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EARLY START

Police: Serial Bomber Kills Himself With Explosive Device; Fourth Nor'easter In Three Weeks; Trump Ignores Warning On Putin. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 05:30   ET

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


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[05:30:35] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Our breaking news out of Austin, Texas. Local reports say the serial bomber is dead. Brand new details now coming in.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Dave Briggs. It is 5:30 eastern time.

Breaking news out of Austin, Texas in the Round Rock area, part of the greater metro area there. Word that the Austin serial bomber is dead, committing suicide as law enforcement closed in.

Tony Plohetski of the Austin American-Statesman with some terrific reporting confirming that -- with law enforcement officials -- that the suspect himself used an explosive device, though we caution there is also a report saying that the suspect -- the serial bomber was shot by police as the SWAT team closed in.

ROMANS: We do know that Austin police confirming there was a -- an officer-involved shooting. So again, very dramatic last moments here. We're still awaiting a press conference from the authorities to tell us exactly what happened in those moments.

But we do know police apparently traced the suspect using a mix of cell phone technology, security video, and store receipts.

Ed Lavandera on the phone live in Round Rock, Texas for us.

And it sounds like the real turning point came here in the last 24 hours or so with that explosion at a FedEx facility. That FedEx package had evidence and there was a real aggressive response from the police to track down the suspect.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hi, Christine.

Well yes, that was a package that was -- from our understanding at this point, was eventually traced back to a drop-off point in South Austin. And I was in -- I was in that area late last night checking out where it was that they -- an area that had a great deal of local businesses around there to essentially a strip mall situation, so you can imagine there's probably a great deal of security and surveillance cameras weaved in throughout either various businesses or along the roads there.

So at this point, it's probably safe to assume that based on that, the investigators started combing through a lot of that surveillance footage trying to backtrack and piece together who this might have been. Trying to capture the drop-off of these particular packages.

And I suspect that we'll hear more details at some point here about how that was used to kind of begin the process of tracing back who this individual might be and where exactly his movements were taking him through Austin.

Right now, we're on the side of Interstate 35 in the town of Round Rock, which is a suburb on the northern edge of the city, and it is going to be quite a mess here as people here in central Texas wake up.

The southbound lanes of Interstate 35 essentially shut down. Traffic backed up already for miles and miles here just before 5:00 a.m. central time, and this is an artery of the city that gets highly- congested on a regular day. But the northbound lanes are moving smoothly.

But right now, we can see a great deal of law enforcement presence along the southern -- southbound side of Interstate 35 and regular traffic backed up for miles and miles.

We can't tell from our vantage point in the darkness and in the flashing lights exactly what the scene is there. If the suspect is in -- it's hard from our vantage point to get a clear look as to whether or not the suspect and the suspect's car is kind of in that swarm of cars that is just on the other side of the interstate. But we'll continue to kind of keep looking that way and seeing what we see here and what we hear from law enforcement officials.

As you mentioned, Austin police said they had responded to an officer- involved shooting in this area just several hours ago.

Officially, ATF officials and FBI officials are simply saying that they are at the scene here which is clear from our vantage point. But still, no official confirmation that the bombing suspect has been killed but those reports coming from local news reports here at this time saying that the bombing suspect is dead -- Christine.

[05:35:05] BRIGGS: And Ed, obviously, the traffic problems almost welcomed this morning compared to the last nearly three weeks that started on March second. Six devices, four explosions, two tragic fatalities there in the Austin area.

If you can talk about the sense of terror that has kind of encapsulated the Austin metro area and nearly one million residents for the last couple of weeks. What's it been like there?

LAVANDERA: Well, I think a great deal of tension as people try to figure out exactly what was happening and where the next shoe was going to drop if you will. There's been a great deal of anticipation and a flurry of activity really in the last couple of days since Sunday after -- Sunday evening at the site of the fourth explosion that injured two young males in a residential neighborhood in the southeast part of town.

And then, waking up to the news that two other packages were discovered at a -- one at the distribution facility that exploded in the suburb of San Antonio. And then, a second package that did not detonate at a distribution facility in the southeast part of Austin, so there was just a flurry of activity yesterday

And then, culminating with authorities saying it was essentially a false alarm at a Goodwill -- when a worker at a Goodwill drop-off point in south Austin was injured as well.

So, you know, that flurry of activity over the last 48 hours has been rather intense for many people here in the city.

ROMANS: I know, and it looks like that Goodwill event was just -- it was not related. It was some other --

LAVANDERA: Right.

ROMANS: -- you know, some other kind of device. But it just shows you how on edge the entire city is.

Jason Whitely at WFAA, the affiliate there -- the station WFAA saying that 9:00 p.m. last night was when they were hearing from law enforcement sources that they'd identified the suspect. And then, it's been really just since last night that they were really zeroing in on this.

And again, just really, you know, gumshoe detective work here. That FedEx surveillance video and evidence from the FedEx explosion site, then leading them to surveillance video, then leading them to receipts in the neighborhoods around where these package deliveries happened.

And then, the search traffic that allowed them to zero in on this -- on this suspect. And we still don't know who this person was. We still don't know what they -- exactly how they found him but they did zero in at a Round Rock hotel --

BRIGGS: Hotel, yes.

ROMANS: -- is where they got him.

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, what was interesting? Yesterday, as we -- by design, ATF and FBI and Austin police officials have been very forthcoming speaking out as much as possible trying to get -- using news media interviews and press conferences to help generate leads into this investigation, hoping that someone had seen something.

But what was interesting was after the news at the various FedEx distribution center started breaking, ATF officials, and FBI officials, and local police officials became much more tight-lipped. And it was interesting, in fact, late just last night just before the Goodwill false alarm situation developed, ATF officials and some other federal officials had said that comments about the case were going to be put on hold. I think the terminology was for "operational reasons."

So you kind of started getting a sense that perhaps because of these packages being dropped off at a drop-off point in Austin and then being found and discovered at these distribution facilities, that that was beginning to provide information and clues for investigators to begin -- to begin chasing down.

But I thought it was interesting yesterday afternoon you started really getting a sense of how the dynamic in how investigators were speaking out publicly about the case becoming much more tight-lipped. It kind of gave us that sense that something was starting to change.

BRIGGS: Ed Lavandera, some great reporting from Round Rock, Texas. We'll check in with you as more information becomes available and throughout "NEW DAY."

But now joining us, CNN law enforcement analyst James Gagliano, retired FBI supervisory special agent. Spent 25 years with the Bureau. Good morning to you, sir.

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST, RETIRED SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT, FBI, ADJUNCT ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, ST. JOHN'S UNIVERSITY, NEW YORK: Good morning.

BRIGGS: Let's talk about the police work here and the coordination between Austin police, the FBI, and the ATF. How key was the fact that FedEx was involved?

GAGLIANO: Very key because we know that there were cameras there so they were probably able to get a picture of the suspect. And then, just doing due diligence and good police work were probably able to find a location where that suspect potentially resided.

Once they were there I'm sure they got a search warrant. The search warrant allowed them to gain entry and I'm guessing once they were inside the digital exhaust that came off his laptop or his P.C. or his cell phones or whatever, were able to check out his search history. That brought up some interesting items that had been searched for and led to that dramatic, I guess, standoff early this morning in Round Rock.

[05:40:10] Just one thing, to look at the way that this thing enveloped the entire city of Austin.

The first three bombs -- packages dropped off on porches Christine, were on the east side of Austin. The tripwire was set off on the west side. Then you move down to the FedEx retail distro center where they were mailed from, the south part of Austin. And then last night, a northern suburb of Round Rock.

This literally encompassed the entire city.

ROMANS: Yes, and it's so just tragic. One of those victims 17 years old, a musical prodigy. The other, 39 years old. And it has left the city really -- it's waking up for the first time in weeks not afraid.

It sounds as though from local media reports that this really started to come together last night -- 9:00 or so according to Austin's WFAA when they really started to zero in on this guy. We don't know what the exact last moments were like but we are hearing reports that he detonated something.

And there was also -- the APD says that officer-involved shooting around that same time, so it sounds like a showdown at the end.

GAGLIANO: Absolutely, and understanding the deadly force policy for most police departments and, in particular, the FBI -- which as you pointed out, I was in for 25 years and I'm familiar with it -- the rules of engagement. Somebody holding something in this situation that's threatening or appears to be a bomb would have given the officers the right to shoot to take out that person.

It's also interesting to note, too, we've looked back. We've talked a number of times again about the Unabomber case which was the FBI's lengthiest and most costliest case. It lasted over the course of 17 years -- 16 devices in 17 years.

We have five that we believe here have some link analysis, two that they're still trying to determine. Potentially seven total in the span of 19 days -- an incredible amount. Knowing that this guy was moving this quickly he was bound to make a mistake.

BRIGGS: You mention the evolution of the bombing techniques here from the packages to the trip wire and then through FedEx. What does that tell you if anything about the suspect, and in terms of tracking the suspect did it make it more difficult or easier?

GAGLIANO: The basic components of a bomb, you can't get around these. There's four basic components, Dave.

There's a power source which is usually a battery. There's an initiator which could be a blasting. There are the actual explosives, whether it's Semtex or PETN or something -- C-4, something like that. Whatever type of fragmentation -- nails -- things like that -- and lastly, the switch.

Those components comprise the things that would make up this bomber's signature and I guarantee once the police, if they accessed his house, or got into his car, or looked at his search history, were able to thread these things together and link them by those things.

BRIGGS: And it is in your estimation that it's something one lone bomber could do himself without assistance?

GAGLIANO: Yes. These -- now again, from talking to bomb technicians last night, these bombs appear to be rudimentary enough that one person could do it.

ROMANS: I want to show you just quickly, our affiliate CBS in Austin has obtained this surveillance photo from the FedEx. I think it was something like 7:30 in the evening they think, and CBS Austin is saying that this is believed to be the bomber.

Interesting -- that could be a wig. That could be some kind of a disguise. You can't really tell too much but it does tell you how police were zeroing in on surveillance video, on receipts, and then on that -- on that digital footprint to really solve this case.

GAGLIANO: Sure. So you've got the photo right there. It appears also like he could possibly be having gloves on as well.

And you'll notice that in banks Christine, it's been standard operating procedure for decades and some FedEx places do this as well. At the door, there's also little linear demarcations of height.

ROMANS: Yes.

GAGLIANO: So these are all little pieces that would have gone together to kind of give the police a chance to take disparate parts of information intelligence and weave them together.

Yesterday and today, two outstanding days for law enforcement. Yesterday, you had a deputy in Maryland confronting a school shooter and taking him out.

And then today, after 19 days of Austin basically being on terror alert essentially, you had great police work. The local police, the ATF, and the FBI working together. Interagency cooperation in ending this case.

ROMANS: All right.

BRIGGS: James Gagliano, retired FBI. Thank you, sir. Great to have you here.

GAGLIANO: Thanks.

BRIGGS: All right.

Another nor'easter bailing up the east coast -- it's the fourth in three weeks -- set to dump more snow on Washington, Philly, and New York than the previous three combined. More than 70 million people under some type of winter weather advisory.

ROMANS: Schools in Washington, Philly, and New York all closed. They are open in Boston, but after-school programs have been canceled.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri joins us live -- joins us from the weather center.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning, guys.

What a system we have here on the first full day of spring. A big- time system pushing in from the Ohio Valley, eventually on in towards the northeast.

And really, a quiet start so far this morning for the northeast but really, when you watch this carefully everything coming together to produce a significant amount of snow potentially as early as the next three to four hours and continuing all the way until past sunset into the overnight hours as well.

[05:45:05] But you see upwards of 72 million people highlighted across this region. Parts of 16 states underneath the winter weather alerts that are in place as well. And the winds certainly howling with this as well so there will be some threat for coastal erosion on the immediate coastal communities that have already been battered.

But, of course, airport disruption as well. Upwards of 65 percent of the flights out of LaGuardia, 64 percent out of Newark, about half the flights out of JFK have all been impacted so far going into Wednesday morning.

And the amount of snow, as impressive as you see it for this time of year. In fact, upwards of say six, 10 -- some areas maybe around 15 inches possible in the forecast here. And you notice this does continue and encompasses parts of Washington, certainly Philly, New York City. Even Boston will not be left out of this one.

So when you bring in the totals -- again, conservatively, six to eight inches for Washington, upwards of a foot for places like Philly, and as much as a foot for places like New York City -- guys.

BRIGGS: Another snow day here, folks. All right.

We'll have more from Austin, Texas coming straight up. The serial bomber believed to be dead, having blown himself up. More all morning here on CNN.

ROMANS: And against the warnings of top national security aides, President Trump congratulates Vladimir Putin on his reelection. What other advice is he ignoring?

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[05:50:25] ROMANS: Fifty minutes past the hour.

President Trump was already taking heat for congratulating Vladimir Putin on his reelection, now it gets worse. "The Washington Post" reporting the president ignored warnings from national security aides not to congratulate Putin. Briefing materials even said "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" in all caps.

A White House official not disputing the language but saying the president did not read or see that notecard.

All right, joining us with more from Washington, "CNN POLITICS" digital director Zach Wolf. Good morning, Zach. How are you today?

ZACHARY WOLF, DIGITAL DIRECTOR, "CNN POLITICS": Great, thanks.

ROMANS: So, you know, President Obama congratulated Putin on his victory in 2012 but this time there are some real -- against the wishes of Republicans, I should point out. But this time there's some concern the president's not taking the advice of his national security advisers.

WOLF: Yes. He's either not paying attention to the advice in that not reading the card that says "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" in all caps or he's ignoring it. And either thing, I think, is kind of -- kind of disconcerting.

And then, there's the other element to this which is his continued insistence on essentially letting Vladimir Putin play the alpha in their relationship -- being very deferential to him. Not pushing him on U.S. election meddling or the -- or the -- or the nerve agent attack in England recently.

There's a number of things he could and probably should be pressing Russia on that he sort of steps back and says well, I want to keep my relationship good with this guy.

BRIGGS: All right. Speaking of a relationship, we're digging into the past. There's the president, the porn star with the polygraph, and the playmate, and "THE APPRENTICE" contestant all in some sort of --

ROMANS: Well done.

BRIGGS: Yes. Is it a triangle, is it a square, is it a pentagon? I'm not sure.

ROMANS: Well done.

BRIGGS: But which of these past relationships is consequential for the president?

WOLF: I think all three of them are consequential in that they're all -- we're hearing about all of them at kind of exactly the same time.

Stormy Daniels obviously has been in the headlines for a while and she has teased us along and will continue to do so. She's not going anywhere.

A harassment claim going forward -- or I mean, a lawsuit involving harassment that's for defamation going forward in public -- in public, in court is not something the president is going to want.

I think the third one, the alleged affair with the playmate model -- you know, because that involves more of the "National Enquirer" -- a company -- that one probably isn't something we're going to hear quite as much about, but who knows?

BRIGGS: Well, we will hear from her. She'll be on "ANDERSON COOPER" tomorrow night. Stormy Daniels will be in that "60 MINUTES" interview with also Anderson Cooper airs Sunday night. So this story seems to be staying in the media the way the president often has, following his playbook.

ROMANS: Oh, my gosh. Here I've got little kids at home and I have to censor the news consumption in my house. It's all NC-17 and we're talking about the President of the United States. Meantime, what do you expect for our spending bill? Are we going to -- are we going to keep the government open and everything's going to get hunky-dory here by the end of the week?

WOLF: It sounds like it. If you read it and talk to people it sounds like it might take them a little bit longer. They might have to into the weekend but then they'll get something that has the government funded through the year. It's just -- it might take it -- it's just a tiny little -- another shutdown, maybe.

ROMANS: Oh, know.

BRIGGS: That will depend in large part on Mitch McConnell who shockingly came out and had some critical words for the president in regard to the call to Vladimir Putin, but also wanted to back up Bob Mueller.

He said, "I think he was an excellent appointment. I think he'll go wherever the facts lead him and I think that he will have great credibility with the American people."

What do you make of that pushback? Do we rarely, if ever, hear from the Senate majority leader?

WOLF: He is one of the most calculating men in Washington and maybe the world. He does not say words that he doesn't mean and he is very careful with them. So for him to be sort of out there and defending Mueller, I think that's really important.

But he also didn't endorse any sort of legislation or rider or anything to force protection of Mueller, so actions speak louder than words maybe.

BRIGGS: But it is interesting to hear him, to your point, he doesn't lose with words.

Zach Wolf, thank you, sir. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right --

WOLF: Thank you.

ROMANS: -- to money now. Let's get a check on "CNN Money" this Wednesday morning.

Global stocks and U.S. futures mixed after Wall Street rebounded from a tech sell-off Monday, closing higher yesterday.

The Fed wraps up its 2-day meeting today. It's widely expected to hike interest rates. The question for investors now, will the Central Bank raise rates faster than planned?

Another concern, a trade war. President Trump is expected to impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of Chinese goods this week.

Meanwhile, Facebook's data scandal caused it to slide another three percent. That drives down other tech stocks like Twitter, Snap, and Alphabet. A really bad couple of days for Facebook shares.

[05:55:06] BRIGGS: All right, and now just a reminder of our breaking news out of Austin, Texas. The serial bomber there is dead, having blown himself up with an incendiary device. A news conference is just moments away.

ROMANS: Stay with us.

BRIGGS: We will await the details from the Austin Police Department about some terrific police work from the Austin P.D., the FBI, and the ATF -- the coordination as they zeroed in on this suspect late last night.

ROMANS: Yes, it looks like the last moments as they zeroed in on who the suspect was using just some terrific police work. First, surveillance cameras at a FedEx facility, then some -- a lot of other receipts that they started following from where the suspect bought some of these devices -- some of the ingredients.

Let's listen in because it sounds like they're going to get started here momentarily with details, again, of the Austin serial bomber. They closed in on him and he is dead.

Good morning. Thank you all for coming out here this morning. My name is Brian Manley. I'm the chief of police of the Austin Police Department.

Fred Milanowski here, the special agent in charge for the ATF. Christopher Combs, the special agent in charge for the FBI. I have Austin mayor Steve Adler and city manager Spencer Cronk, and several other members of -- assistant city manager Ray Ariano and several members of the Austin Police Department's executive team.

I think you all are aware and our community is well aware that it has been a long almost three weeks for the community of Austin as we have dealt with package bombs and other types of bombs that have been placed throughout our community. We have seen members of our community that have lost their lives and others whose lives have been forever changed due to significant injuries.

We have talked many times over the past couple of weeks about the level of partnership that has taken place with our federal officials, our local officials, and our police department to bring this to an end. And through all of this hard work, we identified several leads throughout the course of the weeks.

But beginning within the past 24 to 36 hours we started getting information on one person of interest that we continued to work on and continued to develop. And as we continued to do our investigations this person of interest ultimately moved to be a suspect and that's what we started focusing on was his involvement in these crimes.

Late last night and early this morning we felt very confident that this was the suspect in the bombing incidents that took place in Austin. We had surveillance teams looking for this suspect and we ultimately located the vehicle that this suspect was known to be driving and witnesses told us he was driving. And, in fact, we found that at a hotel right up the road here in Round Rock.

We had multiple officers from both the police department and our federal partners that took up positions around the hotel awaiting the arrival of our tactical teams because we wanted to have ballistic vehicles here so we could attempt to take this suspect into custody as safely as possible.

While we were waiting for those vehicles to get here much time had passed and the vehicle started to drive away. We began following the vehicle -- again, waiting to get the tactical vehicles here so we could take this -- make a stop. However, the vehicle ended up stopping in the borrow ditch on the side of the road behind us.

As members of the Austin Police Department SWAT team approached the vehicle the suspect detonated a bomb inside the vehicle knocking one of our SWAT officers back, and one of our SWAT officers fired at the suspect as well.

The suspect is deceased and has significant injuries from a blast that occurred from detonating a bomb inside his vehicle. We cannot name the suspect at this time because he has not been positively identified yet by the medical examiner and next of kin have not yet been notified.

So there will be a lengthy investigation that will take place regarding the officer-involved shooting. The investigation will be conducted by the Austin Police Department's internal affairs unit with the Austin police monitor participating as well for review of compliance with departmental policy.

There will be a concurrent criminal investigation that will take place by the Texas Rangers of the incident that occurred here tonight.

Again, this is the culmination of three very long weeks for our community and throughout these weeks we've talked about the importance of remaining vigilant and looking out for each other.