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At This Hour

Former GOP Candidate Arrested in String of Shootings; More Searches for Biden Documents; China Reports First Population Decline in Decades; China Posts Poor Economic Performance. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 17, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, AT THIS HOUR, a failed politician arrested in New Mexico for a string of shootings targeting his political opponents. We're going to have that for you.

Plus CNN has learned more searches could be coming, as the Biden White House continues to face questions over the handling of classified material.

And a college student in Indiana was repeatedly stabbed in the head. And police now say it was a racially motivated attack. This is what we're watching AT THIS HOUR.


BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for being here, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Let's start in New Mexico with a wild story that is raising questions of whether political violence is becoming a norm. Police have arrested a man for being the mastermind behind a series of shootings at the homes of state and local Democratic officials.

Solomon Pena, he is accused of conspiring with and paying four men to carry out the shootings. He had run -- he had run in an election, lost as a Republican candidate, for the New Mexico state house. Thankfully no one was injured in those shootings.

But officials believe that Pena, who they describe as an election denier, may have been fueled by anger over his recent election loss. And Josh Campbell is joining us right now.

Josh, there was no one injured but there was a real threat at these homes.

What are you learning about this investigation?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely. This is horrific. This House GOP candidate that claimed election fraud was arrested yesterday. And police say that Solomon Pena paid and conspired with four other men to shoot at the homes of four Democratic elected officials.

CNN has attempted to reach Pena for comment. These occurred between December 4th and January 3rd and the latest shooting, police say, it was Pena who pulled the trigger. No was physically injured but they did cause damage to the four homes.

Now we've been reviewing the police arrest warrant affidavit. And it is clear that the identification came about thanks to a trove of evidence that included analysis of bullet shell casings from the crime scenes.

Police say the one type of firearm was a modified fully automatic weapon as well as video surveillance and most importantly, police say they convinced one person with knowledge of the conspiracy to cooperate.

That obviously key in any investigation. And in chilling detail, that cooperating witness told police that group members conducting the shootings originally fired above the windows so as not to actually strike anyone.

But according to the arrest warrant affidavit, a cooperating witness stated that Solomon wanted them to aim lower in the houses and shoot around 8:00 pm because occupants would more likely not be laying down.

The arresting officer writing that he understood that taking these measures would increase the chance of obtaining the desired effect of the shootings.

Now police say that they're still investigating whether these four alleged accomplices actual knew who they were shooting at or whether they were paid to just open fire.

But these horrific incidents have resulted in widespread condemnation from officials. And this is very serious, hearing so much from law enforcement about how they fear that this heated political rhetoric could lead to violence. This appears to be a case of just that.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it is really wild, the more details that come out about it. Josh, thank you very much.

And joining me for more on this is intelligence analyst John Miller.

What do you think of this?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, this is a shocking case. Because, you know, we understand brittle politics. We understand election deniers. We understand charges of fraud.

But this takes it to another level. What you saw nationally, Kate, was people with AR-15 rifles, wearing military gear, sitting around ballot boxes. And that was widely viewed as intimidation to voters, especially who were working by mail or dropping things off.

But this is the next level. And if you look at the conversations in the chat rooms about, "we haven't come this far to just come this far; we have to take this to the next level," while it is not entirely specific, this is an indicate that this is a fight where they're willing to go to -- this is really the ultimate extreme.

BOLDUAN: It is. It really is.


BOLDUAN: And even just as Josh was laying out just some of the evidence that just, in this case, that they say they've gathered, it is really striking. It is not like he tried really hard to even cover it up.

If Pena is sending text messages with addresses to these four men that he wanted to have them shoot up these homes and paying them cash and also he showed up with these men at one of these homes and attempted to fire a weapon.

The weapon -- the handgun, I believe it was, it misfired or malfunctioned.

What do you think in this situation, what do you think of the case that they're building here with what you see?

MILLER: Well, this is a fantastic investigation. If you just look at it from the elements, take the politics out of it.

You have multiple shots fired on multiple dates at multiple locations into houses in the early hours of the morning or late at night. But they're alerted to the January 3rd one by a shot spotter.

That is an acoustic system that tells police even while people are sleeping, that might not hear it or report it, that shots are fired and that draws them to the location and they recover shell casings on the ground.

There is a bullet impact mark in the ceiling of the little girl's room while she's sleeping. And she said stuff fell from the ceiling. They recovered that bullet.

When they run that through the Albuquerque police lab -- and I think Chief Medina's (ph) team really get a lot of credit for putting the pieces together -- it matches to a pistol they had test fired after seizing it in a car stop that occurred 40 minutes after the shooting somewhere else.

In the car, they find two guns and 800 fentanyl pills. So they think they have just your average drug dealer. It turns out that the plot involved hiring people involved in the drug world to steal cars, use the cars in the shootings and then escape the shootings.

But between the shot spotter technology and the video they recovered and the ballistic matches through ATF and their own lab work, you really saw this come together where it became clear, this is a multi- person conspiracy and who was at the head of it. BOLDUAN: And then once again, bring it out to the broader, which is

you've got -- I remember FBI director Chris Wray has called election violence and politically motivated violence as almost a 365-day phenomenon.

Then you see the details of this. You want to call this situation dangerous and bizarre and unusual.

But do we consider it unusual?

It is extreme but it is not -- it is not unusual.

MILLER: It is very extreme. But when you look at the pitch and tone of the conversations going on -- and I don't mean on the dark web, just in the corners of these message boards and chat rooms, 4chan, 8chan, Telegram, where small groups get together, they're gathering disparate, tiny numbers of people but from across the country.

So the numbers become significant in these chat rooms and they're extolling each other to violence. And you have a mix of accelerationists, who want to topple the U.S. government and take down the power grid and all that on the crazier end.

Then on the political end, you've got the, when we lose an election, "we didn't lose it. It was stolen and we must act."

BOLDUAN: And now we have got a really, really brutal case of what this threat really can become. Thankfully, no one was injured. But eight bullets into -- eight shots into one home and people are just there. It is crazy.

Thank you, John. It is good to see you.

MILLER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: So we'll turn to the White House, where we are expecting to hear from President Biden in just minutes when he meets with the Dutch prime minister. But it is not just this meeting, of course, that has the attention on the White House today.

There is also new reporting that the investigation into Biden's handling of the classified documents, that it could be expanding. Paula Reid is in Washington and she's joining us now, tracking all of the details.

What are you learning today?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We know from our sources that it is possible there could be additional searches of locations connected to the president.

We know after they found this initial batch of classified material at the president's former D.C. office, his lawyers decided to undertake additional searches. But they specifically looked at locations where they know the documents were shipped during the 2017 transition. And that includes that former office and his two -- his two Delaware

residences, one in Wilmington, one in Rehoboth. But there could be additional locations. They're not just looking for classified material. They could also look for other presidential records that need to be returned to the Archives.

And it is interesting, in our reporting we learned that the U.S. attorney who handled the first part of the Justice Department case here, that initial review, he didn't ask for searches. He didn't conduct searches.

But after nearly two months, he also didn't wait for the Biden team to finish their searches of these locations. There was some frustration, we're told, about how quickly -- or not quickly -- that the Biden team was moving in trying to complete these searches.

So it will be interesting to see now that Robert Hur has taken over this case if he decides they need to look at other locations as well just to make sure.


BOLDUAN: It is good to see you. Thank you so much, Paula, I really appreciate it.

And in the span of one week, President Biden's political trajectory has, it seems, taken a dramatic shift. New CNN reporting reveals that the president behind the scenes is frustrated with how this is all playing out from his end as well. MJ Lee is at the White House.

What are you hearing there?

MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, just think about the fact that in the span of a week, we've gone from not knowing anything about the existence of these classified documents to the appointment of a special counsel.

And then as Paula just reported, there could be the potential for more searches coming for more classified documents. And President Biden himself has grown frustrated that he feels like this story has overshadowed what had by all measures been a very positive streak for this administration.

And meanwhile, White House aides, many who'd been in the dark about the story until last week when the story broke, they are basically in a wait-and-see mode.

"It is what it is" kind of attitude at the White House we're told as they also wait to see if there are more classified documents that surface.

And what has been interesting is that even some of the closest allies to the president and this White House have raised openly questions about why the White House hasn't been more forthcoming and sooner.

And particularly have been puzzled by the White House counsel's office decision to initially put out that statement and not even mention the existence of another set of documents and only mentioning that first batch.

And clearly the decision to sort of adhere to that rule of "don't say anything publicly that could jeopardize the investigation," that has come from the president's personal lawyer Bob Bauer. And really we have seen the president himself adhere to that rule. The few times that we saw him address the issue, he has stuck closely to the script from his lawyers.

BOLDUAN: MJ, thank you.

And joining me now is correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

So Jeff, in every White House that faces an investigation, even somewhere along the lines of this, not necessarily related to classified material but an investigation that is becoming a bigger and bigger deal. There are these competing priorities always, the legal strategy and the political one.

Are you seeing that tension here?

How does Biden navigate this successfully?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: The tension is absolutely spilling over. And you're right, there are always two strategies in this playbook approach of how things like this are dealt with.

The legal strategy is to say nothing at all and to cooperate with investigators and to sort of let it play out in its own time.

The political strategy is unsustainable. So you saw last week, as MJ was just saying, it is remarkable. All this has happened in the course of a week. And throughout this it was clear that the political approach was simply not meeting the needs of disclosure and promises of being transparent.

So over the weekend, they finally tried to sort of get up to speed on this and put out everything that they know.

But the question is, is everything out there or not?

This drip, drip, drip of finding new documents and sending lawyers to look for potential others, this has complicated and overshadowed everything that this White House thought it would be doing in the opening months and weeks of this year.

So at the same time, the White House is trying to move forward. The president meeting with the Dutch prime minister this afternoon and going to California later this week. But the reality here, it is a very, very different West Wing.

And also because Republicans are in charge of House committees. So all of this happening at the same time could not be worse for the White House. BOLDUAN: Doug Jones had a take on this. He helped lead Ketanji Brown

Jackson through her Supreme Court confirmation process.

But he said that the White House has been hobbled by unforced errors. And even though Team Biden have handled this correctly, the next time he talks to Biden's team, Jones told CNN that he's going to say, quote, "Gosh, come on y'all. You got to do a better job when shit like that happens. That's exactly what I would say."

Do you think they have gotten the message at this point?

ZELENY: And this is from a top ally, someone very close to the president. So that speaking very frankly there.

Look,, of course, they know this is not a good rollout and the reason for that is the people doing the communication strategy say they were in the dark about some of the documents.

So again, the political side, the communications side hasn't necessarily been talking to the legal side. But the reality is that these are always going to be messy circumstances.

The White House believes that the facts will ultimately sort of lead them through this, that there was no intent on the president's part. The classified documents were potentially not as serious as say the Trump ones.


ZELENY: But what it has done is taken away any bit of moral high ground that they've been claiming for months and months. And now they have a special counsel to deal with this as well. So the end of this is, quite frankly, unclear.

BOLDUAN: Even though a White House is required to -- and I'm sure this White House will say they can -- walk and chew gum at the same time, do you think this impacts the president's re-election plans and his announcement rollout at all?

ZELENY: It is very much an open question. The aides and advisers in his small circle of people say this is not going to have an impact on that. He is planning to run for election or is at least gearing up for that in mind.

But one thing it could effect is the timing of this announcement. Discussion could come as early as next month. That is likely not going to happen.

But he often puts off decisions. He often thinks about things longer. So I'm not sure if that February timeline, how real that was.

But as of now, his advisers and allies are saying, look, this will not impact his 2024 plans. But we'll see. We'll see how this goes. We don't know how much of a toll this will take on him.

Never mind the Hunter Biden investigations, that is what is really one of his Achilles heels here in terms of going forward. So the bottom line, Kate, not how this White House wanted to start this new year.

BOLDUAN: It is good to see you, Jeff. Thank you.


BOLDUAN: So China economy stumbles as the population declines for the first time in decades. What this huge shift means for the rest of the world. That is next.





BOLDUAN: For the first time in 60 years, China's population is declining. The country's birthrate also reaching a record low. This shift for the most populous nation in the world will have real and profound ripple effects far beyond the borders. Add to that, one of the worst performances in decades last year.

Marc Stewart is tracking this from Hong Kong for us.

Add this all up, what do you see?

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this is not something that just suddenly happened overnight. In fact, for many years, until 2015, China had this policy where families could only have one child.

But then the government noticed that the population was starting to decline. So it lifted that policy. In 2021, they said you could have three children. Still the population was starting to slump.

Why is that happening?

Why did that happen?

Well, as we've seen, our lives change. Couples are waiting longer to have children. They're waiting longer to get married. That could impact fertility. Some families are not even having children at all.

So the government is dealing with this decline of 850,000 people prior than the year before. And it is trying to increase its population. So to do so, the government is basically offering incentives to people.

It is offering more generous maternity leave, offering tax breaks with the hope of giving a boost.

So how does this relate to the economy?

There is no question; COVID had a big reason for China's economic slump last year. But you also need a strong, able-bodied work force. When you think about China, it's a manufacturing hub. So many American companies depend on Chinese workers to manufacture

its goods. And if that population is not sustained, it is going to be a very big challenge. In fact, Kate, looking ahead, the United Nations predicted that India will have a larger population in 2023.

So without people, you can't be productive. And that is where China finds itself right now.

BOLDUAN: Marc, thanks for putting it together. It is good to see you.

Joining me now is Jason Furman, former chairman of Counsel of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration and now a professor at Harvard.

So China's population and economic decline, poor performance last year, what is the impact, do you see, of that only the global economy?

JASON FURMAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, COUNSEL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Yes, so China has had a big impact on the global economy. They disrupted supply chains last year.

This year they're potentially going to be driving up the price of things like oil. People may be paying more at the pump because China is starting again. All that is about the short run. This population issue is going to be a real challenge for them over the next decade or two.

BOLDUAN: And what does it mean for the global economy if China is -- over the long-term?

Because I think the long-term implications of China's population is a fascinating look at how interconnected we all are with China's performance.

FURMAN: Yes, China has had this extraordinary growth in the last 20 years and some people get nervous, they think it is zero-sum, coming at our expense.

But every time China's growth slows a lot, it hurts American jobs and Americans in export industries and it could make it harder for Americans consumers to buy stuff. So broadly speaking, I don't think a slowdown in China is good news.

And one thing to say is, look, in the United States, we would have a shrinking work force, too, if we didn't have immigrants in this country. China has a worse demographic situation and no immigrants to any effect.


BOLDUAN: And so when you hear the Chinese vice premier saying in Davos that China is ready to open its doors more to foreign investment, what do you hear in that?

Do you hear that as a opening?

FURMAN: I've heard in the last month or two more positive noises coming out of China. I would say, a year ago, they looked closed off to the world and very much like they were prioritizing political control over the type of freedom that you need to have a market economy.

But that wasn't working out that well for them. I see them pivoting potentially just a little bit in the direction growth. But still so much political repression there that could get in the way of a vibrant tech industry, for example.

BOLDUAN: Now let's focus on in things that could be happening in the United States that could have a global impact if you will.

How about the coming debt ceiling fight on Capitol Hill?

As in the White House during the 2011 debacle, what do you think a default in 2023 would mean, other than being completely and utterly avoidable?

FURMAN: Yes, look, there have been dozens of fiscal crises around the world. But what normally happens is global investors don't want to lend to a country because they're nervous about it.

The United States is the first country probably ever risking a fiscal crisis because one party in Congress said we're trying to stop borrowing and don't want to allow us to borrow anymore.

Maybe you could prioritize or figure out some way around this. There is no way around this. Democrats have looked, Republicans have looked. The only choice is to raise the debt limit. That is something that both parties historically understood. I'm quite nervous about the House Republicans right now.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Jason, it is good to see you. Thanks for coming in.

FURMAN: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

A college student repeatedly stabbed in the head on a bus, police say the suspect admitted to the attack and admitted she was motivated by hate. That is next.