Return to Transcripts main page
7-Year-Old Girl Killed in Shooting; Government Shutdown Continues; Russia Arrests American on Spying Allegations. Aired 3- 3:30p ET
Aired January 1, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NICOLE MCDONALD, MOTHER OF ANIAS AND JADON MCDONALD: But we also have to remember that we're not done. You know, our future has a lot more.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Knox, Indiana.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And top of the hour now. I'm Pamela Brown. Happy new year to you.
Well, a Michigan family begins this new year in both shock and relief. Their missing son, a 48-year-old security executive, is found alive, but in Russia, detained under charges that he was caught in the act of spying for the United States.
However, the family of Paul Whelan says -- quote -- "The innocence is undoubted."
In his first on-camera interview, Whelan's twin brother told CNN the Russian allegations are not true.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF DETAINED AMERICAN: Paul's a very capable person. He's physically a large person. So, he has a background in law enforcement. He was a Marine. He does corporate security, and he travels regularly. So he's not the sort of person who would stumble into a strange environment or make poor choices that could cause him risks.
But, particularly, he wouldn't have made choices that would have gotten sideways of the Russian government and its espionage act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Well, the brother also revealed that Whelan is a retired Marine, and he's traveled to Russia multiple times, including when he was a staff sergeant back in 2006, as pictured right here.
Now, Whelan lives -- lived in Michigan, and is now a global security director for a private firm, which he joined in 2017. The family did not know about the spy accusations until just yesterday morning, when Russia's counterintelligence agency announced that Whelan was in custody.
Let me turn to CNN's Martin Savidge, who is in the Michigan town where Whelan lives.
So, Martin, has any of the family been able to speak with him since he was detained?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Pamela.
No, they have not. And they are very worried about his condition and about when he may return.
In fact, what they really want is for U.S. State Department officials to meet with their son, with their brother who is being held by Russian authorities and to try to ascertain exactly how is he doing, and then also to try to understand more fully what is it he's been charged with and why, because even though, yes, he does have a background in corporate security, he was not working in Russia in any capacity for his company, or for anyone else, for that matter.
He was there to attend a wedding. In fact, it's his twin brother that says, that's the kind of guy he is. He went to Russia to help a friend with his wedding and, of course, to attend that wedding. And he never showed up. And that's when the family got very worried.
Listen to the twin here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHELAN: Paul is a kind soul. He's very generous. He's notorious among my kids for his huge belly laugh. And he often has stories that make you eye-roll. So he's just -- he's that sort of a personality. He's very loyal to family and friends.
And I think that that's part partly how this worked out. He had a request from a friend, and he thought he could help out because he had been to Russia and could maybe help -- help other Americans from the family who hadn't been to Russia to navigate their way around, get on the metro, that sort of thing.
But he's a very kind person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: So, when he disappeared on the 28th, when he was not at the wedding, what he was not heard from by family and friends, they thought actually something really tragic might have happened, that he may have been a victim of crime, that he may have been murdered.
And that's why you had this sort of odd relief when they found out that, no, actually, he's been arrested, but then the very serious concern about, but arrested on espionage? That just doesn't meet the character that they know of their loved one, which is why they're so very concerned about what comes next -- Pam.
All right, Martin Savidge live for us in Michigan.
And at the same time this American is detained in Russia, there is a Russian in the U.S. who pleaded guilty just this month. Maria Butina says she conspired with a Russian government official and at least one other person while a student in the States.
Well, she has a hearing in February to determine a sentencing date.
So, joining me now to discuss all of this, CNN senior international correspondent Matthew Chance, and Jill Dougherty, global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. And she also used to work for CNN's Moscow bureau chief.
Thank you both for coming on.
Matthew, I want to go to you first.
Has Russia given any response to the spy arrest acting as a response to Butina's case? It is there any connection here, we believe?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, I mean, the only connection may be timing. It was just two weeks ago that -- also that Maria Butina pleaded guilty to conspiracy after U.S. prosecutors accused her of attempting to infiltrate conservative groups in the United States, to influence Americans who are members of those groups, like the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association.
But, beyond that, there's certainly no line been drawn between this latest arrest of Paul Whelan in Moscow on the 28th of December and the situation that Maria Butina is confronting.
And one caveat to that is that, first of all, the Russians are absolutely furious that Maria Butina has been accused in the way that she has been. They say that their intelligence services have no knowledge of her and they want her returned to Russia.
The issue came up a couple of weeks ago, in fact, in Vladimir Putin, the Russian president's annual news conference, in which he spoke about it. But he said, look, we're not going to -- there's not going to be any retribution for this. We will not arrest innocent people, he said, simply to exchange them for someone else.
Yet, a couple of weeks later, Paul Whelan is detained, accused of espionage. And the speculation is that actually that may be something that happens in the -- in the future, although it's too early to talk about a prisoner swap at this stage.
But, certainly, that's what people are talking about as being a motivation behind this, Pamela. BROWN: Jill, what do you think? Do you think this is tit for tat?
JILL DOUGHERTY, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: I think it's not clear at this point.
But I think it's obvious, as Matthew said, the timing and the circumstances. I mean, this is a very fraught time between Russia and the United States. It is correct that Moscow was furious, in fact, about Maria Butina, because, in fact, they had a massive P.R. campaign in social media saying, free Maria Butina.
And at the same time, when Butina pleaded guilty for being an unregistered foreign agent, I'm sure that that must have been quite embarrassing and damaging, in a sense, to the Kremlin.
So, you would think that they would want to do something to kind of answer, in a P.R. way, what happened to Maria Butina, and maybe more than just P.R.
So I think we have to be very careful here. But I do think you would have to say, circumstantially, those two things coming at the same time would lead you to think that, although, officially, they are not saying -- in fact, some people in Russia are denying there's any connection, it certainly appears that the timing would indicate that there could be.
BROWN: And it's no surprise that people in Russia are denying that connection, given how we know Russia operates.
But, Jill, any thoughts on what Russia means when they say Whelan was detained, I should say, while carrying out an act of espionage?
I have been reading the Russian media reports and the statements, and they're being very careful to present this as an extremely legal action. They say he was caught red-handed, essentially, in some type of espionage activity. They said, we are following the letter of the law.
They even put in the official statement the charge and the number of the charge in the Russian legal code, et cetera. So what they are trying to say is, we are following exactly what we should be, we have a very good case.
And there's a subtext here of a lot of praise for how the FSB, the Russian intelligence service, domestic, kind of like the FBI here, it's the FSB, KGB, former, how they carried out this operation, lots of praise for how they did it.
So they're going to take a very legalistic approach. And, remember, one of the primary words that Russia uses in international relations, especially things like this, is reciprocity. They will answer precisely what is happening in -- from the other side.
So I think maybe we have to look for some reciprocity. BROWN: All right, so, Matthew, last question to you.
Whelan's family says -- quote -- "We trust that his rights will be respected."
Any idea of how he is being treated while in custody there in Russia?
CHANCE: Well, the family pointed out that they have been informed that the Russians have 72 hours, basically, before they have to give consular access to U.S. diplomats to ascertain the condition of the prisoner, Paul Whelan in this case.
That 72 hours will have passed already. He was arrested sometime in the afternoon, we believe, on December the 28th. And, of course, it's now January the 1st, and so that 72 hours has passed.
I have been in close contact with the U.S. Embassy here to try and get some read on where the consular access has been granted. They have certainly requested it. They have called on Russia and reminded Russia that they have to give that kind of access.
But, at the moment, we have not received any indication that that access has actually been gotten and that Paul Whelan has managed to meet with any representative of the embarrass.
BROWN: All right, it will be interesting to see how this might impact U.S.-Russia relations moving forward.
Matthew, Jill, thank you so much.
And still ahead: President Trump feeling positive about the new year, despite a government shutdown that's going on 11 days now and counting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be a great year, complicated, but great. People make it overly complicated, actually.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: We will take you live the Washington, where he has just invited congressional leaders to the White House.
Plus, the president puts a timetable on pulling groups out of Syria. We will discuss the logistics of leaving the next four months and what the military will leave behind.
And, later, a manhunt under way in Texas for the gunman who opened fire on a car in a Wal-Mart parking lot, killing a 7-year-old girl and injuring her mom and younger sister. Hear what police are saying about a motive.
BROWN: Nearly 11 full days 800,000 federal employees working without pay or furloughed, and no end in sight. That's been the story of the government shutdown so far.
But could tomorrow mark a turning point? CNN has learned that President Trump has invited congressional leaders from both parties to the White House for a meeting on Wednesday.
And, just moments ago, he tweeted -- quote -- "Border security and the wall thing and shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as speaker. Let's make a deal?"
But the president will likely take a pass on the deal the Democrats are currently offering. The proposal, which is set for a vote on Thursday, temporarily funds the Department of Homeland Security at current levels until February 8, but it does not include any additional money for a border wall.
And, as the president said last night and many times before, the wall is not negotiable.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm in Washington. I'm ready, willing and able. I'm in the White House. I'm ready to go. They can come over right now. They could have come over any time. I spent Christmas in the White House. I spent New Year's Eve now in the White House. And I'm here. I'm ready to go.
It's very important. A lot of people are looking to get their paycheck. And so I'm ready to go any time they want. No, we're not giving up. We have to have border security. And the wall is a big part of border security, the biggest part.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: Let me bring in two CNN political commentators.
Joining me now to discuss all of this, Doug Heye is a former RNC communications director, and Dave Jacobson is a Democratic strategist.
Gentlemen, happy new year.
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Happy new year.
DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Happy new year. Thanks for having us.
Doug, I'm going to start with you.
President Trump has been determined, as we see, to make good on his campaign promise of building a wall. The Democrats are just as determined to prevent it from happening. What will be the result of tomorrow's meeting? And what is the endgame here?
HEYE: Well, it doesn't appear that either side really has an endgame in sight or knows exactly what its strategy is.
And the reason why is, if you go back to 2013, when we had the government shutdown, I worked in the House of Representatives at that time. And we were doing on the Republican side events every day. The press might have cynically called them political stunts. They would have been right. They were political stunts.
But, every day, we were trying to fill the void in the media. We were trying to get our message advanced. And the Democrats in the White House were doing the same thing.
The silence that we have had from both sides has really been deafening on this. And it's why we have seen this last so long. What has been interesting is, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats seem to be taking almost a Michael Corleone-type offer here, where they're saying, Donald Trump, here's our offer: Nothing.
So the question is, what actually gets done at the end? And we just don't know yet.
BROWN: And let's talk about that offer.
Dave, Democrats plan to vote on this plan that will go nowhere, let's be honest, in the Senate. They say Senate Republicans will then be complicit in the shutdown if it doesn't pass.
But is this a risk, politically, given that they will soon control one-half of Congress.
JACOBSON: Pamela, I don't think so.
I mean, the American people are clearly on the side of the Democrats. Reuters just put out a poll days ago that shows 47 percent of Americans blame Donald Trump for this. That's 13 points more than they blame Democrats at 33 percent.
And that's not just one poll. That is consistent. Quinnipiac a month ago had a poll that blamed Donald Trump on this. And the fact of the matter is, Donald Trump said that he would be -- quote -- "proud" to shut down the government over the border wall.
And let's not also forget Donald Trump said that Mexico was going to pay for the border wall, not American taxpayers. So, the reality is, as Mick Mulvaney said back in 2016, that this border wall is absurd.
Democrats are willing to come to the table for border security, but they're going to dig heels in, and they're clearly not going to fund that wall.
BROWN: And, Doug, the nation's largest federal employee union is now suing the government for requiring essential employees to work without pay during the shutdown.
What do you think? Do you think it will take actions like this from everyday Americans who are outside of Congress to push lawmakers back to the bargaining table?
HEYE: Unfortunately, during the '13 shutdown, I was considered essential and had to work even on weekends during the shutdown.
There wasn't a lot of sympathy for government employees. But, ultimately, I think we still have the question of, what is that tipping point going to be? And it's certainly -- the only thing we know at this point is, it's going to be political pressure and which side feels the most political pressure.
If you're Nancy Pelosi, you have done a -- you have had a great benefit in Donald Trump taking the blame of the shutdown on him and saying he'd be proud to call it the Trump shutdown. That has set the things against Republicans, to the point that Mitch McConnell doesn't want to be seen publicly a whole lot, because he doesn't want to answer a lot of questions, because we know that Donald Trump basically sold Senate Republicans out.
They voted on a deal they thought the White House would accept. And that hasn't been acceptable to the White House at this point. So, ultimately, the question is, where does the political pressure fall and how long does it last?
BROWN: Well, let's talk about that political pressure.
Dave, you mentioned some polls. But, as Doug just said, there's not a lot of sympathy for federal employees. For the everyday American who is not one of these 800,000 federal employees not getting paid, how much do they care about this government shutdown?
JACOBSON: I think a tremendous amount. I mean, these are working people. These are middle-class folks. They're not millionaires and billionaires, like Donald Trump and his Trump cronies.
These are hardworking folks who depend on those paychecks to pay rent, to put food on the table for their families. And so this is a big issue. And, look, I think the Democrats are going to put forward a commonsense plan for border security to fund the government, and they're going to continue to put forward such plans.
And that's why the American people are on their side. Let's not forget, Pamela, the 2018 election was a watershed moment for Democrats, who won 40 seats, at a time when Donald Trump was crisscrossing the country campaigning against the caravan. It backfired.
Now Donald Trump's a candidate for the 2020 election, and campaigning on this hard-edge issue of immigration and this wall that he said Mexico was going to pay -- pay for perhaps could be a good issue for his base, but not for a 2020 electoral landslide, with those independent swing voters that he's going to need going into 2020.
So I think this is a lose-lose issue for him.
BROWN: Well, and, of course, the president would tell you, look, I lost the House, but I did well in the Senate.
OK, listen, I want to ask you guys before we wrap up about what the president is now saying in a public battle with retired four-star Army General Stanley McChrystal, who said this on Sunday. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: If you were asked to join the Trump administration, what would you say?
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL (RET.), FORMER U.S. COMMANDER IN AFGHANISTAN: I would say no.
I think it's important for me to work for people who I think are basically honest, who tell the truth as best they know it.
RADDATZ: You think he's a liar?
MCCHRYSTAL: I don't think he tells the truth.
RADDATZ: Is Trump immoral, in your view?
MCCHRYSTAL: I think he is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So, now the president -- no surprise -- firing back on Twitter, claiming McChrystal got "fired like a dog by Obama. Last assignment, a total bust. Known for big dumb mouth. Hillary lover."
We should be clear, McChrystal was not fired. He did resign, though, after disparaging comments that he made about then Vice President Biden that appeared in a "Rolling Stone" article, as you probably recall.
But, Doug, this is a president who touts his love and respect for the military, and yet he makes comments like these.
HEYE: Yes, look, clearly Donald Trump's biggest -- is a fan of people who are Donald Trump fans. That's no surprise.
I would say Trump supporters often talk about how Donald Trump is a counterpuncher. The reality is, he never misses an opportunity to punch below his weight. You're the leader of the free world. You don't need to attack former generals. It's just not a smart policy.
BROWN: Dave, quick reaction.
JACOBSON: It's just deplorable and reckless and unbecoming of a president of the United States. These are decorated war heroes who risked their lives for our country.
And Donald Trump, perhaps, by the way, shouldn't be talking about military, decorated military veterans, when he deferred from the draft. I mean, this is a president who refused to serve in the military, to risk his life to protect Americans.
And now he's attacking decorated war heroes like the general.
BROWN: OK, thank you both. Doug, Dave, appreciate it.
HEYE: Thank you.
JACOBSON: Many thanks.
BROWN: Well, up next, my interview with the mother of a 7-year-old little girl killed in a drive-by shooting. She and her family are pleading for the gunman to turn himself in and for the public to help find him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CEVILLA, FATHER OF VICTIM: I just want anybody, whoever, out there that knows anything about the murder of my daughter to please step up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: We are hearing from the mother who was shot in a drive-by that killed her 7-year-old daughter.
Little Jazmine Barnes was riding in a car with her family near Houston on Sunday when a gunman opened fire from the truck -- from his truck -- beside them.
I talked to LaPorsha Washington from her hospital bed about what she would say to the shooter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: What is your message to the man?
LAPORSHA WASHINGTON, MOTHER OF VICTIM: I just want him to be a man and turn himself in, because my child wouldn't -- I will never get to see my child again.
And you took her away from me behind whatever that was going on in your head. And I don't know if it was some kind of hatred, violent hatred, if it was a hate crime or what it was.
But you could plainly see through my windows. I have no tint on my windows or anything. So, you had seen that it was a mother, a black mother, with four beautiful children, girls, in this car. You can see straight through this car.
So, you would know that, even if something did -- had happened when you fired that first shot, and you had seen my kids in that car, you should have stopped. You should have stopped. You took my baby from me. And you have no care in the world.
And I just wish you would turn yourself in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Absolutely gut-wrenching.
Well, that manhunt does continue for the gunman.
I want to bring in CNN's Nick Valencia on that.
What more do we know about the shooter, Nick?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is just such a difficult interview to listen to, Pamela.
Can you imagine being that family and seeing your daughter, your sister gunned down in front of you