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Death Toll Rises to 14 in Spain Terror Attacks; Trump Responds to Barcelona Terror with Debunked Rumor; Witnesses Recount Barcelona Attack. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 18, 2017 - 07:00   ET


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability and competence that he needs to demonstrate.

[07:00:07] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's emotional and mental health is going to become an increasingly important focus of this story.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, the death toll rising to 14 victims in the terror attacks in Spain. Thirteen of them died when a man in a van plowed into a crowd of people in the city's popular district known as Las Ramblas. A third suspect arrested overnight. Police say they are still searching for the driver of that van.

Now, there is word of a second deadly attack 70 miles away in the city of Cambrils, thwarted by authorities. Five terrorists there were killed. Police say they're working under the assumption that the incident is linked to the one in Barcelona.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Now, back at home, President Trump under fire, responding to the tragedy by tweeting out a debunked story about General Pershing killing Muslims over a century ago with bullets dipped in pig's blood. It is, to be clear, a fact-free tale that he also told during the campaign.

Trump's presidency in peril this morning as leading Republican lawmakers now publicly questioning his fitness for office and his stability.

Before that, though, let's remember the victims as we begin our coverage this hour with Arwa Damon in Barcelona -- Arwa.


And one of those victims, just to give you an idea of who these people were, was a father of a 5-year-old boy and a baby that was just a few months old. They were here on vacation.

And while this is an attack that has shocked Spain to a certain degree, although the country was bracing itself for this kind of violence, it has also reverberated across the globe, with people from 24 different nations among those who were killed and wounded.

Here's a look at how the horrific events unfolded.


DAMON (voice-over): It was just hours after a white van plowed through crowds of pedestrians on one of Barcelona's most popular streets, the Catalan police managed to foil a second vehicle attack in a seaside town 70 miles south. It injured six civilians and one police officer. Authorities fatally shot the five attackers in the car that drove into pedestrians on the sea front.

The late-night incident is believed to be related to the terrifying earlier attack in Barcelona that killed at least 13 and injured more than 100.

ALI SHIRAZINIA, EYEWITNESS TO BARCELONA VAN ATTACK (via phone): I just saw people flying over the vehicle, and it was just a really, really horrific scene of, you know, immediate carnage.

DAMON: Witnesses say the driver of the van, who remains on the loose, accelerated to 50 miles per hour before zig-zagging down the boulevard, attempting to hit as many people as possible.

TOM, EYEWITNESS TO BARCELONA VAN ATTACK (via phone): He was just plowing people down. And he was swerving left and right. And it was -- my taxi driver stopped, and we just froze. And he just kept saying, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

To say the word terror, you just can't even imagine that fear that just -- it comes over you.

DAMON: It was sheer panic and total chaos. Frightened survivors run for cover. The famous promenade was covered in bloodied bodies. One woman documented the carnage from her window overlooking Las Ramblas.

ASH PATEL, EYEWITNESS TO BARCELONA ATTACK: The sound was terrible. It was just crash, crash, crash. And screams. Screams and cries.

DAMON: Investigators now desperately searching for the driver, who abandoned the van before fleeing on foot.

Spanish authorities are calling the assault an act of jihadi terrorism, and ISIS is touting the attackers as soldiers of the Islamic State.

Police have arrested multiple suspects in separate cities: one who was connected to this House explosion in Catalonia that killed one woman the night before the attack in Barcelona.


DAMON: In the square behind me, Placa Catalunya, there was just a moment of silence; and then the crowd gathered here started chanting "We are not afraid."

This has sadly become something of the norm across Europe. It's the sixth time in recent years that terrorists have used a vehicle as a deadly weapon.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Arwa Damon, thank you so much for that reporting. A tragedy.

And back here at home, President Trump first very quick to condemn this terror attack in Barcelona, but his second response is sparking a whole lot of controversy, this as more Republican leaders come forward slamming his comments on Charlottesville.

Let's go to Athena Jones. She is live in Bridgewater, New Jersey, where the president is this morning. Good morning.


In the face of ongoing criticism over his defense of white supremacy, we're seeing a familiar pattern with the president. He's refusing to back down. Instead, he's inserting himself deeper into the racially- charged debate over Confederate memorials and sparking new criticism over his reaction to the horrific terror attack in Barcelona.


[07:05:16] JONES (voice-over): President Trump spreading fake news while condemning Barcelona's deadly van attack, telling his followers to study what U.S. General John Pershing did to Muslim terrorists in the Philippines, reviving a story he told on the campaign trail.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pig's blood. And they shot 49 of those people, and for 25 years there wasn't a problem.

JONES: The problem? Historians have repeatedly said this never happened. This latest falsehood coming as President Trump's support base continues to crack over his defense of white supremacists.

TRUMP: But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest. Because you know -- I don't know if you know, they had a permit.

JONES: The son of FOX CEO Rupert Murdoch, one of President Trump's closest informal advisers, denouncing the president in a scathing e- mail, writing, "What we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the president of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people."

The president's behavior also wearing thin with a growing list of his Republican allies, who were calling him out by name.

CORKER: The president has not yet -- has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. SCOTT: What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral

authority, and that moral authority is compromised.

JONES: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell releasing a statement throwing his full support behind Senator Jeff Flake after President Trump went after the Arizona Republican and Senator Lindsey Graham on Twitter.

The controversy also taking a toll on the president's bottom line and his business relationships, with three charities backing out of scheduled events at Mar-a-Lago, all of this coming as Mr. Trump ends plans for an advisory council on infrastructure.

Despite the backlash, the president digging in, calling it foolish to remove statues of Confederate icons, lamenting the beauty that would be taken out of U.S. cities.

The president has a much different view when asked about the removal of the Confederate flag during the campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think it needs to go?

TRUMP: I think it probably does, and I think they should put it in the museum, let it go.


JONES: Now, the president leaves Bedminster for a quick trip to Camp David later this morning, only his second visit to the presidential retreat since taking office, but this is not a leisure trip. He'll be meeting with the National Security Council to talk about strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia.

Vice president Mike Pence cut short his trip to Central America to return for the meeting. One thing that's not clear yet is whether another topic will come up, like North Korea -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Athena, thank you very much.

Let's get back to Barcelona. We have two witnesses of the attack there, Joan Bofill and Liam Searle. Can you both hear me?

LIAM SEARLE, EYEWITNESS: We can hear you. Yes.


CUOMO: All right. First, thank you for being with us. We trust that you two are OK and is everybody that you knew, or any loved ones, anybody affected by this?

BOFILL: Yes. Fortunately, I'm OK; and all my friends and family whom I speak with a few hours ago are all OK. So we're blessed for that.

CUOMO: All right. Good.

SEARLE: I'm the same. My friends and family are all safe. My friends in the city are safe. And it's OK.

CUOMO: But many are not, Liam. We know that. Please help us understand what this was like to witness. Liam, what did you see?

SEARLE: So I was -- I was coming down the road next to the Ramblas. I was actually skateboarding down the street with my headphones in, listening to my music. And to my left, I started to hear banging noises and screams. And then -- and then in front of me, I see everyone from the bars and the restaurants start running, like, looking absolutely terrified, to which I did the same. And then we all -- we all ran into a theater next to where the van had stopped, and shortly after -- after we realized that, I -- I kind of -- it hit me. You know, it was quite a shock to be that close to what had happened.

CUOMO: And obviously, the intention of the driver of that van was to hit as many people as possible. What was it like inside that theater with the unknown and the fear of what was happening outside?

[07:10:09] SEARLE: First, no one -- no one -- I don't think anyone really knew what had happened, because it was just like mass panic. You know? All we knew was that there was a van that had gone down the Ramblas. I actually originally thought that it had -- it had come on the curb earlier than it had, and then I realized later on when I watched the news that it had gone all the way -- or halfway down La Ramblas. And -- which was quite a shock.

And inside the theater, everyone was scared and everyone was crying. People were upset, of course. And it was a pretty -- pretty tense moment.

CUOMO: Joan, your radio station is right in the center of Barcelona there. You didn't see the attack, but you know what is going on now; and you saw the aftermath and the people running for their lives afterwards. What was that like?

BOFILL: Yes, I was just running with my motorbike to go on the radio. And I just hear in Catalonia Square, I just start seeing all the people running in whole directions. And when I was with my motorbike, a policeman stopped me and was shouting, "Terrorist attack! Please leave. Leave, leave, leave the zone."

And I just parked -- how I -- how I managed to park my motorbike. And I didn't know where to go, because all the people was getting inside shops. Shops were closing. And other people was running through different directions. And it was like a panic sensation which you don't know what's happening.

I knew that there was an attack but -- in the Ramblas -- down the Ramblas, but not there. It was the thing -- the feeling of the situation ongoing with panic and everything. And it was like, to see in your own city where you live and you do your own life daily, with -- I bike through here every day -- to see that scene, it's really, really shocking. And since the radio station is just next to here, I was here, like, every day. I go to work through Placa de Catalunya. CUOMO: Now, we know that the moment of silence was a powerful

response to show that life will go on and that the people there are united against terror. But what does something like this do to the hearts and minds of people in that area? What are you seeing today, Joan?

BOFILL: Yes, just -- speaking with my friends, for example, it's like, maybe just a little thing but that shows how here in Barcelona where we are, there are a lot of people, like, in a traffic jam through the whole city, because everything was full of policemen. And people took, like, eight hours to -- to get away, with the traffic jam. And people living there, just go down their street and offer them water, food.

It's just, like, the sensation that, unfortunately, this has happened here in Barcelona. But we're showing -- everyone was texting me, everyone is OK. Here, we did, several moments ago, a moment of silence; and we're, like, all united. We've seen this response of the people, of my friends, of my family and everyone here. It's like the feeling of we're a really nice city, and we won't let the things that has happened here fear us.

CUOMO: Keep living and don't let the terrorists win by changing how you live. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today, and the best to you both going forward. Liam, Joan, thank you.


HARLOW: All right. So let's bring in our panel and talk about what we know so far. CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank is here. CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd; and CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.

Paul, to you. You know, we were in Paris covering the terrorist attack in 2015. You were there. That was a big cell. This is strikingly similar in that it seems like a pretty big cell with what may have been this bomb-making factory.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We're hearing extraordinary details that this cell could have been as large as 12 individuals. That, as you said, puts it on the scale of the Paris attacks. There may well have been a bomb factory. There was this huge House explosion in Alcanar to the south of Barcelona the night before. They're doing all the forensics there.

But according to Spanish media, according to other information, that could have been a bomb factory, which brings up the scenario that they might have been trying to build explosive devices. There was some kind of mishap in the assembly. And then they moved to Plan B, a lower-tech kind of vehicle attack, or they're planning all of these things at once.

We've seen multiple attacks both in Barcelona and also last night after the south of Barcelona. The worry is there may be several individuals still at large that could get ahold of other vehicles and could move forward with other acts of terrorism. Was ISIS directly connected to them? They seem to be kind of claiming

that, but no evidence of that has come to light.

[07:15:13] But this was a big conspiracy. If they'd managed to get a hold of Kalashnikovs, AK-47s, automatic weapons, I mean, you could have seen death toll just as large as the terrorist attacks.

CUOMO: What we're seeing, Phil, is that you kill plenty of people just with the vehicle. And we seem to be seeing more of this. Do you account for that as copycat? Do you think that this is a strategy shift?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think a lot of it is copycat. There's a couple reasons why, Chris.

When we were looking at post-9/11 plots 15 years ago, typically you're looking at people who want to build, for example, complicated devices, backpack bombs like we saw in attacks in London in 2005. And they want to access areas like airports or airplanes that are now hardened.

So if you wanted to get on the news internationally with a major attack, you're going to avoid a hardened target. And some of these people aren't going to have the capability to build a sophisticated backpack bomb. So you come down to, why not just have a truck and mow down people in the ways we've seen in Europe in the past year or two?

One quick additional comment. We keep talking about this as a truck attack. As Paul pointed out, I suspect what happened here was this cell accelerated what was to be a truck bomb attack. When that bomb went off a couple nights ago, they realized that they had to move quickly, because otherwise the police would move in on them. That would have been more lethal, I think.

HARLOW: So David Sanger, on the president, President Trump's response to all of this. The first message from him on Twitter was what you might expect from any president, condemning it.

This is the second one, though. He says after this, we should study basically this made-up story about General Pershing, you know, more than 100 years ago and how he countered terror in the Philippines. It is a fact-free story, one he pushed and was debunked during the campaign. He does it again, and the question becomes why would you do that, and a bigger, much more important question, is it dangerous to do that?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the -- I think the big issue out of this, Poppy, is that he knows that the story has been debunked. He went through the experience during the campaign.

And yet, it's where his mind first takes him back, as if there is an opportunity here to simply go out and kill all the terrorists. And obviously, that isn't the case.

In the -- in the Spain case, there was first a large intelligence failure, and secondly, you know, the kind of techniques that might have worked for Pershing if he had done it -- and he didn't -- would have very little relevance to today.

And so it makes you worry about is whether or not, after years of putting together a fairly sophisticated counterterrorism strategy and one in which you try to get to some of the roots of the terrorism as well as improving the intelligence and sort of focusing on a myth about an act of retribution that's supposed to strike fear throughout -- throughout the radical Islamic world. And I just don't think that's the world we're in.

CUOMO: Look, taken on face value, what the president seems to be doing when he says study...

HARLOW: Study. Look into this.

CUOMO: Yes. He seems to see dipping bullets in pig's blood and killing Muslims who may be radicalized terrorists as a way to stop terrorism. That's what he's suggesting to the American people and beyond. Paul, I mean, right? Take it at face value, why else would he say to study it?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, I mean, these words are clearly offensive to a billion people on the planet.

CUOMO: But also well-received by a specific group of American people.

CRUICKSHANK: They're inflammatory, and I can tell you that there's a lot of concern in U.S. counterterrorism circles that this could paint a target on the back of Americans overseas serving in the military, Americans abroad on holiday. Inflaming people, encouraging them to see the United States in a negative light is not the way forward here. It's not helpful, and it could lead to very bad consequences.

CUOMO: Gets big applause at rallies, though.

Gentlemen, thank you very much. Appreciate the perspective on this very important incident.

Now, what have we seen since Charlottesville? Everything was slow. The president was slow to condemn what was obvious about why those hateful people were down there in the first place. His party was slow to call him out for that. But now it's happening. You see someone who is a supporter of the president calling out his competency and stability.

What will this growing division within the president's party mean for his agenda and for you and your livelihood? Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin here next.


[07:23:57] CUOMO: We're following the latest details on the deadly terror attack in Barcelona. President Trump immediately tweeting his condemnation of the attack, offering to help Spain.

But then moments later, he put up a different tweet I want to show you: "Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more radical Islam terror for 35 years."

Let's talk about that with Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin. He's on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He's a veteran who served this country, and he's the congressman from my home district.

Congressman, it's good to see you.

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: It's great to see you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Now, this seems to be a reference to the Pershing story about the dipping the bullets in pig's blood and killing the -- killing the terrorists, and that that scared everybody for several decades.

The story has been widely debunked. It's not true, but the president likes it.

What I want to ask you, as somebody who knows well what works and doesn't work in the war against terror and what proper moral instructions are in that capacity, what do you make of the idea of the president of the United States asking people to study the idea of dipping bullets in blood and killing people in bunches to send a message to other terrorists?

ZELDIN: Well, you know, I don't know for America's own best interests it's, you know, important to be studying that particular example.

I do know that overseas -- and this is maybe, you know, a hard truth when we're at war -- there are environments where -- when you have a group that might be preventing your convoy from completing a mission, and you have to figure out how to break through, and it's one of those situations where deadly force is authorized, you look for the highest- ranking person, and you kill them. And other people watch you kill them, and it sends another message and you can continue on with your mission. That is a -- that's an experience thousands of miles away that you have to make sure you're doing it legally, not in violation of international law, rules of engagement.

Here at home, after what we saw in Barcelona, I don't know -- I mean, that's not the first story that pops up. The first thoughts that come to me would be, certainly, the reflection that what happened in Barcelona was terribly unnecessary and tragic and that Americans stand with Barcelona. And we also want to be able to bring whatever capabilities, as far as our intelligence network and other resources, to help them solve what they are going through.

So I mean, as far as what to do about Barcelona, that's where my reflections are, rather than, you know, that particular question you asked me.

CUOMO: Right. And look, I get that this puts you in a difficult position, being in the president's party. But the idea that what he is suggesting is that you study a method whereby you would effectively disrespect the Islamic faith, right? That's what this B.S. story about dipping the bullets in blood goes to, right? You'd -- pig's blood would be offensive to them, right? Because they see the pig as a filthy animal. It's offensive to their faith. Kill a big bunch of them, and maybe that's what we should do in the war against terror.

Don't you think that's something you should call out directly and tell the president of the United States not to suggest, in no uncertain terms?

ZELDIN: Well, if we're talking about here within the United States, as far as...

CUOMO: Now, anywhere. Anywhere, Lee, anywhere, where you would line up a bunch of terrorists, dip bullets in blood and shoot them, and think that's going to make the situation better.

ZELDIN: Right. I mean, that particular tactic is not one that the United States uses. That's not one that we're going to...

CUOMO: Should we?

ZELDIN: ... start using either.

CUOMO: Right. You don't think we should do that, right?


CUOMO: It's not something worth studying or anything?

ZELDIN: No. That's -- no, that's not a tactic that we have or should be using.

You know, I would say that when we're overseas in the conflicts that we're involved in, there are other tactics that are perfectly legal in those situations that are a little bit different than that example, that you know, here at home as we look at it and reflect on them, I mean, they're not pretty. They happen to be legal, and they allow us to accomplish the mission.

But the particular example, the question that you're asking me is a little bit different than that.

CUOMO: Yes. It's a lot different, I'd suggest, Congressman. And it kind of leads to what you hear from Senator Corker, questioning the competence of the president. Corker, no enemy of President Trump. He was considered as V.P. He was considered as secretary of state. You know, he's not some kind of firebrand critic. He's questioning his competency. What do you mean -- what do you make of that criticism?

ZELDIN: Well, you know, I would disagree that -- Senator Corker is making a statement that can be interpreted a little bit broader than I would necessarily agree with.

You know, Senator Corker might have a disagreement on, for example, what we just had happened in Charlottesville where, you know -- speaking for myself, for sure, there is zero -- I'm Jewish. I have zero tolerance whatsoever for any individual who associates themselves with KKK and Nazism and the hatred, bigotry, intolerance, evil that is filled within their ranks. It's unwelcome. It's un-American. It's wrong. And there's no moral equivalency between those who associate with the

KKK and Nazism and the other side.

The president made a statement that -- and statements that you could say are raw, rough around the edges, politically incorrect. You can take exception with some of what he said and make the claim that it's inaccurate. Other parts of the statement are raw truths.

But in saying what he said, we also have to make sure that there's no ambiguity, that there's an important message to be sent of zero tolerance whatsoever for those who associate themselves with the KKK and Nazism.