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Fourth Explosion in a Month Rocks Austin, Texas; CNN: Kelly Looks to Assure White House Employees That No Firings Are Imminent. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 07:00   ET


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We owe it to the average American to have a hearing and give McCabe a chance to defend himself.

[07:00:10] SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Forty-eight hours to go before retirement. I would have certainly done it differently.

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Erica Hill joins me this morning. We do begin with breaking news. Another explosion rocking Austin, Texas. Two people hurt this time, and police believe it could be linked to this string of deadly bombings that have been going on this month. Authorities say the latest explosive was left on the side of the road and may have been triggered by a trip wire.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Police urging people in the area to stay inside their homes this morning. The latest explosion coming just hours after police made a rare public appeal to the bomber or bombers responsible. To learn more about the message behind the attacks. And of course, the question that looms, is this the work of a serial bomber?

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


Well, here, authorities are waiting for the sun to come can up so they can begin processing the scene of this latest explosion. It happened last night. Two men in their 20s were injured. They are being treated in a local hospital. Not life-threatening injuries, but they're expected to be OK.

But this latest explosion a little bit different from the three previous that we have seen here since March 2. The three previous explosions taking place on the east side of the Austin area. This particular location in southwest Austin. So quite a ways away from where those previous explosions had taken place.

And also, authorities believe that a trip wire is what detonated this latest explosion. That also very different from the other three explosions. And that is why the police chief here in Austin is telling residents across the city to be highly vigilant about their surroundings.


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 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: So you can see behind me, this particularly area in this neighborhood has been cordoned off by police. They have issued a warning to residents within a half mile radius of where this explosion took place to remain in their homes for the foreseeable hours until they are done processing the area.

In fact, school buses won't be allowed into this area to become students this morning. That is what this particular neighborhood here in southwest Austin is dealing with this morning -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Ed. Appreciate it.

Joining us now is CNN's legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa. Asha is a former FBI special agent. Thanks for being with us this morning.


You know, just to put a little bit of context into this time frame, right before this bombing, the local police here had reached out to whomever is responsible for this. We have police chief Manley. Here's what he had put out as a call.


MANLEY: We believe that the recent explosive incidents that have occurred in the city of Austin were meant to send a message. The person or persons understands what that message is and are responsible for constructing or delivering these devices. And we hope this person or persons is watching and will reach out to us before anyone else is injured or anyone else is killed. We want to understand what brought you to this point, and we want to listen to you.


CUOMO: So in terms of how you conduct these investigations, what's the significance of that kind of plea? What does it tell us about where police's heads are and then how do you rationalize what happened right after that?

RANGAPPA: I think that there are a couple of reasons for the police to put out that kind of plea. First, when you have a pattern of violence like this that they believe

is tied to one person, it could be that this person is looking for attention. And having that acknowledgment that, you know, they are paying attention, that there is another way for this person to be heard can offer another avenue for this person to express themselves.

The other thing is that, if this person does reach out with a message with their ideology, it can offer a clue on the profile of this person. If we look back to Ted Kaczynski, who is the Unabomber, it was -- that was a 17-year investigation, Chris, the longest and most expensive in the FBI's history.

And Janet Reno, who is the attorney general at the time, actually encouraged the -- some newspapers to publish his manifesto, which was against modern technology or something. And it was actually Ted Kaczynski's brother who identified the beliefs and the style of writing and were able to -- was able to help point the FBI in the right direction to eventually apprehend him. So there are a couple of reasons there that they would ask for.

And in terms of -- to your second point, Chris. In terms of this plea for, you know, "Let us know what's behind all this. Give us your message," and then a short time after that, this next bombing.

[07:05:14] A little bit different, we're told. Likely a trip wire. Not a package in this case. But still, it's tough to miss that significance there. I mean, it's sort of looking into a crystal ball. But the chance that that itself could have been a message, Asha?

RANGAPPA: It could be. I mean, so you have this, you know, another violent response after this plea who, presumably, this person has heard. Remember that this is happening in a fairly contained geographic area.

Again, if we compare it to the Unabomber, which was happening nationwide, that's a much harder investigation to conduct. This is happening in a geographic area. We presume that this bomber is able to hear what the police are saying. So he's responded with violence.

He's actually also changed a little bit of the technique that he's using. So one of the things that the bomb experts look for is a signature, a particular way that this bomb is being put together, the materials that can also help them identify who this person is. So he's -- he's changing it up a little bit.

You know, it could be that he believes he can outsmart the authorities. So it's -- you know, that is a significant thing to consider with the most recent bombing.

CUOMO: Right. And people are saying how come nobody is talking about terrorism? We always remind people in these investigations, the authorities need to know why somebody did something before they'll call it terror, even when it's obvious to everybody else. It's not in this situation. But until they know why this is being done, you're not going to hear that word being used by investigators. Asha, stay with us. Let's turn to politics now. President Trump

escalating his attacks on the Russia probe, this time calling out Bob Mueller by name in a series of weekend tweets.

The president's first tweet argues the special counsel's probe would have never been started -- should have never been started is what he said, while a second focuses on the political affiliation of members of Mueller's team.

Now Republicans are raising concerns about whether Trump would try to motivate Mueller's ouster.

Let's discuss with CNN political analyst David Gregory and bring back Asha Rangappa. Good to have you both.

David, help me understand this. If you are President Trump, why don't you want this probe to continue the most if only because then and only then, when Bob Mueller's report to Rosenstein, however we find out about it, says, "Trump, people close to him, no proof of any crime in connection to Russian interference." That's what ends the questions. Then it's over. Then anybody who wants to criticize the president after that, he can just point to that conclusion.

Why isn't that his thinking on this?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm sure that's part of his thinking. If he believes that he's innocent of everything and those around him are, that he can wait for that conclusion and then scream at the top of his lungs that -- that this was all for naught.

But in the process, before we get to the conclusion, he wants to delegitimize everyone involved with it, from the special prosecutor himself attacking his motives, to really making the claim that this is a deep state conspiracy, that there was no crime here, that it was the FBI and elsewhere and the intelligence community, people who had it out for him. He includes Andrew McCabe, who was fired for not being truthful in his comments to the inspector general. He certainly has gone after Comey. And that's going to be an ugly fight when Comey's book comes out.

And there's another element here, Chris, that I think may have set the president off. We know from reporting over the weekend in "The New York Times" that there are now questions that the special prosecutor has put forward to the president's lawyer, saying these are some of the things we want to ask him about.

And it's clear that that set him off for some reason, probably because of the nature of the questions, which may have to do a lot more with what happened when he was president -- the firing of Comey, the drafting of a response to the meeting with Don Jr. and Russians -- than it does with whatever happened in terms of Russian interference.

So I think you have to look at all that and look at where the president's head is, what he's afraid of. And again, Trey Gowdy, Republican, former federal prosecutor, said if he's innocent, why doesn't he act innocent? HILL: The last bit of what you said there, David, but to your point,

we're hearing if you're innocent, then act like it. I believe it's what you were saying, which is what Trey Gowdy was saying over the weekend. Asha, as we look at all of this, does this narrative undermine the investigation in any way?

RANGAPPA: The president -- what the president says is not going to impact how Mueller approaches this investigation. He has a job to do. He's going to continue doing it. And I just don't think that he or his team are distracted.

And I think you've seen that with the efficiency with which they conducted the investigation, with the number of indictments that have come down. I think it's important to also point out that, when the president wants Mueller to go away, we need to look at -- at what Mueller is investigating.

He's indicted 13 Russians and three Russian nationals. He is as interested in uncovering what Russia was doing in our election interference as he is with, you know, fighting people in the campaign.

So what's troubling to me is that, in wanting to stop this investigation, the president is actually also wanting to not find out what Russia did or protect the people who were doing this on Russia's behalf. And I think that that should concern all Americans regardless of their party or what they think about, you know, Mueller's investigation into the president himself.

CUOMO: You know what's bizarre about these tweets on one level, David, is that we're talking about the president of the United States. Obviously, there's an obvious conversation to have about how he should conduct himself. We've heard it a million times. His base doesn't care. He hasn't grown that base, so we know where people are on it.

But he has access to the absolute best information out of everybody in any part of this conversation. He could pick up the phone and say, "Hey, come over here with this FISA application on Carter Page. I want to see it. Bring some people. Have it explained to me. I want to see what it is."

Now, you can argue with, politically, he should want to show that kind of interest in this matter. He could. And yet, he insists on relying on right-wing propaganda in these tweets. Isn't that odd? That he has access to the closest version of the truth available. But he defaults to what's said by one political party.

Look, it's hackery, you know, which is really disappointing in the president of the United States who should be bigger, who should try to meet the obligations of the office. But he doesn't engage in that. I mean, this is the self-destructive part.

When you talk to supporters of the president, they make a convincing case about how unorthodox he is, how unconventional he is and where that has led to certain results. And they counsel patience, allow him to break some china and see if we don't get a different result. I think that's a fair argument to advance. A lot of what we're seeing

here is just self-destructive. Because he is not relying on real information. And there's a lot of people who are supportive of him. And in this media environment, who will listen to conspiracy theories and allow themselves to get spun up on that to the point where we can't agree on certain established facts.

And the president is stoking that, by deliberately putting out stuff that's -- that's untrue, by going after the partisan implications of the investigation without pointing out that the special counsel himself is a Republican. That's the kind of thing that, in information warfare, makes all of us poorer as a result. Because we don't -- we're not operating on the same facts.

HILL: And of course, a lot of this coming out of, too, what happened on Friday with Andrew McCabe and how he was fired. And, you know, "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board this morning called it the McCabe March Madness to point out -- and I think pretty wisely. This is a microcosm of the current madness of American politics.

And Asha, I want to throw this to you, because there was a system and there was a finding, and this happened with Andrew McCabe. And at the end of the day, it was his lack of candor that led to his firing.

Both sides have picked up and run with this. I think that's where you get this microcosm of American politics today. In terms of the facts, though, Asha, and the facts of that firing, is there anything political there?

RANGAPPA: We can't really know what all the facts are about the firing until we read the full report. But, you know, lack of candor is something that's taken incredibly seriously in the bureau. It goes to the heart of what, you know, the believability and credibility of an FBI agent, anything that calls that into question will be investigated and potentially result in separation.

I think that the merits of that, unfortunately, can't be separated from the climate in which all of this happened, where you have the president of the United States tweeting and advocating for this person to be fired. And this person happens to also be a potentially very strong witness against him in Mueller's investigation.

So even if there was a real basis for this firing to take place, the president has now called that entire process into question, which is really unfortunate for the FBI and for the Department of Justice, because it just makes the whole thing look politicized.

CUOMO: Right. Except that there is no meat on the bones to the president's allegation in that report. The lack of candor sometimes under oath, we'd have to know what and specifically why. We know what Andrew McCabe says. He came out with his own response to these allegations.

But the best thing going for the president on this one is that the I.G. was an Obama appointee. And this is his report.

But David, Asha, thank you very much. Appreciate your perspective on this.

The White House is trying to calm fears of another shakeup in the West Wing. So how does this type of chaos affect those inside the White House? We have former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart joining us next.


[07:19:00] CUOMO: All right. Officials from the White House are talking, and they're telling CNN the chief of staff John Kelly told staffers that no firings in the White House are imminent, despite reports of another shakeup.

Let's discuss what it must like -- what it must be like working in there with someone who knows a lot about the inner workings of a West Wing that is under siege. Joining us now is CNN's new political commentator, Joe Lockhart. He was White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2000. That put him in the sweet spot of the entire Lewinsky scandal.

Joe, welcome to the tank. Thanks for being with us.

So you thought you had it bad in terms of speculation and what was going on and angry executives demanding better. How does it size up with what we're seeing in the Trump White House?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There are critical differences. One is technology. We didn't have Twitter, thank God. And we had a president, I think, who understood from a political strategy point of view engaging in the back and forth on an investigation wasn't in his interests. So very, very different, you know, both on the technology side and the leadership side.

[07:20:09] CUOMO: Now, a quick thing. Do you think Clinton, if he had Twitter during that time, do you think he would have started taking up his own advocacy, the way Trump does?

LOCKHART: I don't think so. Listen, I think the fundamental difference between the two strategies is the president and on down through the team in the Clinton investigation, our strategy was to focus on everything else. Like, "I am here to do a job for the American people. I am never going to talk about this publicly. I am never going to become a victim. And I'm never going to put my interest above."

Trump has taken the opposite approach. He's taken the approach of using Twitter and other means, making it all personal, making it about -- making himself the ultimate victim here. To his base, that has worked until now. To the rest of the country, it doesn't.

CUOMO: So did the right-wing conspiracy.


CUOMO: Right? I mean, you guys looked at Ken Starr, him getting beyond his purview and all that. And we may hear some of that here. So this is not new, inasmuch as someone under investigation doesn't

like it. You attack the investigation. Two questions for you: How did you handle dealing with us when you knew you had a solid reason to believe that the executive wasn't telling the truth, that Clinton wasn't telling the truth? We see it play out in real-time every day here.

Where Sarah Sanders go out, our surrogates go out, and they know they're backing someone who just lied. How did you deal with that?

LOCKHART: Well, one of the principle things you learn when there's an independent counsel as a White House staffer is you don't become a fact finder on the issues of the investigation. So I didn't go around like all stories that information comes in and you run around trying to find out, if this true, is this not true?

You piece together the story. You go tell it from the White House podium. We were told from the beginning not to be fact finders. I think this White House tends to try to take a couple of different strings, put it together into a story. And then they find out, you know, a day later that it's not true.

CUOMO: So what would you do? Once all of the things -- you know, I went back last night to try and remember. Because that's kind of when I got into this. I was brought in to do legal analysis on the difference between political implications and legal implications on the president's veracity issue. President Clinton then.

When you knew that there was plenty of stink of there, that this had happened with Monica Lewinsky, that we weren't getting the truth out of it. How did you go to the podium and deal with those questions?

LOCKHART: We as a staff found out when the country found out, when he testified. We didn't go in every day and say, "Well, is this story true? Is that story true?"

CUOMO: So what did it do for morale? Because that's what we're dealing with that now also. Not to that level. And I think that because of what Clinton went through, I'd be shocked if Donald Trump sits down with Mueller certainly in front of a grand jury. But what does that do to morale?

LOCKHART: It's tough. You're -- you're in there for the right reasons, to you know, try to move the country in the direction that you personally believe in. And you get caught up in it. You get very frustrated, that all the good work you're doing isn't getting covered or isn't getting -- you're not -- it's not moving as quickly as it could, because people are playing politics.

But I think, you know, that there is a fundamental difference between these White Houses. The impeachment proceedings for Clinton brought the staff together rather than tore it apart. Because we saw it as a fundamental overreach and a political process, primarily in part by the independent counsel and primaried by House Republicans and Senate Republicans. I don't think you see that here. I think if you're a White House staffer now, you have to be out for yourself, because the president isn't out for you. If you're a White House staffer now, your job isn't to serve the country. It's to please your president and to do things that please him. And even if you do the right thing, you're likely to get thrown under the bus, whether you're in his cabinet, whether you're in his senior staff.

And if you think that every day anything you could do could get you fired, you're going to start taking care of yourself. And it's an absolute bonanza for reporters, because all you have to do is call five people, and three of them are going to be dishing on what just happened, because they're afraid.

CUOMO: This is a magnified example of what you guys dealt with. Because fundamentally, unless you had something to do with covering up with what the president did, this was all about Bill Clinton and his personal choices and his decision to lie in front of a grand jury. With Trump, all of these kinds of questions are going about who spoke to whom on the Russian side about it and what information you kept quiet, and who wasn't truthful in their disclosures.

So there's a lot of stink to go around. How do you see that being handled in this White House?

LOCKHART: I don't think it's being handled very well. You're right. There is a fundamental difference. One was on a personal decision that was wrong by the president.

CUOMO: Well, then they lied about it. The perjury think stands apart. That's why he got impeached. He made it easy to impeach him.

LOCKHART: I think if you go back to popular Republican leaders, you got impeached, because that's why he was politically weakened, and they wanted to remove him.

[07:25:03] CUOMO: Well, it's a political process.

LOCKHART: Absolutely.

CUOMO: I'm saying we give them a low level even felony. You now give them something that they can use. But it comes down to votes. Which is exactly why you think some of this optimism from some who are against the president that, well, Mueller's going to end it. Now we'll get impeachment. It's really not that simple, is it?

LOCKHART: No, it's not that simple at all. I think Mueller, there's two differences between what Ken Starr did and Mueller did. And this is important. Ken Starr's strategy was to leak enough information to force the president to resign, to weaken him politically. And it didn't work.

Because by the time this got into politics, the politics outran him. And when he issued his report, there was no news in it. It had all been leaked out. Mueller is doing just the opposite. We don't know what Mueller knows. What we know is what witnesses coming out of the grand jury decide they want to tell us. When he issues his report, it's going to contain lots of new news.

Maybe that will be good for Trump. Maybe it will be bad for Trump. But we don't know. Trump doesn't know. And I think that is behind some of his behavior, because he's getting quite worried about what Mueller may know or not.

The other big difference is that there are implications here that go far beyond one person's behavior. This -- you know, we have a foreign adversary who attacked our country. And our policy now does not reflect the fact that we've been attacked. And this goes to our credibility around the world. It's not one person on one, you know, one bad behavior and one case. So I think this is legitimately the most important thing we're working on, despite you know, whatever Trump wants to tweet.

CUOMO: So let's talk about it a little bit more specifically how it's being handled. Sarah Sanders is largely the face. There are surrogates who come out. You've got Kellyanne who comes out, Anthony Scaramucci comes out, Marc Short, or the other guys who will come out. Mulvaney will come out. They try to stay in their rubric, except really for Sarah. She's got to handle this the most. And it's interesting. You know, we had last week the notion introduced that she gets unfair criticism that men don't get.


CUOMO: But she is uniquely positioned to have to voice the president's thoughts in a way that nobody else is, because they can stick to what their bailiwick is. Her bailiwick is defending the president. How do you think she's doing with this?

LOCKHART: Listen, I think she is doing a great job for her boss, which seems to be the --

CUOMO: Defined as what?

LOCKHART: Defined as pleasing her boss. I think her boss likes the fact that she goes in and speaks the facts as he sees them, even when they're not true. And consistently attacks the questioners. So I think in one respect she's doing exactly what her boss wants.

I think the second thing she's doing well is she's speaking only to the base. Trump is only governing for the people who voted for him. He doesn't care about the rest of us. He only cares about those people and his people.

But the problem comes with the third, which is she does politically have some responsibility to try to speak to the rest of the country. And he can't win with 38 percent of the vote next time.

And secondly, there is -- there is a civic obligation here to get up there and tell the truth and to be forthcoming where you can. And on that, I think she's failing. And I don't think that lightly. It's the first time I've ever publicly criticized another former press secretary or another current press secretary.

But I think what's happening there is corroding the entire system. It's not all her fault, but she's playing her part in it.

CUOMO: Sean Spicer got beaten like a pinata, and often for good reason. And I mention that because, for context of the notion that Sarah Sanders is getting unfair criticism.

Do you think that she is being treated unfairly and that if she were -- if it were a guy in there it wouldn't? That's why I bring up Spicer. Because he certainly got beat around as much and more than she is.

LOCKHART: Yes, I think it is a kind of fascinating side question, because she is aggressive. I think she goes after reporters. She goes after political opponents in a very direct, very aggressive way. And that makes a lot of men uncomfortable. And, you know, it's -- it is an interesting question. I'm not sure I know what the answer is. It may be unfair.

CUOMO: I think you have to look at how she's criticized. If it's for what she says, it's one thing. But when, like, "Saturday Night Live," I know a lot of people are enjoying it right now -- when they went after how she looked, what she eats, how she dressed, that was dirty pool. So I think it's about how you're criticized.

LOCKHART: And I think anything that has to do with personal life, appearance, all of those things are out of bounds and should not be criticized. And I don't think someone should be criticized for being aggressive if it's truthful. And I don't know that they're particularly truthful.

But I think it is a fair point that, when a woman gets aggressive, they are held to a different standard than, say, Sean Spicer was, say, how I was. I was often very aggressive. And that's not -- that's not fair. It doesn't obscure some of the broader issues here.

CUOMO: Right.

LOCKHART: But I think some of that criticism is unfair.

CUOMO: Right. Take them on the basis of what they say, not who's saying it.