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Another Explosion Rocks Austin, Texas; Trump Escalates Attacks on Mueller. Aired 6-6:29a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:14] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Monday, March 19, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me, and you bring news with you. It's good to have you this morning.

We begin with this breaking news report. There's been another explosion rocking the Texas capital of Austin. Two people have been hurt. Police are operating under the belief that this bomb is connected to the string of deadly bombings that have occurred this month. Authorities say the latest explosive was left on the side of a road, and it may have been triggered by a trip wire.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Police urging residents in the area to stay inside their homes. This latest explosion comes just hours after police made a rare public appeal to the bomber or bombers responsible to learn more about the message behind the attacks. But the question, of course: Is this the work of a serial bomber?

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Austin with the breaking details -- Ed.


Well, we were just on one of the entrances into this neighborhood where the explosion was set off Sunday night. And authorities here are waiting for daylight to begin processing the scene. They don't want to take any chances, given that this particular explosion seems to be a little bit different from the three other explosions that we have seen here in the last several weeks.

If you look at a map of the Austin area, you can see where the first three explosions have taken place on the eastern and northeastern part of the city. This latest explosion in the southwest quadrant of the city. And that is why the police chief here in Austin is urging residents across the city to be very vigilant about what they see in their neighborhoods.


CHIEF BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN POLICE: It is very possible that this device was a device that was activated by someone either handling, kicking or coming in contact with a trip wire that activated the device. So that changes things. We now need to have the community to have an extra level of vigilance and pay attention to any suspicious device, whether it be a package, a bag, a backpack, anything that looks out of place, and do not approach it.


LAVANDERA: Now, two men in their 20s were believed to be either riding their bicycles or pushing their bicycles along this residential street. And that is why they believe -- next to this package. And that's why authorities believe that it's possible that a trip wire was what set off this particular explosion, different from the three other previous explosions.

And as you mentioned, Erica and Chris, authorities here also reaching out to whoever this -- might be behind all of this, saying they believe there's a message involved in these explosions; and they want to reach the culprit or culprits to reach out to the police so they can talk to them about it.

CUOMO: All right, Ed. Appreciate it, pal. Stay safe down there with the team.

Let's discuss with CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent James Gagliano.

It's good to have you.


CUOMO: So the uninitiated will say, well, how is it not related? You know, they keep having these bombs. This may have been detonated a different way, by trip wire. But isn't it more likely than not that they're somehow related?

GAGLIANO: Sure, Chris. Two things that investigators have to be hyper focused on right now in a bombing investigation. One is the bomb maker's signature. And there's four components to a bomb: power supply, initiator, the types of explosives, and lastly, the switch used.

Every bomb maker has a different signature. And obviously, the forensic piece of that is going to be looking to see are the package bombs that were left on porches, are they similar to the one that was left on the side of the road and apparently initiated by a trip wire?

The second piece is link analysis. And to your point, Chris, we have to be careful. I mean, obviously, it looks that way. We've had, you know, four people -- two people injured, two people killed in this. All of them African-American or Hispanic.

But you'll recall back during the late '80s when Judge Vance was murdered in Alabama and a civil rights attorney, Robinson, was killed in Savannah. Initially, the FBI believed that this was all racially motivated. And then, after more investigation and as time went on determined, no, it had to do with somebody that was very upset with the federal system and decided to attack courthouses and people associated with the law.

HILL: So you bring up there are questions that not only is it a serial bomber, whether or not it was, like, racially charged. They are very hesitant, to your point, to say that that is the case here. In terms of this -- this fingerprint that the bomber would leave, we're told that these are household items. And they've been going around stores to try to figure out anybody in here who seemed suspicious. That seems a daunting task to go to all of these different stores and saw, "Hey, this common household item, did this person look suspicious?

GAGLIANO: Absolutely. You know, in the wake of some of the bigger bombings, let's go back to 1995. Oklahoma City bombing. We obviously track like large sales of diesel fuel, or fertilizer, or the rental of, you know, Ryder trucks.

In this instance, I think one thing we need to be real, real cognizant of the way that these things were put together. It's sad, but it's open source information.

HILL: Right.

GAGLIANO: "The Anarchist Cookbook," 1971, is still on shelves. It's frustrating, because we live in a society where we want to have civil liberties and we don't want to ban books. But that information and the way -- and what I hear from sources, the way the bomb was put together was not that technical.

CUOMO: So they had just made an appeal to hear from the person or people who were involved with this. Then this goes off. They don't know if it was already planned or if it was in reaction to that. What is that play, trying to tell someone that you want to listen to them?

GAGLIANO: I mean, that's standard law enforcement play. It's happened as far back as I can recall, especially bombings. You recall the Unabomber. That was an FBI case where bombings by Ted Kaczynski from 1978 to 1995 were sent to a number of different residences. We tried to do the link analysis on it.

And one of the things that law enforcement does is try to appeal directly to the person who's depraved and committing these crimes. Why? Because most of the times, they're egomaniacs. Megalomaniacs. And

sometimes, that attention causes them to be something while you're watching them. We have people of interest you might be looking at, causes them to make a misstep.

CUOMO: People are saying, well, it must be terrorism, but they need to know why somebody is doing something before they will officially call something terrorism. And usually, they want you to know who they are and why they did it. And here it's still a mystery.

Jimmy, stick around. We have more stuff to talk to you about. Thanks for this.

HILL: Now President Trump's new Twitter attacks on the Russia investigation, condemning it as partisan, going after Special Counsel Robert Mueller by name for the first time.

The president's weekend tweet storm leading Republicans to raise concerns.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins live at the White House with more -- Kaitlan.


The president so far has avoided directly criticizing Robert Mueller since the special counsel was appointed last May. And that's at the advice of his lawyers, who are worried that he would alarm Republicans and antagonize investigators. But the president abandoned that strategy over the weekend when he called out Robert Mueller by name.


COLLINS (voice-over): White House lawyer Ty Cobb insisting that President Trump isn't considering or discussing the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. After the president went after Mueller by name for the first time, repeatedly attacking him throughout the weekend.

The president making several misleading claims in his tweets. including that Mueller's probe, quote, "should have never been started," and accusing Mueller's investigators of being biased against him.

MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR: I think the president is expressing his frustration, which is well-warranted.

COLLINS: The president's public criticism coming as his personal lawyer, John Dowd, issued a statement celebrating Attorney General Jeff Sessions's firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, just two days before McCabe was set to retire. Dowd calling for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to follow Sessions's lead and, quote, "bring an end to the allegedly Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe's boss James Comey."

REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), HOUSE OVERSIGHT CHAIRMAN: It does him a disservice when he does that and when he frames it that way. If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.

COLLINS: Multiple Republicans are sounding the alarm, cautioning Trump against firing Mueller.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Once he goes after Mueller, then we'll take action. I think that people see that as a massive red line that can't be crossed.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency.

COLLINS: President Trump also renewing his attacks on former FBI Director James Comey while going after McCabe, questioning reports that McCabe documented his interactions with him, calling McCabe's memos, quote, "fake." A source tells CNN those memos are now in the hands of Mueller's team

and are seen is as a way to corroborate Comey's account of his firing by the president last May.

McCabe's attorney issuing a statement saying, quote, "We will not be responding to each childish, defamatory, disgusting and false tweet by the president. The whole truth will come out in due course."

The president praising McCabe's firing on Friday, calling it, quote, "a great day for the FBI."

Former CIA Director John Brennan blasting the president's response, tweeting "when the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dust bin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America."


COLLINS: Now Erica and Chris, I should note that despite those rebukes from Republicans, senators introduced two bipartisan bills last year aimed at protecting the special counsel from being fired, but they have largely stalled and gone nowhere.

Now back here at the White House, the president is traveling to New Hampshire today, a state that he once referred to as "a drug-infested den," to roll out his administration's new opioid policy, which the president hopes to include the death penalty for some drug traffickers.

But there is a chance we could hear from the president on the special counsel himself as he leaves the White House to depart there, if he doesn't tweet about it first. Because I should note, Erica and Chris, there are more lights on than usual here at the White House this morning.

CUOMO: That's a clue. That's a good clue, Kaitlan. And there's certainly a lot of firefighters up in Manchester, New Hampshire, who have been waiting for the help that the president promised on their opioid war during the campaign.

Thank you very much for the reporting. Appreciate it.

President Trump talking tough about Bob Mueller. That's the easy part. But what are Republican lawmakers going to do to protect the special counsel from being fired? We're going to discuss that, next.



GOWDY: To suggest Mueller should shut down and that all he is looking at is collusion, if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it.

Russia attacked our country. Let Special Counsel Mueller figure that out. And if you believe, as we've found, there's no evidence of collusion, you should want Special Counsel Mueller to take all the time, to have all the independence he needs to do his job.


HILL: Leading Republicans raising concerns after President Trump's attack on Special Counsel Robert Mueller. So will the GOP let the president fire Mueller?

Back with us now, James Gagliano, as well as CNN political analyst David Gregory.

Of course, technically, the president himself can't actually fire him.

CUOMO: He can call Rod Rosenstein and say, "Fire him." And then if Rosenstein says no, he can fire him.

HILL: Right.

CUOMO: And then you go to the same thing you had with the Saturday Night Massacre.

HILL: Yes, the line of succession.

So David -- David, let's put this to you. As we're looking at all of this, there's a back and forth on whether this should have been done, how it was done, is it being politicized. It's being politicized across the board. I think we have to be pretty clear on that. But where does it actually go, David? Will we see and hear more from Republicans in the vein of what we just heard from Trey Gowdy?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, let's just also define the terms of what this is. This is an inherently political process. Even though this is a legal investigation, this has been politicized. And it's politicized, because the president is weighing in. Members of his own party and the opposition, Democrats are weighing in.

And, you know, the way that Jim Comey around the FBI related to the e- mail investigation got very close to the political process. So that's just this vortex in which we are operating.

I think what the president is doing is what he's been doing for months: trying to define the terms of this debate, of this investigation. He's trying to delegitimize it in a way that is not unprecedented, just like the Bill Clinton folks, back during the impeachment proceedings, going after the special prosecutor, going after his purview, going after his areas of inquiry and trying to undermine the whole thing.

[06:15:12] I think Trump has taken it a step further by suggesting that this is some kind of deep state conspiracy, and it never should have started.

But you know, listen to Trey Gowdy, a Republican. He was one who led the Benghazi committee, former federal prosecutor. He says very simply, you know, if the president is innocent, then he should start acting like it. Why isn't the president acting innocent? Why is he acting this way?

It only is fueling -- you know, Bob Mueller is not going to be cowed by this. He's going to keep his head down. He's going to do his job. The president may be making gains among his most ardent supporters who, you know, when I talk to his supporters, they make a good case for why this is a conspiracy that should have never been brought forward. But there's a bigger audience here than just them.

CUOMO: You know, a quick side note. I'm no fan of every time something goes wrong with the Trump administration, them immediately saying, "Yes, but what about Obama? What about Clinton? What about that?" But there are some parallels that they have to be worried about.

One, Bill Clinton did do what he was accused of doing. He lied about it in front of a grand jury. That's what led to his impeachment. He got saved in the Senate, of course. And that is the fear, Jimmy, looming over Trump's lawyers' heads. I guarantee you that. Is that all of this enthusiasm the president said he had to sit down with Bob Mueller.

This Stormy Daniels stuff aside -- and I'm not saying that you should invest any interest in it -- that's up to you guys what you decide to care about. But if he sits down in the chair and gets asked about something even as simple as an affair, and said, you know, now that's not really it. Now you're right back in the place where Bill Clinton was.

But what Trey Gowdy said there to start the segment, isn't that the truth of the matter? That the president has the most personal interest in seeing this probe completed. Because only if Bob Mueller in his report to Rosenstein, which I guess we'll find out about at some point. Certainly, if it says this. There is no proof of any type of crime connecting the president of the United States or any of the people immediately in his staff and circuit to anything that Russian interference. That's it. That's the only way those questions go away. Anything short of that, if you were to get rid of Mueller, the questions will never go away.

GAGLIANO: Yes, it looks like the president is trying to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. He wanted Andy McCabe gone. That's -- everybody knows that. We've read the tweets there. They're unseemly. They're repugnant. They're dancing on a career public servant's grave.

And I have my differences with some of the things -- some of Andy's decisions when he was deputy director. But to characterize him as a traitor or to characterize him as a criminal is wrong. The I.G. is not a bipartisan, it's a nonpartisan entity. Michael Horowitz was appointed in 2012. The investigation into this matter will -- will take its time.

The I.G. is never concerned about three things, Chris. Timelines, optics, or empathy. They have to be just a fierce, fierce, fierce investigator in facts and investigate the case without fear or favor. I'm confident that's what's happening. But to Trey Gowdy's point, the president is punching down, the president is weighing in here. It's not going to be a good look.

HILL: And yet it continues, as we know. We're waiting to see, Kaitlan pointing out, just before the break, there are more lights than usual at the White House. We'll see what that leads to in the next, however long it takes for the first week. Going back to what we're hearing from Republicans, I mean, we can look at Republicans who have weighed in, who have come forward to say -- and, yes, we're hearing from some. But David, what would really change the tide? Whose voice do we need to hear on this?

GREGORY: I'm not sure that that matters. Every -- you know, this is a case where you had Paul Ryan, the speaker, say that the independent prosecutor should be able to do his job. And others like Lindsey Graham, who says threateningly, menacingly, that this would be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency if he were to make a move on Mueller. It's not clear exactly what they would do.

But what's more to the point is that they're keeping pressure on this -- and they're keeping Mueller at this point. You know, I have no idea what the president will do. I think he's capable of doing anything, though I suspect he wouldn't want to fire Mueller. I think what he wants to do is use him as a punching bag.

If he's that confident that he'll be completely cleared, then this will be an issue that he brings up over and over again about how he was victimized by this entire investigation.

But there's lots of elements to this. There is an original crime here. That is that the Russians did attack our country and interfered in our election. We know that. So what's the president doing about it?

The first glimmer of response was sanctions last week. This has to be a robust response in a bipartisan way by the country. There's financial dealings that the president has that are being investigated. Where that goes, not entirely clear. We have people that he brought into his orbit who seem to have ties to Russia. How it gets connected, we're not exactly clear.

And we also have the prospect of the president obstructing justice. Chris, you mentioned the idea of parallel supreme administrations. Well, how about the Bush administration and the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame? T

[06:20:09] This was something that was done by a State Department official whose name was revealed publicly. And yet the criminal charge there was obstruction of justice on the part of the vice president, Dick Cheney's, chief of staff at the time, Scooter Libby. And that's something that the president didn't pardon, President Bush, because it was a serious matter.

And here, too, that could be a focus how the president has responded. You know, people think that Jim Comey didn't do the right thing. Well, the president fired him, because he didn't like how he was doing the Russia investigation. So that could be a major part of this investigation. CUOMO: No question. But there's a key legal distinction. Scooter Libby could be indicted. There is a big argument that a sitting president of the United States cannot. And he would be the one who would be the tool of the obstruction is here. So that's why I often counsel people who believe that the Mueller investigation is going to be the end of the Trump presidency, because he's going to be indicted. I just don't see how legally, there's a likely path to that.

Jimmy, thank you very much.

David, appreciate it. We'll see you back in a second.

HILL: President Trump's attacks on the special counsel drawing harsh rebukes from former intelligence chief. We'll speak with the ex- director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about that, next.


[06:25:1] CUOMO: President Trump lashing out on Twitter at Special Counsel Bob Mueller by name. All right. Now that is new. The accusation that this investigation is politically biased is not new.

However, the White House is calling for an end to the Russia probe but insisting that the president is not considering firing Mueller. Kind of mixed messages? Yes.

Let's get deeper into what's going on here. Joining us now is CNN national security analyst and former director of national intelligence James Clapper.

Good to see you, sir, as always.


CUOMO: You know, I think maybe the best way to get some context on how out of sorts we are on this is not to start with what the president is saying but what John Bennett tweeted recently about this. I want your take on that. Let's put it up on the screen for people to see.

"When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat McCabe, but you will not destroy America. America will triumph over you."

Now, you know Mr. Brennan well, obviously. He was a member of the intelligence community and leadership under President Obama. But this is not the way that Brennan usually deals with matters of public discourse. What do you think has him so fired up?

CLAPPER: Well, you can never fault John for being too subtle here. He -- you know, John is a good friend. I think the world of him. And he, I think, was profoundly offended by the treatment that Andy McCabe got. And John does occasionally wear his feelings and emotions on his sleeve, and I think he did here. So I think he's very disturbed about it.

For my part, I wrote a letter of recommendation to Director Wray about Andy McCabe and my dealings with him, which were entirely positive. I thought Andy served with great distinction in the two capacities I knew him as head of what's called the Washington field office which is the FBI operation here in Washington and then again when he served as deputy director. And I thought he -- he served with great distinction. And I think John feels the same way.

CUOMO: What do you think about the specifics of the allegations against McCabe? That he held -- I read his response that's out there right now, which is very detailed. He says he was just conducting media relationships as had been done by the deputy director in the past.

But that's what they wound up coming after him for, which was planting a story in the media about his own role with the Clinton investigations and a lack of candor, including under oath. Do you believe there is substance to the charges?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know. Again, knowing Andy as I do, I find it hard to believe. But, again, I don't know the facts here. Because of course, both the I.G. report, as well as the report rendered by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which is an FBI organ. I don't know what that's about. As I understand it, the director -- deputy director of the FBI can authorize engagement with the media.

CUOMO: Right.

CLAPPER: So, you know, misleading things, that's some -- there is some subjective judgment there. But I really can't say.

CUOMO: All right. So the reason I started the discussion this way is to kind of get the context outside-in of what's creating this pressure. Andy McCabe says this is about discrediting the probe and discrediting the FBI.

John Brennan obviously, you know, one of the former chiefs of the intelligence community, says that's what's going on here, and he blames Trump.

But then sure enough, Trump enters the fray in a whole new way, naming Mueller, saying this probe should have never started. And then you have this weird echo and rebound from his own lawyers. One lawyer comes out and says it's time for this probe to end.

The other one says, you know, "Let's be very clear. We're going to cooperate and nobody wants to end anything." What do you think is going on here now? Is there any danger, or is this just politics?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know. This is just -- you know, you want to know what the president is thinking about. Obviously, the best barometer of that are his tweets. And, you know, he gets on a tear about things, and I think he reflects what he's actually thinking about. And I think in his case, he's probably his own worst enemy by these intemperate tweets. You know, in a military context, this would be an egregious case of

command influence, where in this case, commander in chief is weighing in on an investigation and kind of pre-ordaining its outcome.