Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; U.S. Blaming Russia for Aid Convoy Attack; Terror Investigation. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, this is the only time this hour you're going to hear this word: Brangelina.

THE LEAD starts right now.

His father once said his son is a terrorist two years ago. New details about the man accused of planting bombs in and around New York City, including his notes about the Boston bombers and an al Qaeda propaganda mastermind.

Republican royalty saying never Trump. President George H.W. Bush reportedly ready to vote for the guy -- for the wife of the guy who made him a one-termer.

Plus, attack on humanity, aid convoys blown up on their way to save the sick and dying in Syria as a cease-fire appears to come to a heartbreaking end.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper.

An alleged terrorist is in a hospital bed in Newark, New Jersey, right now, but we're learning this afternoon that two years before he allegedly planted multiple bombs in New Jersey and New York, his father called his son a terrorist. It's a statement a law enforcement source tells CNN the dad ultimately recanted, his father telling reporters today that this all followed an incident where Rahami stabbed his own brother after returning from an extended trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Let's right get to CNN's Jim Sciutto. He's in Manhattan at the scene of the explosion Saturday night which injured 29 people.

And, Jim, the FBI heard that Rahami's father had called him a terrorist. What happened after that?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FBI released a statement just a short time ago. This is what they say.

They say that they made an assessment. They did multiple interviews. They checked their databases for any evidence of terrorist ties. They talked to other law enforcement agencies, and then they made a conclusion that he had no terrorist ties at that time in 2014. These are difficult judgment calls. Of course, two years later, we

saw what happened just here over my shoulder, an attempted attack here in New York and in New Jersey as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, U.S. officials tell CNN that the FBI interviewed the father of Ahmad Rahami in 2014 after a violent domestic dispute. This led to a tip alleging the father was calling his son a terrorist.

After the father then downplayed the accusation, the FBI ultimately concluded it was a domestic matter. Today, Rahami's father told CNN more about the violent altercation.

MOHAMMAD RAHAMI, FATHER OF AHMAD KHAN RAHAMI: Now he's a terrorist.

QUESTION: Why did you call the FBI two years ago?

RAHAMI: Because he was doing bad.

QUESTION: He was doing bad? What did he do bad?

RAHAMI: He stabbed my son, because he hurt my wife, and I put him to jail two years ago.

SCIUTTO: Investigators are now attempting to question Ahmad Rahami, though police say he still is not talking. One urgent question, did he have help in carrying out the alleged attacks?

(on camera): Do you still believe that he acted alone with these attacks and attempted attacks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Jim, it's very early on in the investigation. So, as we move through this, we're going to determine who his acquaintances were, family, friends, go through his social media, see if he had any phones. We will go through all that to make that determination.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Pointing to possible inspiration for the attacks, a notebook that Rahami was carrying when captured referenced American AQAP leader an Anwar al-Awlaki, killed in 2011 by a U.S. drone strike.

It also contained references to the Boston Marathon bombers. Investigators are also scrutinizing Rahami's travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he married and had a child and spent time in areas with a heavy Taliban presence, this to determine if he was radicalized overseas. The Afghan Taliban has denied any involvement in the bombings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The officials are trying to determine if he had help in this endeavor. It would have taken some time to get all the materials to put these bombs together.

SCIUTTO: The devices were made with easy-to-obtain ingredients and with recipes that are accessible online. But those materials, considered by experts to be a high explosive, had a potential explosive power bigger than what was seen in the Boston Marathon bombings.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Jake, when I spoke to the New York Police Department commissioner today, he made very clear this is an ongoing investigation. They have not eliminated the possibility that there were others in Rahami's support network. They don't have an answer to that question now.

Just one final thought. Here I am on 23rd Street, a few yards from where the bombing took place. It is hustling and bustling. It's been the same these last 24, 48, 72 hours. Being here, Jake, particularly as a New Yorker, you do not get a sense of a city that is on edge or is nervous. They're handling this very bravely, as always -- Jake.

TAPPER: New Yorkers made of sturdy stuff. Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown is here with me in Washington. She has been looking into the background of this alleged terrorist.

[16:05:02]

And, Pamela, we learned today that this man's wife left the country before the attack. A U.S. official told CNN that she is cooperating. Do they think that she was involved in any way, aware of her husband's alleged plans?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: At this point, we're being told by officials that she is not being accused of wrongdoing, that there is no indication at this early stage in the investigation that she had prior knowledge of her husband's plans or was involved in the plot in any way.

She is Pakistani. She apparently had come to the United States and then went back to Pakistan on a trip recently. We're told by U.S. officials that she was making her way back to the United States and then was questioned in the United Arab Emirates after it became clear her husband was the bombing suspect.

And we're told by U.S. officials that she is cooperating, and that she is still in the area. She did not make it to the United States, Jake. They married in 2011 in Pakistan. A few years later, we have learned the suspect here contacted a U.S. congressman's office asking for help getting his wife to the United States. She became pregnant.

That created some complications. Eventually, we're told she did made it to the United States, but again she's not been accused of any wrongdoing.

TAPPER: The alleged terrorist traveled to Afghanistan and to Pakistan. What are officials looking for there? Obviously, possible radicalization. BROWN: That's right, because he traveled to places considered Taliban

strongholds in Quetta, Pakistan. He also traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Now, he has family in that area. He spent a year there from 2013 to 2014. He also went there in 2011 for some time. When he came back, he actually went through secondary questioning. He was a naturalized U.S. citizen, but they questioned him, considering where he visited, and he claimed he was visiting his wife and uncles, and he passed the screening without raising any red flags, Jake, without being put on any terror databases.

But, of course, officials are going back to see if something was missed, given what has unfolded.

TAPPER: There's got to be a lot of second-guessing going on right now at the FBI that they didn't interview him, even though the father had said that he was a terrorist.

BROWN: Right. Right. They interviewed the father and other people, according to the statement, but they never interviewed him. Now, at the time, he was in jail. So they're saying that that was part of the reason why they didn't interview him. But given the fact of the accusations and what's happened two years later, I think there is definitely some second-guessing.

TAPPER: Right. FBI can be right 1,000 times and wrong once. It's horrible for them.

BROWN: Yes.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thank you.

I want to bring in former Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He is on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, along with the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

Rahami's own father says that he referred to his son as a terrorist two years ago. We know Rahami went to Kandahar, Afghanistan. CNN sources also say he traveled to Quetta, Pakistan, the headquarters for the Afghan Taliban, in 2011, and then traveled there again in 2013. And he stayed for almost a year. Do you see this, as of right now, as a possible intelligence failure?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Possible?

I have a couple of questions, all right? You stab somebody and you're not in jail? He stabbed somebody and it sounds like beat up his mother as well, and he's not in jail? How long did he spend in jail?

But the other question I have -- and this is a more troubling question -- almost every major attack we have had in our country has been previously investigated by the FBI, and the FBI closes the investigation. So, I have been going around and around with the FBI on this, because, when the Orlando killer was investigated, they closed the investigation prematurely, saying, we did not deem him to be a credible threat.

I even asked them, in retrospect, did you make a mistake? They are like, oh, no, no, given the facts, we made the connect decision.

Well, no, they didn't. They made a bad decision. Once again, they made a bad decision here. The Boston bombers, they interviewed them in advance; 9/11, we even captured one of the hijackers in advance. We're not doing a good enough job of pursuing our leads.

If your dad says you are a terrorist, why don't we then subpoena, monitor, get a warrant, find out his travel schedule? If he has gone to Pakistan, why don't we inquire where he went? All of this should have been done on the heels of someone accusing him of terrorism. I really think the FBI needs to do a better job.

TAPPER: Rahami went through secondary screening each time he traveled abroad, yet he satisfied whatever concerns immigration officials might have had. A lot of people are saying that screening is insufficient. What more can be done? What more should be done?

PAUL: Well, I think we have to ask more deeper questions.

But we also have to know who they talked to and we need to alert the authorities. When they're -- someone has been accused of terrorism in our country, we should be alerting Pakistan, and Pakistan probably should have surveillance on them when they get there.

The Boston bombers, we should have known where the Boston bombers were going and we should have followed them. We did nothing to monitor their travel after the Russians tipped us off. Now, the FBI will respond, oh, we didn't have probable cause.

But this shows a misunderstanding of probable cause. Probable cause is something that you beseech the court and you ask the court their opinion on it. There are standards for it.

[16:10:00]

But until they're turning you down repeatedly, you aren't asking enough; 99 percent of the time when they go to the special court, they get a warrant. I think they need to go more often. And what we have -- the debate we have in Washington is, instead of digging deeper into suspects' history, they want to look at everybody's information.

I don't want every American's information to be under the purview of the FBI, but I do want the FBI to do a deeper search and a search with a warrant into people for whom we have suspicion.

TAPPER: Republican nominee Donald Trump has been calling for profiling. Now, when he has been told that it sounds like he is calling for religious or racial profiling, he says, no, I just want to leave it up to the experts, but he does talk about how somebody looks and how police are too worried and too politically correct these days to ask the right questions. Is there any kind of profiling that needs to happen -- obviously,

there is criminal profiling, a separate thing -- that needs to happen that law enforcement is not doing that would make us safer?

PAUL: I think people misunderstand the debate about profiling.

If we have an individual for whom we have suspicion, there should be a profile of activities that we look at based on the suspicion. But we shouldn't look at all Arab-Americans, we shouldn't look at all Muslim- Americans. But if we have a person who then has several of the criteria that seem to be consistent with terrorism and we have suspicion for that individual, by all means, we should go down the rabbit hole, looking until we find out whether they are or are not.

But we shouldn't just sort of simply say, well, most terrorists are Muslim-American, therefore, we're going to look at all the data of Muslim-Americans. But we go even one step further. We don't even look at just all the data of people who might fit a profile. We want to look at everyone's data, or the government does.

So I think we should individualize the suspicion, but we shouldn't be stymied and say, oh, well, probably not a terrorist. We should look long and hard and explore all of their contacts. So I don't think we are doing enough to investigate individual suspects, and instead we're wanting to look at everyone's information indiscriminately, and I think that is a privacy violation.

TAPPER: The Senate is going to vote on a resolution of disapproval that you are offering. It's disapproving of a $1.15 billion weapon sale by the United States to Saudi Arabia, which is obviously involved in this war in Yemen. Why do you want to block this weapons sale?

PAUL: The Constitution gave the power to initiate or declare war to Congress. We are now at war in Yemen, in a way.

We are refueling Saudi Arabian bombers in the air and we're picking their targets. That sounds to me like we're involved in a war, and yet no one has consulted Congress or asked our permission.

So, the vote tomorrow in a way is a vote on whether or not we should be at war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen, but it's also a vote on whether we should continue to sell them arms. President Obama has sold more arms to Saudi Arabia than all of the rest of the presidents combined. He sold $100 billion worth of arms to them.

So, on one the hand, President Obama has released money to Iran to buy weapon, and on the other hand he's giving money to Saudi Arabia. To me, it sounds like an arms race where we are funding both sides of every skirmish over there.

And in the ensuing chaos, Saudi Arabia does nothing to help. Are they taking any refugees from Yemen? Are they taking refugees from Syria? No. They stir up the fight on both sides. Their money and weapons flow in. And then they look the other way at the humanitarian nightmare that is Yemen and Syria.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Rand Paul, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

PAUL: Thank you.

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in next week to a special CNN town hall event with President Obama at the Fort Lee Army post in Virginia. It's a critical time for our men and women in the armed forces, for security here at home, for the United States' leadership abroad.

President Obama will answer crucial questions posed to him by active service men and women, veterans, their families. It's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday the 28th. Tune in.

Coming up, did the bombing suspect act alone? What clues investigators are looking for while digging into Rahami's past and his wife and his trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan -- all of that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's get right to our panel. CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, former NYPD director of intelligence analysis Sam Rascoff, and former Boston police commissioner, Ed Davis.

Phil, you just heard Senator Paul. He said the FBI has to do a better job. I know you're eager to respond.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let me be subtle, Jake. Complete nonsense in terms of the analysis of this case. My problem when I see people like Senator Paul analyze these cases is they start with the case and they blow it up and draw a conclusion that's too general.

Let me tell you how this game works. There's 330 million Americans. Two million plus travel overseas not every year, every month.

Two years ago, a dad calls the FBI and says he is worried about his kids. Let's take those two facts -- a worried parent and a kid who travels. And you want to tell me that after a conversation with the family, the FBI should keep the case open?

I'm telling you, when I served at the bureau, the pressure on was to get more people off watch lists and close cases faster because, number one, you don't have the resources, and number two, you don't have enough information to look over an American's shoulder.

I am tired of people back-seat driving when they don't look at how these cases are conducted, Jake. I've had it.

TAPPER: Sam, there obviously is a lot of back-seat driving and 20/20 hindsight going on. But in retrospect, if somebody's father says, "My son is a terrorist", should the FBI at the very least interview the son?

SAMUEL RASCOFF, FORMER NYPD DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS: I'm going to go with yes to that, Jake. And further, to the point that Phil just made about travel -- look, travel to Australia is one thing. But travel to Quetta and to Kandahar, that's an entirely different story. So, you combine the travel to those hot spots with the fact that dad is basically saying of his own kid, he's got a problem. Incidentally, something that was said also of Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber back in 2009, and I think that's cause for the FBI to want to interview the suspect himself.

[16:20:03] TAPPER: Ed, you, when you were commissioner of police in Boston, you obviously spear-headed a similar investigation to the one going on right now in New York and New Jersey after the Tsarnaev brothers killed four people in Boston marathon bombings. I know that the second-guessing and the 20/20 hindsight can be a annoying, but does Senator Paul have a point when he says the FBI doesn't seem to want -- to learn from its mistakes such as in the Orlando shooting when he had been suspect and then taken off the watch lists?

EDWARD DAVIS, FORMER BOSTON POLICE COMMISSIONER: So, let me answer that question directly. The FBI has evolved enormously in the last 10 years as to how they're working with other agencies and to the way that they do their business. But I know what the rules are. And I am as angry as Phil is at politicians who come out here after an incident like this and criticize police agencies.

Senator Paul criticized the Boston Police Department after what happened at the marathon. He is now criticizing the FBI. The FBI is enforcing rules that are passed by Congress. Their rules and regulations are strictly interpreted by -- at congressional laws passed by the Justice Department who sits the stage for what the FBI can and cannot do.

I have seen the flow chart of how it all works, and it's all based on our laws. And I -- I get really upset when a guy that wouldn't know probable cause if he tripped over it is starting to quote statutes that he is responsible for in some part.

TAPPER: Phil, let me ask you, looking forward on this investigation, or looking in the present, right now, the alleged terrorist has, according to what we're being told, not been cooperative. If he had help, is there any sort of expiration date when it comes to the information authorities could get from him? And how are they trying to get information from him?

MUDD: Well, the first is you're going to try to build a rapport. He's got a $5 million plus bail. He's not going anywhere. So, they don't have a problem with time to sit by his bedside and start working on him over days, over weeks, possibly bringing his family and friends in.

He has information that has an expiration date. You can think of three quick categories in terms of a conversation with a suspect like this. Number one, imminent threat. Is there somebody else out there who will kill Americans? Number two, co-conspirators. Are there people out there who might be involved in a plot, for example, building other devices, radicalizing other people? And third tier, were there others who were aware even if they weren't part of the conspiracy and they've got to be talked to too? So, he's got a lot of information that they want to know before they

start getting out there on the street and wasting time because he won't talk.

TAPPER: Ed, Lindsey Graham and some others are arguing that this alleged terrorist should be treated as an enemy combatant, not as a defendant in the American system for regular, normal people. That, of course, would deny him access to a lawyer. It would preclude him from exercising his right to remain silent.

What do you think? Should he be designated an enemy combatant?

DAVIS: I do. I do. I believe that that is exactly the way they treated the Tsarnaevs in the beginning of that investigation. And I can see so many parallels to this investigation, that this guy clearly fits that bill in my mind.

TAPPER: And let me ask you, Sam, a law enforcement official tells CNN that a notebook found on the alleged terrorist referenced Anwar al- Awlaki, as well as the Boston terrorists. Does that signal to you anything?

RASCOFF: Not really. Anwar al-Awlaki in this world is a little bit like the Rolling Stones are rock and rock -- everyone is a fan. So, the fact that Anwar al-Awlaki figures somehow in the notebook or the Tsarnaev brothers just means to me that he is someone who is paying attention to the jihadi landscape in America.

TAPPER: All right. Phil, Ed, Sam, thank you so much. Appreciate all of you.

MUDD: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, it's as if you arrived at a time machine from 1992. Bush 41 now reportedly saying, "Read my lips. I'm with her"?

And then --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I would have no problem if called to testify by either side. But the fact is that I won't because I really don't have any knowledge of this incident at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Sunday telling me he had no knowledge of the so-called Bridgegate scandal. But now, there are new claims of people asking if Christie is being honest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:59] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush lost the presidency to a Clinton. Now, it looks as though he wants the next president to be a Clinton. That's right. Papi Bush is with her, at least according to former

Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the daughter of Bobby Kennedy, who announced on Facebook that the senior Bush revealed his vote to her. A Bush spokesman would neither confirm nor deny, saying the former president's vote is private.

Neither of his sons in politics, Jeb Bush, who lost the nomination to Donald Trump, and former President George W. Bush have said for whom they're going to vote.

Trump as so far not responded to the news, for his part taking part in a discussion on terrorism today in North Carolina, where a new Elon University poll shows him edging Clinton out just by one point, within the margin of error.

CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar joins me now.

And, Brianna, Hillary Clinton is off the campaign trail. She says she focusing on debate prep. But that fact that she's off the trail did not go unnoticed by her opponent.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it sure did not. Donald Trump actually goading Hillary Clinton today, insinuating that she's taking time off not for debate prep but to recover some more after her recent bout of pneumonia.