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State Department Hasn't Verified Claim U.S. Citizen Died in Bakhmut; Today, Biden to Hold Debt Ceiling Negotiations with Top Lawmakers; Three Killed, Six Injured in New Mexico Shooting Rampage. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A controversial claim that an American has been killed fighting in Ukraine, this as the Russians also say they have destroyed an American-made air defense system.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Random and indiscriminate, the search is on for answers now after a teenager terrorizes a New Mexico neighborhood, and three people were shot dead.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: And a new immigration law in Florida is causing confusion and uncertainty, and could hurt the economy. What the reaction is to tough penalties and restrictions for undocumented workers. We're following these stories and more all coming in right here to CNN News Central.

BERMAN: So, this morning, a new claim that a U.S. citizen has died fighting in Bakhmut. That is a city in Eastern Ukraine that has seen heavy fighting for months now. The head of the pro-Russia Wagner paramilitary group claims that a body was found with U.S. identification documents. The State Department it has not verified the claim but it is seeking additional information.

Now, overnight, the Ukrainian air defense says it repelled a major air assault by Russia. Ukrainian officials say waves of Russian drones and sophisticated cruise missiles targeted Kyiv, but they say Ukraine's air defenses, many of the western-made, took out the Russian weapons.

CNN's Nic Robertson joins us now from Eastern Ukraine. Nick, we have known that some Americans have gone to fight in Ukraine over the last year. We've also known that Americans have died there. What is the latest on this claim of a U.S. citizen dying in Bakhmut?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes. I mean, we know that Bakhmut is one of the places that is perhaps the most deadliest for any service personnel fight for Ukrainians or for Russians, for both sides. Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is making this claim without putting forward any substantiated facts so far, is known far more for propaganda than it is for truth.

But what he has said is this U.S. citizen who he says died in battle fighting for the Ukrainians in Bakhmut, he said he will be repatriated to the United States, or at least to Americans, American representatives, that he will be put in a coffin, that he will draped in a U.S. flag, because he said he died apparently in an honorable way fighting, not died in his bed. But, again, Prigozhin propaganda, we cannot lose sight of that.

In Kyiv, though, again, it appears a dose of Russian propaganda, claiming that they were able to strike a Patriot missile defense system of the type the United States has given to the Ukrainians. What we have heard from the Ukrainian military is that Russia tried to penetrate their sophisticated air defenses with multiple missiles, the hypersonic Kinzhal missile, six of them fired from the north from aircraft, nine cruise missiles fired from the Black Sea, from the south, and from the east, on Russian territory, three of their large Iskander S-400 missiles, all trying to penetrate the air defenses around Kyiv. And key Ukrainian officials are saying that none of those missiles got through.

This is a war where a lot of missiles, a lot of shells, a lot of casualties and deaths but also a lot of propaganda coming from the Russian side, and Prigozhin is in that camp much of the time, John.

BERMAN: Look, a lot of this is just almost impossible to verify at this point. The Ukrainians claim they shot down these sophisticated Russian hypersonic missiles, the Russians claim they destroyed a U.S. Patriot missile battery, American-provided missile battery.


We are just going to have to wait and see as these details reveal themselves.

Nic Robertson, to you and your team, thank you very much. Kate?

BOLDUAN: So, this afternoon, President Biden is set to meet for the second time with congressional leaders on the debt ceiling in the White House. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is now reiterating her warning in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that time is running out and that the United States could default by June 1st.

Sources have described the ongoing staff level discussions and negotiations as productive, but Kevin McCarthy has been pouring cold water on that this week.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House for us. Arlette, what are you hearing there? What could happen today?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the expectations that today's meeting is going to lead to any grand deal are pretty low at this point. You have really heard this different public messaging from the White House and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy heading into this face-to-face meeting at 3:00 this afternoon.

The House speaker telling our colleague, Lauren Fox, earlier today that he is not optimistic about these upcoming talks unless things seriously change. That runs a little counter to what you heard from President Biden over the weekend when he said that he felt that there was a desire to reach an agreement from both sides, as he really struck this optimistic tone.

Now, we know behind the scenes that those conversations on the staff level were conducted in earnest over the course of the past week since that last meeting between Biden and McCarthy. Both sides have called those meetings constructive even though they have been very slow-going in getting closer to any type of an agreement or establishing the contours of what could be hammered out between President Biden and the House speaker.

You know, there are those areas that have been put on the table to open to some potential compromise when it comes to permitting reform and bringing -- clawing back unspent COVID relief funds, but there are certainly still sticking points when it comes to these length of budget caps as well as the questions about work requirements for certain government aid programs.

But right now, everyone is facing a real time crunch in this moment. The House speaker has said that he thinks that there needs to a deal struck by this weekend, and it simply takes a lot of time to move legislation and corral caucuses together in order to get these types of agreements signed into actual law.

Now, a bit earlier today, we also heard Secretary Janet Yellen of the Treasury Department a warning of the stakes, saying, quote, if Congress does not address the debt limit, there are no good options that Treasury or the government can use to save us from catastrophe.

So, clearly, this meeting this afternoon is incredibly high-stakes, it's also running up against that timeframe for President Biden to depart for Japan tomorrow. But aides I have spoken to have acknowledged that he could very well leave for this trip without a deal in hand and with those staff level talks continuing.

BOLDUAN: And just as we're speaking, the control room is telling me that Kevin McCarthy, Arlette, was just speaking to reporters again, and he was asked if he would advice the president not to go on the trip, as you're talking about, he is just about to leave. And Kevin McCarthy is saying something to the effect of the president is the president, he can make his own decisions. But if it were him, he would not be leaving the country for 8 days when there are only 16 days before we could be looking at a default.

So, let us see where this goes from here. It's great to see you, Arlette. Thank you. Sara?

SIDNER: This morning, investigators are trying to figure out how yet another mass shooting in America unfolded and why. The latest one happened in Northern New Mexico. An 18-year-old gunman killed three people yesterday and wounded six others in a rampage authorities are calling at this point purely random.

The shooter and the victims have not yet been identified, but police say the suspect was using at least three firearms including an AR- style rifle before he was shot dead. CNN's Natasha Chen is following details for us. What are you hearing? What is the latest, completely random at this point?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, that is what the police believe, at least what the police chief said in a video posted to Facebook last night. He described how this shooter actually roamed up to a quarter mile in this neighborhood firing at, quote, whatever entered his head to shoot at, including six houses and three cars in addition to the people you mentioned who were hurt.

Let's go over those details. Three people shot and killed, six others wounded, and those six others include two police officers, one Farmington Police officer and one state police officer. Both are expected to be okay.

But here is the chief talking about their investigation into why this happened.


CHIEF STEVE HEBBE, FARMINGTON, NEW MEXICO POLICE: We are doing the best that we can. And talking with family members of the suspect, what was going on, look at the evidence to see if we can figure out what the motivation was.


But at this point, it appears to be purely random, that there was no schools, no churches, no individuals targeted.


CHEN: There was a lot of fear in the community at that moment, as you can well imagine, some of the schools were locked down in that area while this was going on. The chief called this devastating. He said this was one of the most difficult and horrific days that Farmington has experienced, this town of about 46,000 people in northwest New Mexico.

He also said he was incredibly proud of the three agencies that responded to the scene five minutes after that first call. And within three minutes of their arrival, that's when shots were fired, including the exchange of gunfire that killed that suspect.

We are expecting a press conference later this afternoon, so we hope to learn more information then, Sara.

SIDNER: Well, Natasha Chen, thank you so much, something so many places in America have had to experience. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, like Allen, Texas, the frantic calls from shoppers heard for the first time coming to the aid of people hurt as a gunman opened fire at an outlet mall in Allen, Texas. Eight people were killed in that shooting. That was just ten days ago now. Seven other people were injured. CNN's Josh Campbell is tracking the very latest for us. He's joining us now. Josh, these calls are really a reminder of how these shootings, they not only forever impact those who are injured or, God forbid, unfortunately, killed, but also anyone and everyone who comes to their aid to try to help. What do you hear in these 911 calls?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, you are absolutely right, Kate. This is horrific. And it's so important that people not tune this out and not tune away, because although we continue to report on those who are physically injured in these mass shootings, there are untold number of others who are psychologically impacted.

I want to play some of this audio. I'll warn you, this is disturbing, but we're hearing some of that pain for ourselves, as you can hear the voices of 911 callers desperately trying to direct police to the gunmen, while others are trying to save lives, trying to treat those who've already been shot. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, ma'am, if you are not injured, I need you to take cover and stay in place.

Hello, ma'am? Is any -- yes, they're on scene. Do you see a shooter? Are you injured?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, the shooter is outside. We need you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are they outside? Where is he outside?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's walking outside.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where, ma'am? Where?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's walking outside the Fossil Store.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fossil store, at the outlet. He's right there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Fossil store.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Okay, where are they shot at?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the lower back. The bleeding is controlled and they're conscious and breathing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay, thank you. So, we've got help on the way. Can you please get them to safety and check the bleeding?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's -- we're inspecting right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Okay. Stay there. We've got help on the way. I'm letting them know that I have to keep answering question -- 911, okay? (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMPBELL: Now, eight people were tragically shot, seven others injured. But, Kate, obviously, you just have to think about the untold number of others who have emotional scars that will continue for the foreseeable future.

BOLDUAN: And, Josh, in all of this, the investigation into the shooting continues. What are you hearing about a possible motive?

CAMPBELL: So, thus far, investigators have not concluded a specific motive. We, of course, have been reporting on the suspect's social media footprint, his postings of white supremacist material, about neo-Nazis.

Now, authorities did say there, the Texas Department of Public Safety, that they don't believe that he specifically targeted any individuals at the mall, but the location in and of itself. Nevertheless, we are hearing from community members there in North Texas who are calling for a robust investigation. They point to the fact that this alleged white supremacist attacked a mall in an area that is becoming increasingly more diverse. Have a listen.


STEPHANIE DRENKA, CO-FOUNDER, DALLAS ASIAN AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY: The targeted location does not exclude the possibility of a hate crime. Allen and its adjacent cities of Plano, Frisco and Carrollton are home to one of the largest just Asian-American populations outside of the coast. We are demanding a full and thorough investigation by local and federal officials to determine if this was a racially motivated hate crime.


CAMPBELL: Now, at last check, the FBI laboratory was trying to analyze the suspect's computers, trying to get into those devices again, trying to collect as much information as they can, Kate, to try to get to that motive.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Josh. Thanks for that update. John?

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Kate.

Gas price plunge, a huge drop in prices at the pump. So, will this continue?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says a new law will end what he calls the woke indoctrination at public colleges there. What's really going on here?



SIDNER: On our radar this morning, polls are open right now at across the state of Kentucky. It is primary day and voters are deciding which candidates will make it to November's general election.

In a slew of key races, the most high-profile contest is for governor. Several Republicans are vying for the chance to take on Democratic incumbent Andy Beshear. Beshear is facing two Democratic challengers, but he's widely expected to win re-nomination.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that defunds diversity, equity and inclusion programs at all state universities. DeSantis says the programs are a, quote, distraction from the core mission. The new law says that general education courses can't distort significant historical events or include a curriculum that teaches identity politics or critical race theory.


Las Vegas is one step closer to landing a professional baseball team and Oakland, California, is about to lose one. The Oakland A's reached an agreement to build a stadium at the site of the Tropicana Hotel on the Vegas Strip. The new ballpark is expected to accommodate nearly 30,000 fans and bring in 2.5 million spectators annually. The A's have, of course, played in Oakland since 1968. Kate?

BOLDUAN: So, there's some good news ahead of the Memorial Day weekend travel. Gas prices are down in a big way, nearly a dollar cheaper than a year ago. But what's pushing those prices down, there's more to the story and it might not all be good.

CNN's Matt Egan, he's joining me now with new data on this. So, Matt, let's start with where prices are now and what is behind the decline.

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Kate, there are a lot of reasons behind this, and, no, not all of them are great news, but this is undeniably a big positive for consumers that prices are miles away from last summer's nightmare. Look at this, $3.53 a gallon nationally, according to AAA, down by $0.14 in the past month, down almost $1 from a year ago, almost a $1.50 from the record high last June of $5.02 a gallon.

And, you know, there's actually half the states right now are under $3.40 a gallon, including New Hampshire, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina. There's even one state averaging less than $3 a gallon. That's Mississippi, where AAA says the state average is $2.97. That's down from $4.08 a year ago in Mississippi.

So, why is this happening? The Fed's war on inflation, combined with recession fears, that has driven down oil prices, that's keeping the lid on gas prices. Plus, U.S. supply is rebounding from the COVID crash and Russia's supply has been a lot better than people feared. If you put it together, you have gas prices that are a lot tamer than last year. The question is, of course, how long does this last?

Think there're two risks. One would be if the economy actually does a lot better than people expect, demand could overwhelm supply. Also, there's always the risk of a hurricane that knocks out refineries. Still, though, GasBuddy's Patrick De Haan, he told me that he thinks there's a growing chance that the national average will not hit $4 a gallon this summer.

BOLDUAN: Not all summer?

EGAN: Not all summer.

BOLDUAN: So, add to this conversation, the Biden administration just announced they're going to buy millions of barrels to put back into this Strategic Petroleum Reserve. What's going on here?

EGAN: Yes. Remember the SPR, that's the nation's emergency stockpile.

BOLDUAN: I prefer to call it SPRO, thank you very much.

EGAN: It's the nation's emergency stockpile of oil. It's actually the biggest stockpile of oil in the world and it has been drained aggressively under President Biden unlike anyone has ever done before. Biden administration coming out today -- actually yesterday -- saying they're going to buy 3 million barrels of oil to start what is going to be a years' long process of replenishing this reserve.

But we should keep all of this in context. They have drained hundreds of millions of barrels and the SPR is actually at the lowest level since the early 1980s. So, this is really the start of a longer process.

BOLDUAN: And clearly necessary.

EGAN: Clearly.

BOLDUAN: It's good to see you, Matt. Thank you so much.

EGAN: Thanks, Kate.


BERMAN: So, later today, North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature will attempt to push through a law that would ban abortions after 12 weeks. The measure, it was vetoed by the state's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. But Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature. And if the vote goes by party lines, it could override that veto.

CNN's Isabel Rosales joins us now. Isabel, where does this vote seem to be going? Republicans only have a one vote margin for the supermajority.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right and leadership in both chambers, they believe that they've got the votes here to defeat Governor Roy Cooper's veto. And, listen, the governor has been putting in the hours. He's been touring the state for the past week or so trying to build support for this veto. But he's got a big barrier here that you mentioned, John, which is that Republicans have a veto-proof supermajority.

So, the margins here for the governor's veto to survive are very slim. He needs one Republican to break away from their party in order for that veto to survive. He's been focusing on four Republicans so far, two of which have remained silent. Those two that you see on the left there, Bradford and Lee, they have already pushed back on Cooper. They're not going to work with him on that. But the two on the right, right there, Ted Davis, Republican Ted Davis and Tricia Cotham, those are the ones that he's keeping an eye on and we're keeping an eye on because they have remained silent.

Ted Davis, he was absent. He was, in fact, the only House Republican who did not vote for Senate Bill 20 earlier this month. And then there's Tricia Cotham. She did vote for the bill, but she has a long history here of advocating and campaigning for abortion access. She's also the politician who infamously switched from Democrat to Republican earlier this past month.


Now, Phil Berger, he is the state Senate majority. He has confirmed that that vote to override the veto that is on the floor calendar, that session starts at 04:00 P.M. Eastern. And that vote could happen anytime after that.

So, here's the order of events. The Senate must vote on the bill first, that's the originating chamber. Then that bill can go over to the House. In each chamber, three-fifths of all voting and present members, they must vote in order for the veto to be overridden there. John, back to you.

BOLDUAN: All right, we will watch this very carefully. Isabel Rosales, thanks so much for that report. Sara?

SIDNER: A DOJ report finally released after years of investigation, why Special Counsel John Durham says there never should have been a full Trump-Russia FBI probe.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has enacted a sweeping new law imposing tough penalties and restrictions on undocumented workers. Now, many migrants are considering leaving the state all together.