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Officials Think Rahami is Their "Main Guy"; Trump Defends Racial Profiling After NY/NJ Bombings; Clinton Stresses National Security Credentials; "Serious Blow" to Syrian Ceasefire. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2016 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Breaking overnight: new clues with the suspect to the series of bombings in New York and New Jersey. This man now facing attempted murder charges. Could they be upgraded as the investigation casts a wider net?

We are live on the scene in the streets of New York and New Jersey.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Tuesday, September 20th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Major new developments overnight into the investigation into the man authorities say planted bombs in four locations and two states over two days. Twenty-eight-year-old accused bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami has been charged with attempted murder of police officers. Officials tell CNN they believe Rahami is the main guy. But they have not determined whether anyone else may have helped him.

He is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Afghanistan. We know he traveled to that country several times and was questioned each time he returned to the States.

Rahami was captured hours after officials sent with an alert with his mug shot to millions of cell phones in the region. It ended with police and Rahami in a dramatic shootout following a raid of the Rahami family home in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

[05:00:07] And that's where we find CNN's Jessica Schneider right now.

Jessica, bring us up to speed in the investigation.


Rahami is not helping out investigators. We understand he is not being cooperative. He was taken to the hospital after that gun battle. He now faces five charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement official. No federal charges yet, just state charges so far. But investigators are ramping up investigation.

They also want to know, did they have any ties to international terrorism. Rahami did spend significant time overseas. He was born in Afghanistan, spent a lot of time there. Also spent a lot of time in Pakistan. He married a woman there in 2011, also spent time in Quetta, Pakistan, which is a Taliban stronghold.

But every time he came back to the United States, he was screened secondly by officials, but they never flagged him. So, now, Rahami is at the hospital. He underwent surgery for injuries that he sustained in that gun battle shootout.

And it was a bar owner stumbled upon Rahami. Rahami was sleeping in the bar vestibule. The bar owner recounted for us exactly how this gun battle went down.


HARINDER BAINS, BAR OWNER: The first cop closed in, he just looked at him. He's still sleeping and his hoodie was over his head. The second cop pulled up in and he just wake him up. And right away, he went to his left to pull I think I'm sure the gun and I couldn't hear the conversation because I was across street, in the door way, you know?

And right away, he pulled the gun and he shot twice. I was like shaking a little bit. When a cop pulled out his gun and at that point in time, I realized that, OK, this is the guy.


SCHNEIDER: Federal officials raided the Rahami home as well as the chicken restaurant that they own yesterday. The chicken restaurant itself, a big point of contention in this Elizabeth community. The neighbors here say that the restaurant was open just too long, 24 hours a day. That is when police came in to enforce an ordinance shutting it down by 10:00 p.m. that is when the Rahami family filed a lawsuit saying they were harassed and discriminated against.

That lawsuit was disposed of, but we are not sure of the terms of the ending of that lawsuit -- John and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jessica, thank you for that, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for us this morning.

BERMAN: All right. Another development overnight. A law enforcement official tells CNN that a handwritten note was found with the unexploded bomb. That's the second bomb that was found in Chelsea. It's the picture of it right there.

Now, this note included references to previous terrorists, including the Boston bombers.

One thing is you can imagine that investigators want to know right now and fast, did this guy, did he have help? Was he part of any kind of organized terror ring or sell? An official says the suspect was not initially cooperative with police who were trying to question him.

CNN's Ed Lavandera, he is in the neighborhood where that second device was found in Chelsea, here in Manhattan.

Good morning, Ed.


As you mentioned, investigators still trying to piece together all of those details. Here on 23rd Street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue in Manhattan, traffic is open again. This is the area where the bomb exploded on Saturday night. It is around here where surveillance video showed Rahami walking down the street with two duffel bags.

Investigators in the hours after the explosion here combing through the area and looking for these video clues to point them in the right direction. But it was actually the unexploded devices four blocks north of here on 27th Street that have yielded some of the most crucial clues to investigators, including that handwritten note. But we are told by one official there was a fingerprint found on one of those devices and that fingerprint is what led investigators to identify Rahami as the suspect, which then yesterday morning led to the quick alert that went to everybody's cell phones here to millions in the New York area, and then the quick capture of Rahami just about four hours later.

So, investigators still trying to piece together exactly how Rahami learned to put together all of these devices. Rahami has been connected not only to the explosive devices found here in New York City, but also to a bag of pipe bombs in Elizabeth, New Jersey, as well as to another explosion, another device that exploded along a parade route in Seaside, New Jersey, as well over the weekend.

So, a lot of questions for investigators to delve into as well as one of the more bizarre elements of all of this is video surveillance of two men that were seen walking away from the scene where the explosive devices on 27th Street with the duffel bags. Investigators don't believe those men are connected, but they're still trying to track them down -- John.

ROMANS: All right. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much for that.

So many loose ends being tied up now.

Let's discuss more on this with Michael Weiss, CNN contributor and senior editor of "The Daily Beast" and co-author, "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror".

We are getting more details about this suspect. He's not cooperating, we're told right now with police. But, you know, maybe there will be more details later today. Yesterday, we talked about the phenomenon of loser to lion.


ROMANS: When you look at the suspect, what do you make of him?

WEISS: It could be the loser to lion scenario, although this reminds me more of the Boston bombers. Tamerlan Tsarnaev remember went to Dagestan and sort of unaccounted for during a six-month period or three-month period. Dagestan, of course, being on the north Caucasus of Russia, one of the more scruffy regions of the Islamic insurgency there that the Russians have been fighting on and off for decades. This guy spent time in Afghanistan.

BERMAN: A year in Quetta.

WEISS: A year in Quetta, Pakistan, which is the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban at this point, and the fact he was able to construct these devices to a degree that seemed to have some level of sophistication. You know, most people who play around with pressure cooker bombs or pipe bombs, end up blowing their hands off or face off. It is difficult to manufacture these things consistently such that they succeed in exploding. So, my question is did he link up with some foreign cell or some foreign group of jihadists. Did he have training?

Or, OK, I mean, it is plausible he was just one of the lucky ones who knew what he was doing or, you know, he studied "Inspire" magazine closely and all of the low-tech that was used in the devices, IEDs, that tracks very closely with what al Qaeda style manuals have been saying for years now.

BERMAN: The fact that stuff was in there, it gives you some window into intent. His intent was to kill and maim. Now, he did a very bad job of it, it turns out. He placed one bomb inside a dumpster, the dumpster absorbed most of the impact.

The fact that he travelled, the idea that he was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is there? You mention, the Pakistan Taliban, he went to Quetta, which is the headquarters.

WEISS: Right.

BERMAN: So, is it likely, if he was exposed to any terror group, would it be the Taliban? ISIS now has a presence in Afghanistan.

WEISS: Yes. With the Af-Pak region, of course, is notorious for hosting any kind of, you know, broad consortium of international jihadists, I mean, if not al Qaeda, then the Taliban. I mean, ISIS does have a small and growing franchise in Afghanistan. Remember, they are competing globally with the al Qaeda brand. So, we don't know.

I mean, it could also be some unknown element in Afghanistan, or just being surrounded in that sort of religious milieu. It might help further his radicalization. But, look, this is looking to me -- I know, we are all meant to be circumspect and say, look, we don't know his motivation.

But I would be surprised if this wasn't a clear cut case of terrorism. That doesn't mean there could have been personal motivation in this guy's life if he felt some sense of grievance. His family claims that they were discriminated against or whatever.

ROMANS: There is a lot of overlap. WEISS: Completely.

ROMANS: When we talk about these suspected terrorists, there's a lot of overlap there.

What about the suggestion on the campaign trail from Donald Trump last night that people know these guys are out there and they are too afraid to turn them in?

WEISS: It depends. I mean, look, I could convince of Abdulmutallab, the underpants bomber as he was so-called, in 2009 tried to blow up an airliner in the skies of Detroit on Christmas. This guy was attending university college of London. He was the president of the Islamic Society. It was actually, the university completely oblivious.

He was posting celebratory notes on Facebook and social media commemorating the 9/11 attacks. In other words, let's do it again. His father was a well-to-do Nigerian minister who dropped the dime on his kid. He said, "Look, my son is becoming a jihadi," and the university did not do anything.

Yes, we always -- you know, "The Onion" had a satirical bit years ago. Neighbors remember psychopath to psychopath. It is always the case isn't it after these events where people say, he was such a nice boy, he did so well in school. He was funny, he was charming, we didn't see it coming.

Chances are, if you look closely enough, you see it coming.

BERMAN: We've seen both sides of it, we certainly have. Michael Weiss, thanks so much for being here. I think you slept on the floor at CNN last night. We saw with Don Lemon last night.

ROMANS: Yes, thank you. Your analysis is brilliant. Thank you so much.

Outside groups crunching the numbers on the revised tax plan. The Tax Foundation, which advocates for lower taxes, finds it will cost between $2.6 trillion and $5.9 trillion. Now, that's less than Trump's original proposal, which carried a $10 trillion price tag. The new estimate is a wide range because Trump's plan for business tax is unclear. At issue, whether he would apply a flat 15 percent rate to corporate or just all business income. So, still got to clear that up.

Still, the Tax Foundation says Trump's plan would mean lower taxes for everyone, but not equally.

[05:10:04] The bottom 20 percent of earners would see a 1.2 percent drop in their tax bill. The middle class just slightly more than that. But look at the top 1 percent, that's the biggest tax cut there, 10.2 percent.

BERMAN: To be clear, it's $1 trillion worth of murkiness right now about that plan, about how much deficit impact it will have there. So, it's worth getting a clear answer from the Trump campaign, if that's possible.

National security right in the middle of the 2016 race. This following the bombings in New York and New Jersey. Donald Trump suggesting that profiling, that could be the best method to stop terrorism. That's next.


BERMAN: The terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota over the last few days are giving Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump each a fresh reason to suggest the other is not equipped to deal with terror. Donald Trump is repeating his calls for an ideological test, encouraging police profiling in the wake of the bombings.


[05:15:01] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Our local police, they know who a lot of these people are. They are afraid to do anything about it because they don't want to be accused of profiling.

Do we have a choice? Look what's going on. Do we really have a choice? We're trying to be so politically correct in our country. And this is only going to get worse.


BERMAN: Hillary Clinton is pushing back hard. She says that Donald Trump is fanning the flames of terror.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: We know that a lot of the rhetoric we've heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS, because they are looking to make this into a war against Islam.


BERMAN: Joining us to discuss right now is CNN politics reporter Eugene Scott.

Eugene, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: Really fascinating both candidates think they have an advantage here. Our latest poll tells you why, right? When we ask registered voters, who do you trust on terrorism, it's actually Donald Trump who had an edge there by six points. But when it comes to who will better to handle the responsibilities of commander-in-chief, it is Hillary Clinton. It's almost the reverse advantage there.

So, you can see both campaigns trying to frame it in their like here.

SCOTT: Very much so. I think voters are fearful and frustrated and want to see solutions to this issue. But I think they also are aware that it takes a level of experience and knowledge and control that they are seeing more likely in the Clinton camp than they are in the Trump's camp.

But it's really interesting because both questions are connected that you would think there could be more consistency.

ROMANS: Let's talk about Skittles this morning, a bowl of Skittles in particular. A tweet that went out from Donald Trump, Jr. I want to show it on the screen here. This is what he tweeted out, "This image says it all. Let's end the politically correct agenda that doesn't put America first. If I had a bowl of Skittles and I said three could kill you, would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."

And then this from the company, so rare for a company to weigh in, the company that makes Skittles are candy. "Refugees are people. We don't feel it's an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing."

Just last week, you had Ford coming out and fact checking, Donald Trump about how Ford says it's not moving all of its jobs to Mexico. There's something nefarious afoot there.

Fascinating to me. I think there is a lot of discussion about the Skittles story.

SCOTT: Absolutely. I mean, this is not Trump Jr.'s first time even within the last week or two making a comment that some have considered concerning. Last week, he said something about gas chambers. That made him have to explain what he meant. I think it will be interesting to see --

ROMANS: He said he meant capital punishment. He didn't mean the Holocaust. But, you know --

SCOTT: Right. But a lot of groups didn't like it and had problems with it and thought the analogy failed. And that is the same thing the Skittles company said, that their analogy did not work. It would be really interesting to see how he handles it.

He last week did not apologize or walk away from it. He seems to be pretty consistent with his father in terms of how he responds to criticism.

BERMAN: In fact, in some ways, I mean, Donald Trump Jr. is further to the extreme than his father. And the campaign uses him to appeal to the base, to his base supporters even while Donald Trump Sr. may now be moving and looking closer to the center.

There's one last thing I want to get your opinion on Eugene before we move on here and that's a Facebook post from Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a daughter of Robert Kennedy Jr., who seemed to indicate that George H.W. Bush told her that he is voting for Hillary Clinton. You can see, they have a picture here. Apparently, she visited him in Maine yesterday. He said he told her he was voting for Hillary. Now, obviously, we know that the Bush family not fond of Donald Trump

after the primaries, what he had to say about Jeb Bush right there. The spokesperson for the former president said he's not going to confirm or deny who he is voting for. But it is interesting to see.

SCOTT: It is very interesting to see. I think many people assume the entire Bush family was simply never Trump and they not think one could be for Hillary Clinton. I think it is important to highlight that George Prescott Bush, H.W.'s grandson and Jeb Bush's son is for Trump. We wrote a story how he thought Republicans should get on board.

BERMAN: Well, the difference between P., as he is known within the Bush world, P, is that he is an elected official --

SCOTT: Right.

BERMAN: -- right now in Texas. So, I think he feels compelled to get on board with the Republican Party.

SCOTT: And he is an elected official that people have rumored as having a career in the future regarding politics. So, that's something that he is keeping in mind when he makes these comments.

ROMANS: All right. Eugene Scott, so nice to see you this morning. Thanks for getting up so early and being on the set with us.

We've got new developments in the bombing investigation in New York and New Jersey. What clues led police to their suspect and could charges against him be upgraded? We've got all of that right after the break.


[05:24:15] ROMANS: All right. Welcome back.

The State Department this morning is expressing outrage over the bombing of United Nations aid convoys in Aleppo. At least a dozen people were killed in the air strikes on Monday. It is not clear if they were hit by Syrian or Russian planes. It comes with the U.S. and Russia at odds over efforts to stem the violence in Syria.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is there for us. He's in Damascus for us, following all of these developments in this fragile ceasefire looks all but gone.


And there were two things that the cease-fire was supposed to achieve. In the one hand, of course, it was supposed to give the people in Syria respite from the violence that has been going on for five years now. But it was also supposed to get humanitarian aid to so many in the areas here in this country that's so badly needed.

[05:25:03] And now, both of these things have been absolutely stopped with that convoy being hit. Now, the information that we're getting is that it's unclear whether

it was hit by a plane, or whether or not it was some sort of ground fire. Certainly, the U.S. seems to believe that it was hit by a jet. They say no coalition planes were in the area at the time. Therefore, they say it must have been the Russians or Syrians who hit that convoy.

Now, the U.N. has said because this has happened they are suspending all aid deliveries in the entire country, because at this point in time, it simply isn't safe enough. Twelve people were killed in that bombing, but also, aid to 78,000 people was destroyed as well -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Fred, thank you so much for that in Damascus for us. Thanks, Fred.

BERMAN: All right. We have new developments just in the New York and New Jersey bombing investigations. The clues that led the police to the suspect and the possibility that new charges against him, that the charges against him could be upgraded. We're live with the latest, next.