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FBI: Package Explodes Inside Texas FedEx Facility; Sources: Trump, Mueller Attorneys Have Rare Face-to-Face Meeting; GOP Members of Congress Concerned about Trump Trying to Fire Mueller. Aired 7- 7:30a ET
Aired March 20, 2018 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- from Cambridge Analytica, which is trying to distance itself from Facebook all at the same time. There's a whole lot of international distancing going on.
[07:00:10] All right, Connie. Thank you for being with us. Terrific reporting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
BERMAN: Thank you so much to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN TALK" is next. For U.S. viewers, we have breaking news in Texas, so let's get to it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BERMAN: All right. Good morning, everyone to your NEW DAY. Chris and Alisyn are off. I'm John Berman, joined by Erica Hill. And we do have breaking news this morning. A new explosion has rocked Texas. This time a package. It blew up inside a FedEx facility south of Austin.
This is now the fifth explosion in the area. Police and hundreds of federal agents trying to find what they're now calling a serial bomber. We know that two people have been killed by packages. Several others injured.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Austin with these breaking details -- Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica.
Well, FBI officials confirming to CNN this morning that they, quote, "suspect" that the explosion at this FedEx facility in the town of Schertz, Texas, which is a suburb of northern San Antonio, so it's about an hour's drive here from the city of Austin to get down to that area.
But that is where investigators are turning their attention to this morning after some kind of explosion at the package facility there at the FedEx in the town of Schertz, Texas. And that is something where investigators, ATF investigators and FBI investigators, are at that facility there, beginning the early investigations. So not a lot of clear details of exactly how all of this has
transpired and to what level and how all if this is going to play out. But at this point, FBI officials saying they suspect it is connected to the four explosions that they're already investigating here.
We are at the scene of the Sunday night explosion here in this residential neighborhood in southwest Austin. And remember, what officials and investigators have been very concerned about is the changing way in which this particular explosion from Sunday night was carried out using a trip wire different from the previous three explosions. So if this FedEx facility explosion in Schertz, Texas, turns out to be very much connected to these first four explosions here in Austin, it really is another sign of the changing method that this suspected serial bomber is using, which will be of greater concern to investigators, which they're already concerned about -- John and Erica.
BERMAN: All right. Ed Lavandera in Austin for us. Thanks so much, Eddie.
Joining us now, CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent James Gagliano.
And James, what's so interesting about this is this seems to be the third different type of device used in Austin in just the last few weeks. You had those pocket package bombs which were set down there. You have this trip-wire device, which was the one overnight Sunday. And both our affiliates are reporting that this FedEx package bomb had shrapnel in it. This is the first time we've heard of that. What does that tell you: three different kinds of devices?
JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So we're pretty certain that the first four devices were all interrelated. The fifth one, John, I always caution people that in matters that involve the military and law enforcement investigations, early reports are often inaccurate. We have to be careful. But there does seem to be some similarities there.
We've heard some reports that there might have been some shrapnel in it. So to break it down for the viewers, there's four components of a bomb. Has to be a power supply, which is usually a battery. There has to be an initiator, and those are often a blasting cap. Then you have explosives that are often surrounded with shrapnel -- nails, nuts, bolts, those kind of things -- and then the final thing is the switch.
And the last bomb, No. 4, was initiated by a trip wire. These other packages seem to be initiated by the actual opening. Now, we don't know if that's what happened in this facility. But what makes this one different, No. 5, from the first three and the fourth is that this was now either delivered or shipped into a FedEx facility in San Antonio, but addressed, as we understand, to Austin, which on the outset looks like there might be some linkage now.
HILL: And there's also -- there's more information, obviously, on that package. We're learning that it was being shipped to Austin. But it raises the question of what's the -- and law enforcement is asking for this, what's the real message here? Why move on to this type of bomb, and why now involve an actual shipping facility?
GAGLIANO: Yes. And what makes it scary, Erica, is we were talking about before, is the frequency of these. I mean, we talked about the Unabomber case. It lasted over 17 years, and there were only 16 devices.
In this instance span of little over two weeks, we have five devices. I can tell you right now, the federal government, state and local officials and all the law enforcement there in Texas, they are bringing out the cavalry on this thing to get out in front of this thing. We need this person or these people to make a misstep before another device ends up being detonated.
BERMAN: And five devices in a short period of time, as you say. That's a very, very high number.
The fact that this was sent FedEx, what kind of clues does that provide to investigators right now? They'll have a number they can track, they can figure out where this was shipped from. They'll have something they can follow here.
[07:05:13] GAGLIANO: John, post-blast analysis is difficult, because as we discussed earlier, after the explosion, a lot of the evidence gets destroyed. So latent fingerprints, any type of DNA, any type of evidence you could tie back to the person that did it.
But I'll remind you of 1993 here in New York and the first Trade Tower bombing. We were able to track down the Ryder truck with a partial VIN number. And that's when investigators are doing right now. They're going through each of these post-blast sites, and they're going to comb it for any type of evidence and try to prove the link analysis. That is as critical as the bomber's bomb-making signature in post-blast investigations.
HILL: All right, James. Appreciate it, as always. Thank you.
Turning now to the Russia investigation, sources telling CNN the president's lawyers met face to face with special counsel investigators last week to outline the topics Mueller's team would like to ask the president about.
Now, meantime, the president shaking up his legal team. CNN's Abby Phillips is live at the White House with more on that. Abby, good morning.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica.
Sources tell CNN that an interview between President Trump and Robert Mueller's investigators could be scheduled in the next several weeks. But as all of this is happening and these sensitive negotiations are ongoing, it's clear that President Trump is ready to shake up and change his legal team.
PHILLIP (voice-over): CNN has learned that President Trump's lawyers and Robert Mueller's investigators sat down for a rare face-to-face meeting last week. The two sides hashing out the details about the topics Mueller's team wishes to discuss with the president, including the role Attorney General Jeff Sessions played in the firing of FBI Director James Comey and what Mr. Trump knew about former national security advisor Michael Flynn's phone calls with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016.
"The Washington Post" reports that President Trump's legal team provided the special counsel with written descriptions of these events and others in hopes of limiting the scope of a potential future interview. A source tells CNN that President Trump wavered behind the scenes about whether to agree with an interview with Mueller, despite publicly boasting that he's eager for a sit-down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it actually.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to?
TRUMP: Just so you understand, there's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.
PHILLIP: As it becomes clear that Mueller's probe is far from over, sources say President Trump is growing increasingly agitated, lashing out at the special counsel and blasting the Russia probe as a witch hunt.
President Trump also hiring long-term Washington lawyer and TV pundit Joseph diGenova, who has repeatedly pedaled a conspiracy theory that FBI and Justice Department officials fabricated the Russia story to frame Mr. Trump.
JOSEPH DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and if she didn't win the election to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely-created crime. It wasn't the Russians who corrupted the presidential election. It was the American officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI.
PHILLIP: But as one lawyer joins Trump's legal team, others may be on their way out. "The New York Times" reports that the president is weighing dismissing Ty Cobb, who has argued for cooperation with Mueller's team. "The Times" also reporting that President Trump's lead lawyer, John Dowd, has contemplated leaving, because he's concluded that he has no control over the behavior of the president.
Both lawyers deny that they are going anywhere, and Mr. Trump insisted last week that he is very happy with his lawyers.
The president's escalating attacks on Mueller drawing a rebuke from some Republicans on the Hill.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: It would be the stupidest thing the president could do is fire him.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think he needs to leave Mueller alone.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL ANALYST: How would Republicans react if he fired Mueller?
CORKER: I think it would be total upheaval in the Senate.
PHILLIP: Others, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have remained silent about the president's attacks.
PHILLIP: Well, the president's advisers say that, in spite of his comments over the weekend, he is not contemplating firing Mueller. Meanwhile, on the president's schedule today is a meeting with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. And a senior official notably tells reporters that they plan to talk about making Russia pay a price for the role that Russia has played in enabling Iran and Syria.
The president also is going to be holding a meeting on the opioid crisis later today. He talked a little bit about that yesterday during a visit to New Hampshire where he linked it to sanctuary cities, as well.
BERMAN: All right. Abby Phillip for us at the White House. Abby, thank you very much.
Want to bring in CNN political analyst David Gregory and CNN legal analysis Michael Zeldin, who worked as Robert Mueller's special assistant in the Department of Justice.
It seems to me we know three big things that have happened over the last few days. You know, No. 1, the president's legal team has met with the special counsel's investigators. No. 2, the president all of a sudden started attacking directly the investigation by name, Robert Mueller. And No. 3, he's shaken up his legal team. He claimed he hadn't done it, but he's brought in a lawyer who is a fighter, David Gregory. Seems to me that these three things could very well be connected. What does it tell you?
[07:10:23] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think very much so. I think what's clear is that they're getting indications of exactly what investigators and prosecutors want to question the president about. And I think that makes the team and the client very, very uncomfortable.
And so what we see from President Trump, we've seen it from, you know, the beginning. He watches a lot of television. He sees Joe diGenova, who I know, who you know, as a long-time fixture here in Washington who's saying just the kinds of things that Trump loves to hear.
That's right. It was a frame job. You know, the fix was in from the beginning. This is not on the level. Now, it's just astonishing in our age of media. Just because Joe
diGenova says these things without evidence that somehow it should require action. But in Trump's mind it does. He likes that. He wants that kind of person around. And so he wants somebody who would be a skilled fighter on cable news and who will take this fight and make the case that it's all illegitimate at a time when I think Mueller is bearing down on critical questions that reach Trump, whether it's his business dealings, something that implicates him directly and potential obstruction that's getting closer now that he wants to lash out at whatever this thing is completely illegitimate from the start.
HILL: And there have also been -- I mean, this chaos that we're seeing within -- obviously, we talk about the chaos in the White House, but also the legal team is in some ways not new.
And what we've seen, too, from this team essentially, as we were reporting at the end of the year, was oh, well, we're telling the president, "You know what? It's going to be wrapped up by November, by December, by whatever the next date on the calendar was, trying to placate a client in that way, not only obviously Michael Zeldin, sets up unrealistic expectations. But this is just continuing to sort of allow this chaos to fester.
So in some ways, wouldn't it make sense that the president not only wants a fighter but perhaps feels that he's not getting good advice period and wants a shakeup"?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, it's a very good point. And, you know, the thought was, when Trump was looking for a lawyer initially that the names that were presented to him, the really good lawyers from Washington, D.C., the Ted Olsons of the world, they -- it is reported have declined to take the representation, for fear that they could not control this client. And as a lawyer, the last thing you want is a client that you can't control or who will not listen to you.
And so the president is finding himself in this position of having lawyers who, I think, are trying to give him good counsel. Ty Cobb, John Dowd, are saying, if there's nothing there, cooperate just as Trey Gowdy said, cooperate and this thing will be over, because Mueller has got the sort of intestinal fortitude to say there is no "there" there if there is nothing there.
But the president just can't resist his own, you know, worst instincts, which is to fight. Now he's brought in Joe. Joe and I worked for a long time together. We were on the same independent counsel investigation. I was Joe's deputy. We took President Bush's testimony together. And we didn't limit the scope of that in any way, shape or form and wouldn't allow Bush's lawyers to try to do that.
Joe and I were on TV a lot during the Clinton period, when Joe was a fierce defender of Ken Starr and his right to go after the Clintons in whatever way he thought was necessary to bring out the truth of the matter. So Joe is going to be in a difficult position to now say, "What I did in my investigation, how I defended Ken Starr is inapplicable to Robert Mueller."
And so we'll see how that plays out. But you know, Joe is experienced, and he's smart and likable, and we'll see what the president does.
GREGORY: Just another point here about -- you have to just pay attention to Donald Trump as a client. I mean, he is by all accounts just a very difficult client, given his personality.
And so, you know, all the leaking that's going on has to be coming directly from him. He wants this kind of chaos on the team, because he wants people to do what he wants to do. And he doesn't want to be told just to cooperate. He wants to lash out if he feels like he should lash out.
And, you know, I mean, I think what Michael says, too, you know, he doesn't have guys who have currently been in the courtroom. You know what I mean? He doesn't have young lawyers who are fighting things out every day. He's got, you know, older guys, older white men who he'll listen to, except that he doesn't even listen to them.
So he's going to go about this his own way; and he's going to watch TV and look for people who are going to defend him the way he wants to be defended, kind of murder as a client.
I would say one other thing in this whole -- this whole episode, especially around these conspiracy theories.
[07:15:00] We've gotten to a point in this debate where I think it's really unhelpful that former intelligence chiefs like -- like Brennan, Andrew McCabe, as well, are the ones who are lashing out against the president.
I think it's really problematic when those people who are supposed to be, you know, beyond the political fray are the ones duking it out with the president and how Jim Comey is coming and it will make all of this much nastier publicly at a time when Mueller is trying to do his work.
HILL: They're taking the bait, essentially.
BERMAN: It gives them a foil. It gives -- it gives the president a foil, someone to fight against right there. I will add, Michael Zeldin, interesting connective tissue in this investigation, many of the people involved. We'll leave that one there.
I want to point out some of the things that we believe the special counsel has been asking about. Because this is interesting. In the meetings with the White House team, we understand that the Mueller team let on they want to talk about the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The fact that Jeff Sessions, they want to know what Jeff Sessions's involvement was in the Comey firing. They want to know more about Michael Flynn, former NSA director's phone calls with Russian ambassador. And they want to talk about outreach to intelligence leaders about the Russia probe here. We understand through CNN's reporting, Michael, again, that they've
given some granular detail to what they're after here. And there's something about this granular detail to what they're after that seems to have set off the president, that caused these angry statements from over the weekend that has led him to shake up his legal team even more.
ZELDIN: Well, that's right. I think that what we're finding is that Mueller intends to have a very fulsome interview with the president about all matters within his mandate. That includes counterintelligence. That includes coordination. That potentially includes financial crimes. We saw the subpoenas last week to the Trump Organization. And it certainly includes obstruction of justice.
And so if the president was of the mistaken belief that somehow, they were going to be able to narrow the scope of the Mueller investigation to a few questions that the president chose, he's sadly mistaken. And that's his own fault, if you will, because nobody who is a student of history of these investigations would ever see a prosecutor who has any self-respect accepting the client's determination of what they will be asked.
And so that's where he finds. He finds himself in this, you know, fantasy land that somehow Mueller is not going to do his job completely. And Mueller has said otherwise. And now I think the president is reacting to that, and that's why we're seeing the possibility of change in the composition of his team; and that's why we see the tweet storms. It's just a man enraged by this investigation.
And, you know, maybe that's fair, because he doesn't think he's done anything wrong. But as Trey Gowdy said just a moment ago, if you're innocent, you're better in this case letting the proposition play out and have it be proven that you did nothing wrong.
BERMAN: All right. Michael Zeldin, David Gregory, thank you very much.
So how far are Republican lawmakers willing to go to protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and why is Mitch McConnell so silent on the president's attacks? We will ask former Republican senator Rick Santorum next.
[07:22:16] BERMAN: President Trump getting a warning from members of his own party after escalating the attacks on Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HATCH: That would be the stupidest thing the president could do, is to fire him.
CORKER: I think he needs to leave Mueller alone.
RAJU: How would Republicans react if he fired Mueller?
CORKER: I think it would be total upheaval in the Senate.
RAJU: You think it would be total upheaval in the Senate?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Berman: Will Congress protect Robert Mueller from Trump being fired?
Joining us now CNN senior political commentator Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania. Senator, what do you think would happen if the president tried to push Robert Mueller out?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it would be a great upheaval in the Congress. And look, everyone right now in Congress is in election mode. And they're just -- how is this all going to play out at election time?
And the firing of Robert Mueller would take an energized Democratic base and skyrocket it up. Yes, I mean, the Republican base, the part that's very, very loyal to Trump would be equally charged up, but not nearly as much as the other side. And that's what Republicans are worried about. They're worried about Donald Trump doing something that's going to alter the dynamics of the upcoming election, which already doesn't look for good for that.
BERMAN: So if you say this would hurt Republicans if he went ahead and tried to have Robert Mueller removed, why aren't more Republicans then supporting legislation to make it nearly impossible for the president to do that?
SANTORUM: Because there's a difference between the president doing something which most Republicans feel is unlikely for him to do because he doesn't think that -- I think most Republicans don't think the Justice Department would go along with it. And as a result, the chances of something like that happening, I mean, the idea that Donald Trump is going to fire Justice Department officials until they find someone who will fire Mueller, I think that's a very unlikely scenario.
And so there's no reason to go out and -- and prod your -- prod the president and prod his supporters by doing something like that preemptively if the chances of that happening are pretty small.
BERMAN: No reason to prod the supporters. You're saying it's a political calculation. They're scared of the political repercussions?
SANTORUM: Yes, absolutely. I mean, if you just look at the dynamic. In the lead-in you talked about the difference between Paul Ryan's reaction and Mitch McConnell's reaction.
You know, Mitch McConnell's reaction is the reaction from someone who's a senator and looking at Senate elections. And Paul Ryan is looking at congressional elections. Ryan's big vulnerability to hold his speakership are suburban voters.
Suburban voters are voters that he is talking to when he goes out and criticizes the president and speaks, you know, more directly about these issues. He's willing to pick a little bit more of a fight, because he's got to hold on to moderate Republican voters.
McConnell, on the other hand, is worried about the base. He has to make sure that the base turns out. You know, the Senate elections, that the Republicans have a chance to pick up are in Montana and North Dakota and Missouri. I mean, that's where you need the Trump base. So he doesn't want to prod anybody and get them upset.
[07:25:14] BERMAN: Senator, I'm shocked to hear you say this is all about politics and not a decision about what they think is right.
SANTORUM: Well, look, what's right -- and I think, you know, to suggest that both sides don't do this, you know, look at the political ramifications of the way they deal with this. I mean, I'm sure Mitch McConnell and Republicans are communicating very vocally to the president how they feel about these things. But it's different than what you say publicly and how you -- how you manage the upcoming election.
BERMAN: So, just let the record show, when I said I was shocked, I didn't actually mean it. That was facetious. Lest anyone think that it's a big surprise here.
What do you make of the president's strategy here, Senator? He's hired Joseph diGenova to join the legal team here. This is a guy who is a fighter. Let me just play some of the sound that the president no doubt has heard this man say on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH DIGENOVA, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: They tried to frame an incoming president with a false Russian conspiracy that never existed, and they knew it; and they plotted to ruin him as a candidate and then destroy him as a president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Is it a smart strategy for the president to just basically attack the investigation, which he's doing. He's hiring this lawyer who has been attacking it. The president is now attacking it by name.
SANTORUM: Look, there is ample evidence out there to suggest that there is little to no collusion that has been shown, and any evidence that has come out, there's just -- I understand the president's frustration. I understand these things drag on. But the counsel he should be getting is these things always drag on longer than they should. It doesn't necessarily mean they're going to find anything if -- because there's -- I know in the president's mind and many of the administration there's nothing there to find.
BERMAN: Well, except -- except, Senator, and here's the thing, though, is that one of the things the special counsel did do was issue indictments for three Russian entities and 12 Russian individuals for meddling in the U.S. election, and then the U.S. government sanctioned those same individuals.
So the U.S. Government, the Treasury Department, the Trump administration, to an extent has already endorsed the finding of the special counsel investigation, which they call a witch hunt.
SANTORUM: No. What they call the witch hunt -- and this is something I think that the media doesn't focus enough on. What they call the witch hunt is the collusion.
Look at the president's tweet. Look at everything he talks about. He talks about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. I don't think the president -- obviously, they just sanctioned the Russians. I don't think the president really argues seriously that the Russians weren't involved or engaged in trying to influence the election.
BERMAN: Come on, Senator. Where have we been for the last two years? Where have we been for the last two years here? The president hasn't exactly been jumping up and down for the last year and a half, saying that "The Russians meddled in this election. I'm going to find out what happened, and I'm going to stop them." It's been under duress. He's been dragged kicking and screaming to the -- to the conclusion that the Russians meddled here.
So it's hard to separate the two.
SANTORUM: No, I -- but you have to because they're two different issues.
And I'm not defending. I disagree with how the president handled the whole issue of the Russian involvement in the election. I think he should have been exactly as you said, much more aggressive in going out there, tried to discern what the Russians were doing and be very aggressive in defending our democracy.
But the idea that that is a -- the same issue as the Trump campaign cooperating with the Russians or colluding with the Russians, they are two different issues. And the one the president is solely focused on, to the exclusion, really, of all else, and that's a problem is the collusion.
BERMAN: He talks about -- he's just as upset about obstruction now as collusion. So I think the idea that he's only upset about one thing I'm not so sure about.
You are a shrewd political observer in all sorts of different ways. As you watch how the president is behaving now, both his statements and his actions, is he making his political situation here better or worse?
SANTORUM: I think overall, he's making it worse. I think had -- had he been more, as I mentioned, more aggressive on pursuing the national security aspects in -- of the Russian involvement in our election, that would have taken the -- been the high ground. You can -- as I said, you can take that position and still say there was no collusion. And look, calling for the end of the Mueller investigation, again, I
understand the frustration. It isn't going to happen. Bob Mueller is going to take his time and do what he thinks is right and it may be a few weeks, it may be a few months. Who knows? But the president harping about it, as Trey Gowdy said, if you're innocent, act innocent. And right now, he's looking like, you know, Hey, I want this over, because he's -- he's got something to hide. That's a mistake.
BERMAN: Senator Rick Santorum, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.
SANTORUM: Thank you.
HILL: The whistleblower who exposed Cambridge Analytica invited to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. What do lawmakers want to know? We'll ask a member of that panel next.