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JOHN KING, USA

Times Square Bomb Attempt

Aired May 3, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. A number of breaking developments this hour, in the Times Square bombing attempt, a counterintelligence official has just told CNN authorities can't rule out the possibility that a terrorist sleeper cell is behind the attack. But they don't know just yet.

Also a former member of the New York police bomb squad member tells CNN the SUV had no known signature, meaning it wasn't built in a way used by known terror organizations. We've also learned the vehicle sold three weeks ago in a cash deal with no paperwork.

In a moment, you'll hear the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee tell CNN he has no doubt this was a terrorist act. But first our reporters have new information on the investigation. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in Connecticut where the vehicle changed hands. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is here with me and Jeanne, one of the big questions after something like this happens, and a lot of speculation today, any evidence of any international link or international communications?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They are looking very, very hard at this. At this point the officials I talked to say they cannot yet make a determination whether this was international, whether this was domestic, whether this was a lone wolf. I did recently have a conversation with one counterterrorism official who told me they have not seen any communications internationally since this occurred.

Nothing giving a high five, nothing indicating this bomb didn't go off, nothing that indicates clearly whether there's a tie overseas or not. Clearly, this is one of the prime things they're looking at, John, as they try to chase down the individual who put that bomb in Times Square.

KING: And Deb, as they try to chase down this individual, the car in question is one of the big clues they have. When we hear talk as if there's no signature, meaning it's not built like a bomb used in prior -- by other terrorist groups -- what else do we know about this vehicle and the transaction and the investigation?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's so interesting is that a lot of investigators have been here in Connecticut all day. We can tell you that a law enforcement source briefed on this investigation is telling us that the Nissan Pathfinder was bought on Craigslist about three weeks ago. Apparently the buyer came here to Connecticut. That's where the car was being sold.

It was a cash deal -- $1,800. And the actual transaction took place in the parking lot of a grocery store. So right now, obviously, we're trying to figure out whether, in fact, there may have been some surveillance cameras at that grocery store to determine whether, in fact, anybody got kind of a close look at who this person was. We are told that, in fact, the buyer -- I'm sorry, that the seller of the car did describe the buyer as a man late 20s, early 30s.

But that's pretty much all that the buyer could tell them because this was kind of an anonymous deal. You don't have to exchange information. You can be anybody who you want. All you have to do is give the money and, in turn, you get the registration papers. There's no formal registration, so all of that right now is under investigation.

KING: All right Deb, stand by and Jeanne as well because I want you to listen to a conversation I had just a shore time ago with Joe Lieberman, senator from Connecticut. He's the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and he said that he'd been briefed recently on just what Deb was just talking about, the transaction occurred in his state, no paperwork. I asked him if in those briefings he was given any indication that the suspect they're looking for any evidence as yet that he's related to or had any communications with known terrorists or militia groups here in the United States or overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I regret to say that I can't talk about that at this point. Obviously, the one thing we do know is that somebody loaded this vehicle, parked it in Times Square with a lot of stuff in it that could have caused a lot of damage and probably death, but -- and we also know that we've got two of the finest law enforcement investigative organizations in the world, the FBI and the NYPD going at this case with real intensity, pursuing different lines of evidence that they can obtain from the vehicle and the whole history of the stuff that was in the vehicle and, obviously, now we know the purchase of the vehicle in Connecticut.

But beyond that, it's too -- so I would say this was an attempted terrorist act. What kind it was, whether this person acted alone, too soon to say, but you know in terms of the effect and the damage, not much difference between whether this person acted alone or with other people. It was meant to explode in Times Square.

KING: To be clear on that point, a few follow-ups. Let me start with this one. When you say you don't want to discuss this more. Does the committee and do you personally know things that you can't discuss publicly or you won't say whether you think it's home grown or whether it's international because you have information and the committee has information that you just can't discuss publicly?

LIEBERMAN: Well it's a little of both frankly. Senator Collins -- Susan Collins from Maine, my ranking member and I were briefed today by Secretary Napolitano. We're going to receive briefings in a more classified setting hopefully tomorrow. But really it's too early to speculate while this investigation is going on. This, in my opinion, was clearly an attempted terrorist attack and I'm going to rely on the NYPD and the FBI to take us from here.

KING: You use that language. I want to read to you -- I want to have you -- share with you something the attorney general said earlier today because it seems to me like you're in dispute with him. Attorney General Holder said this.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation is really in its early stages at this point and I think it is too early to designate it as a terrorist incident.

KING: You take issue with that?

LIEBERMAN: Well, respectfully, I do. I mean it wasn't a prank. And I think if anybody just wanted to commit a violent act, they could have found a lot of other ways to do it besides putting all these explosives in a car and parking it in Times Square. So I'll accept evidence that somehow disproves my conclusion, but I think everything I know about this case says this was an attempted terrorist attack, which is to say it was an attempt to make a political statement, have a political effect, inflict a sense of terror on the people of New York and the people of America through a violent act, a death, bringing a damage bringing act.

So now who did it, whether they acted alone or they didn't, that remains to be seen. I don't want to say anything that would compromise that investigation ongoing now. But was it terrorism? In my opinion, it certainly was.

KING: And in the briefings you have received so far, what were you told would have been the worst case scenario here had the device actually exploded?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I can't say that I was told anything explicit to give a particular dimension to it except to say that this would have created a tremendous fireball in that area where a lot of people are moving through all the time. I conclude it would have killed a lot of people. Whether it would have brought a building down or not, I don't know. But this would have caused death and a lot of damage.

And so it was very serious. I know some people say that the fertilizer in the -- I guess it was like a box, a metal box in the back, wasn't of the explosive type. I've been advised today that what was in there may not have been the most explosive type of fertilizer, but it would have blown up, together with propane and gasoline.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: More of our conversation with Senator Lieberman in a minute, but first let's go back to our reporters based on what we've heard right so far, and first to Deb Feyerick up in Connecticut. Deb, you heard Senator Lieberman talking about the big question, did this person act alone, did they have help. Part of the evidence trail of that depends on the vehicle. And you have more information not only just on the transaction of the Pathfinder but the license plates as well.

FEYERICK: Well, absolutely. As a matter of fact, investigators believe that the license plate may actually have come from the lot just behind me. We are at Kramer's Auto Shop Parts (ph) and they believe that the license plate may have been removed from one of the vehicles. We walked along this fence here and really, there are a couple of ways that are pretty easy to get in to that particular lot.

If you can either squeeze through the bars, there's one area you can sort of hop over the fence. One part of the fence has actually been pulled down, so it's not exactly a secure lot and that's one of the things they're investigating. What's interesting, John is you know when you think about the kind of evidence that they do have to go on, the reason they were able to trace the car here to Connecticut was because there was a sticker left on the back of the car that brought them to a dealership not too far from where we're standing here.

It is about 10 minutes away. And that dealer was questioned. He said he sold the car about six years ago. Since then, it has changed hands a couple of time. And they were able to tell that through the Department of Motor Vehicles, so these are all the leads that they're tracking down -- John.

KING: Deb Feyerick there -- thanks. And Jeanne, you heard Senator Lieberman talk about how he was briefed and what he thought the capabilities of this device were had it gone to a full fire and an explosion. What are your sources telling you about the bomb?

MESERVE: We talked to a former ATF official today who described this as a Rube Goldberg type of contraption. He was very puzzled by some elements, like, for instance, the fact that it included two clocks instead of usually one timing device. He said it was not sophisticated and, therefore, he did not think it had any link with al Qaeda.

He said if it was an al Qaeda operation, you would have seen something much more sophisticated than this. And he says al Qaeda obviously favors the suicide bomber. So those are his thoughts on this. In terms of how much damage it would do, you get varying assessments. Most people feel though that it certainly would have caused some damage and probably taken some lives in that very crowded Times Square environment.

KING: And lastly, when a story, especially a story so sensitive like this is breaking, we're trying to get information it's often incredibly hard to get information. And sometimes you sort of get a sense of how big it is by who's talking and who is not talking. Take us inside today.

MESERVE: Yes, a lot more people were talking over the weekend. Today things shut down. Now it may have been somebody on high said I don't like that this much information is getting out. It may feel -- they may feel that they may be at risk of compromising an investigation. It may mean that things are moving very, very fast. They have a lot to work with here, a lot more evidence than you would have if that bomb had gone off. KING: Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve will be back if there are new developments, Deb Feyerick as well.

And when we come back, we'll get thoughts of our homeland security adviser Fran Townsend and more of our conversation with the Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman. You won't want to miss his thoughts about how he suggests that he has absolutely no doubts this Times Square attempted car bombing was a terrorist impact and his thoughts on the investigation going forward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Significant developments tonight in the attempted New York terror bombing. This is new since the start of our program. According to a senior counterterrorism official with direct knowledge and involved in the Times Square car bomb investigation, officials are shifting focus to whether the individual who drove the SUV had international connections. Part of the investigation is exploring any connection or inspiration by an international group.

Also a counterintelligence official tells CNN they can't rule out the possibility that a terrorist sleeper cell is behind this attack. A former member of the New York City police bomb squad also tells us the bomb had, quote, "no known signature", meaning it wasn't built in a way used in the past by known terror organizations. CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend is standing by. But first, just before the break, you heard Senator Joe Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee say he has no doubt this was terrorism -- here's more of our conversation with Senator Lieberman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMAN: I don't know that this terrorist attempt was related to an Islamist extremist terrorist group. But over the last year we have had a series of attempts by Islamists extremist's terrorists to attack the United States. Increasingly, they seem to be smaller events, not a big 9/11 type attack. Three of them broke through our defenses. The one in Arkansas last spring, which people don't remember, where an individual walked in to a U.S. Army recruiting station and killed a recruiter simply because he was wearing an Army uniform.

Second of course was Major Hasan at Ft. Hood who killed 13 Americans and the third was Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day in Detroit who fortunately failed to ignite the bomb that he had on his body. So we're in a war. And it wasn't an accident that this attempt was made in Times Square because Times Square is a symbol of the vitality of America.

KING: You say you don't know, Senator, you say you don't know, but in citing those three past examples it leads me to believe that you suspect that there's some -- whether it's international ties or international inspiration to this.

LIEBERMAN: Here's what I really feel and I don't know enough to reach any conclusion about this particular act, which is we've got enough evidence over the last year, repeated series of attempts by Islamist extremist terrorists to attack America that all of us have to be on alert. We're in a war. The war is ongoing.

And while we're making progress overseas and pushing back al Qaeda and the Taliban and related extremist groups, they continue to come at us. So again, I don't know that this was an Islamist extremist attack, but over the last year, we've had more than a dozen attempts by groups and individuals affiliated with that movement which were aimed at killing Americans. And that's exactly what the vehicle -- what the device entered (ph) in Times Square was intended to do over the weekend.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Joe Lieberman there, the Senator from Connecticut. Let's bring in our CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend into the conversation. Fran, when you work your sources, are they constant with the -- I don't know whether to call them fears or the judgments of Senator Lieberman there.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Oh no, John, I think it's pretty clear. Senator Lieberman has gotten briefings along with Senator Collins from federal officials on the ongoing investigation and that's the basis of what his judgments are. I have to tell you it seems to me based on what we're hearing now, both from NYPD officials and federal officials, that they're now following very sensitive operational leads and they're trying to figure out -- NYPD's in the lead, but the feds are supporting that investigation.

This individual could -- it is possible he could have acted alone? What are his connections to others who may have supported this operation? And second, what is the potential, what are the connections either direct or inspirational that this individual or group took from Islamic extremists? I think Senator Lieberman is dead on. This is beginning more and more to look like an attempted terrorist attack on New York City.

KING: And yet no known signature on the bomb. Does that tell you somebody's just trying something new or this person had some loose contact or loose affiliation or can you draw that -- can you connect those dots this early on, I guess?

TOWNSEND: I think you can connect the dots this early on. Look, this could be something as loose as an individual goes on the Internet to a Jihadist Web site, looks for a bomb recipe and it's not specific enough and they don't realize they need a different grade of fertilizer for this thing to work. They don't realize they actually have to mix it. So it may not be a very direct connection. It may be much more inspirational, if you will, but I think that's the kind of support that the feds can provide to the NYPD as this investigation continues.

KING: Let me ask you -- maybe it's a ridiculous question, but I'm following our reporting today and you see that a car -- a motor vehicle that can still be driven changes hands, there's no paperwork involved. In the post 9/11 world where we say we're worried about a dirty bomb, somebody getting a small amount of nuclear devices and carrying it or driving it into a major American city, how can that happen?

TOWNSEND: Well you know John, remember in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack we realized how porous, if you will, the ability to get a motor vehicle license in states was. I mean I think what you're going to see is we learn every time we see one of these attempts some piece of the system that needs to be strengthened. And I don't have any doubt that Senator Lieberman and Senator Collins on the Hill will look at this attempted attack and try to close gaps that we find as a result of it.

KING: Another thing you follow is the response in this situation. We spoke last night. Yesterday, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano called this a one-off. Then this morning the attorney general said that it was too early to say whether there was any terrorist attack. By the time of the White House briefing this afternoon the language is more muscular. Are we seeing an evolution in thinking at the White House here?

TOWNSEND: I think that's exactly right, John. And in fairness to them, you know, the statements this morning may have been accurate as of this morning when they were made, and these things evolve. I mean they're learning things -- these investigations tend to take off and make progress very, very quickly and so by the time in the afternoon White House briefing they probably had learned additional investigative facts that changed the tone of their rhetoric and I can promise you -- the one thing we can -- I can promise you John is it will be different by tomorrow, it may be different by later tonight.

KING: Our CNN homeland security -- national security contributor Fran Townsend. We'll get back to Fran if there are new developments and we'll continue to follow this investigation throughout the program.

But when we return, we'll move on to some other issues as well. Let me give you a sense over here at the "Magic Wall". When we do come back, first thing we'll do is go "Wall-to-Wall" to give you an assessment, an update as the oil spill -- tragic spill spreads in the Gulf of Mexico. We'll show you very up close what's at risk.

Then we'll go "One-on-One", Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the controversial Arizona sheriff. He said he would win if he ran for governor, well will he? Stay with us. You'll hear his decision. He told us first right here.

And in "Play-by-Play" tonight, President Obama's advice to college graduates. He tells them listen to Rush, listen to Glenn Beck, but maybe listen to somebody else -- you won't want to miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, the urgent efforts to try to deal with the still spilling oil in the Gulf of Mexico as we approach the two-week mark since that rig first exploded. I want to show you some pictures here of what they're trying to do, some urgent construction in the area. You see this welding going on right here -- well what are they doing? Watch as these pictures play out.

And you'll see they're building a giant cap that they will take out to sea. We can show you the model here. They're building it here. Now let's show you a graphic of just what they're trying to do. They're building this frame right now. This is what they're going to do. They're going to bring this box out. This is what you saw them building. They want to get it down over to where the oil is gushing out, essentially to cap the well at the bottom.

Then they'll put a funnel on top of this and try to control the flow up to the surface. That is the plan. That is the plan. Why is the urgency? Let's look at one NASA image from up above. Look at the slick here. You see the oil slick here as you come in and you see right here, beautiful and very fragile wetlands right here as the slick starts to make its way closer to shore.

So let's head over to the "Magic Wall" for a closer look at just where the slick is and what the potential impact is. If you look at this -- excuse me for passing through -- this is the leak zone here, the darker circle here. This red area around it is the no-fishing zone the government announced over the weekend. There is now a moratorium on any fishing, recreational or commercial in this area right here.

I want to give you a closer look at how this can all happen and pull this out a bit here. If you look -- here are some of the risks here -- over here oysters, a huge not only recreational but also commercial fishing of oysters here, bluefin tuna spawning in the waters right down here. That is at risk because of this. Seagrass beds as you get up closer to shore, a major environmental concern. Once you get into that area Barrier Island, a bird nest up here, loggerhead turtle nests as well.

If you bring this over here, you see as the coast goes on, there are sea turtle nests here, fish habitat out here in the deeper waters. And I want to pull this out a little bit because I want you to see right in the center in the oil spill area right now, sea turtles, dolphins and whales live in that habitat. That is the big concern for the marine life, the mammals and the environmental community.

And as you swing this back in here, just a little bit more of an update of the situation here. The region right now one of the world's most sensitive coastlines and ecosystems, right there where that oil is spilling (ph) out. The marshland already receding dramatically and it has been pounded in recent years by hurricanes and other storms as well. As we watch this economic impact, a $3 trillion piece of the economy because of tourism industry, because of the shipping industry, because of the fishing industry, $3 trillion annually generated in this region.

Their big worry now is the loss of tourism dollars. There could be an increase in oil prices because of the damage here. And the seafood industry of course at least in the short term has been decimated. We spent a lot of time talking to people in the community today about this. The preliminary estimates for the cleanup cost range anywhere from $1 billion to $8 billion -- that's an estimate of today.

(INAUDIBLE) that's all dependent on trying to get that dome on top to try to cap the gushing out oil. All the locals we spoke to in the region say they are happy that BP is officially assigned to pay the bill. And they say they will keep that accountability as this goes on. And BP does have insurance on it, so it is fascinating to watch. I want to turn this off one more time and just bring this back down to just show you with a little bit more perspective what we're talking about here.

Such a fragile area and that cone we showed you at the top, they say probably at least a week before they can get it out there and bring it down, so we will continue to track what is a tragic story in the Gulf of Mexico. And as we do, we'd like to get your take on this issue as well. So we're giving you all week to "Make Your Case". Has the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico changed your mind about offshore drilling? Record your opinion. Post it at CNN.com/JohnKingUSA. We'll play the best videos by Friday and as always those who make their case, the winners, get a JKUSA t-shirt.

Coming up later, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations -- always good political theater, but first breaking today America's toughest sheriff sets the record straight on whether he's throwing his hat into the Arizona governor's race.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Arizona's new immigration law has put the man known as America's toughest sheriff back in the spotlight. Joe Arpaio is the sheriff of Maricopa County which includes Phoenix and its suburbs. He's 77, a Republican, and promised that today he'd let everyone know whether he plans to run for governor. He's here with us to go one on one. Sheriff, just straight up, yes or no on the race for governor?

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Tough decision. I didn't flip a coin, but after evaluating the whole situation, my wife, Ava of 53 years wanted me to run, but I decided to stay sheriff.

KING: Why did you make that decision, sir? Obviously, as governor, you would have more control, more power, more influence over the issues you care so deeply about, whether it be border security, whether it be general law and order issues. Why no?

ARPAIO: I tell you, over $2.3 million I raised in the last 12 months, people want me to run for sheriff again in 2012. If I did run for governor, I'd have to resign tomorrow and be at the whims of a board of supervisors who I'm investigating to appoint their sheriff. I just don't want to leave my 4,000 dedicated employees. I'm going to continue my service and fight as the sheriff of Maricopa County.

KING: You know, sir, your critics -- and you have many critics -- will say that sheriff Joe likes to raise a stink, he likes the spotlight. Here he had this big moment. He said every day people in the country are urging me to run and in the end he blinked. That's what they will say. What do you say to them?

ARPAIO: Let them say what they want. I get enough publicity on tent cities and chain gangs, immigration. I don't need this to get on a camera. So it's a tough decision. I think someone should say, hey, thanks, Sheriff, at least you're one politician staying where you are at and there's no doubt -- I don't want to be egotistical, but I could be the governor if I ran. But I decided to stay as sheriff. Tough decision, but I think I can do a lot as the third largest sheriff's office. And the majority of people live in Maricopa County anyway. So I can still do my part for the people of this county, this state and the United States of America by the way I crack down on this illegal immigration problem.

KING: You say you talked to your wife. You made this decision yourself. Did you do anything else, did you do any polling?

ARPAIO: My polls are very high. I got the money, I got the polls, I got the support. Tough decision, but you know what? I have 50 years in law enforcement. That was my whole life -- is my whole life. And I'm not going to give up this office to activists and politicians that may not like what I'm doing. So I hope they have a nice night tonight.

KING: I'm sure they will, Sheriff. That's an interesting way to put it. Will you endorse Governor Brewer, the incumbent Republican governor who is running? There are three other Republicans running against her. As of now will you endorse a candidate for governor?

ARPAIO: I haven't decided yet. We'll talk about that at a later date if I decide to endorse anyone.

KING: As you know, some changes were made to the recently passed immigration law. A lot of people around the country criticized that law. People from the state criticized that law. The changes were made, as the governor said, to remove any idea, any thought, to change the language to make it less open to criticism that this law would lead to racial profiling. Are you happy with those changes or do you think they were unnecessary?

ARPAIO: Unnecessary. I've been the force in the federal until they took the authority away from me. 38,000 we have arrested, investigated, detained. Where's the problems? I know the justice department a year and a half ago under the new administration sent civil rights people down here. But nothing's happened yet. So I'm very comfortable the way we enforce the law. This new law gives a little more, you know, a tool, but we've been doing the job anyway.

KING: When you say been doing the job anyway and you mention the administration sending the civil rights people down there. As you know, Sheriff, we talked about this the last time I came to visit you in Arizona, there are people out there who say that racial profiling is Sheriff Joe's M.O.

ARPAIO: No, that's false. That's not true. 38,000 people we've, as I just said, that we've come in contact with. Where's all the complaints? A few politicians and a few complaints. You are always going to get complaints.

KING: We just talked about the state law. You've heard the conversation here in Washington in recent days. The Senate Democrats came forward with a proposal, the president has said if Congress has the appetite, he'd like to see a debate about what they call comprehensive immigration reform. They spent a lot of time talking about beefing up border security then they talk about a guest worker program and some path to citizenship -- legal status, excuse me, not citizenship. Prevent 11 million immigrants that they say are in this country illegally right now. Are you prepared to join that conversation and that debate this year for a bigger, broader federal program?

ARPAIO: No, I'm against amnesty. I was a regional director in Mexico, South America, Texas, Arizona, Turkey, I think I know a little about Mexico. Why doesn't the president, after spending 25 years with the feds myself, why don't they call me for a little advice from me in nobody talks to me about this problem. But that doesn't matter. No, I'm against amnesty. You come into this country illegally, the law should be enforced and you should be held accountable.

KING: A guy who has sought your advice in the past and who's had a hot and cold relationship, I guess I would describe it, with Sheriff Joe Arpaio is Senator John McCain who is in a tough primary campaign of his own. He was down along the border this weekend. Sent out pictures of twitter saluting those defending the border. Give me your view of Senator McCain and how he's handled the debate about the new state law and the national debate framed, for example, around the McCain/Kennedy/Bush outline of a few years ago.

ARPAIO: He's a nice guy, but I'm supporting J.D. Hayworth. He doesn't flip flop. I'm endorsing J.D., but some politicians, this election year, you know, election year for governor. I decided not to run for governor, but let's hope that everybody makes the white house or alerts the white house and Congress to do something about this problem.

KING: Let me ask you lastly, you say the president is unlikely to seek your advice. I'll go way out on a limb and say, you're dead right on that one. If you had a moment with the president of the United States and he said what are the one or two things I can do right now to improve the situation along the border, what would you tell him?

ARPAIO: I think when you have that billion dollar fences and hop over, presidents should say you automatically going to jail. No one talks about what happens. And also, follow the sheriff's programs and start arresting illegal aliens that happen to be in our country. That's what I would say.

KING: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, we appreciate your thoughts today on your big decision day in Arizona. Thank you very much, sir.

When we come back, today's most important person you don't know had a key role in the New York City attempted bombing over the weekend. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's most important person you don't know had an especially busy weekend. Lieutenant Mark Torre commands the New York City police department's bomb squad, the country's oldest and its largest. It's been around since 1903 and started out as the Italian squad because Italian merchants were being threatened with sticks of dynamite. It's also been called the anarchist squad and the radical squad. In 1971 it was the first unit in America to use bomb sniffing dogs. But it's high tech now too. Torre says some of the unit's new equipment was put to use on Saturday. He joined the bomb squad in 1993, the world trade center bombing happened during his fifth day on the job. Like the original bomb squad's founder, Torre's of Sicilian descent. He says the unit considers itself the ultimate problem solvers.

With me here in the studio, Paul Begala and Kevin Madden. This is one of those days where we put politics aside. These guys are just - it's remarkable the bravery they demonstrate.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's interesting. He described himself as problem solvers. And they are. But they're heroes. They run toward a situation that all the rest of us run away from. And their action, apparently, looks like it saved a whole lot of lives and prevented a terrorist attack.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You're right. And who decides to go and volunteer for a job that has anything to do with anarchists and dynamite, what was it? I mean, that's bravery. Those guys are the ones that keep that city safe.

KING: Let's stay on subject because the Times Square bombing is on the radar tonight. Before we go through some of the radar, let's give you a quick update on what we know about the Times Square bombing investigation. According to a senior counterterrorism official with direct knowledge and involved in the investigation, it has widened now beyond a single person. The details of the plot suggest the SUV's driver did not act alone. The counter intelligence official tells CNN they can't rule out the possibility that a terrorist sleeper cell might be behind this attack. A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN that the SUV was sold three weeks ago in a cash deal with no paperwork exchanged. Those who think it's a big mistake to put the alleged 9/11 mastermind on trial in New York City say this weekend's bombing attempt in Times Square proves their case.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I will say this. One of the reasons why a lot of us feel that the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the accused lead conspirator, planner of the 9/11 attacks against the United States should never occur in New York is because New York is already a target, as we've seen, for global terrorism. And why would you want to create a circumstance which would give an additional motivation to terrorists to strike the great city of New York and the people there? And I hope this event over the weekend just nullifies any thought that anybody has of trying the 9/11 accused in New York City. KING: Does Senator Lieberman have a point or is this political opportunism taking advantage of this moment to make your case?

BEGALA: Well a little of both. I think he has more of an agenda than a point. If you take the political soundings, I think he's where most people are, most New Yorkers are. Mayor Bloomberg who used to support trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the city is now against it. My guess is the rest of the politicians will follow the mayor. One has nothing to do with the other. Where he's wrong, al Qaeda has plenty of motivation to attack us already. And the notion that they're going to attack -- we shouldn't try a guy here or there because we're worried about al Qaeda. No, that gives them too much and gives in too much. We'll do what's in America's interests. That would be my advice.

BEGALA: I thing Paul is right. I think it's a little bit of both. When it's an event like this takes place and there's a lot of raw emotions, there's a lot of history there, there's a lot of raw nerves exposed in New York City. And everybody starts to connect the dots very easily, much more so than they would if it were something else that was not related to terrorism. And that's what happens. And so everybody tries to say, well, if a happens, then b must have happened and c is an absolute certainty. That's just what happens in politics, I think.

KING: Here's a fascinating political story also on our radar. Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter had a debate with his challenger Joe Sestak over the weekend. Specter demanded an apology for one of Sestak's ads.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: When he calls me a liar, that's out of bounds. I want an apology.

KING: Sestak ignored that. No apology forthcoming, concentrating instead on Specter's voting record.

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: He voted for those terrible tax cuts and economic policies of George Bush that actually ripped our economy apart.

KING: A number of great primaries going on in the country, but this is one of the better ones.

MADDEN: Never repeat the negative. Never say stop calling me a liar. I don't know how many times we probably said this to candidates. Don't repeat the negative charge, and they still do.

BEGALA: Admiral Sestak, which he was a three-star admiral before he joined the house, the highest ranking military officer ever so serve in the House of Representatives. He's showing superior military strategy here. If I were advising Senator Specter, I would say every time you hear Sestak name Bush, with whom Specter did vote when he was Republican, you answer with Obama because Barack Obama's taking sides in this primary. He's for Arlen Specter. You wouldn't know it from those clips or for most of that debate. KING: All right. One last one quickly, a busy day in New York. Not only is there a bombing investigation but Iran's president is at the United Nations talking nukes. He says there's no credible proof his country is developing nuclear weapons and insists the real rogue nation is the United States.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): Regrettably the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries including my country.

KING: Silence in the room?

MADDEN: It was an incomprehensible rant. This is somebody who has denied the holocaust has even taken place. So I think that it's amazing that we would give him a forum at the U.N. That's obviously a decision for the U.N. but I don't thing that anybody here in the United States should take him seriously. I don't think the president should ever meet with him. I think that if anything, it's showing the international stage just how out of touch that Ahmadinejad is.

BEGALA: I disagree with Kevin, it's good to give him a forum. He is the titular head at least, I don't know how much power he has, he's the titular head of Iran. I think any time you shine a spotlight on a cockroach, that's a good thing. And by the way, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out and she smashed that cockroach pretty good. She gave the response on the United States of America. I love her personally. But partisanship aside, it was a terrific performance by Secretary Clinton.

KING: All right. A quick time out, Paul and Kevin will stay with us. When we come back, the play by play including a breakdown of what some call the administration's evolving statements about the New York City terror investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Play by play, you get the drill, just like in the sports shows, we replay the big tape, sometimes we break down the highlights. Republican Kevin Madden, Democrat Paul Begala still with us and I want to get to a little bit of a montage here because already some people are saying this administration has an evolving line in describing what happened over the weekend in Times Square. Some would say of course you get new information in an investigation. That is what happens. Others say they have seen this before.

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You know, at this point, I have no information that it is anything other than a one-off.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation is in its early points at this point and I think it's too early to designate it as a terrorist incident. I think there is no question that the people, the person who is behind that act intended to spread terror across New York.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think anybody that has the type of material that they had in the car in Times Square, I would say that that was intended to terrorize. Absolutely. And I would say that whoever -- whoever did that would be categorized as a terrorist, yes.

KING: We still don't know a lot but we are a far way from our reporting, now suggests this is not a one-off.

BEGALA: Right. And Secretary Napolitano, she went through this once before. We remember the underwear bomber at Christmas, where right away she said the system worked. Well it turned out the system did not work. In her defense at the time, my response was, you know, you always, when you are in these things, the first reports are always wrong. You just don't know where. You don't know how and what respect. So you sound like Eric Holder, if you are wise, we are just beginning this we don't really have all the facts yet, but -- and then you make your point. She seemed to not have learned that lesson. We don't know if this is a one-off yet. And the truth is, I don't know that we know it is terrorism. I take the definition legally.

KING: Right.

BEGALA: Which means targeting civilians for a political end with violence. It was clearly targeting civilians with violence. Was it a political end? We don't know. Probably yes, ma'am.

MADDEN: I think one of the big problems is you have an information chain that is somewhat stunted. I think you have Secretary Napolitano saying one thing, you have the attorney general saying another thing and now the white house conflicting with those earlier reports. It's most important, especially in a crisis, to make sure there is a unified chain of command and the information coming from one spot. It seems like in this instance, it was all over the place and it's created a little bit of competition between those dueling messages.

KING: All right. Kevin and Paul, thanks for coming in. We will do it again.

We already told you about the fireworks between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the United Nations. But are those differences as simple as ABC? Offbeat reporter Pete Dominick finds out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Don Lemon filling in tonight for Campbell Brown. Let's head out to New York and get a sense of what is coming out at the top of the hour. Hey, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you John. We are covering all the angles of the Times Square bomb plot. Was it a lone Wolf or a terror group? What is the international connection, if any? I went to Times Square today with a security expert to find out just what we are doing to keep this city safe.

Also tonight, the big political controversy of the day. Does the tea party have a race problem? That and much, much more at the top of the hour, John.

KING: We'll see you in a few minutes, Don.

A big United Nations meeting in New York and so who better to get to the bottom of just what this means than our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick. Hey, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Hello, John King. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in town and I wanted to find out if people knew and what they thought about him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Can you say Ahmadinejad?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ahmadinejad.

DOMINICK: Well done. Can you spell it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No sir.

DOMINICK: Can you try?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can say it but you can't spell it.

DOMINICK: 5,000 bucks from John King if you can spell it right. The pressure is on, $5,000. Ahmadinejad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: h -- no, j-a-h- --

DOMINICK: John, keep your money. The leader of Iran, his name? I will give you a hint. A-ma -- sir, Ahmadinejad is here. Did you hear? Yeah. He's on the tour. I think that you look a tiny bit like the Iranian president. Anybody ever tell that you? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: Who would win in a wrestling match, Hillary Clinton or Ahmadinejad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary Clinton.

DOMINICK: Hillary Clinton? From your home state?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

DOMINICK: Who wins in an arm wrestling match, Ahmadinejad or Hillary Clinton?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary Clinton.

DOMINICK: Me or you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You.

DOMINICK: Who wins in an arm wrestling match?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clinton.

DOMINICK: Who win in a swimming match?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clinton.

DOMINICK: Who wins in a high dive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clinton.

DOMINICK: Who wins in I'm angrier than that one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Clinton.

DOMINICK: Ahmadinejad and Hillary Clinton get along better than Red Sox and Yankees' fans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heard about that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: I think that's how we should settle all our disputes, friendly arm wrestling, John King.

KING: My money is on Secretary Clinton too. I'm going to put my money away though. Pete, can I give you a little money to buy that guy a Red Sox hat, that Yankees fan?

DOMINICK: No you cannot. I will never do that for you John King.

KING: That's all the time we've got tonight. Thanks for watching. Don Lemon standing by in New York right now.