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Package Bomb Headed to Austin, Texas, Explodes in FedEx Facility; Donald Trump Hires Lawyer who Spoke on Television of Conspiracy against President; Interview With Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar Of Minnesota And Republican Senator John Kennedy Of Louisiana. Aired 8-8:30a.

Aired March 20, 2018 - 8:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They talked about -- investigators talked about how that indicated to them that this bombmaker had a sophisticated level of understanding and ability to create these explosives, and it also changed the M.P. of how this particular person or persons is operating which also caused them a great deal of concern as well.

If indeed this is officially linked, this fifth explosion, that would be a different mechanism by which these explosions have occurred, which is, of course, something investigators will be paying very close attention to. John and Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Ed Lavandera with the latest for us there, Ed, thank you.

Also joining us now on the phone, Tony Plohetski, who is an investigative reporter for the "Austin Statesman." And I know, Tony, you have been talking to a number of your sources there on the ground, investigative sources, specifically about this latest package, this latest bomb. What are you hearing?

TONY PLOHETSKI, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "AUSTIN STATESMAN": The preliminary information from law enforcement is that this package may have been bound for Austin. So they are, of course, trying to figure out now if this is all the work of the same person. One of the things that they're doing is trying to collect remnants of this device, from this explosion that has happened overnight in Schertz, and they want to know whether or not the material from this overnight blast is similar to the materials that were used in these other explosions that we've been having in Austin since March 2nd. That's one of the big focuses for investigators this morning.

HILL: We're looking at live pictures now, aerial pictures of this FedEx facility. You said you learned the package was being shipped to Austin. Was it coming from Austin to go back to Austin?

PLOHETSKI: That is my understanding based on preliminary information from federal sources this morning, and that they have reason to believe, and it has not been explained to me yet what the reason to believe is, but preliminary information shows that it may have been shipped from an Austin address to an Austin address, which, if that is the case, you can imagine the amount of fear that is going to continue to raise in the city of Austin which has already been a city on edge for the past couple of weeks.

HILL: Absolutely. And of course yesterday we were looking at the neighborhood where that tripwire device was found, being on lockdown until the afternoon as they were continuing to sweep there. In terms of that plant, is it and the neighborhood around it on lockdown at this hour that we know of?

PLOHETSKI: I'm told that authorities are -- one of the main concerns that they have now is whether or not this person, this perpetrator, whoever is maybe behind the package overnight, could have also shipped a number of other devices. So that is also causing fears to intensify this morning, whether or not there are other packages inside the facility that may be dangerous in some way, whether or not there may be packages on the road being delivered to other places that are dangerous in some way. That is also a major focus of investigators this morning.

HILL: Tony, we appreciate it. Thank you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to bring in CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. Phil, thanks so much for being with us. Look, this is the fifth explosive found in the Austin area in a very short period of time. This one seems to be different, at least in its composition, than the others. This one apparently shipped through FedEx, right, which is different than the others, and this one also with shrapnel. So a third type of explosive. What does it tell you, if these are all connected, about the person behind this?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It tells me this person's multiplying risk. And you've got to believe if this goes on, the lifespan of a bomber like this, if he chooses to stage operations with this rapidity, is not going to be that long. They're going to find this guy, because every time he does this, he's leaving a trail. Are there forensics, for example, in the device, things like serial numbers in the device components? Are there fingerprints on the device? Did he send it from a facility that has footage? I know there's a lot of concern in Austin, but I would say looking at this, every time he goes out there, he's taking more risk that somebody saw him, that there's a material in the device that the investigators can identify.

One other final thing, John, if one of these devices doesn't go off, that's going to be more of a gold mine because then you have questions like fingerprints and, again, forensics on the device itself.

BERMAN: It's got to be concern, and we just heard it from there on the scene, that more of these packages could be now on route somewhere in the Austin area. How do you suspect the investigation is progressing at this moment?

MUDD: They must have a lot of data. I looked at what you were talking about earlier, about the number of devices that might be out there. I know that's, again, a concern. But for me that's an opportunity. If they locate one single device before it detonates, that should accelerate the investigation. [08:00:00] The other thing is, a bombmaker like this has to leave a

trail somewhere. Has someone ever been in his house and seen things that they think are unusual? Somebody like this, has he ever been now the backyard testing devices. One of the questions you're going to have here is sorting through a ton of tips on a tip line to determine if someone ever saw something over the course of time when this guy or woman was trying to build capability that goes into a tip line. All that stuff is going on now, John.

BERMAN: And again, we're talking about five explosive devices in a very short period of time. We were talking before about the Unabomber, it was like 12 devices, 17 devices well over a decade here. The very number here is extraordinary. Whoever is doing this is trying to send some kind of message, Phil.

MUDD: They are. I have not been able to discern anything about intent looking at the variety of locations. The one interesting clue, the tripwire device we saw this week, that tells me that whoever staged that operation, whoever put the device there, didn't have a specific target in mind. Maybe they had a neighborhood in mind. But obviously when you have a trip wire device, you're not looking at a specific individual. There's no race involved there, there's no ethnicity involved there. So that took away one motive. Initially I know we had questions about whether, for example, race might be a motive when you have a tripwire just trying to hit anybody that goes by.

BERMAN: Phil Mudd, stick around. Thanks very much.

HILL: We're going to turn 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.

BERMAN: Meantime, the president is shaking up his legal time, hiring a lawyer who has argued on TV that the president is the target of an elaborate FBI conspiracy. Want to bring in CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, and once again CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd who spent some time in the FBI and CIA and knows a lot about a lot of different things.

Cillizza, I want to start with you now on what we now see from the president of the United States and what I feel like we now know about his behavior over the weekend where all of a sudden he starts mentioning Robert Mueller by name, tweeting about him specifically. It follows the fact that his lawyers sat down with the special counsel and found out exactly what they wanted to know, and it feels like the president didn't like that.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: I think that's right. What's interesting, John, is you have -- for months we've had the private piece of this investigation which is the Mueller piece, which we really -- it's sort of a closed box. We don't really know anything about it. Every once in a while he issues subpoenas, he issues charges, and we learn something. But we're really sort of fumbling in the dark there. But Then you have the counter, very public Donald Trump Twitter feed.

And a lot is trying to marry up -- OK, he tweeted this, this happened. What is he reacting to, what does it tell us? Remember that this is a president assured by his lawyers -- I think with poor advice -- but assured by his lawyers, it's all going to be over soon, boss. This thing is going to be over by the end of the year, this thing is going to be over by the end of January.

The truth of the matter is we never suspected that was the case. None of CNN's reporting suggested this thing is almost going to be over. So I think what you have is a president who was frustrated because he was told this thing is wrapping up. It's not. And then you have someone who again now understands the scope of this and what wants to be asked.

One other point out there, John, we still don't really know, does the president really want to talk to Bob Mueller? He has said publicly and there's reporting that privately he wants to. That could be spin, but if he wants to, his lawyers don't want him to, that's another source of frustration, another reason to lash out. So a lot of this is what's going on in Donald Trump's mind right now. What does he think based on what he was told versus what the reality is?

HILL: We know he's thinking of making changes on his legal team because we know that's happening now. So as we look at who has been brought in, I just want to play a little bit of what we've heard because, as we know, the president tends to enjoy his television time. And this attorney who he's brought in, Joseph diGenova, spends a lot of time on TV and is talking about ideas that the president definitely agrees with in some cases. Take a listen to some of it. This is from January 21st.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY: 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)

HILL: Phil Mudd, he's also lashed out at the FBI, he's lashed out at the DOJ, he's talked about this conspiracy. And this is now the man that Donald Trump has brought on who can go out there and be a fire for him. What's the impact there?

MUDD: There's no impact on the investigation. Look, the investigators are going to do what they want. I see two aspects to the hiring of diGenova. The first you talked about.

[08:10:00] I don't think he's about the investigation. He's about the face of the investigation. A lot of people in this country, I talk to them all the time, I get emails from them, believe in these deep state conspiracies. They think there's some sort of conspiracy in the government to take out the president. This guy is going to be on TV talking about this all the time. The other thing is I think this is more about what happens after the

investigation. If you get further indictments, for example, of people in the Oval Office, this guy is going to be on two minutes later saying, I told you there is a conspiracy against the White House. I see it now and now we have got to take action to stop the conspiracy. He's about TV and he's about the after-action.

BERMAN: It's interesting, maybe the president learned about him through documents, Chris, because he's spending so much time with the documents. Maybe he didn't see him --

CILLIZZA: Primarily documents, John.

BERMAN: Inside joke right there. It's interesting, what Phil said -- go ahead.

CILLIZZA: I was just going to add, I do think it's really important, diGenova, Phil made a really important point, which I think a lot of what's happening here, particularly over the last 96-ish hours, it's sped up, is Donald Trump getting ready for what comes next, that it is unlikely that this investigation sort of ends. Everything is fine, like the House Intelligence Committee. That's an unlikely outcome. I think he would probably even realize that at this point.

So I think a lot of what you see, the smearing of Mueller, the attempted smearing of Mueller, diGenova coming on, it's prepping for something is going to happen. No one really knows what that something is. Something is going to happen. The Mueller investigation is going to conclude. It's likely not going to look great for the Trump administration. And we need to be ready for our base, we need to have a way to discredit both Mueller and the findings and we need voices who are going to be able to do that.

BERMAN: It's prepping for the postgame. It's prepping for the postgame. This may not be about firing Robert Mueller even though we know the president tried to do that before. It's for what happens when Mueller comes out with whatever it is that he comes out with, which, look, this is what makes Congress so important here. This is what makes their role here so important. Will Republicans stand up and say either A, don't fire Robert Mueller, it's a bad idea, B, let the investigation continue, and C, what this investigation has found is of merit, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Look, this is the thing I always return to because it drives me insane when Donald Trump says things like witch hunt and partisan hoax. You can think Donald Trump colluded, didn't collude. This is no evidence that he's colluding, he's exactly right. But this is not a witch hunt. First of all, Bob Mueller is the former FBI director. That's piece one. I don't think usually those people are involved in witch hunts. But put that aside, whatever you think about Mueller. Three people who worked for Donald Trump in the campaign have pled guilty, including Michael Flynn, one of his most senior advisers and the national security adviser, have pled guilty to lying to the FBI and are now cooperating with the investigation. Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, basically effectively the campaign manager for his time there, is facing 300 years in prison for allegations of financial improprieties. Thirteen Russians have been charged with a broad scale attempt to influence the 2016 election.

Ask yourself this, if you think this is a media-driven conspiracy, would Michael Flynn lie to the FBI, get caught, plead guilty, cooperate with the Mueller investigation if this was a media-created witch hunt? I don't think Michael Flynn takes a lot of advice from what the media thinks. So that's the sort of thing people have to return to. There are guilty pleas here. There are real criminal charges here. You cannot just dismiss the whole thing as sort of a partisan fishing expedition. It's not.

BERMAN: All right, Phil Mudd, Chris Cillizza, thank you very much for being with us this morning, Phil on a number of subject, we really do appreciate it. We're going to keep our eye on the Austin bombings all morning long.

In the meantime, Facebook is facing a huge crisis. Can the social media giant restore the public's trust after the data from some 50 million users was at least being used without those users' permission? We're going to debate the fallout with senators from both sides of the aisle next.

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[08:17:52] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg facing growing calls from lawmakers to testify before Congress about how Cambridge Analytica secretly collect information from some 50 million Facebook users.

Our next guests are asking the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing with the CEOs of major technology companies.

Joining me now, two members of the committee, Democrat Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.

Senators, thanks so much for being with us and being with us together. I feel like every time a Democratic and Republican appear together and angel gets its wings. So, thank you for that.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: There you go. You're welcome.

BERMAN: Senator Klobuchar, first to you. You want to see Mark Zuckerberg. You think he should come before your committee and say what?

KLOBUCHAR: I think he should explain to the American people how this happened, how many people were hurt and most importantly, how they're going to fix it, because you just can't have 50 million Americans have their private data exposed without their permission, a couple hundred thousand of them may have answered a quiz by a Russian-American professor that somehow Facebook decided could have access to the data, and this is what's happened.

I think you have a product where it has been designed without a lock or without an alarm and, big surprise, some of the bad guys have gotten in. And so, he needs to explain that as well as the fact that we don't get support for our Honest Ads Act that I have with Senator McCain and Warner, which would put the social media sites on the same rules of the game as you see for print media and radio, TV ads.

BERMAN: You know, Senator Kennedy, if you're one of these 50 million users who has their information in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, first of all, you don't know. You know, we don't know if you're one of those people there.

But why should you be concerned?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: Well, Facebook is a great company, but it's no longer a company. It's a country. That's how powerful it is.

And its behavior lately has kind of been getting into the foothills of creepy. My interests are larger than Cambridge Analytica. I want to know to what extent, if any, those of us on Facebook live in a contrived universe created by Facebook, sort of like Truman on "The Truman Show".

[08:20:04] I want to know if Facebook has been a good steward of our data. I want to talk with Facebook about the bargain we struck with bargain. We know what we get. We get free access to the site. What does Facebook get?

And finally, I want to explore how we preserve the good things about Facebook and there are good things, but how we preserve the good things about Facebook while thwarting the bad things, the abuse of data, the spreading of poison on the Internet. Of course, the problem becomes -- you get into First Amendment issues quickly when you talk about poison. The real issue is not is poison being spread, the real issue is, what is poison? One person's trash is another person's treasure.

BERMAN: The foothills of creepy are located right near the river of sin.

Senator Klobuchar, has it did --

KLOBUCHAR: It's in Louisiana.

BERMAN: I'm not going to get into the geographical fight there. We'll leave that to you. I'm just thrilled you guys are together. I don't want to break up this team.

Look, Senator Klobuchar, has Facebook been forthcoming with you?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, they have made some things to put disclaimers on political ads, things like that, but they have sent their lawyers they're lobbyists, John, that's who they sent.

And we think the head of the company should come. Of course, we also want to hear from Cambridge Analytica and Alexander Nix and the people involved in that.

But the issues with the social media company is really broader than just this one incident, as horrible as it is. We have been calling for them to come before us as late as last week, before this exploded, the two of us called for them to come before the committee.

This is not just a place that you put cat videos on, as much as we love that or you put on your recipes. This has become a political marketplace, and just as we look at people who have put bad tomatoes on people's shopping carts, you've got to figure out are there some rules of the road here where you've got rules if someone says, OK, I'm going to give my information to an app provider. Maybe you've got to be able to understand what that means --

BERMAN: Senator --

KLOBUCHAR: -- and where that is information is going.

BERMAN: Senator Klobuchar, you know, Senator Kennedy says it's not necessarily about Cambridge Analytica. He's more concerned about Facebook here. I'm not sure you had a chance to watch British TV overnight, but this expose that Channel 4 did Senator Klobuchar on Cambridge Analytica where Alexander Nix, you know, the chair there, seen on TV offering, you know, women showing up and payments of some kind.

Do you have any concerns about that?

KLOBUCHAR: Of course, I have concerns, because basically these 50 million profiles that were given to them are highly valuable. I think any company would want to get those, or if a political candidate were to purchase a profile, they would have had to spend a lot more money than it appears the Trump campaign did. So, that's one issue.

The second issue is what they're doing with people's information. They're talking about sending Ukrainian women over to people's houses. I mean, this is bad stuff. And we want to hear exactly what happened. To me, that is a separate hearing from what we want to see from the broad hearing on social media, that this is a separate hearing where we want to hearing from professor Kogan and Alexander Nix and see what exactly went on here and what happened with the Trump campaign.

BERMAN: Senator Kennedy, you were nodding up and down there. Do you agree that you should maybe have a separate hearing on Cambridge Analytica, what they are accused of doing has to exist within the foothills of creep you talked about?

KENNEDY: Yes, sure. It is creepy. It's not the only instance.

BERMAN: Right.

KENNEDY: I mean, politicians have been mining data on Facebook for a long time. We can go back to President Obama's campaign, certainly President Trump's campaign did, other candidates as well. I am interested in Cambridge Analytica.

But I'm also interested in the larger issue. What's the proper role of Facebook in our world today? What, if any, regulation should we ask Facebook to apply? Is Facebook willing to solve these problems on its own or do we have

to give them a nudge? That's why I'd like Mr. Zuckerberg to come. Last time, he sent his lawyers. I don't know what he paid them, but they did a damn good job because they didn't say anything.

BERMAN: Senator Kennedy, shifting gears slightly here. There's been a lot of talk in the last few days about the status of special counsel Robert Mueller. What do you think would happen if the president tried to push him out?

KENNEDY: Well, I think probably all hell would break loose. I see no indication that's going to happen. I think we ought to let Mr. Mueller finish his investigation. I don't think the president is going to fire him. The president's lawyers said Sunday night they have no intention of firing him.

I think we ought to let Mr. Mueller finish his investigation and report to the American people, and let the chips fall where they may. And I trust the American people to figure it out.

BERMAN: Senator Klobuchar, do you think there's a law that should be passed? There have been a couple of senators, four senators who have proposed different types of legislation to protect the special counsel. Do you think that's necessary?

KLOBUCHAR: I'd like to see those laws passed so that you have extra protection.

[08:25:02] But there were changes made after the Saturday night massacre where Nixon fired a number of people in the Justice Department. So, there is some protection. That protection is you can't fire him unless you have good cause.

Rod Rosenstein is running that right now because Attorney General Sessions has recused himself. And he said there's not good cause. He has said that under oath. I appreciated Senator Kennedy's answers. See, we agree on something else.

That you have to let the special counsel do his job and get to the end of this investigation. Stop attacking him. Stop attacking the FBI and let them do their jobs.

BERMAN: You know, Trey Gowdy, Senator Kennedy said, if you're innocent, act like it.

Do you feel like the president is acting like it right now?

KENNEDY: Well, I think you have to divorce the president's words from his actions. I mean, clearly, he likes to tweet, and I think -- I don't mean this as a criticism. I think the president grows anxious when he has an unexpressed thought and he likes to say everything that's on his mind. But that's a long way from actually doing something and firing Mr. Mueller. I just don't think he'll fire him.

And I think Mr. Mueller will be allowed to complete his investigation and hopefully he'll report to the American people and say here is what I found, here is what I concluded. Now we get to judge, you meaning the American people.

BERMAN: Senator Kennedy, Senator Klobuchar, thank you for being with us. We do appreciate that you did appear together. Good luck going forward.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: A just-published profile shedding new light on Hope Hicks's final days in the White House. The reporter behind it reveals what President Trump apologized to Hope Hicks for, next.

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