Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 24, 2018 Guest: Daryl Johnson, Errol Southers, Barbara Boxer, Mike Murphy, Tom Steyer
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Wonderful studio audience. Thanks to all the venues that hosted us, all the voters, the candidates who have spoken on this road trip, all the people who came to see the show live on the past two weeks.
I have to admit I no longer have a self-esteem issue. You guys are way too generous and way too nice. Thank you very much.
That's all we have tonight. We'll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
But let me hand things off to Ari Melber. "THE BEAT" starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. Thank you very much.
We begin here in New York with breaking news in what is now the largest mail bomb attack in United States in over a decade.
There's a manhunt on tonight. The FBI asking the public for any information on what the bureau now calls its highest priority investigating the apparent pipe bomb sent to two former presidents, the news channel "CNN" and prominent Democratic officials.
Here is what we know at this hour. These explosive devices were sent or mailed to at least five potential targets. No one has claimed responsibility. Authorities are investigating if these are part of a coordinated attack. They have not determined a motive. The crimes implicated by these acts are quite severe obviously.
Conveying a threat to harm a former president is punishable by five years in prison. Using a bomb to actually carry out such a killing can carry a life sentence or the death penalty. Thus far, none of these mailings resulted in a bomb detonating. Now the attacks began when an explosive device was found Monday in the mailbox of George Soros, a prominent financier, and supporter of Liberal and Democratic causes. Initial reports covered that as a seemingly isolated incident.
Then today, news broke of a similar package sent to the Clintons. Then the secret service intercepted a package addressed to former President Obama in D.C. And then today, "CNN"'s New York newsroom was evacuated after a pipe bomb addressed to former CIA Director John Brennan was discovered delivered to "CNN".
Also, a package addressed to former Attorney General Eric Holder was sent although to the wrong address and delivered back to what authorities believe was a phony return address, the office of Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
What you see on the map there is what has been unfolding throughout the day. Then late today, news broke about a suspicious package addressed to Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Now that was found at a capital mail facility. The FBI investigating whether that is similar to these others. Now, according to the FBI, the packages sent to the presidents, Soros, "CNN", and Holder were in Manila envelopes with computer printed addresses and Six Forever stamps.
The package sent to "CNN" described today by New York City's police commissioner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES O'NEILL, NYPD COMMISSIONER: Responding officers identified a device that appeared to be a live explosive device. Additionally, there was an envelope containing a white powder that was discovered as part of that original packaging and we're in the middle of investigating that right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, as we stress, thus far, no one has actually been hurt while dealing with these packages. Authorities have not released information about potential suspects or motives. So while the targets do appear political, and this is the homestretch of the midterm elections, at this hour we can't report to you the kind of facts that would resolve whether that fits directly into what you see unfolding before your eyes.
Now today, one of the targets, Hillary Clinton called for bringing the country together and President Trump called for coming together.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We are fine. Thanks to the men and women of the secret service. But it is a troubling time, isn't it? And it's a time of deep divisions and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to begin today's remarks by providing an update on the suspicious packages and devices mailed to current and former high-ranking government officials. The safety of the American people is my highest and absolute priority. I want just to tell you that in these times, we have to unify. We have to come together and send one very clear, strong, unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind to have no place in the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: We have our full panel of national security and profiling experts joining us as part of our coverage tonight.
But I begin with NBC's Pete Williams who's been covering the story from the very beginning. Pete, what is the latest on your end and what is it important for people to understand about these targets?
PETE WILLIAMS, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS JUSTICE: So in all that investigation to try to find out where they came from, following two tracks. One is to analyze the explosives themselves that they have been found intact and can be analyzed at the FBI's lab here in Quantico, Virginia. And the other is to try to trace backwards. Some of them may have been delivered by hand or by courier.
It certainly appears to be that way with the package that was found Monday at the mailbox of George Soros. And it appears to be also true that the "CNN" package was not sent through the mail but was delivered by courier. So those are two leads that they can exploit, trying to look for a surveillance camera, try to trace movements and then track the packages themselves. The others that went through the mail that have postmarks to try to go back to the originating post office and see what they can track from there.
So at this hour, they have no idea who sent these or what the motive was. We haven't heard any information about any kind of message in the envelopes. But you can see the envelopes, these are those commonly available paper envelopes that have a bubble wrap interior. And then you see the pipe wrapped with electrical tape and some sort of device attached to the side, which apparently is the detonator.
I've seen one federal report that refers to it as a timer but what in fact it was is to be determined. And although it may seem like the federal officials would know a lot more, what we're told, Ari is that they are just now beginning to get the intact devices. The one at Soros' house Monday was basically rendered safe which is sort of fancy police talk for they blew it up.
Now, these pictures are not from the devices. Those that you just saw, those elbow joints are not from the devices found today as far as I know. I think those pictures are from another bombing and perhaps that was for comparison to a pipe bomb. But the ones we've been told are all these straight pipes with end caps on them filled with what we're told is explosive powder and then something attached to the side, just barely fitting into these envelopes.
And as you say, fortunately, none of them went off. So the question is, were they capable of going off and the FBI is just beginning to look at that now as they slowly and meticulously take these apart at the FBI lab outside Washington.
MELBER: Pete Williams, thank you very much for your reporting. I know you have a busy night ahead of you.
Pete mentions the FBI's approach. We have several FBI former officials including Shawn Henry, a former executive assistant FBI director, Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant FBI director for counterintelligence. He was the on-scene commander we should mention for an Anthrax attack that killed a photo editor in Boca Raton in 2001. And later, we have other experts joining us.
Shawn, to build on what Pete Williams was reporting, what does it look like to you and just from a very simple FBI goal, why did they release the photos the way they do?
SHAWN HENRY, FORMER EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT, FBI: Well, the FBI is going to be looking for help from the general public. There's a lot of steps that are going to be taken in the course of this investigation. First of all, you've got a lot of physical evidence.
You've got six or seven different packages where you may have some DNA evidence, some fingerprints. You've got the actual devices themselves which may have signatures. Law enforcement may have seen these types of devices previously. You've also got an intelligence database that the secret service has been keeping.
We've got two former presidents that were targeted here, received these packages and the secret service keeps a very comprehensive database of threats to these former officials for many years. So they'll be looking at that. But the general public may very well have the information. Somebody knows something. These devices, in addition to the locations they were sent to, they were manufactured somewhere.
So there may be a neighbor or a co-worker who has overseen something, who may have overheard something. And the public is going to be looked to, to get help. That's why they'll send these photos out to try and collect an intelligence. And also so people are aware if they see these devices coming into their offices and that sort of thing, people in political offices, they will be able to avoid them, Ari.
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Yes. I think Sean is right on the money here. This is going to be an extensive investigation and every tool I the toolkit is going to be used here.
There are two questions though, aside from who did this that are paramount in my mind. The first is why didn't these detonate if indeed reports are accurate that at least one live device was delivered to "CNN" headquarters. And if that's true, then we need to figure out whether that's the intent of the bomber to send a message and not have them detonate, but send the message that I could do this at any time.
And then the second question that's paramount in everyone's mind is, is he going to do this again or have we seen everything he's got? And I'm fearful that I think we're not done with him yet because he's sent a message. He's been either successful in sending that message or he's feeling not successful because he hasn't detonated and hurt anyone.
MELBER: Let me take part --
FIGLIUZZI: And if that's his intent, we'll see more of this.
MELBER: Let me just be careful and take part a few of the things you're saying. You're referring casually to the suspect as a single person and as a he but, of course, what you mean is just whoever this person or persons is, I assume.
FIGLIUZZI: We got to be careful here. I'm going with historical profiles of known male bombers and they tend to be male. They tend to be male. They tend to be people who aren't engaging and gregarious because mail bombing is something done from a distance, Ari. You choose your method of messaging.
And this person has chosen a distancing in his message. He doesn't want to go face on. He doesn't want to confront directly.
MELBER: And you're using --
FIGLIUZZI: But that's the (CROSSTALK) profile. We could be --
MELBER: Right. And you're using the theory that it's also an individual. Of course, authorities haven't said that yet but you're referring to past examples where it was an individual who sort of in an almost somewhat amateurish way sends out a bunch of mailings. We've seen some have spelling mistakes. Some don't seem as many people have commented, they thankfully don't seem to be all that effective in detonating at this point. So that's your theory.
Why don't you and Shawn also then walk us through what the other theories would be? As you say, if there's more to come, that would have to be more from this individual. Is it possible there are others involved?
HENRY: I think that there is likely that there are going to be more, as Frank's already said until somebody gets caught. These things typically go on indefinitely until they are caught. I think that whether or not there are multiple people or not, we're not clear. This is just early on in the investigation.
What I will say though is that they haven't had an effect. Well, thankfully nobody's been actually injured. The intent of terrorism -- and this is clearly terrorism, somebody who is using fear or the threat of violence for some political or social message and to make some type of change. And that has clearly occurred here.
You've got a lot of people that are on heightened alert, a lot of people who are fearful. I listen to some of the people who are the victims here talking about it, clearly, they were impacted. So there's been an impact here.
MELBER: I just want to be clear because we're dealing with such serious stuff. I mean you're a former executive assistant director to the FBI. It doesn't behoove you to overdue or hype this. You're not saying this to be dramatic. You're saying that your security assessment based on the way these things work is that absent catching the individual, it is more likely than not that they would basically offend again?
HENRY: Oh, I think that they will continue to go on until they're caught. That is historically what we've seen in many types of attacks going back over many years. Frank's talked about a couple of the examples, other pipe bombs, the Unabomber and others. Things that have gone on. Trying to continue to instill this sense of fear.
I think that with the amount of evidence that's out there now, with the number of people that are focused on this, I think that the investigators will very clearly start to turn up leads here in the not too distant future.
MELBER: Right. Because it is looking like such a national priority.
Stay with me. I want to add to our coverage Errol Southers, a former FBI agent who's the director of the USC's Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies Program. And Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst at DHS and my FBI experts, of course, stay with us.
Gentlemen, take a listen to the Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio who is speaking more as a politician than as, I think, a security expert in saying what John Henry just said that this looks like terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: What we saw here today was an effort to terrorize. It's clearly is an act of terror, attempting to undermine our free press and leaders of this country through acts of violence. You cannot be terrorized if you refuse to allow the terrorists to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Daryl, put that into practical terms for us if people at home are hearing our expert say this could happen again and people work in and around all of these different targets. What does that mean?
DARYL JOHNSON, FORMER SENIOR DOMESTIC TERRORISM ANALYST, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND AND SECURITY: Well, thank you, Ari, for having me on your show. There are some things that stand out to me by some of the information that's been released so far. And I must say we're in the very preliminary stages of this investigation.
But there's been enough information about the devices, the tactic that's used that could give us a little bit of idea of who may be behind this in broad terms and why they did it. The first thing you need to look at is this cluster of targets that we have. These individuals, Eric Holder, George Soros, John Brennan, "CNN" and others, this is a virtual who's who of Trump opponents.
So I think the fact that we have multiple devices targeting multiple individuals on the Democratic and Liberal side of the political spectrum leans that this is a politically motivated attempt. Most criminal bombings that we see target single individuals. So the fact that we have a cluster of bombs as well as the targets that were chosen, I think indicates a political motivation.
The second thing is that the actual devices themselves, this is typical modus operandi of domestic as well as international terrorist. The reason why I don't think this is an al Qaeda or ISIS-inspired event is because they typically have more sophisticated devices that use high explosives that target like, you know, big businesses like the airline industry.
The fact that we have political figures, the media which has been called out by the Trump administration as fake news and as a target for people to direct threats at I think gives us a good indication that this person is a domestic homegrown type person with a political motivation.
The last thing I'll talk about or the historical incidents that we've had, one of your guests mentioned that we've had as recently as January 2011 a series of package bombs that actually detonated at mail facilities that were also targeting Democratic officials back in January 2011. Janet Napolitano who's secretary of Homeland Security at the time. There was the governor of Maryland who was a Democrat at the time, as well as the transportation secretary. To my knowledge, that person has never been identified or apprehended.
MELBER: Right. Let me --
JOHNSON: So this may be a continuation of the earlier bombing --
MELBER: Let me let Errol get in. Your view as well.
ERROL SOUTHERS, USC DIRECTOR OF HOMEGROWN VIOLENT EXTREMISM STUDIES: Thank you, Ari. And Daryl is absolutely right. I mean what we're talking about here is certainly enough components or enough elements to define this as a terrorist act. We've got a politically inspired organization or individual that's targeted prominent officials from this administration -- I'm sorry, from the previous administration, all Democrats.
And most importantly, we've had an uptick in the last 14 months, particularly since Charlottesville, of organizations working together and being more overt in what they are doing. We've seen lectures on college campuses. We've seen recruitment efforts in the way of flyers.
One thing that's unique, as Daryl mentioned, we're talking about package bombs here, not very sophisticated. This is not the signature of an international terrorist organization. This is typically domestic. And we have had a number of organizations become very very aggressive with the recruiting efforts in the United States over the last year, having rallies and targeting people that they think they can get on board.
What's really unique about this is we're two weeks out from the midterms. And the closer we get, I have to wonder is this going to expand. As your previous guest said, are we going to see other attacks? Are there other explosives out there? How coordinated is this effort?
MELBER: And so Errol, as you do that analysis, how much of that relates to the targets which everyone can understand from following the story, you've got all of these people who are seen as opponents to the current president? And how much of that relates to what is probably a little more of a more detailed or sophisticated law enforcement analysis which is the explosives?
For example, tell people to understand how you're thinking about the case, Daryl, if you had different targets but still these explosives, would you be less convinced or equally convinced that this still looks domestic, not like al Qaeda, not like other operations?
JOHNSON: Well, the fact that we have these high profile targets, these political figures points to me of a political ideological motivation. Typically, criminal bombings target, you know, a love triangle, an ex- lover, somebody that's in financial distress and it's usually targeting one person. The fact that we have six devices targeting high profile political figures, this speaks of terrorism, specifically homegrown and domestic variety.
MELBER: Errol, do you agree with that?
SOUTHERS: Absolutely. We've got a coordinated effort here. They were all delivered at the same time. We may see a wave of these things happening. But what we'll be looking at now is the signature of this device. How was it built? Were they built by the same person or same group? What are the components? And we'll be looking for similarities in the investigation and analysis that goes on in Quantico to see just who made these and how it was done.
MELBER: And let me go to Shawn for the final thought and I suppose it's the scariest which is if an individual has this view and is willing to lay back and be very careful, they are hard to catch.
HENRY: They're very difficult to catch. This is going to be a lot of resources focused on this. That's the top priority for the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which encompasses state and local agencies around the country. There will be people following up leads throughout the United States and they will be working 24 by 7 until they capture the individual or individuals who are responsible for these attacks before they can hurt somebody.
MELBER: Shawn Henry, Frank Figliuzzi, Errol Southers and Daryl Johnson, thanks --
JOHNSON: Ari, I have one other point to make.
MELBER: I'm going to fit in a break. But I'd love to have you back on the show. I've got some other guests waiting including former Senator Boxer. But again, thanks to all of you.
Coming up, as I mention, we're going to speak to Mike Murphy and Senator Barbara Boxer looking across the map at what this all means today and some pretty unusual remarks from the head of "CNN" taking on what he calls the words of Donald Trump as contributing to this climate. NBC's media reporter Dylan Byers has that story for us later today.
And also, we're going to have new reactions from the son of the first target of these pipe bombs, the Democratic financier George Soros. Another billionaire activist who's been involved in politics Tom Steyer joins me to discuss whether there's a chilling effect of political participation.
A lot more in our special coverage of this story when we come back.
MELBER: Our coverage of this nationwide bomb scare continues. And we turn now to the climate for these current events. A tense political mood with this election, two weeks away, and a president who, let's be clear, goes further than most public officials indirectly praising and encouraging violence.
Now, as we have stressed throughout our coverage, we do not know the suspects or motives for today's attacks. The authorities haven't released that kind of information. But we do know that Donald Trump fans the flames of political violence and praise an illegal assault on a journalist as recently as last week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He's walking out with big high-fives, smiling, laughing. I'd like to punch him in the face I tell you. Get him out. Try not to hurt him. If you do, I'll defend you in court. Don't worry about it.
When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough. I say please don't be too nice.
Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: That last reference is to a Republican candidate who pled guilty to assault for attacking a reporter. He actually got a six months deferred sentence. Experts note there's been a series of violent events in American politics recently.
The so-called pizza gate shooting in Washington one month after the 2016 election. The shooter responding to right-wing fake news conspiracy theories about a pizza shop there. Or the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville where James Field killed Heather Heyer with his car. He actually goes on trial for first-degree murder for that next month. Or then there's James Hodgkinson who shot Congressman Steve Scalise and a police officer. Hodgkinson had railed against Republican members of Congress on Facebook.
Now again, we know far more about those past incidents than today's since the suspect and motives for these packages remain unknown. But some of the people closest to at least one of today's incidents are confronting this wider climate regarding violence. "CNN" President Jeff Zucker says this brand new, "There's a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media."
I'm joined now by former Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California and a Republican Strategist Mike Murphy. He has advised several presidential campaigns including John McCain and Jeb Bush. My thanks to both of you at what is obviously a serious time for the country.
Senator Boxer, I'd begin with you and the caveat there's much we don't know. But do you think the "CNN" president there, Jeff Zucker, a colleague of ours, a competitor of ours, has hit the right point in confronting the White House over rhetoric tonight?
BARBARA BOXER, FORMER SENATOR: I'm very proud of him because he's going up against the president who has a very large following in this country, who says the press is the enemy of the people, and as you pointed out praised a congressman who actually assaulted someone from the press.
Look, Donald Trump has weaponized politics with names attached. And every one of those people, individuals, who this person or people tried to attack, those people have been named by Donald Trump over and over. You've heard it. You've seen it. Lock her up. She's low IQ. It goes on and on.
President Obama. He still doesn't think he's a citizen and all the rest. It goes on and on. He weaponized politics. He named the names, including "CNN". And yes, I think it was good that the head of "CNN" stood his ground. It took Donald Trump days to say, "Oh, yes, the Saudis shouldn't have done what they did to Khashoggi." I mean this goes on and on.
It's a moment and either we're going to grab this moment and understand it for what it is. That it's a very serious time and every single person should vote. I don't care whose side you're on. It doesn't matter to me. You have to have an opinion about this one way or the other. Put it in the calculation. Get out and vote.
MELBER: Mike, we showed earlier in our broadcast what the president said today that there is no place for this in our politics. Here is though what he's also said about "CNN" as an "enemy", which is this kind of violent rhetoric, an enemy of the people. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: "CNN" is terrible. You people do not cover us accurately. Not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's our news organization. Can you give us a chance? You're attacking our news organization. Can you give us chance to ask a question, sir?
TRUMP: They have been fake news for a long time. They have been covering me in a very dishonest way.
You know, the enemy. The enemy of the people, I call them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Now, I want to be as broad as I can, Mike. Plenty of politicians do tussle with the press. But when you see something like today, what we don't know yet, what the authorities will determine about what happened, is it time for the president to go further than saying this has no place and to also retract those kinds of attacks?
MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, words on a three by five card probably written by his staff are too little. We have a certain set of shared values that hold our democracy together and the main one is we solve our political choices. We express ourselves with votes, not violence. And we have had this increase of political violence that is incredibly corrosive to the system. It's not what we're built on.
And as a Republican, I'll say the president's public comments about institutions like the media, about his political opponents, have been way out of line for a long, long time. So the president said the right things today but action is what counts. And when you are the head of state, as he is, you have a responsibility to tamp down this sort of thing, not act in a manner that brings more rage to politics. And frankly, encourages both sides to become brawlers in a cheap reality show.
We can only trickle down and affect people who might be inclined toward violence. So look, this is a crisis beyond Republican versus Democrat. This is a cultural crisis and the president ought to be a leader instead of somebody's whose behavior has actually made it worse.
MELBER: Senator Boxer.
BOXER: Well, yes. He's been a leader and taking us in the wrong direction. When you think of the great leaders we have had from both political parties, I call to mind Abraham Lincoln, the better angels of our nature, appealing to the best in us. George W. Bush after 9/11 looking at the camera and say this isn't about someone who worships Islam. These were the moments and I could name many others but this President no way. He did read his statement you know off the teleprompter. It reminds me of all the things he's done in the past that he never wanted to do, that he had to read it. This is a guy who stands in front of the helicopter and just waxes on and on and on.
Didn't he have it in his heart to say something meaningful with some kind of emotion that to predecessors of his actually we're attacked? I mean, it's just -- I'm stunned. It is a moment for the nation. It's too late for this guy to suddenly become a unifier. That's the biggest joke in the world. I hope he would do it. He's going to a political rally tonight. Maybe he'll tell everybody he's sorry for all the things he said. We'll see.
MELBER: And briefly, Mike, what would that entail? I mean, Senator Boxer makes the important point, any other president you would think would have taken today to make a point of naming and extending consideration to people who may have been political opponents at one time but who are former presidents facing very credible efforts to harm them or the people who protect them who of course are these brave men and women of the Secret Service.
MURPHY: Of course. Look, absolutely his words could get better. But with Donald Trump, I'm not that interested in his words during one moment in time. I want to see repeated actions. I want to see him start acting like a president and understand his role, and that's something only the next week will show us beginning with that rally tonight. So rather than parse today's statement, I think the burden of proof is now in the president who has been a real outlier and you know, look, I'm a political fighter, I happily run campaigns beating Democrats for a long time. Sometimes the rhetoric gets little harsh but we're in a whole new world here.
And the president is the amplifier that has -- that has created this new tone in American politics. It's up to him to act in a sustained way to put it back in the bottle. So that's the test. I can't say I'm optimistic he'll rise to it but maybe he will. And that politically benefit him tremendously too and prove he's actually capable of being a president in the larger sense than just a partisan brawler from a reality T.V. show.
MELBER: Well, look, this is --
BOXER: Hey, Ari, can I jump in for just a second?
BOXER: You know, I just disagree with this. If you can't speak from the heart when something like this happens and this is unbelievable what has happened here. What if those bombs had gone off? That's the moment you speak from the heart. That's the moment you throw away the teleprompter. That's the moment you look at the camera. So yes, I hope tonight he can -- he can do something good.
I think he certainly needs to put all the resources into finding out who did this. I trust this will be a real investigation at the local, state, and national level. We will find this out and those are the people who are responsible. But you cannot run away from the fact that the leader of our nation has weaponized politics and attached names to it.
MELBER: Well, as you say, we're speaking on a night where Americans are taking in these attacks. We don't know all the facts but we know the targets are the people who serve in government, people who served as president, the people who protect them as I mentioned, the Secret Service, and our colleagues and competitors in the free press. That's an attack on a lot of symbols of America for sure. And so what we've heard I think is very good points from both of you coming from different parties Senator Barbara Boxer and Mike Murphy, and we appreciate that tonight. We'll reflect on some of what you said.
We're going to fit in a 30-second break. When I come back I actually have more breaking news. We just got these effective breakthroughs by the Chinese spying on Donald Trump based on the way he uses his cell phone when we're back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: We have breaking news. Right now the New York Times has reported on a Chinese spy campaign that directly targets and has had breakthroughs on gathering intelligence about President Donald Trump. Chinese spies reportedly listening in to his private conversation that Donald Trump has with his innermost confidence because of his use of an allegedly nonsecure iPhone. And the report says they are gleaning these insights from the conversations which is it impacting how they approach the United States and national security and foreign policy issues.
The Times also reports and this is as big, Russian spies have also allegedly had success in tapping into some of Donald Trump's conversations. Former FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi is back with me. Frank, this is one of those nights, a lot of different breaking stories. This one is seemingly huge. For context, viewers may recall that there are experts who've appeared on this program and many others discussing the fact that Donald Trump's apparent refusal to follow the national security protocols created at least a risk a potential opening The Times report tonight is that opening is being exploited by some of America's greatest adversaries. What can you tell us?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, FBI: This should surprise no one that is familiar with the lack of security practice in and around the White House. We're talking about a White House who's Situation Room was compromised when someone brought a cell phone into it and recorded conversations there. We know the President doesn't routinely get intelligence briefings and we know that he seems to have an attitude. I've got this. I understand the threat. I don't -- I don't need this kind of briefing so this has been exploited. And it's no surprise that the country we're hearing exploited tonight was China.
And it's about his iPhone in particular, we're hearing this report that the President's iPhone has been compromised. And when you have a president who is practicing less security quite frankly than corporate CEOs in America of all shapes and sizes, who know very well that when you travel, when you travel domestically, when you travel internationally, when you travel to adversarial countries, you are a target. And so typically --
MELBER: And Frank, I want -- I want to bear down on this point with you. There are things that happen in the U.S. government that aren't always the personal decision or province of the President. The Times reports what we've seen that he has official iPhones that have been secured but he also has a personal one that is not secured because it's where his contacts are and he continues to use that against the security advice. So is it your view that the President's personal choice here is endangering the national security secrets?
FIGLIUZZI: Yes. Look, I've been someone who said that it could be that the greatest national security threat we face is this president, is an insider threat because of his lack of understanding of procedure. So when you take your personal phone, you refuse to give it up, you allow an adversary to get the signature baseline on that, to pick up exactly your signal, know it as a signature, and track it around the world so that they've got you. And what are they doing with that?
According to this report tonight, they're listening not only to his substantive conversation but to who he speaks to who can influence him. Then they're approaching those around him that he talks to and listens to and they're trying to influence him through those people unwittingly. So this is a full-blown intelligence operation by an adversary against a president who isn't practicing the most standard of security procedures around his communications.
MELBER: Yes, it's remarkable. And you just mentioned the influence campaign which I'm reading here. The Times saying they're using the intelligence they gathered to try to basically infiltrate Donald Trump's circle of influence and get people to feed him things that are beneficial not to the U.S. but to the Chinese government through this operation, quite a story. Frank, as always we appreciate your expertise. We continue with our ongoing coverage of what has been the lead story throughout the day, the pipe bombs sent to a range of targets including CNN headquarters in New York. Here's how it actually looked live on air when they had to evacuate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPPY HARLOW, ANCHOR, CNN: We're going to jump in, there's a fire alarm here --
JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: There's a fire alarm here. You might have heard in the background. We're going to find out what the latest is here on CNN.
HARLOW: We'll be right back.
SCIUTTO: We're going to be right back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Donald Trump did not mention CNN in his remarks today. CNN President Jeff Zucker though as we've been reporting, issued what is a very unusual statement for a media executive saying there's a total and complete lack of understanding about the seriousness of these White House attacks on the media. They showed no comprehension of that. For more on this part of the story I'm joined by Dylan Byers, he's NBC News a Senior Media Reporter and I should mention, formerly at CNN where Jeff Zucker was you're -- part of your management.
So with both your personal experience, the insight you bring to this, what does it tell you that Jeff Zucker has issued this statement putting today's attacks about much there as we don't know in the context of the President's violent language about the media?
DYLAN BYERS, NBC NEWS SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, we should say, Ari, this isn't the first time that CNN has sort of taken an adversarial stance to the President and with good reason. That being -- that even since he was on the campaign trail President Trump well attacking the media broadly speaking, attacking. In fact, some of our own reporters here at NBC and MSNBC very much sort of singled out a few news organizations and CNN was one of them. And the reasons for that has much to do with his feelings of CNN's coverage as it has to do with his own personal history with Jeff Zucker, the president of that network.
MELBER: Yes, I'll jump in and tell you there's an argument we made that none of that matters as much as the timing of this because all of that is to some degree politics as usual, the back-and-forth about whatever their history is and whatever else happened during the campaign. For a media executive to come out right now this afternoon while there are credible violent of efforts to hurt or kill former president's, journalists at your former outlet, that seems like a very different time to say this.
BYERS: No it is. All I'm saying is that -- is that you have that sort of build-up to this moment. And what happened today exactly to your point is this became about more than just words. This became about more than tweets. This became more than attacks at rallies. This turned into something that was could have been potentially fatal and potentially devastating for the people who go to work every day under Zucker.
I think there's a good chance that he took this personally. I -- you know, I've reached out to him a few times a day to see if he wanted to expand on the remarks that he made. I've also reached out to the White House, Sarah Sanders and the Press Office, they're saying do they want to respond to this criticism from Jeff Zucker.
Look the point he's making, that Zucker has made is a good one. Words do matter. And you know, people, many people look to the President of United States to sort of tell them what is OK, you know, what is acceptable behavior, that the aggressively anti-media rhetoric, anti-CNN rhetoric over the course of several months and years, that really builds up and does create a climate where perhaps someone feels like it's OK to take out an attack on CNN.
And you know, the President today calling for unity. You know, there's been this big debate about what role does the President's rhetoric play. I'm more interested in knowing what role is the President going to assume now. He has a rally in Wisconsin tonight, is he going to come forward and call for unity and try to tone down some of that anti-media rhetoric or is it going to be sort of business as usual.
MELBER: Right, and the question the President faces is what does unity look like without any accountability I think according to a lot of critics.
BYERS: That's exactly right.
MELBER: Dylan, I got to fit in a break. Thanks for joining our coverage.
BYERS: Thank you.
MELBER: We're going to keep an eye on what's happening including that upcoming rally. I can tell you moments ago, the crowd at the Trump rally was seen chanting lock her up. That is an old standby from the campaign days but it comes on a day when of course, there were news reports of an attempt to kill Hillary Clinton with a pipe bomb. I'm going to talk more about that with another billionaire caught up in a lot of these political issues. Tom Steyer joins me live on THE BEAT next.
MELBER: The targets in this week's series of attempted bombings are all perceived as anti-Trump and if there is one lesser-known name among the people you see on this map it would be George Soros. He's a billionaire financier, more behind the scenes than the politicians but he's one of the biggest donors to Democratic causes spending over $15 million this campaign cycle alone.
Now, whether or not what we're seeing here is all linked, there are a widening number of attacks on these types of participation whether it's activism or in Soros this case, his apparent donating which raises questions of whether there will be a chill or intimidating effect going forward. Well, tonight at a campaign rally in Wisconsin, the crowds awaiting President Trump are not holding back. Take a look at what just happened in the light of today's attack -- attempted attack on Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMERICAN CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Surrogate laughing along to chants of "lock her up." I am joined now by Tom Styer who himself like George Soros happens to be a billionaire with a lot of money going towards Democratic causes. He's given over 40 million dollars, more than Soros this cycle. Thank you for coming on tonight. This is a difficult time and it is interesting and disturbing to many people to look at who is being targeted and what that means. As a prominent donor yourself, how do you view what is known about these attacks, would it change anything that you're doing with your money or your participation?
TOM STEYER, DEMOCRATIC DONOR: Well, Ari, I view these attacks as profoundly anti-democracy and basic terrorists attacks on our -- in our political operation as a country. But in terms of how I'll personally respond, I'm very concerned about the safety and health of everybody that I work with. But I don't think that we can let this kind of terrorism change our participation in the American political system and in our democracy. So we'll be -- we've tried to take as many precautions as we can so that the people that I work with and who I care about can be completely safe but at the same time we've got to go forward and pursue our mission which is as a grassroots organization to make sure we have the broadest and most inclusive democracy possible.
MELBER: Do you view it then as a apparent political terrorism heading into the Midterms?
STEYER: Well, I think that what we've been hearing on your show is that this is an inevitable result of the overheated and violent rhetoric that we've been hearing from Mr. Trump and Republicans for years including that chant that you just played of "lock her up." But I think that there's something that hasn't been said that is equally important which is this. We have seen a continued attack on democracy by Republican governors, by the Republican Party itself in terms of voter suppression, extreme gerrymandering, and the attempt to take away voting rights from citizens as recently as last week in Georgia.
So what we're seeing really is political violence in an attempt to intimidate as part of a much broader campaign where the Republican Party has specifically gone past the bounds of custom, past the bounds of what is acceptable in political life, and we were hearing a group of Democrats today say let's go back to the kind of comedy and good behavior that has characterized the American democracy for hundreds of years,
MELBER: Right. And Tom, you just -- you just mentioned custom on tonight where everyone is waiting to see what the President does when he leaves the confines of a scripted event and goes to address a rally at a time where some people would say a rally itself is not fitting. I want to play again because this just happened and it's part of what's on the plate for how the President's going to deal with this on the night that the news breaks about this attempted attack on Hillary Clinton, these chants. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMERICAN CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Final thought. Does the President have to affirmatively condemn that when he comes out on that stage tonight?
STEYER: Look, of course, the President has to condemn that. But I think there's something going on here, Ari, beyond that which is this. He sow the wind, he's reaping the whirlwind, can he really control the kind of anger and the kind of violence that he has incited, that he has promoted, that has been part of his appeal from the very beginning? Of course, he should ask them to stop. Of course, he should say it's completely wrong. But he in so doing he will, of course, have to also say that his behavior and his attitude has been completely wrong. And I don't think that Mr. Trump can find it within himself to do that.
MELBER: On a difficult night to talk about anything related to politics, Tom Steyer, we appreciate getting your view and as someone who figures into some of these debates particularly on the -- on the side of donations. Thank you very much.
STEYER: Thank you, Ari.
MELBER: We have an update on one more item when we come back.
MELBER: You're looking at live pictures form Wisconsin where President Trump will take the stage. This has just over half an hour. As we've been reporting, the crowd there was already chanting "lock her up." This is just hours after the news broke that an attempted bomb was mailed to Hillary Clinton. All eyes on what the President will say in this less scripted environment and we have further updates on this breaking news when we come back ahead.
MELBER: I'm Ari Melber and that's all the time we have tonight.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END