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FBI Investigated Shooter Previously; Three Hours of Terror; Candidates Debate Leadership After Orlando Massacre; Trump On Terror; Chilling Final Text Messages From Son Trapped In Club. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired June 13, 2016 - 16:30   ET



EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: They say there's no real textbook way to do this.

The FBI says that they investigated the shooter for 10 months in that case, Jake. And, during that time, he was added to a watch list which would have prompted them to ask questions if he tried to travel.

But the FBI closed the case after finding not much to go on and the shooter was removed from the watch list. Now, here's FBI Director James Comey describing the steps that they took.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications and searching all government holdings for any possible connections, any possible derogatory information.


PEREZ: There was a second investigation that prompted the FBI to take another look at the Orlando shooter, and this time it was because he attended a mosque, the same mosque as the Palestinian-American man who became a suicide bomber for the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Comey says they're going to review all these cases. But he thinks that the FBI was thorough in what it did, Jake.

TAPPER: Director of the FBI Comey, he also said that the FBI does more investigations like this than you think. It's fairly often. Does that mean that there are others out there who could be ticking time bombs just like this terrorist?

PEREZ: Well, that's exactly true. This is routine for the FBI and the fact is that the FBI comes under a lot of criticism from the other end, Jake.

They do dozens of sting operations that they use to arrest people. And people call them entrapment. In fact, the FBI director described -- what the FBI director described today was an attempt to do a sting operation of this shooter. When you have 49 people dead, this is what -- why people are asking more questions of the director.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, excellent work. Thank you so much.

Coming up, the terrorist spent three hours inside Pulse nightclub before police assaulted the building and put an end to the savagery, three hours. Would more lives have been saved if the police went in sooner or was waiting the right call? Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Three hours, that's how long a gunman laid siege to the Pulse nightclub before a police SWAT team smashed into the club and freed those terrified hostages still inside who were still alive.

Let's bring in group of national security and law enforcement experts to talk about this all.

Retired NYPD Detective Harry Houck, former top CIA and FBI official Phil Mudd, and former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Juliette Kayyem.

Obviously, let me say again, the only person responsible for the carnage was this evil Islamic terrorist. He's the only person responsible.

But, as journalists, we're asking about what might have been done differently, what could be done, what lessons we can learn.

Juliette, do you think police could have breached the club sooner?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think I can't answer that question. I think we don't know.

What we don't know is what situational awareness did they have at the time that they decided to wait. If you're a terrorism expert, you know these guys often don't work alone and they did not know if he had a detonator or a detonation device that would have killed 200 people.

And so all of these -- these will become known over time and I'm confident that we will have an understanding. But right now, you know, they saved a lot of lives and that's sort of where I'm focused on right now.

TAPPER: OK. Fair enough.

Phil, the FBI had interviewed the Orlando terrorist three times before, and they could not predict he would do something like this. Apparently, one of these was a sting operation and he didn't take the bait. Do you find any of this troubling?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No, I don't, because you have to got to look at it from a different direction. We're taking this from the individual and saying, should we have done

more? Let's look at this from the opposite optic. You're dealing with hundreds or thousands of cases annually. Some of those cases are much higher profile, for example, attempted communication with ISIS, people returning from the battlefield in Syria, people attempting to travel to Turkey.

This guy was saying things at work that were suspicious. He didn't appear to have co-conspirators. If you put him in that big hopper, Jake, with all those other cases, I think you could get a sense of how the FBI prioritized this and put him down on the list.

TAPPER: Harry, I want you to take a listen to something Hillary Clinton said today in response to the Orlando attack.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the FBI is watching you for a suspected terrorist link, you shouldn't be able to just go buy a gun with no questions asked.



TAPPER: What do you think about that policy? If somebody is on the terror watch list, if somebody is on the no-fly list, should they be prohibited from purchasing a firearm?


I mean, I applaud that speech that she gave, and I'm not a Hillary fan. But I thought her speech was very good. There shouldn't be any reason why. And the 2013 investigation, this guy admitted he wanted to be a jihadi. OK? So, the FBI had known that.

But they had to conduct an investigation, a background investigation on this guy and they came up with nothing. All right. That's our laws. There's nothing we can do here. In other words, then he probably could not be put on any kind of a list at that time.

Now, Senator Feinstein said that there is a bill that she's trying to get passed in Congress regarding this. This is something we need to take a look at. All right, there's no reason why somebody who had been investigated by the FBI for possible terrorism that made statements like that should be able to be put on a no-fly, no-gun-buy list to protect the American people.

TAPPER: Very interesting.

And for those who are not familiar with former Detective Houck, he's not exactly a bleeding-heart liberal, I would just like to point out, in terms of that opinion shared.

Phil, let me ask you, when the terrorist spoke to police during the siege, he pledged loyalty to ISIS. You're skeptical. Why> [16:40:01]

MUDD: I am.

Well, first of all, the investigators have talked about him having interest in a variety of groups, some of which are not only in competition. They are killing each other. It's not clear to me he understood the ideology of these groups.

The second point, Jake, is more significant. And that is, we think of ISIS as an ideology. I don't. I think of it not like al Qaeda, but like its own organization. It's an excuse. Anybody who is angry, angry with gays, angry with the West, angry with nightclubs, says, I'm angry about something, and who gives me the validation and justification to act?

So, I don't see this necessarily as a straightforward piece of terrorism, like we would have seen 10 years ago with al Qaeda.

TAPPER: All right. Phil, Juliette, Harry Houck, thank you so much. Appreciate it, one and all.

The presidential candidates weighing in on the terrorist attacks, Hillary Clinton using the term radical Islam for the first time that we know of, this while Donald Trump implies something sinister and quite nefarious about President Obama -- that story next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Today, the Orlando terrorist massacre is pushing the 2016 candidates into a new kind of war of words. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump just wrapped up dueling speeches, and went after each other on leadership and counterterrorism policies in the wake of the Orlando massacre.

Clinton did it by suggestion. Donald Trump did it directly. This morning

[16:45:17] This morning here on CNN, something we are not sure we've ever heard Hillary Clinton say before, she used the words radical Islam to condemn Sunday's tragedy. That's a phrase Trump has hounded her and President Obama for not using publicly.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray. She is with the Trump campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire. And Sara, as I said, Clinton made only illusions to Trump, but he took her on by name repeatedly.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Absolutely, Jake. Today, Hillary Clinton said this was not a day for politics, but Donald Trump had something else in mind entirely. He went after Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, all as he tried to cast himself as the toughest candidate to fight terror.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MURRAY (voice-over): In the wake of the Orlando massacre, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are putting their commander-in-chief credentials on display.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Orlando terrorist may be dead, but the virus that poisoned his mind remains very much alive.

MURRAY: And adopting starkly different tones.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I refuse to be politically correct. The days of deadly ignorance will end.

MURRAY: While Clinton lays out a multifaceted plan to guard against terrorists who act alone --

CLINTON: As president, I will make identifying and stopping lone wolves a top priority.

MURRAY: And promises tighter gun control.

CLINTON: I believe weapons of war have no place on our streets.

MURRAY: Trump is positioning himself as tough on terror, renewing his call to ban Muslims for migrating to the U.S., even though the Orlando shooter was a U.S. citizen born in New York.

TRUMP: When I'm elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States.

MURRAY: And claiming that Syrian refugees are pouring into the U.S.

TRUMP: We have to stop people from coming in from Syria. We're taking them in by the thousands.

MURRAY: In fact, less than 4,000 Syrians have been admitted this year. President Obama has called for resettling 10,000 by the end of September. Today, Clinton is arguing Trump's approach will cause more harm than good.

CLINTON: Inflammatory, anti-Muslim rhetoric and threatening to ban the families and friends of Muslim-Americans as well as millions of Muslim business people and tourists from entering our country hurts the vast majority of Muslims who love freedom and hate terror.

MURRAY: The presumptive Democratic nominee dismissing one of Trump's loudest criticisms, that she won't utter the words radical Islamic terrorism.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton for months and despite so many attacks repeatedly refused to even say the words radical Islam.

MURRAY: Saying she's more focused on solutions than semantics.

CLINTON (via telephone): Whether do you call it radical Jihadism, radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I'm happy to say either.

MURRAY: As Trump adopts some questionable semantics of his own appearing to suggest President Obama sympathizes with Muslim extremists who launched terrorist attacks.

TRUMP (via telephone): We're led by a man that is either not tough, not smart, or has got something else in mind.


MURRAY: Now, "The Washington Post" is one of the news outlets that seized on that last comment from Donald Trump that suggestion that the president might know more about these terrorist attacks. Things like the shooting in Orlando that he is letting on.

And Trump decided that he did not appreciate that coverage very much. He took to Facebook today to say he plans on revoking "The Washington Post" press credentials.

This is a theme we've seen within this campaign pulling the credentials of reporters or news outlets when they are unhappy with the coverage and obviously an alarming one, Jake, from the prospective of many journalists who cover it.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much. Now let's talk more about that. That sound that you just heard from Donald Trump. It's worth to note now, Mr. Trump has been very critical of President Obama for not the using the term radical Islamic terrorism.

And that criticism is certainly within the bounds of modern politics. But this morning on "Fox & Friends," Mr. Trump also said the following about the president.


TRUMP (via telephone): He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands. It's one or the other and either one is unacceptable.


TAPPER: He gets it better than anybody understands. Later in the interview, Mr. Trump elaborated.


TRUMP (via telephone): We're led by a man that either is -- is -- is not tough, not smart, or he's got something else in mind and the something else in mind, you know, people can't believe it. People cannot -- they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can't even mention the words radical Islamic terrorism. There's something going on. It's inconceivable.


TAPPER: Now I reached out to the Trump campaign hours ago for clarification as to what specifically Mr. Trump was suggesting about the president. I have not yet heard back.

[16:50:04]Now, the interpretation from the reliably pro-Trump "New York Post" was the following, quote, "Trump maybe Obama sympathizes with the terrorists." That can't be, though, right. I mean, he revoked the press credentials of "The Washington Post" for making that exact same interpretation.

So he could not possibly be saying that the president of the United States who sent thousands of U.S. troops, not to mention drones all over the world to kill radical Islamic terrorists. That he secretly sympathizes with these twisted, homicidal Islamist psychopaths.

I reached out to a conservative friend of mine who is voting for Mr. Trump. He says he thinks Trump is suggesting that President Obama, because of his, quote, "leftist politics" or sympathy to Islam in general is reluctant to identify the radical strain of Islam as the cause of this horror.

Perhaps, that seems to me, a rather charitable interpretation given Mr. Trump's comments that Obama, quote, "Gets it better than anybody understands."

But the truth is I don't know for sure what Mr. Trump was suggesting because it was an illusion to a more ne nefarious motivation that Mr. Trump did not specify.

Now look on a day like today, it's tough to get too worked up about anything other than that, which is immediately relevant to the heinous terrorist act from Sunday morning.

But if Mr. Trump was not suggesting what so many folks, including his fans thought he was, he should probably clarify it because an accusation by a major party presidential nominee that an American president sympathizes with these religious fanatics who bring nothing but hatred and death throughout the world and killed in cold blood 49 innocent people just a few hours ago in Orlando, well, that accusation would be ridiculous and, frankly, truly offensive.

Coming up, dancers, bartenders, an accountant, lovers, friends, and family. We're learning more about the people taken too soon by the terrorists in Orlando including chilling text messages between a victim trapped in the bathroom and his mother.



TAPPER: Four heartbreaking words for any parent to hear from a child. I'm going to die. Can you imagine? That's one of the last text messages a victim sent to his mom before he was brutally murdered in the Orlando terrorist attack.

We're also learning more about the other 48 innocent victims. One as young as 19 years old, slaughtered so senselessly at a gay nightclub that the owner describes as a place of acceptance and love for the LGBT community. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Saturday night was going to be a night of friendship and fun for Pulse clientele such 34-year-old Edward Sotomayor Jr. and 25-year-old Amanda Alvear capturing these moments on social media. Not knowing those posts would be their last.

They are just two of the 49 victims killed in the terrorist rampage. For survivors, horrifying recollections remain all too vivid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People were running and glasses were getting dropped and people were passing me. I'm getting covered in blood from other people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It went with the beat until you almost heard too many shots. It was like bang, bang, bang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was about 20, 30 people tried to push themselves through a very small cabinet looking door.

TAPPER: Louis Verbano (ph) escaped with his friend never looking back at the murderer coming towards them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't want to look back. That would be the last thing on my face and last memory I would have that's not something I want to remember.

TAPPER: Club goers hid from the terrorist in restrooms and dressing rooms huddling together hoping to survive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said he was going to die and he loved me. That's the last thing I heard.

TAPPER: Just after 2:00 a.m., Mina Justice (ph) received these texts from her son, Eddie. "Mommy, I love you. In club they shooting. Trapped in the bathroom. Calling them now, she wrote back. Then messages from Eddie kept coming. He has us and he's in here with us and then -- I'm going to die. Eddie's mother spoke to news crews as she waited outside for her son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think something happened. I do.

TAPPER: Eddie Justice did not make it out alive. The murdered range in ages from 19 to 50. Retail workers, accountants, journalists, students, bright futures extinguished in a hate-filled terrorist attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are a lot of people taken away from their families.

TAPPER: Some club goers were lucky, shot but saved because of the fast work of others.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the way to the hospital, the officer had him lay on top of me and I had to bear hug him. TAPPER: Nursing student, Josh McGill, helped a man with multiple gunshot wounds outside the club telling him what he needed to hear to stay calm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I promise you, God's got this. You'll be OK and I was mainly scared. I was like God, please don't let him die.

TAPPER: As of now, Batman is alive and the promise to overcome lives on as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're standing up and we're fighting. That's all we can do. All we can do is fight.


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."