his mental health. We do know he has a criminal record.

But then there is concern there, because we see this -- there's nothing really -- he wasn't very quiet about what he did. You see his van. It's very ostentatious with all these stickers out there, his previous history, his threats about making a bomb. So it would be really, really interesting to find out what his mental health stance is, what he's done in the past. And what the people around him -- interviews will be really, really important. Even though he may not be talking, interviewing family, friends, previous co-workers, anybody like that, to get as much information on him as possible.

CAMPBELL: Jake, can I just quickly add a caveat, just very quickly to what you were saying as far as the bomber is responsible solely for his actions. Let me add one caveat there, if I can. That is -- we should hold elected leaders to a different standard. If you look at this as any other type of crime, you don't just go after the crime itself. You go after the underlying cause. And if that is an elected official spewing invective, they bear some responsibility.

TAPPER: OK, Josh and Evy and Phil, thanks so much.

President Trump just spoke about the mail bomb suspect. More on his reaction, next.

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[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Some breaking news now. President Trump just spoke on the South Lawn of the White House. He's on his way to a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina this evening. He spoke about the suspect charged with five federal crimes for mailing at least 13 IEDs. We will bring you those remarks as soon as they come in. CNN's Kaitlan Collins joins me now from the White House. And Kaitlan, what do we know about what the President said?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he came out there, of course, Jake. The first subject on this was the development in this case. Now, the suspect has been apprehended. We know President Trump praise law enforcement while speaking to reporters out there. He has also made a few remarks about his own rhetoric. He told reporters out there that he believes he has already toned down his rhetoric, likely a reference to that rally that we saw in Wisconsin whenever he was saying much different things and we typically hear from his rallies in light of the focus on what he has said now that all of this is coming out.

He was asked about whether or not he has anything to say about this person clearly identifying themselves with President Trump being a supporter of his and appearing at his rallies. It's unclear exactly what he said. It's really hard to hear out there with Marine One choppering in the background but we'll likely hear that soon. But what interesting he did bring up was that baseball shooting where the House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot. That is something that President Trump brought up while speaking with these reporters. Clearly, something he's been talking about lately about the division in the country, something that he has not taken any responsibility for but instead blamed reporters for. But clearly, he brought that up essentially saying that there is violence a-also against Republicans as well. I think we're --

TAPPER: OK, Kaitlan, I'm going to interrupt you because we have that sound from the President. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to complement law enforcement. They have done an incredible job. The FBI, Secret Service, so many, I mean, they just got together and did a fantastic job like finding a needle in a haystack so I want to congratulate them as you know. I think everybody wants to congratulate them but they did a fantastic job. I'm going to North Carolina right now. It's raining so if you don't mind, I'll step out of the rain but I really -- we're very proud of law enforcement.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:50:09] TRUMP: I did not. I did not see my face on the van. I don't know. I heard he was a person that preferred me over others but I did not see that.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, not at all. No, I mean, not at all. No, that's -- there's no blame, there's no anything. If you look at what happened to Steve Scalise, that was from a supporter of a different party. You look at what happened to (INAUDIBLE) these incidents, they were supporters of others. No, I'm just really proud of law enforcement. I think they did an incredible job. And I will see you in North Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: No, I don't think so. I think that we're running a great campaign. People love what we're doing, they love what we're saying. The Republicans had tremendous momentum and then, of course, this happened where all that you people talked about was that and rightfully so, it was a big thing, rightfully so. But now we have to start the momentum again. I think the Republicans have tremendous moment. When you think of Judge Kavanaugh, when you think of all the things that have happened, and hopefully we're going to go into a great victory. We have a lot of Senate races where we're leading, races that frankly we're going to be uncontested. It looks like we're leading a lot of those races. The House -- there are a lot of people in the House so we're going to see how that goes but I think we're doing very well in the House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: If they wanted me to but I think we'll probably pass. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Well, I think I've been toned down. Do you want to know the truth? I could really tone it up because as you know, the media has been extremely unfair to me and to the Republican Party. I think the media's been very, very unfair in terms of the Republican Party and the way it's been covered and they understand that, they write articles about that, many of them admit that. But the media has been unbelievably unfair to Republicans conservatives and certainly to me. But with all of that being said we're winning so I like that. Thank you very much. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: All right, let's talk about this with our panel. Amanda Carpenter, you heard the President yet again and an opportunity to take some ownership for the rhetoric and passing on the opportunity.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I no longer care what he has to say about this. I think after all these incidents, we always ask was the perpetrator mentally ill or what happened. I think in this scenario we need to ask was he just unstable enough to believe the things that the President says and then act on it. Because if that's the case, if you believe the press is the enemy of the people, Hillary Clinton is evil and there's a deep state undermining the country, pipe bombs become your weapon of choice rather than words.

And so he's on his way to another rally and I want Republicans to ask themselves, if you're in that crowd and you see a sign like that, targets, is this the atmosphere that makes America great again? Because I think it clearly has made us less safe.

TAPPER: And you heard a Secret Service agent who was on the show earlier talking about when you cover these rallies how seriously people in the audience many of them take the words coming from the politician. It's such a powerful position. You can inspire, you can you can stoke fear, you can do anything really if you're that if there's that much adulation.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. I was actually on the President's campaign swing throughout the western states over the weekend and you -- there's only that moment in the rallies where he turns to us sitting in the back you know, taking notes and says look at the fake news media back there and the entire crowd just boos at you. I mean, this is a crowd that adores Trump, listens to what he says, so the President's words really do matter and it'll be really interesting to see how he approaches that rhetoric and Charlotte later tonight.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A weird statement by the President. I mean, he started off as he often does with something that sounded prepared, right, something we don't often hear the President say, praising the FBI. What he didn't include in that sort of prepared section was a further condemnation now that we have a suspect, a condemnation of the suspect of the alleged acts and what's you know, what happens next.

Look at his statement compared to the law enforcement officials that spoke earlier in the day. And then as the conversation continues with the press, what does he do? He sort of circles to his real target which is, unfortunately, the news media, right? So by the end of that gaggle, he was right back to the media needs to take more responsibility. And look, I don't -- I don't think President -- nobody is responsible for sending bombs except the person who sent the bombs, right? But he does not -- he just will not wrap -- get it wrapped around his head that his rhetoric can help create an atmosphere where someone thinks it's OK.

TAPPER: It was interesting he spoke earlier today, he condemned -- he didn't mention CNN or the individuals who had been sent the devices. And then in that same event, after he called for unity, somebody yelled out CNN sucks -- he was talking about polls -- CNN sucks and then he talked about globalist, somebody yelled out George Soros, somebody said lock him up. There's allusions to three of the people that were sent bombs.

[16:55:20] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Yes. Well, it's -- you know, he brings up trying to compare this to the Congressional shooting and it's not the same thing. And the reason it's not the same thing is that this was just a whos-who list of enemies of Donald Trump. So you -- this is where this person got these ideas. I'm sorry there's no other person that is obsessed with hating CNN than Donald Trump, like pre-Donald Trump that just wasn't a thing. I guess people had feelings about CNN, but it wasn't an obsession. And so that this person was so focused on CNN and so focused on all the people that he complains about does make him complicit. And he needs to own that and he needs to you know to tone down the rhetoric.

TAPPER: You think he's complicit though?

POWERS: Yes.

TAPPER: Because that's a strong thing to say and Clapper and Mudd who were -- who were threatened by this person but you're -- OK, standing by that. Thank you so much. Our coverage on this breaking news story continues, stay with us.

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