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Politics & Government

After Bombings, Clinton And Trump Press Issue Of Homegrown Terrorism

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's ask what the presidential candidates really mean to do about domestic terrorism. We're starting a series of conversations on MORNING EDITION called What's The Issue. The issue today is one that both candidates addressed after a bomb exploded last weekend, the attacks in New York. We'll talk this through with Del Wilber who covers the Justice Department for the Los Angeles Times. He's in our studios.

Good morning.

DEL WILBER: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Thanks for joining us. Let's start by listening to the candidates. Hillary Clinton said, after this explosion and other devices were found, that Donald Trump was giving aid and comfort to terrorists.

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HILLARY CLINTON: We're going after the bad guys, and we're going to get them. But we're not going to go after an entire religion and give ISIS exactly what it's wanting in order for them to enhance their position.

INSKEEP: Donald Trump said a lot as well. He took credit for claiming the explosion was an attack early. I called it before the news, he said on Fox. And he was also critical of Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: My opponent has the most open borders policy of anyone ever to seek the office of presidency. It's not even close. As secretary of state, she allowed thousands of criminal aliens to be released into our communities because their home countries wouldn't take them back.

INSKEEP: That's something Trump has said quite a lot. So let's talk this through, Del Wilber. First, Hillary Clinton saying that Trump is giving aid and comfort to the enemy - that's actually a phrase from the Constitution's definition of treason.

WILBER: Well, yeah, what she's trying to do is paint Trump as someone whose policies are so blunt and offensive to so many other countries that it would inspire more terrorist attacks in fact. In fact, she said this is exactly what ISIS, the Islamic State, which has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq and inspired attacks here in the United States recently...

INSKEEP: Is there factual evidence for that?

WILBER: No, probably not. I mean, this country - you can say what you want and how you want to say it. And, you know, this is his position. It's very hard to pin down exactly what Donald Trump would do as president. In terrorism, he's a - he's very blunt approach. She's more nuanced approach. And, you know, they have obviously different approaches, and that's why we're here.

INSKEEP: Well, let's figure out what the items are in Trump's blunt approach. He has talked about banning Muslims from the United States - entering the United States. But then he said other things. Where does that policy stand, if it's a policy at all?

WILBER: Well, you know, it's kind of more of the - he wants - it's a very, like I said, blunt - it's more like a, you know, we're going to ban Muslims from entering this country from countries that have a history of terrorism, the Middle East. He's changed this over time.

INSKEEP: He's also said he'd ban people from these countries, whether they're Muslims or not.

WILBER: Yeah. Right. And - well, it started off with the Muslim ban. Then it became banning from these specific states. But that gets really hard. What are you going to do - ban them from Saudi Arabia, one of our main allies in the fight against terrorism?

INSKEEP: Isn't the promise to build a wall also part of his promise to fight terrorism?

WILBER: It is. You know, he believes that terrorists and others are sneaking across the border into this country. The problem for this kind of approach that most national security experts, that I've interviewed and talked to about, is that you'd have to rewind the clock 50 years because of the almost 400 jihadists who've been arrested in this country, 80 percent of them are U.S. citizens or here legally. And they have a long running history here. Like, the man who did the allegedly did the bombings in New York - U.S. citizen. The guy who shot people in Orlando, that awful mass massacre - U.S. citizen.

INSKEEP: What about extreme vetting of people coming to the United States? People who have come to the United States have committed terrible acts. That's simply true.

WILBER: Well, this is a concern that Trump raised. People coming from Syria, the refugees, they are vetted very extensively. But how do you vet someone when they're coming from a war-torn country that's not sharing intelligence data with us? So you don't know who these people are, and that causes FBI Director James Comey, DHS officials, a lot of concern. Like, how precisely do you figure out who these people really are?

INSKEEP: OK. Let's talk about Hillary Clinton here because I'm thinking about the fact that Donald Trump can be criticized for making proposals that are vague, that constantly change, that might be wildly counterproductive or even illegal. But he makes proposals, and people know what they are. Hillary Clinton has talked about an intelligence surge against terrorists. What is an intelligence surge?

WILBER: More - probably - my guess is it's focusing more resources - more time, more people, more analysts, more agents - into figuring out exactly who these people are, where they're coming from and how they're doing it. The FBI officials that I know are very confident that they know pretty much the identities of anyone - one of our main concerns are people leaving the United States, going to Syria, getting the skills necessary to do a successful bombing and coming back...

INSKEEP: Coming home, yeah.

WILBER: ...Coming home. The FBI has a really good sense of who all those people are. You know, they - you know, you've left. They have records of you leaving. They know the people who flew to Turkey, you know, and then went into Syria. You know, Mom got nervous my son left, calls a friend. That friend calls the FBI. And so they have a good sense of that stuff.

INSKEEP: So what's Hillary Clinton going to add to that?

WILBER: I think she's - if you believe what she's saying and you follow what she's saying, my guess would be that she would put more resources into intelligence agencies, the FBI, the military. You know, she is also for enhanced airstrikes in Syria to combat the Islamic State there, too. So...

INSKEEP: OK. Del Wilber of the Los Angeles Times.

Thanks very much.

WILBER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.