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INSIDE POLITICS

Synagogue Suspect in Court; Eleven Killed in Anti-Semitic Attack; Pipe Bomb Suspect Due in Court; Trump Says No Tolerance for Anti-Semitism. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 29, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Erica, thank you.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A court appearance soon for the man accused of killing 11 Shabbat worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue. It is the deadliest anti- Semitic attack in U.S. history.

Also in court today, the Florida man charge with mailing explosives in a fit of political hate to targets all critics of President Trump.

Hate and violence in the headlines just a week before America votes. The president again blames the media. Leaders of the Tree of Life Synagogue now split on whether a Trump visit would be helpful or hurtful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNETTE LEDERMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: I do not welcome this president to my city.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Why not?

LEDERMAN: Because he's the purveyor of hate speech.

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: The president of the United States is always welcome. I'm a citizen. He's my president. He's certainly welcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The city of Pittsburgh mourning today after that mass shooting at a local synagogue. The deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history. A heavily armed gunmen, opening fire on Saturday morning Shabbat services. He killed 11 people, wounded six more. The victims included a married couple, a beloved physician and two brothers with special needs. They ranged in age from 54 to 97.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers says it was a typical Saturday at the Tree of Life where three congregations meet every Saturday morning. He had just started Shabbat services when he heard gunfire. The rabbi says he helped several worshipers escape but ran out of time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RABBI JEFFREY MYERS, TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: I turned back to see if I could help the remaining eight people in the back of my congregation. At that time, I could hear the gunfire getting louder. It was no longer safe for me to be there and I had to leave there. One of the eight was shot and she survived her wounds. The other seven of my congregants were gunned down in my sanctuary. There was nothing I could do. But I do live with regret that I wish I could have done more. And I live with that and the sounds that are seared in my brain that I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The suspect, now released from the hospital, due in court this afternoon. He faces 40 state and federal charges, several of which punishable by death.

CNN's Jessica Dean is live on the scene for us in Pittsburgh.

Jessica, let's start, what's the latest on this investigation?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon to you, John.

As you mentioned, that suspect is due in court. We know that new court documents filed show that federal prosecutors have flagged Robert Bowers as a flight risk and also a danger to the community. And as you alluded to, we do know that federal authorities are speaking permission from the attorney general of the United States to pursue the death penalty in this case. But it will be a while before we learn if that is indeed happening.

This as investigators continue to collect evidence. We know they've been to Bowers' home and to his car. They've been looking into the social media accounts, which were riddled with anti-Semitic posts. They are trying to track his whereabouts and movements in the days and weeks leading up to what happened here on Saturday.

Now, all of this is happening as we also are learning much more about the 11 victims who lost their lives on Saturday morning. As you said, there were three different congregations inside that synagogue. Authorities told us yesterday that members from each congregation were killed in that shooting on Saturday.

We are learning more about them. And I will say this about all 11, they all were trying to do the best they could to give back to their communities. These were people with deep roots in their community. You noted the youngest was 54 years old. So they had had time to really put down roots, to really give back to the community. We know that the oldest, 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, was a former school secretary who a lot of people knew from their kids going to school there. She was described as spry, vibrant and the matriarch of the family.

Again, John, just so many stories coming out of here. A community really just devastated by this loss -- so many losses on Saturday.

KING: So many losses. So many losses.

Jessica Dean, thank you, most importantly, for telling the stories of those we did lose in this.

Surviving members of the Tree of Life congregation now preparing to bury 11 of their friends, fellow worshippers. Lynnette Lederman was the former president of the Tree of Life. She knew eight of the victims, says they were the best of the best.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNETTE LEDERMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: The people that were in the pews, the people that were in the congregation Saturday morning, were the stalwarts of our congregation. They were there every Saturday morning. Some of us are in and out of shol (ph) on an irregular basis and attend randomly and but come on high holidays. But the people that were there Saturday morning were doing what they do, and that was worshipping in their safe space. And that is what is so horrific about what happened to Rose Mallinger and Cecil and David and the rest of our friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:05:08] KING: Horrific is an understatement.

Joining me now live from Pittsburgh, Ben Schmitt. He's the assistant news editor of "The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review." His own doctor one of the victims here, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz.

Ben, let me start there. As the community grieves, we are trying, even as we cover the court appearance today, to focus more on these victims. Tell us about Dr. Rabinowitz.

BEN SCHMITT, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR, "PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW": Well, thank you, John.

He was just -- he was more than a doctor. He was a friend. A friend to me. A friend to my dad. He was so genuine and so caring. And we're still processing it. I'm still processing it.

KING: And as you deal with this, this is your job. It's your job to cover an event like this and you never expect it to happen in your community. It's also your community.

Just take us through how the newspaper and how you went through this especially as you're doing your job, you're editing copy, and you find out a person who is a hero to you is among the victims.

SCHMITT: John, that's exactly what happened. You know, on Saturday, I was -- we're all taking in information, we're posting stories to the web, we're reading copy, we're posting headlines. And I get a text message late in the evening with the name. And I did a double take. And I said, that's my doctor to all the people standing around me. They -- we couldn't believe it.

And then I got in touch with my dad and he was beside himself. And to go through those emotions and then realize, I have a job to do, but I think I need to pay tribute to him as well, you know, I got the clearance from my bosses to write about him and to, you know, really do him, you know, this tribute. Do him a, you know, honor. And he deserves it, you know. And I'm really glad that we did that and I'm glad I told his story.

KING: Ben, I want to read you something from one of the survivors. And I want you to tell me about your community because now the country and the world is watching this and they're saying, where did this hate come from? Is this hate pervasive in this community? Obviously we know this is a problem around the world and a problem around the country, not just in Squirrel Hill.

But this is Barry Werber, 76 years old, survived the shooting, told the Associated Press, I don't know why he thinks the Jews are responsible for all the ills in the world, but he's not the first and he won't be the last. Unfortunately, that's our burden to bear. It breaks my heart.

Tell us, is this a constant, frequent conversation in the community? Is this a total shock?

SCHMITT: It's a total shock. This is a peaceful community. People here are so friendly. That is an iconic Pittsburgh neighborhood. There are restaurants here. There are shops here. I grew up going here. I still come through here. My children hang out here. It's just shocking for everyone.

KING: And when you say shocking now, what has -- it's stunning to listen to people who have lost friends, lost family members, come on television and talk about moving on, talking about us, listening this morning, we don't want to be remembered as Columbine, we don't want to be remembered as Parkland, we want to be remembered as a community of hope and faith and joy and support.

One of the conversations in the community now is, should the president of the United States come. What's that conversation like?

SCHMITT: You know, I'm starting to hear that conversation myself. And I'm hearing arguments on both sides. You know, that's -- that's beyond my control and beyond a lot of the residents' control. But I know that there are strong feelings on both sides.

You know, and you talked about the emotion, you know, one of my hesitations about coming on your show today was, would I be able to remain composed. I was really worried that, you know, I might personally break down on live television. It's so heartbreaking for all of us.

KING: It is heartbreaking. And we wanted to talk to you because of what you do, because we admire what you do. We share that, wanting to report the news. But I also completely respect your emotion. This is your community.

Ben, I appreciate your time today. Please stay in touch as Squirrel Hill and the broader Pittsburgh community goes through this. SCHMITT: Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, I appreciate your time and your voice.

Joining me now to discusses their reporting and insights, former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

Let me start with you. As they try to figure out how did he go from a man full of hate on the Internet and in his conversations in life, to someone who would take three handguns and an assault rifle and go into a synagogue. What are the putting together here?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that, honestly, John, you raise a really good point. That, right now, I think, based on the conversations that I've had, that that's an important part of this investigation for the FBI. They do this in these kind of cases because they need to see if anything was missed. They're building out a timeline. Who was he communicating with in the last few days, the last few months, weeks? But the key question is, you know, we talk about this a lot, people who have these ideas, who have this sort of hatred. But when do they go from actually having this hatred and having these thoughts to actually pulling off the action and doing something like this? And this is something that the FBI, you know, and it's -- the analysts, there are hundreds of FBI personnel. It's not just agents, it's personnel working on this from the behavioral folks, to the analysts, to the technicians, the folks at the lab, the folks at the crime scene.

[12:10:11] And really there's a -- you know, the criminal case is one thing. It's already pretty much solid. They have a very good criminal case. Now comes the other important part, and that is figuring out, you know, exactly as you said, where did this start? How did it start? When did he finally decide to take this kind of action? It's a big part of the investigation.

KING: And, Jennifer, the Justice Department moved very quickly to say we're going to assert federal hate crimes authority here, we are going to prosecute crimes that are punishable by the death penalty. There is a bar there that you have to reach. If you read the online writings -- and, again, the suspect is innocent until proven guilty -- but he was arrested in the synagogue. If you read those hateful online writings, any doubt in your mind that they've cleared the threshold, if you will, for a hate crime?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, this looks like an open and shut case. I mean they got him in a gun battle. There's no question of identity. His writings are so clear as to his views about Jewish people and religious minorities, of course are one group of people protected by the hate crimes laws. So it looks to me like he's clearly eligible. This administration will allow the death penalty to be sought and we'll just see -- it will be up to the jury to convict on the crime, of course, and then the death penalty as the sentence.

KING: That we have seen -- and we can put some statistics on the screen -- just a spike in anti-Semitic attacks. Other hate crimes as well. We're going to talk in a few moments about hateful political acts (ph). But if you look here at this rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, a giant jump between 2016 to 2017.

I'm not sure it's a fair question, but as a former federal prosecutor, obviously when people are caught doing such hateful things, you want the prosecute them to the full extent of the law. From your experience though inside the federal law enforcement system, what would you be recommending, what are your thoughts about -- when you have this social media age, this hate is available to find. But you -- free speech is one thing. Hateful acts are another thing.

What should we have -- what's the conversation that should be happening in the law enforcement community about how to prevent these things?

RODGERS: Well, I think certainly, obviously, you want to charge as much as you can charge as a general deterrence to charging federal crimes. You want everyone out there to know they actually act on this hatred, that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

But prevention is very tough when you're talking about words. You're talking about First Amendment protection. You have to have some sort of act. You don't have to wait for the trigger to be pulled. If you see someone spewing this kind of hatred and you can see that that's happening, you can open an investigation, do some surveillance. If they take an action that you can use to charge an attempt or a conspiracy, then you're in business. The problem is, when all you have is words, it's just never going to be enough. The law is clear on that.

KING: Right. And as we track this religious hatred, bigotry in Pittsburgh, more on the political hate story we've been tracking.

Another suspicious package addressed to CNN, just been intercepted at a post office in Atlanta, right down the street from our company's global headquarters. We're told it's identical -- you see the picture there -- to the ones we looked at all last week -- containing pipe bombs that turned up, most of those aimed at prominent Democratic critics of the president.

You see the package right there. The Atlanta post office where it was found has been evacuated. The surrounding streets now closed. Right now, all mail addressed to CNN's domestic bureaus being screened off site.

Meanwhile, the man accused of mailing the pipe bombs that turned up last week is due in court than less than two hours.

CNN's Rosa Flores joins us now live from Miami.

Rosa, what are we expecting at today's arraignment?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're expecting a very short proceeding. Now, this is his first appearance, of course, following the -- his arrest on Friday on five federal charges. Now, here are those charges, interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communications and assaults on federal police officers.

Now, if he were to be convicted on all of those charges, he could face up to 48 years in prison.

Now, about the proceeding today, during his first appearance, here's what we know. We're expecting for the judge to read all of those charges that you just heard to Sayoc. And then we've learned that he will indeed have a private defense attorney. So he will not be using the federal public defender here from the southern district of Florida.

Now, the other point to make here is that the prosecution is expected to happen in the Southern District of New York. So we're expecting to learn more today about when that proceeding will take, when the transfer will actually happen. Could it happen today? Could that hearing be held today? Absolutely, John. We're waiting to hear more details on that during the proceeding today at 2:00 p.m.

KING: An important afternoon in that important case. Rosa Flores, appreciate the live reporting. We will keep in touch.

And back to Shimon Prokupecz.

As we're seeing here, I understand you're getting some new reporting.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So we're now hearing word that the suspect here, the Sayoc, had a list. As police are searching through his van, the FBI, they're coming up with evidence and they found what they're calling a list. Sort of perhaps maybe a hit list even of about 100 names of people that he was trying to target, perhaps send more package bombs to.

[12:15:15] So the FBI, because of this concern, is now reaching out to people who have -- who were on this list, just letting them know. And what they do in these cases is they do kind of a threat assessment to make sure that the person who was on this list is aware that they were on this list. We're told there are some very high profile people on this list. And I know for a fact that the FBI this morning has been reaching out to people on that list.

Obviously, you know, it was important for the FBI to get this guy, to stop him, because by all appearances he was going to keep on doing this and really creating more fear and it's a good thing, though, now that they're able to find this list and start letting folks know, hey, you know, be careful, you were on this list. You're OK, but just be careful.

KING: And also a clear signal in that, that these charges Rosa just laid out, likely to be place holders, and they will expand based on the evidence.

PROKUPECZ: Certainly based on what was found today and now perhaps even this hit list.

KING: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the breaking news, reporting up next for us here. A presidential pattern, denounce then deflect. But, first, the top Republican in the Senate talking about today's troubled political climate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I think the whole country has been on edge. I hope it settles down after the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:20:34] KING: Welcome back.

Just added to the White House schedule, a rare briefing by the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders. No doubt there will be questions about the Squirrel Hill synagogue massacre and the pipe bombing case.

This morning, we got a Twitter reminder, the president will defend himself from perceived slights at all cost, even during what he himself says should be a moment of national unity. The president hitting send on a pair of tweets just after 8:00 a.m. faulting the news media for the deep fault lines in our country. Quote, the flame of anger and outrage, the president says, is fueled by the news. Contrast those tweets with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There must be no tolerance for anti-Semitism in America or for any form of religious or racial hatred or prejudice. With one unified voice, we condemn the historic evil of anti-Semitism and every other form of evil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

Help me. I'm actually struggling a lot with this. We are eight days away from an election. The president has every right and every reason to be out being a political advocate. We're also still dealing with two horrible stories of hate and violence. And there's a debate about, a, did the president's language contribute to this climate beforehand and, b, how is he supposed to act now? Should he be lashing out at the media this morning? Should he be responding to the Democratic donor Tom Steyer when he says bad things about the president? Or is he supposed to somehow just do something different?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Supposed to and will he and -- are obviously two different questions and very different answers, particularly when it comes to this president.

Would it be nice for him to take a break from calling us the enemy of the people? Of course, you know, for the most basic reason that we're not the enemy of the people. But we know from, you know, so much of the history of this president, from the history of candidate Trump, from the history of private citizen Trump, he does what he wants to do. He has his political instincts, his instincts on commenting at everything from, you know, culture to the state of, you know, the campaign. And that's what he's doing and that's what he's going to continue to do.

And, you know, his supporters and his -- and his aides say, well, but don't forget, look at the things that he's said about bringing the country together, unity, which he did. But what he -- what he doesn't understand, or doesn't care to, is that when you're president of the United States, and on the one hand you call for unity, and on the other hand, you know, you go on the attack, the people who are looking to him for calm are only going to see the attack. And he just doesn't see his role that way. He just doesn't.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think it's worth noting that normally in these situations you would see the president or, you know, top candidates saying, OK, we're going to take a break. We're not going to have campaign events for a day or two. We're going to sort of focus on this national tragedy, this national moment, bring the country together.

That's obviously not what this president is doing. That's obviously not what we expected him to do. And I always thought when we'd see candidates and presidential candidates do that in the past, like, well, this is optics. They don't want to look like they're out there campaigning in this horrible moment. And, yes, it is optics. But watching things unfold now, I think there's also -- it plays another purpose, which is to sort of calm things down a little bit, to send a message that, you know, there's sort of -- the divisiveness to cool down the environment a little bit. And the president choosing not to do that is clear -- he's clearly making a different kind of choice. And I think that will have implications.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": To Lisa's point, I mean, if you recall back during the 2012 campaign, when the tragic shootings in aurora, Colorado, happened in that movie theater, President Obama suspended a campaign stop that he had scheduled for late that day. Both he and Governor Romney canceled or suspended their campaign ads in Colorado just to take a -- as Lisa said, just to take a break from that campaigning.

I was traveling with the president on Saturday when all this was unfolding. There was a moment at a point in the day he came back and talked with us on Air Force One and he said, you know, I am considering cancelling the political rally scheduled for later that day in Illinois. So we reported that, sent that news out to the rest of the White House press corps, and it was not long after that he goes and stands in front of a crowd in Indiana and says, you know, I considered cancelling it, I'm not going to. Essentially the show must go on. We can't let -- we can't let it -- it's just like this essentially halt our everyday lives.

[12:25:16] KING: And let's listen to that. Let's listen to the president making that case that I know some people aren't going to like this, but I have a political event and I'm on my way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to go and do whatever we were going to do, otherwise we give them too much credit. We make them too important. And you go with a heavy heart, but you go. You don't want to change your life. You can't make them important. These are bad people. You can't allow them to dominate what we do.

So, I'll go. Not that I want to go. But I think I actually, in reverse, have an obligation to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I get that 100 percent. I get that 1,000 percent. The question is, when you go, what do you way, what tone do you strike?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And I was, you know, if anyone is waiting for this president to change, it is not going to happen. We have seen endless examples. Really about everything that's happened on his watch already. And God forbid there will be more thing if past is prologue here. And this is who he is, how he is.

I was at a rally on Friday evening in Charlotte, and he, you know, started out with a call for unity, immediately was in there blaming Democrats, you know, making a reference to Maxine Waters. This is who he is.

What we don't know at this point eight days before the midterm election, what effect it has. He doesn't know. Democrats don't know. We are in this bit of suspended period here.

He believes -- he blames all of this on halting GOP progress he saw. SO that is why he is out there. That is why he was all over the news on Saturday. At every possible stop, in front of the television camera, he did stop and he talked about it.

KIM: Yes.

ZELENY: And he is going to keep on here.

But as he visits Pittsburgh possibly tomorrow, what is he going to say there? You know, he may have a public event. He may not. But this is just who he is. The question is how other people react to it. And many inside the White House, including his daughter and son-in-law, are trying to walk him through this very carefully on the anti-Semitism comments and things. That's not his instinct. That's not the first thing he said on Saturday and he's barely said it since.

KING: He's barely -- we'll see what he says as it goes forward.

I should also note, the attorney general of the United States has an event today. We expect he might speak to this. We'll bring you that if he does.

But here's -- here's if you talk to people in the White House, or other people who are support of the president, they say, well, wait a minute. And some of them say, I wish he would tone this down, I wish he would say this differently. But they also say, well, wait a minute, you're still putting all these other people on television who are whacking the president and so what is he supposed to do? Including the Democratic donor, Tom Steyer, who's spent millions of dollars in ads saying impeach President Trump, was on this network yesterday with Jake Tapper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM STEYER, PRESIDENT, NEXGEN AMERICA: There is obviously no direct link, Jake. But I'm absolutely associating and blaming him for creating the atmosphere that exists. We've been -- the reason that we're -- I started and have been running an impeachment petition drive is because, in my opinion, he is corrupt and break -- lawless and dangerous, and that the result of that is to change America to attack the rule of law and that it's important to step up and oppose that kind of behavior and that kind of atmosphere directly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And so the president sees that. He watches a lot of television. Just watched wacky Tom Steyer, who I have not seen in action before, be interviewed by Jake Tapper. He comes off as a crazed and stumbling lunatic who should be running out of money pretty soon. As bad as their field is, if he is running for president, the Dems will eat him alive.

Now, some people will say, come on, Mr. President, why engage? Why engage at this moment? You yourself said the country needs to take a break. Others will say, well, wait a minute, the guy took a two by four to his head. We're a week away form an election. Why shouldn't he?

LERER: Well, I think the basis of both parties want there to be engagement, right? The -- what Trump supporters love about him is that he hits back. Is that he's not -- he's never a traditional -- never does the traditionally presidential thing. They love that about him. And Democrats, in response, the Democratic base wants their politicians to be tougher. They want their politicians to whack back.

So we're in this -- caught in this kind of cycle of, you know, hits and whacking back and forth that the base of both these parties of those voters want, even in this kind of moment. I don't think that has changed. Although, I suppose, as you point out earlier with the midterms, we'll see.

ZELENY: He can say whatever he wants to say about Tom Steyer. I don't think that that is the most objectionable tweet he's saying. But blaming the climate and hate speech on the media, as he calls the enemy of the people, a, it just isn't true. It just isn't accurate. And he's deflecting with a capital d here and taking no ownership or responsibility. And I talked to a lot of Republicans who thought, you know, this could have been a moment for him. This could be sort of a different moment for him for people who are afraid, aren't sure to see leadership. But that's his instinct.

[12:30:06] BASH: And that's the key.