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At This Hour

DNI Chief Says China "Remains Our Unparalled Priority"; NATO Chief: "We Should Not Underestimate Russia"; DOJ Releases Results of Investigation into Louisville PD. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 08, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. AT THIS HOUR we are standing by to hear from attorney general Merrick Garland. He is expected to hold a news conference really any moment to announce the results of the Justice Department's investigation into the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Now the Justice Department had launched this probe into the police department about two years ago after the police killing of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year old, who was shot and killed by Louisville law enforcement who were serving a no-knock warrant at her apartment.

And her name and her face became a rallying cry in the movement calling for policing reforms. As soon as Garland begins, we'll be bringing that to you, to learn what this means so stand by for that.

Let me turn now to the investigation into the kidnapping of four Americans in Mexico, which ended with two of them killed.

The two survivors, Latavia McGee and Eric Williams, they are now at a Texas hospital receiving treatment. They were found Tuesday in a wooden house near the border of Matamoros, where they were kidnapped at gunpoint last week.

The bodies of the other two were also found at the scene. Latavia McGee's mother told "CNN THIS MORNING" that she watched her friends die. Their cause of death has not been revealed and their families are still waiting for their bodies to be returned.

Let's turn to Dianne Gallagher and she has been watching this very closely and tracking the investigation.

What more are you learning from the families?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, Barbara Burgess, who we spoke with this morning, the mother of Latavia Washington McGee, is experiencing both intense relief for the safe return of her daughter and immense grief right now for the loss of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown.

She told me that she helped raise Shaeed Woodard and thought of him like a son. We have talked for days now about how tight these four were. They grew up together in a small town in South Carolina about 1.5 hours from where I am now.

And they went down, she said, to support Latavia, to support her in her quest. She had a medical appointment on that Friday. She never showed up for that appointment. Barbara Burgess got a chance to talk to her daughter on the phone yesterday from the hospital.

She said her daughter was crying. She was upset. She was grieving and she described the exact moments of that armed kidnapping situation to her mom.


BARBARA MCLEOD BURGESS, LATAVIA WASHINGTON MCGEE'S MOTHER: They was driving through and a van came up and hit them. And that's when they started shooting at the car, shooting inside the van or whatever.

And I guess she said the others tried to run and they got shot at the same time. Shaeed and Zindell got shot at the same time. And she watched them -- she watched them die. Every one of them that had something to do with it, I want them locked up.


GALLAGHER: Now she told me that she does expect her daughter to return here to her home in Myrtle Beach some time today. Eric Williams' wife also spoke to CNN. She said she talked to her husband yesterday.

And he was emotional on the phone and grieving the loss of two men he considered to be his brothers because they were so close. They all grew up together. She said their 11-year-old son was just happy that he was able to talk to his dad after these terrifying few days.

The bodies of Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard will be repatriated to the United States once the forensic examinations are completed. Kate, we are told that the autopsies were completed this morning.

BOLDUAN: Much more to learn now on this investigation as it does continue now in a very different way. Dianne, thank you.

Also underway right now on Capitol Hill, the Senate Intelligence Committee's annual meeting on the worldwide threat assessment. Speaking to the committee are the nation's top intelligence officials, people we do not often see speaking publicly, the heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA.

Natasha Bertrand is watching this one for us and she joins us now.

It's really just getting going.

What are they saying so far?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: A lot of this has been focused so far on China, which the U.S. intelligence community does view as the United States' biggest threat at the moment.

And the Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, she actually said in her opening remarks that China remains the U.S. intelligence community's unparalleled priority. Take a listen.


AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The People's Republic of China, which is increasingly challenging the United States, technologically, politically and militarily --


HAINES: -- around the world remains our unparalleled priority. President Xi Jinping will continue efforts to achieve Xi's vision of making China the preeminent power in East Asia and a major power on the world stage. To fulfill Xi's vision, however, the CCP is increasingly convinced that it can only do so at the expense of U.S. power and influence.


BERTRAND: There have been a lot of questions so far about things like TikTok, which is, of course, owned by a Chinese company; the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, of course, began in the Chinese city of Wuhan as well as the broader threat China poses to the U.S., especially when it comes to Taiwan, which is one of U.S.' allies.

But a lot of questions and discussion about Russia and the war in Ukraine. Director Haines saying earlier in her prepared remarks that she does not believe that Russia can maintain the pace of its offensive operations because it is running very low on ammunition.

However, a lot of discussion as well about broader threats, like the threats posed by North Korea and Iran and just a general discussion, really of what the U.S. intelligence community believes are the biggest threats facing the U.S. right now. Obviously, a very rare moment for the public to hear from these intel leaders, who do not appear in public very often.

BOLDUAN: They'll be holding a closed briefing, which will be discussed, of course, beyond the public eye. Thank you so much, Natasha.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg saying he cannot rule out that Bakhmut may fall. The battle has been the epicenter of some of the bloodiest clashes in the latest chapter in Russia's invasion.

Ukraine's military however is not ready to surrender the city yet, claiming Russians are taking heavy losses, including losing 100 soldiers in the past 24 hours. Melissa Bell has the very latest from this from Kyiv.

Melissa, what are you learning?

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, tonight Bakhmut continues to hold but only just. Images of Yevgeny Prigozhin speaking to his men, where they had planted a flag.

We heard how important the Wagner mercenaries have been, being supported by Russian regular artillery and being crucial to their ability virtually to capture the town. Here's what Yevgeny Prigozhin had to say earlier today.


YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, FOUNDER, WAGNER GROUP (through translator): The only request, take out the elderly, children and send here in normal, combat-ready units. We need to deal with you here now.


BELL: That was a chilling message sent even as for the time being Ukraine says it will battle on. We wait to hear more on if and when it will decide on the tactical retreat. And we heard from the Western officials and this is important that beyond those forces in and around Bakhmut, it does not appear that Russia has that many reserves in Luhansk and Donetsk.

Casting doubt on their ability beyond Bakhmut to launch any substantial offensive action in the coming days and weeks.

In a separate but parallel story, we've been learning more about the Nord Stream attack. You remember the Nord Stream pipeline in September saw an explosion and a sabotage effort. It is the subject of an ongoing investigation by German authorities.

According to "The New York Times" report, they say that they believe according to sources it may have been perpetrated by a group aligned with Kyiv but not actually backed by Kyiv and not run by Kyiv, an independent group acting on its behalf and in its name.

And that's been pushed back on by the head of NATO and the German authorities. But it is an extra and interesting twist in the saga that's gone on for many months as we try to figure out what happened.

Unusually, Kyiv and Moscow seem to agree that this is something that they both deny, one of the rare points of agreement that we have between them at the moment.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Melissa. Thank you.

Joining me now for more on all of this is the former NATO secretary- general, former prime minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Thanks for coming in. On Bakhmut, we heard not only what Stoltenberg said but also President Zelenskyy defending the strategy in Bakhmut in a new interview with my colleague, Wolf Blitzer. Let me play just a moment of this interview with you.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This is tactical for us. We understand that, after Bakhmut, they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, to Slovyansk. It would be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut to other towns in Ukraine in the Donetsk direction, in the east of Ukraine.


BOLDUAN: Secretary-general, do you think devoting time and resources and equipment to that fight in Bakhmut is worth it for Ukraine?


ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, FORMER SECRETARY GENERAL, NATO: I'm not going to interfere with Ukrainian decisions on their military strategy and tactics. That's for the Ukrainians to decide.

What I think we should do as Western countries is to deliver all the offensive weapons that the Ukrainians need to withstand the Russian offensive but also to retake lost land.

BOLDUAN: A year into this war, do you think they have what they need to pull off a win?

RASMUSSEN: No. They don't have what they need. We need to deliver much more longer range, much heavier weapons. We need to deliver long- range missiles, heavy battle tanks and eventually also fighter jets.

I think we should deliver everything the Ukrainians need to win this war. It is in our interest. It is in the U.S. national interest to put a quick end to this war because that would give the U.S. more room to maneuver to address the real long term global challenge, namely China and the Indo-Pacific.

And the best way to put a quick end to this war is to deliver all the weapons the Ukrainians need.

BOLDUAN: If that is the case, and it seems logical what you are saying, give them the weapons they need in order to help them win and hold their country, but why then, if you can take me -- take me behind the scenes in the rooms that you are in.

President Biden is still a no on F-16s when we're talking about fighter jets.

Why do you think Biden still resists?

What do you think he's missing here?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I -- actually, I don't understand why we have all of those, I'll call them self-imposed restrictions on weapon deliveries.

The fact is that the Russians have just moved their missile launchers beyond the reach of the Ukrainians. So it doesn't make sense that we have restrictions on our weapon deliveries. One argument I often hear is the risk of provoking Putin, to give incentives to escalate the war.

BOLDUAN: Right. RASMUSSEN: But the fact is that Putin is the one who escalates. And

one or two steps behind, we deliver heavier and heavier weapons. But the fact is you cannot win a war by an incremental, step by step approach. You have to surprise. You have to overwhelm your adversary.

BOLDUAN: So the security compact for Ukraine that you authored, we discussed the contours of it somewhat on the show previously.

I am curious, where does that stand right now?

Do you have buy-in from nations to secure Ukraine's long term security as you so desire?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I'm working hard to create some momentum. And I think we have had some success in that. We have seen leaders, including the prime minister Sunak of Great Britain, too. He has indicated that the U.K. will work in the run-up to the NATO summit in Vilnius in July to produce security assurances in Ukraine.

I've also heard other leaders agree that we need to have a more longterm perspective. That would include security guarantees for Ukraine so that Russia can never, ever repeat the invasion of Ukraine.

BOLDUAN: Secretary-General, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

A programming note for all of you, you can catch the full conversation of Wolf Blitzer's interview with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy. That's tonight at 9:00 pm on CNN.

I'll show you live pictures right now from Capitol Hill. You see Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell there. He is back in the spotlight and back in the hot seat with a new warning about interest rates and more conversations about the U.S. economy and where it's headed.





BOLDUAN: We will jump in and jump to Louisville, Kentucky, where Attorney General Merrick Garland is announcing the results of the Justice Department's investigation into the Louisville Police Department. Let's listen in.

MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I also want to acknowledge Mayor Greenberg, council president Winkler and interim chief of police Gwinn-Villaroel, thank you for joining us today.

In 2020, LMPD officers shot and killed Breonna Taylor in her own home in the middle of the night. The officers were executing a search warrant but found no evidence of any crime. In a separate criminal case, we have charged that officers involved in

obtaining the warrant knew that the affidavit that supported the warrant contained false and misleading information.

Ms. Taylor's death brought immeasurable pain both to her family and to this community. In April 2021, our civil rights division opened the pattern of practice investigation that I have just referenced.

Shortly after we opened the investigation, an LMPD leader told the department, Breonna Taylor was a symptom of problems that we have had for years. The Justice Department's findings and the report that we are releasing today bear that out.

The department has concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that Louisville Metro and LMPD engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution.

There's also reasonable cause to believe that they engaged in conduct that violates Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Safe Streets Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Specifically, the report finds that LMPD uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and Tasers, conducts searches based on invalid warrants, unlawfully executes warrants without knocking and announcing, unlawfully stops, searches, detains and arrests people, unlawfully discriminates against Black people in enforcement activities, violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of policing and, along with Louisville Metro, discriminates against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.

The Justice Department has also identified deficiencies in LMPD's response to and investigation of domestic violence and sexual assault.

LMPD has relied heavily on pretextual traffic stops in Black neighborhoods. In these stops, officers use the pretense of making a stop for minor traffic offense in order to investigate for other crimes.

Some officers have demonstrated disrespect for the people they are sworn to protect. Some have videotaped themselves throwing drinks at pedestrians from their cars, insulted people with disabilities and called Black people "monkeys," "animal" and "boy."

This conduct is unacceptable. It is heartbreaking. It erodes the community trust necessary for effective policing and it is an affront to the vast majority of officers, who put their lives on the line every day, to serve Louisville with honor.

And it is an affront to the people of Louisville who deserve better. As the report states, most Metro employees and LMPD officers are dedicated public servants, who work hard to promote public safety. But Louisville Metro and LMPD have failed to ensure that all employees uphold the constitutional and statutory rights of the people of Louisville. [11:20:00]

GARLAND: Louisville Metro and LMPD have also failed to provide police officers and other employees with the support and resources that they need to do their jobs effectively and lawfully.

Our investigations uncovered deficient training, substandard facilities and equipment, inadequate support for officer mental health and wellness. Police officers already have difficult jobs. These inadequacies have made those jobs even harder and less safe.

Our report also describes unlawful law enforcement practices by LMPD patrol officers and by members of a specialized unit that was first called the VIPER unit. The unit was later rebranded as 9th Mobile Division and the Criminal Interdiction Division.

Officers in this specialized unit frequently made pretextual traffic stops in Black neighborhoods. Federal and state courts have found that officers in the unit violated residents' 4th Amendment rights.

The report concludes the unit's activities were part of an overall enforcement approach that resulted in significant and unlawful racial disparities. LMPD's conduct has undermined its public safety mission and strained its relationship with the community it was meant to protect and serve.

In an important step toward reform, I am pleased to announce that the City of Louisville has signed an agreement in principle with the Department of Justice. This agreement commits the city and LMPD to work with the Justice Department, the community, police officers and other stakeholders to address the problems that we have identified.

And this agreement commits us to negotiate a legally binding consent decree with an independent monitor. Louisville Metro and LMPD have already instituted a number of changes through the settlement with the family of Breonna Taylor as well as through other measures.

The city enacted a law that prohibits LMPD from seeking no-knock warrants. A limited pilot program has started sending behavioral health professionals to certain 9-1-1 calls and the city has expanded community-based violence prevention services.

LMPD has also announced plans to revamp its training, support for officers' health and wellness and internal auditing. These efforts are commendable and we credit Louisville Metro and LMPD for acknowledging that change is necessary.

But more must be done. The Justice Department recommends 36 remedial measures that provide a starting framework for changes that are necessary to improve public safety, build community trust and comply with the Constitution and federal law.

To the officers of LMPD, the Justice Department is acutely aware of the integral role that law enforcement officers play in our society and the dangers you face to keep your community safe. So it is imperative that your police department sets you up for success. Your department needs to provide you with clear policies and

consistent training that explain constitutional boundaries and responsibilities. You need equipment and facilities that help you meet those responsibilities. And you need supervisors and a chain of command that enables you to achieve the highest standards of your profession.

To the people of Louisville, you have shown meaningful engagement on issues of reform. During the investigation, the department met with many community members, including people who had encounters with the police, religious leaders, advocates, criminal defense attorneys, prosecutors, judges and service providers.

I want to thank you for sharing your experiences with us. We could not have completed this investigation without your contributions. And I ask that you continue to engage with these issues in the months ahead. Your involvement is critical to our success.

Together, we can make true progress and ensure the durability of reforms. Together, we can ensure that constitutional policing also results in safer communities.


GARLAND: Finally, to the career staff of the civil rights division of the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Kentucky, who conducted this investigation, thank you for your extraordinary hard work, which will make Louisville a better place and a safer place for all its residents.

As I mentioned when I announced the opening of this investigation, the Justice Department is charged with ensuring that the constitutional and federal statutory rights of the people are protected.

Congress authorized the department to conduct pattern or practice investigations to help it fulfill this responsibility. But those investigations and the recommendations that ensue do not only protect individuals' civil rights; they also assist police departments in developing measures to increase transparency and accountability.

Those qualities are necessary to building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. And community trust is essential to making both communities and policing safer.

The Justice Department looks forward to working with Louisville Metro and LMPD to achieve these ends. I am now pleased to turn the podium over to associate attorney general Vanita Gupta.

VANITA GUPTA, ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Attorney General Garland.

I want to thank Mayor Greenberg, council president Winkler, interim chief of police Jacqueline Gwinn-Villaroel, Louisville Metro and LMPD for their cooperation with the Justice Department's investigation. I also want to thank the -- BOLDUAN: We've been listening in to the attorney general, Merrick

Garland, announcing the results of the Justice Department's investigation and an almost two-year probe into the Louisville Metro Police department.

It was launched following the shooting death and killing of Breonna Taylor. Joining me for more on this and what this means is CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez and CNN's senior crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz.

Evan, first to what we learned from the Justice Department and the attorney general, that was a pretty brutal assessment from the Justice Department about the practices and conduct of the Louisville Metro Police Department.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SR. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Kate. This is an ugly, ugly report.

This is -- you have a couple hundred pages here, where the Justice Department, after a thorough investigation, that has taken a long time, has found this pattern or practice by the Louisville Police Department to essentially target people in the African American neighborhoods of Louisville for excessive force.

The attorney general just listed a few things, including the use of these pretextual traffic stops. And we've seen police departments across the country have been trying to avoid or abandon these practices, because they lead to a lot of unintended, perhaps, consequences, including confrontations with people that have no basis for being.

So one of the things that the Justice Department found was that there was this unit called the VIPER unit. It has been renamed. That was essentially running rampant through these neighborhoods, causing violence for the communities that they're supposed to be protecting.

Again, a very, very ugly report. One of the things they talked about was that this unit was being used against African Americans and the excessive use of force was being used against Black and vulnerable people throughout the city.

People were being called names and being thrown things at, as officers drove by. What you hear, though is that the City of Louisville, the metropolitan government there, has agreed to make a lot of changes.

And they've already started making those changes, including sending behavioral experts to try to prevent some of the things you see happening in Louisville and other cities, where confrontations turn very violent. Kate.

BOLDUAN: Very quickly, Evan, as we've learned from past experiences when the attorney general says there is an agreement in principle between the city and the Justice Department, what will that mean in terms of tracking and making sure that there's change after this?

PEREZ: Well, now this is going to be governed by the courts. A judge will rule on this.

And so for the next at least couple of ,years the Louisville Police Department is going to be having essentially the federal government, the Justice Department, looking over their shoulder to make sure that they're making some of these changes, to make sure that the practices change going forward.

They've say they've already started to implement some of these changes, Kate. But what they mean now is that a judge is going to be the other person sitting in the police car, essentially trying to make sure that the practices of policing in this city change for the better.