Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

Two of Four Abducted Americans Are Dead; Fed Chair Says Rates Will Rise More than Previously Anticipated; China to U.S.: Change "Distorted" Views or Face Conflict; Critics Call Bill before Mississippi Senate "Modern Jim Crow". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 07, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. AT THIS HOUR, the breaking news from Mexico, a mother of six and three of her friends were taken by armed men just as they crossed border.

A warning to the U.S. from China: hit the brakes or expect conflict and confrontation.

And chaos in the air: a flight attendant attacked a passenger as he tried to open a door midflight.

I'm Kate Bolduan and we are looking at the breaking news.

Officials say they have located the four Americans abducted last week. Sadly, two of them are dead. The video of the kidnapping is so troubling and terrifying, you can see what investigators believe are members of a drug cartel loading the group into the back of a truck.

This happened in broad daylight as you can see after a shooting that left one bystander dead. A source tells CNN that the kidnappings here are a case of mistaken identity. Their families say they were traveling from South Carolina to Mexico for a medical procedure.

We go to Josh Campbell who has the very latest coming in.

What are the officials saying now?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I have been talking to the officials familiar with the investigation since the investigation began. And though they were holding out hope to rescue the four American victims, they said it is looking very grim, because of the graphic video of the aftermath of incident, it showed the people loaded on to the bed of the truck, including one woman.

Other people loaded on who did not appear to be moving. And now we are getting the breaking news coming in with a U.S. official familiar with the investigation, telling me that all four of the American victims have been located. However, two of them are deceased. Two did survive. But I am told that

one of them who did survive is severely injured and that person is receiving medical care at this hour.

This occurred at some type of medical clinic at Matamoros, which is just over the American border. We know this group of Americans went from South Carolina to Texas and into Mexico, a source said, seeking medical treatment. They were just recently found at some type of clinic.

Again, the breaking news is that two of them are sadly deceased. What happened next, agents from the FBI are working with their Mexican counterparts. If they're not already on scene, will work with their partners to go to the scene, to gather information and ensure their own well-being.

And then separate and apart from that, a large investigation to try to go find these perpetrators. And a U.S. official familiar with the situation said that the theory that law enforcement has is that the group of innocent Americans were mistaken by members of the Gulf cartel for Haitian drug smugglers.

They were there in this area. The cartel thought perhaps they were a group of Haitian smugglers on their turf. They opened fire and it appears that then they went into panic mode and loaded the victims onto the truck and drove away.

But now it is a serious offense obviously that the FBI takes very seriously when there are threats to Americans. And we know that the investigation is ongoing.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Josh, for that.

Over to CNN's Dianne Gallagher joining us.

What are you hearing from the family at this point?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, understandably, we have not been able to speak with any of the family members since receiving this tragic update about them being located and two of them being killed.

But I can tell you that CNN, speaking (INAUDIBLE) of them leading up to this, painted a picture of what this journey for these four friends. Three grew up right here in Lake City, South Carolina.

Together they were described as close knit. A sister of one said they were like glue, always together. They had left here and lived other places but remained the tightest of friends.

They traveled to Mexico and one of them, Latavia "Tay" Washington McGee, was to undergo a medical procedure. According to one her friends who did not want her name on the record.

[11:05:00] GALLAGHER: She said they booked a hotel in Brownsville, Texas, to then drive to Matamoros for the surgery. On Friday morning, McGee sent her a message, letting her know they made it to Mexico.

According to McGee's mother, she never showed up for the doctor's appointment. The doctor called McGee's family mother to say she had not shown up. So they became concerned on Saturday when no one could reach any of them.

They called their phones; people were posting on Facebook but nobody heard from them. McGee's mother said the FBI said on Sunday that her daughter had been kidnapped and was in danger and instructed her, if she calls home, contact the FBI immediately.

The aunt said that she also saw video and she recognized her niece in there by her hair and what she was wearing. Again this is a tight-knit group of friends that went down there to support the friend in her medical procedure.

And so they were livestreaming and going on Instagram and things like that. According to McGee's family, this is the second time she had had a medical procedure in Mexico. Her friends said the last procedure was in Matamoros 2-3 years ago.

All of the individuals have families who are concerned. McGee, herself, is a mother of six children from the ages of 5 to 18 years old.

BOLDUAN: Dianne, thank you for that.

Joining me now is chief law enforcement analyst John Miller for more on this.

So the investigation has to continue and this is a very sad news and development in this, as it has been ongoing for a couple of days now. Talk to me about the -- it is complicated, because you are dealing with American citizens in Mexico.

In terms of the investigation, what has happened, what has been happening since they disappeared?

Since they were went missing?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, Kate, since the U.S. realized that you had four Americans in the breach here, saw the video and realized there has been a shooting and some of them wounded, there has been an awful lot going on behind the scenes.

You have the FBI special agents assigned to the Mexican liaison post there, at the embassy in Mexico City, working with their counterparts.

What sources do we have on the ground and what sources do you have on the ground and where is a human source to say what happened to these people and what is their condition? At the same time in background, you have ISR and intelligence and

reconnaissance and surveillance, which can be from aircraft to drones, that are looking. And these can be Mexican aircraft or U.S. aircraft with Mexican permissions, looking into the areas where they know that the Gulf cartel strongholds are.

And then there's the outreach to the cartel and in the deep background of a story like this, there's two ways to communicate an organization like the cartel. One is to come in with the Mexican marines and shoot at them.

The other is to say to them, whatever you thought was going on when you took these people, you have made a grave mistake and we need to resolve this.

That could be -- could be -- part of how these people ended up being found today, with reports being two dead, two alive.

So there has been a lot going on that we have seen in terms of the investigation and statements by public officials. But trust me, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes that we have not seen. And we may or may not learn more about that as it unfolds, depending how they were discovered.

I will tell you that it took the halls of Washington by surprise. The morning briefings went off today in a number of the national security realms, where there was still uncertainty about this. And then the announcement came from Mexican officials and so we are playing a little bit of catch-up on this.

BOLDUAN: A little bit of catch-up on and a lot still to learn. Potential press conferences today and clearly an investigation now continues in earnest, with two dead reported and two found alive. John, thank you for jumping on.

And now, we turn to Capitol Hill, where we are tracking another big story in the halls of Congress. The chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell is testifying about the state of the U.S. economy.

He is saying that the interest rates will likely rise higher and faster than previously thought.


BOLDUAN: Matt Egan is following this one.

What are we learning?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Well, Kate, the Fed chair is acknowledging that inflation numbers and the consumer spending and hiring have come in hotter than Federal Reserve officials expected.

And the Fed is doing everything to cool the inflation and the economy off. And Powell said that it suggests that the interest rates have to go higher than anticipated. And that is a big deal for people at home, because it is higher costs for borrowing, mortgages and cars and credit cards.

Also the more they do, if they do too much, it could slide into a recession. So Powell was asked about this dangerous game of chicken in Washington over whether to raise the debt ceiling or default on the U.S. debt. This is what he said about that.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: Congress really needs to raise the debt ceiling. That's the only way out in a timely way that allows us to pay all of our bills when and as due.

And if we fail to do so, I think that the consequences are hard to estimate but they could be extraordinarily averse, adverse and could do long-standing harm.


EGAN: So just how adverse?

Moody's Analytics put out a report to say that even a brief breach of the debt limit could eliminate a million jobs and cause a mild recession and a prolonged breach could wipe out almost 7 million jobs.

No one says it is going to happen but the stakes here are massive. So Kate, there is never a good time for political brinkmanship over the debt ceiling but given all the concerns of the economy, this is one of the worst times to have a debate.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it is never good to go up against this. And I'm having bad memories of 2011 when we got so near it and this time it is worse. Thank you, Matt, for the update.

And we will continue to watch Jerome Powell, testifying today and tomorrow.

So China's new foreign minister is lashing out. Why he is warning Washington that it and Beijing are hurtling toward confrontation and conflict.





BOLDUAN: A rare and sharp warning coming from China. A top Chinese official is lashing out at the U.S. in a press conference with reporters saying conflict and confrontation are inevitable if Washington does not change course.

And Xi Jinping is also making direct statements against the United States. Marc Stewart is live in Tokyo.

We have heard strong language from China before.

Is this different?

MARC STEWART, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Context is everything, Kate. China has a new foreign minister. He used to be a diplomat and when he was a diplomat, he is was described as being careful and accomplished.

But now that he is in this new role in Beijing, he is embracing the strong and stern language that we have heard so much from China. This includes a very sharp and pointed warning toward the U.S. Take a listen.


QIN GANG, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): If the United States does not hit the brake but continue to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing. And there will surely be conflict and confrontation.


STEWART: He also made a reference to the spy balloon and saying that the U.S. reaction was pretty much overstated and over the top, if you will. All of this to provide some strength in this new role, especially as China begins a new legislative session, new leadership, new ideas, new approach.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, Marc.

Joining me for more is Kim Dozier, who is senior managing editor at the "U.S. Military Times," and retired U.S. military General Spider Marks.

Kim, what are you hearing?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, this is a new congress; there is a National People's Congress in Beijing right now. Xi is putting his stamp on his unprecedented third term as president.

And he signals to China and the world that they will not be bossed around by Washington, D.C. This is coming in the aftermath of the Biden administration shooting down the spy balloon but also in weeks of repeated warnings from the Biden administration to Beijing not to arm Russia in the invasion against Ukraine.

Basically we have Xi and his brand-new foreign minister repeating the message that you don't push us around and you don't tell us what to do.

BOLDUAN: General Marks, what is the foreign minister is saying with these words?

GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, China is trying to put the ball in our court to establish what relationship we want with China. [11:20:00]

MARKS: This administration has been bellicose and have labeled China as the number one competitor. But if you have a competitor, you need to figure out in this world of incredible chaos that we are a part of, where are the areas we decide to cooperate?

I don't know this is the message that China is sending but it is one that the United States needs to embrace.

There are certain things that are a national security imperative; they remain center on the table. Those are nonnegotiables. But there are other areas where the United States needs to figure out where we can cooperate and find those precisely.

BOLDUAN: Precision seems to be key in this relationship.

Kim, the foreign minister also focused in on Taiwan and I will read what he said.

"No one should ever underestimate the firm resolve, strong will and great capability of the Chinese government and people to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Do you see this, not even just today but in the broader sense of where we are, that Taiwan is more under threat today than before, as the war of words goes on?

DOZIER: Well, with China in a precarious economic situation right now, it is not likely to launch an invasion in the medium midterm, especially watching Russia invading Ukraine and the U.S. and Europe working together to punish Moscow economically.

But Beijing is still bookmarking this for the future and I think we'll see a continued if not a rise in harassment of the Taiwanese air force and navy by Chinese jets as a reminder, we have not forgotten you. This is something in the future you'll have to watch out for.

BOLDUAN: And against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, China's relationship with Russia, the U.S. intelligence suggesting that China is considering still giving Russia weapons for its fight in Ukraine.

How does Ukraine play into all of this?

MARKS: Oh, Ukraine and Russia's failure in Ukraine and the embarrassment of the Russian military is front and center. The two things that are the guarantor of Taiwanese security now are TSMC, the chipmaker, and a terrible Russian military.

China wants no part of that. I understand the intelligence assessment and there is clearly the possibility that China would lean into Russia to provide assistance. But I think that would be bad business and China looks at the world through a transactional lens.

I don't think China would support Russia in this particular case.

BOLDUAN: China does not like to be publicly shamed and it seems to think it's been on the more than one front.

So where does this go?

DOZIER: Well, Beijing is on the back foot at home. It has a slow growth rate. The National People's Congress decided to go for a much lower growth rate for a second year in a row as the Chinese economy recovers from COVID.

Every time Washington makes these vague warnings, what they're really warning is the U.S. and Europe, including Germany, could smack down on Beijing with much fiercer sanctions beyond just limiting chip sales. And Germany has been China's major trading partner for seven years.

This would be a kick in the gut that China does not need right now.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you both and thank you for coming in.

A crime problem in the largest city of Mississippi has turned into a massive political fight. Supporters of a new bill says it is the only way to crack down on crime. Opponents, including the mayor says it's a takeover of a majority Black city by white lawmakers. That mayor is next.





BOLDUAN: Live pictures inside the Mississippi state Capitol building. State senators taking up a controversial criminal justice bill that critics say amounts to a takeover of the predominantly Black capital city of Jackson.

The bill would put white conservatives in control of a new state appointed court system and expand the jurisdiction of the state-run Capitol police force. We go to Omar Jimenez.

You are talking to a number of people.

What are you finding out?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the bill is on the agenda. Even if it passes the senate, there are likely things that need to be hammered out. At the core of the debate is representation.

You have a majority Black city like Jackson with a legislature that is majority white. What this would do is take away some of the governing power from the city of Jackson.