Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Setbacks For Russia As Ukraine Rallies European Allies; DHS: Border Encounters Down 50 Percent Since COVID Rule Ended; Victims' Families Sue Social Media Companies Over Buffalo Shooting. Aired 02:00p-2:30p ET

Aired May 15, 2023 - 14:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Rallying support and readying their forces. Ukraine's president signals that a highly anticipated military counteroffensive is imminent. We're following the state of play.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, suing social media. The families of Buffalo massacre victims claim online platforms radicalized the gunman and profited off the spread of hate. This isn't the first time a shooter has had a history of extreme behavior online, so do these families have a case?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And living and breaking records under the sea. Why this researcher has spent months underwater and he's not going anywhere anytime soon. We're going to talk to him as we follow these stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SCIUTTO: Russian setbacks are mounting and Ukraine is shoring up key military support. Ukrainian officials say they have begun a successful advance to retake parts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. Here you see though, the utter devastation that's been left behind from the battle there.

At the same time, we are learning that four Russian aircraft were down in a single day. That happened inside or over Russian territory. These key battlefield developments played out as the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy was abroad meeting with leaders of Germany, France, Italy, and the UK. Those NATO members have pledged major new military aid ahead of Ukraine's highly anticipated counteroffensive.

CNN's Sam Kiley. He is in Ukraine. Sam, we've been seeing this periodically but another key round of military support coming in. You've been watching closely for signs of action, and forward progress on the battlefield, what are you seeing and what more is Zelenskyy asking for?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, first of all, Zelenskyy is asking above all for those F-16s. He's now got British endorsement that they should be given, of course, the Brits don't have them to give. But they have said that they will begin training fighter pilots in the summer, which it already is in the United Kingdom with a view to putting those fighter pilots inside NATO-supplied F-16s.

Of course, the U.S. has the majority of them and makes them. At the same time, he got long-range drones -- attack drones capable of reaching 200 kilometers. That's very important for him, and more air defenses. All of them are very illustratively important, Jim in the context of what's just happened across the border in Russia, where these four aircraft, two helicopters, and two jets reportedly downed in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

It's unclear. For example, whether they were shot down in a series of own goals by Russian air defenses or whether the Ukrainians managed to get at them. But either way, they've been confirmed by President Lukashenko in neighboring Belarus, who says that it's somewhat concerning as to what's been going on there.

And all of this combined with a sort of on-off, it's soon, but we need a bit more time messaging coming from Zelenskyy, once again, out of Chequers, the country retreat for the British Prime Minister, where he again said that the Ukrainians need a bit more time.

Every time he says it's soon or gets delayed, he's rattling the cage of the Russians. He's saying to the Russian soldier, to the fighting man on the frontline, something terrifying is coming, and we're not going to tell you when.

They're very much part of the psychological operations there. And the shaping operations that you've reported on in the past is the psychological game, working away steadily at the mind of the Russian soldier.

And, of course, nothing's going to pray on his mind more than the recent successes that the Ukrainians have said that they've gained and that's confirmed by Russia around Bakhmut with some significant advances, Jim, in a localized counteroffensive. Possible that they may even try to exploit that as a wider military attack when this big offensive gets underway, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Exactly. And also, always the possibility. It doesn't all happen on one day right but over the course of days and in different places at different times. Sam Kiley, keep yourself and your team safe there. Thanks so much. Brianna.


KEILAR: Now, to the growing divide over the debt ceiling. Sunday, White House officials expressed some optimism about progress in discussions on raising the nation's borrowing limit and avoiding what experts predict would be an economic catastrophe.

Today, though, the House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy is downplaying any movement in those negotiations saying the two sides are still far apart. Congressional leaders are expected at the White House again tomorrow for more talks just one day before the president leaves for the Indo-Pacific region and just a few weeks -- a couple of weeks before the U.S. could default on its debt.

Let's begin with the White House perspective here on CNN's Phil Mattingly. Phil, the president sounded pretty upbeat on Sunday about progress. What is the White House saying today?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, definitely divergent public stances between the two sides of this negotiation. But the fact there's negotiation is far and away the most important part. And most important part of that element is what's happening behind the scenes.

I think when you talk to White House officials, when you talk to congressional aides, they acknowledge the fact that there has been significant work over the course of several hours, including today several, hours, trying to hammer out the contours of an agreement. Now, they are also clear that an agreement is not necessarily within reach in the near term.

What they're trying to do, particularly today is on kind of the top issues that they feel like there's the potential to reconcile differences. it's kind of set up the most important ones, the most important differences within that context for the leaders to address tomorrow here at the White House.

And that will be a critical meeting because, Brianna, as you noted, the calendar is certainly running short at this point. About two and a half weeks before the potential X date, as they call it. But the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, laid out it just really adds the emphasis of the importance on these negotiations happening behind the scenes at the staff level driving into that meeting here tomorrow.

One thing we're also keeping an eye on, we expect another update from the Treasury Department -- from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to lawmakers about what their calculations are for when a default would actually occur at some point early this week, potentially as soon as today.

But the reality is this. Regardless of what each side is saying publicly, behind the scenes, there does seem to be an acknowledgment, a deal is an absolute necessity and for good reason.

There's never been a default before. And a default would be an economic catastrophe. So, clearly, an effort to try and figure out a way out of this, but the pathway to actually reach that agreement is still pretty far off ground.

KEILAR: And the clock is ticking. I mean, not many days on my calendar, Phil. I do want to get now to Lauren Fox who is on Capitol Hill for us with the Republican side of this showdown. Divergent stories coming out of these meetings, Lauren.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Brianna. And in part, how Speaker Kevin McCarthy has felt underestimated at every turn in this negotiation. He said earlier today that he feels like the White House is just not taking this seriously. Here's what he told my colleague Haley Talbot. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA): I still think we're far apart. It doesn't seem to be getting that, that they want. It just seems that they want to look like they're in a meeting but they're not. In fact, they're not talking anything serious. And in the meantime, we just watched the CEO come out saying we're $100 billion further in debt. And so, it's more like we want to default than a deal.


FOX: And there are a few areas that they're really exploring in terms of what is possible and a potential negotiation. Of course, they know that there is going to be some negotiation over spending specifically, whether or not they're going to be able to agree on some budget cap numbers for the next year to several years. That is still up for negotiation.

Other areas they're exploring are permitting reform, adding more work requirements to social programs like food stamps and welfare. They are also looking at clawing back about $60 billion in funding for the COVID pandemic that went unused, Brianna. That is something Republicans included in their proposal, and it's something that Democrats, including the White House, have shown some openness to negotiating on.

But they still have a long ways to go. And McCarthy emphasized that he believes a deal needs to be reached, at least in principle by next weekend. That's because it's going to take some time in the House and the Senate to move this on the floor, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. And there just is not much time. Just a couple of weeks here. Lauren Fox, on the Hill, thank you.

We do have some breaking news. An alleged attacker walked into the Virginia office of Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly this morning with a baseball bat. The Congressman says the intruder asked for him but then attacked two staff members. They have been taken to the hospital.

We have CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joining us live on this story. Manu, what more can you tell us?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Gerry Connolly, the congressman from Virginia just put out a statement detailing this harrowing attack that occurred in his district office earlier this morning. I'll read to you part of this statement that he just put out.


He said this morning, an individual entered my district office armed with a baseball bat and asked for me before committing an act of violence against two members of my staff. He goes on to say the individuals in police custody, and both members of my team were transferred to the hospital with non-life-threatening emergencies. He said their focus -- his focus right now is ensuring that they are

getting the care they receive. He goes on to thank the City of Fairfax for its quick response to this issue.

So, Congressman Connolly indicating there that in his office, two stupid staffers were attacked by as -- an individual came in looking for him and attack these two staff members of the baseball bat. These two staff members injured non-life-threatening injuries.

Of course, this comes at a time of we're seeing a rise in political violence, threats that are made, and also that I've actually been carried out like we saw against the former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her house in San Francisco last year when an assailant came into her house attacked her husband, Paul Pelosi with a hammer.

Also, of course, we could talk about standing back from the baseball shooting that occurred in 2017. Six people were shot at that time, including the House Republican whip at the time Steve Scalise, who is now the House majority leader.

But right now, we are learning these details about this attack that occurred in Gerry Connelly's office against two of his staff members was pretty much all the details that we have at the moment. The City of Fairfax indicating that this individual is in police custody. Those people who are attacked are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. As we're learning more details as the time goes by, we'll report them to you here, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, terrifying. We wish his staffers of course a speedy recovery. Manu. Thank you. Boris.

SANCHEZ: We want to pivot now to the surge slowdown at the border. The rush of migrants expected when Title 42 ended is not materializing, even though many officials from all levels of government sounded the alarm for months. Today, U.S. officials confirmed they saw about a 50 percent drop in border crossings over the weekend compared to last week before Title 42 expired. The policy was used nearly three million times to quickly expel people because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let's take you now to the southern border. CNN's Rosa Flores is live for us in Brownsville, Texas. Rosa, walk us through what you're seeing there and what you're hearing from officials now that this surge does not appear to have materialized at least not right when Title 42 expired.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me set the scene for you, Boris. Because I'm in Brownsville, Texas, the sign behind me sets the stage is the migrant pickup. This is where migrants are dropped off by immigration authorities. And then normally they take buses here at the Brownsville station.

And exactly what you're describing that officials are saying that's exactly what nonprofits are telling us here on the ground that the number of migrants that are being dropped off at respite centers along South Texas has dropped significantly about 50 percent or more. And the big question is why. I've been in contact with officials and

also community leaders on the Mexican side of the border and they tell me that the tough talk by the Biden administration is resonating with migrants.

He says that the images of migrants being shackled and deported back to their home countries that is circulating online and in WhatsApp groups, and that they're starting to believe that the border is closed and that there is a five-year ban on re-entry if you enter the country illegally.

Now, according to these community leaders and officials in Mexico, they also say that the National Guard in Mexico -- their presence, especially along Tijuana, that has also decreased the number of smuggling groups that are in that area, which has also decreased the smuggling overall in that particular area of Tijuana, which across the border is San Diego.

Now, back here in South Texas, these organizations are still preparing for the worst. The Brownsville superintendent is going to propose later this afternoon to the school board that they should make vacant schools available to the city of Brownsville just in case there is an uptick in migrants that are in this area and just in case the city needs to shelter them. But, Boris, everyone is still wondering if this uptick is actually going to happen or not.

But based on what I'm hearing on the Mexican side, it really sounds like migrants, first of all, do not want to come into this country illegally only to be deported. And second of all, they're starting to use the CBP One app, the software that where they can set up an appointment. It just takes a really long time. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes. And there were reports that it was malfunctioning as well. So, we'll have to keep an eye on how that situation develops. Rosa Flores from Brownsville, Texas. Thank you so much. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It'd be remarkable if the message is getting across the border discouraging people from coming. Well, victims and their families of the Buffalo supermarket mass shooting have filed a lawsuit now against social media companies, accusing them of promoting white supremacist propaganda that helped to radicalize the gunman.

Their market mass shooting, have filed a lawsuit now against social media companies, accusing them of promoting white supremacist propaganda that helped to radicalize the gunman there.


Also, ahead. The Supreme Court just sided with a death row inmate who wants to die in a specific way. We're going to explain why. Coming up.

And later, if you're trying to lose weight, stay away from sugar substitutes. That's according to the World Health Organization. We're going to explain why. Coming up. You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KEILAR: The families of three victims and the survivor of the mass shooting at a Buffalo New York grocery store last year are now suing several social media companies. The suit alleged that platforms like Meta, Snapchat, YouTube, and Discord helped radicalize the then-18- year-old gunman who shot and killed 10 people.

And it says that the social media sites, they promoted racist, anti- Semitic, and white supremacist propaganda. Also named in the lawsuit as defendants are the shooter's parents, the gun store that he bought the firearm from, a weapons manufacturer, and a body armor supplier.

In a statement to CNN, Google, which owns YouTube says the platform has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content. Snapchat also issued a statement saying we vet all content before it can reach a large audience which helps protect against the discovery of potentially harmful or dangerous content. And attorney for the victims' family spoke to CNN this morning.



JOHN ELMORE, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILIES OF VICTIMS IN BUFFALO SHOOTING: The video live shooting of our clients getting their -- loved ones getting their brains blown out in this top shooting was shared over 3 million times.


KEILAR: Here with us to discuss this. We have CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. He's also a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General. Elliot, great to have you here.

This attorney goes on to say that the social media companies were actually maximizing engagement around this video. And because of that, they were making ad revenue off of it that that was sort of the whole point of maximizing it. When you think of this as a possibility, is it -- is it -- do they have a very good case here?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's a novel case, Brianna, and this has really never been done before. They're in effect, saying that it's an improperly designed product that even if used properly, the design of it was so bad that it actually led to violence.

A better way to think about it is imagine a car with a defective airbag that's designed badly, you would sue the automobile manufacturer even if someone were using it properly. And that's the argument they're going down. It's totally new. But this is how litigation works. Lawyers try new things out and see what might win.

KEILAR: It's not like any product, right?

WILLIAMS: Yes, right.

KEILAR: Something that includes speech -- free speech that obviously you could have someone say, look, this is a First Amendment issue. This isn't just like a stroller.

WILLIAMS: Yes. And it's a bit of a stretch to be perfectly candid, that you get from a properly used product in which people share pictures of their cats and free speech and so on, but also might be encouraged to commit acts of violence.

And they go down this road in the -- in the complaint where they say that mass shootings lead to more mass shootings. And if you look at all -- a part of it, live stream shootings.

And when you look at all of the folks who do live stream their shootings, they often point back to the ones before. Now, the plaintiffs here say that because of that fact, it -- the product that you have sort of encourages more live stream shootings.

KEILAR: So, when you look at the other name of defendants here, let's talk about the parents, right?


KEILAR: They're saying, hey, they stock -- he was stockpiling weapons, they knew that he had some mental health issues, and they didn't do what they should have done.

WILLIAMS: And the words look for here are reasonably foreseeable for any of these defendants, not just the parents, could it reasonably be foreseen that the person would go on to commit bad acts? And look at the parents here. Number one, that he had had a psychiatric assessment.

Number two, he had said and been on the record about wanting to commit a murder-suicide. Number three, he had tortured a cat very violently in a gruesome way they lay out in the -- in the court document there.

The parents were on notice that violence might have been coming. So, I think there's probably the cleanest case against the parents of all the different defendants here.

KEILAR: Interesting.


KEILAR: Is this a new approach to make this onerous to the gun manufacturer, the body armor supplier, to parents, to social media sites, saying, hey, you have to think about your place in mass violence or you're going to be paying the cost?

WILLIAMS: Yes. And it's not just by virtue of being a body armor manufacturer we're going to sue you. It's you, body armor manufacturer, who were on notice in this case because of words that we believe were said to you at the time the individual tried to buy it.

And they make the argument for each one saying that look, he said, I'm going to modify this gun or I'm going to go shoot people. So, therefore, you should be held accountable for that. And not just because you're a gun manufacturer by itself. Yes. KEILAR: Yes. We know you'll be watching this.


KEILAR: It's a novel case. Elliot, thank you.



SCIUTTO: Well, the Supreme Court is allowing a condemned inmate in Alabama to die by nitrogen gas when he is executed. The justices leaving in place a lower court's decision that defers to the inmate's wishes to die by nitrogen gas instead of lethal injection. Kenneth Smith's execution abruptly canceled in November after the state could not properly set an IV line.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us now. This has been a continuing issue with problems with lethal injection, so that led to not only the inmate's decision. But did it lead to the Supreme Court's reasoning on this?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Not the Supreme Court's reasoning, but it did -- that's what contributed to the inmate's decision here. Because over the past several months, Alabama has had a number of these botched lethal injection execution. So, that's what led to Kenneth Smith, petitioning to get the method of his execution changed from lethal injection to nitrogen gas.

And the Supreme Court, they ultimately actually did not step into this dispute. And that's what left the lower court opinion in place --


SCHNEIDER: -- allowing him to change his method of execution. There were two dissents this morning, one from Justice Thomas and Justice Alito, saying that the lower court was wrong here to allow this change in execution. But that not affecting anything. The Supreme Court is still letting this -- letting this move forward.


SCIUTTO: Justice Thomas and Alito, that's a familiar pair --

SCHNEIDER: It is. It is.

SCIUTTO: -- that's -- that is objecting to not conservative enough to set decisions here.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, exactly. And the circumstances surrounding this particular case are very interesting. So, this is Kenneth Smith. It was a 1988 murder for hire. He was paid $1,000 to work with an accomplice to murder a woman's -- a man's wife.

They ultimately succeeded in the murder. He was convicted. His execution was supposed to go forward in November. Interestingly, there were a flurry of last-minute appeals, including to the Supreme Court, they allowed the execution to move forward.

But state officials say because of the lag and time, they weren't able to find a vein to insert the intravenous line to administer this lethal injection in time before the death warrant expired. So, ultimately, his execution didn't move forward.

And his wasn't the only one. There was at least one other execution with a similar issue in months past.


SCHNEIDER: Alabama actually put executions on hold while they did a review.


SCHNEIDER: They've since resumed. But this case is interesting, Jim, because it may allow some of the 100-plus death row inmates in Alabama to maybe petition to change their method of execution because it was obviously successful for this particular case.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, there are also been cases about the supply of the drugs themselves.


SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider, thanks so much. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Anyone who's had a child recently knows that the cost of child care is up there with the cost of a mortgage. And apparently, it's hitting working moms the hardest. We have details on those numbers.

Also, ahead. An incredible story of a teenager who used a slingshot to fend off a kidnapper who grabbed his younger sister. That's right, a slingshot. Details on that when we come back.