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Wagner Chief Says U.S. Citizen Killed in Bakhmut Fighting; New Mexico Shooting Rampage Kills Three, Injures Six; Texas Mall Shooting 9-1-1 Calls; Debt Limit Showdown. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 11:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A brutal attack inside the district office of a U.S. congressman. A man with a metal baseball bat strikes a long-time staffer and an intern on her first day.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In Ukraine, unconfirmed reports an American has been killed on the battlefield. The Russians claiming to have destroyed an American made defense system and the State Department is now responding.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus alarming shortage of U.S. doctors has lawmakers taking action. All of this on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


SIDNER: We begin this morning with reports out of Ukraine, claims a U.S. citizen has died in Bakhmut and the State Department is saying that it is looking into this. The besieged city in Eastern Ukraine has been seeing heavy fighting for months now.

And now the Wagner paramilitary group says a body has been found with U.S. identification documents. The State Department says it needs additional information and needs that in order to determine what happened here.

We are hearing from the Ukrainian air defense saying that it has staved off a major aerial Russian attack. But the air defenses made by the Western world took out the Russian weapons. Nic Robertson is joining us from Eastern Ukraine.

Is there any evidence suggesting that an American has died now in this war, this late in this war?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Not as far as we know and not as far at the moment it seems that the State Department knows, either. The evidence put forward by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner boss.

It is hard to take at face value because he is known for fabrication and propaganda, so difficult to know if what he is saying is true. He says the American citizen, his body, the troops have died fighting for the Ukrainians in Bakhmut. We know that the fighting is intense. It's going on at the moment.

The fighting in the center of the city is some of the worse in terms of casualties for Ukrainians and Russian forces. And Prigozhin is saying that he is going to repatriate the American citizen's body and do it with respect, in a casket with American flag, because he said that the citizen died fighting, which, in his view is an honorable thing to do.

But the veracity of it, we don't have it at the moment.

SIDNER: The State Department is looking into it at this hour. Thank you, Nic Robertson, for your reporting from Eastern Ukraine -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: "Indiscriminate" is the unsettling way that the police are describing an attack in New Mexico yesterday. It appears that a teenage gunman killed three, wounded six.

The suspect targeted victims randomly and used at least three guns in that attack. Natasha Chen is back with us this hour.

The shooter was killed by police.

What more are they saying about why this happened?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the question that everyone wants answered. And the police chief in the video last night said that they are talking to the gunman's family and looking at all of the evidence into the possible motive here.

As you mentioned, so far, they believe this is random. The police chief described this young shooter going through the neighborhood in a wide and complex scene. Here is the police chief describing what they are looking at.


CHIEF STEVE HEBBE, FARMINGTON, NM, POLICE DEPARTMENT: The suspect roamed throughout the neighborhood up to a quarter of a mile. At least six houses and three cars were shot in the course of the event as the suspect randomly fired at whatever entered his head to shoot at.



CHEN: And the suspect did kill three people, injuring six others, including two police officers, who have nonlife threatening injuries. And the police chief said he is proud of the agencies who responded within five minutes -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: None of the victims and the shooter have not been identified by the police or authorities.

But what are you hearing from the people in the neighborhood?

CHEN: Yes, there are some witnesses who spoke to "Good Morning, America" who talked about how terrifying those moments were and, of course, a lot of chaos in those moments. This is what they said.


JOLENE ROBLEDO, SHOOTING WITNESS: Finding a bullet hole through your daughter's window was just like, my gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is the room, went through it there.

ROBLEDO: It was traumatic to be barricaded in your laundry room with your daughter, who is 1.


CHEN: Very emotional and I know that the community actually gathered last night to pray for all of these families, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Natasha, thank you for the update -- John.

BERMAN: A suspect is in custody after attacking two congressional staffers with a metal baseball bat outside of the district office of Virginia Congress man Gerry Connolly. Staffers were taken to the hospital and have since been released.

CNN has also learned that the suspect may have been involved in another disturbing incident that was caught on video.


BERMAN (voice-over): In light of yesterday's attack, House lawmakers are allowed to secure their district offices with no cost to them.


Sunlen Serfaty live in Washington.

Sunlen, what are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Many members have been concerned about security in the wake of this attack and certainly in this moment of increasing political violence.

And my colleague Manu Raju is saying that some moves are being made to address those concerns on Capitol Hill. Senior Republican sources says House lawmakers are allowed to secure their district offices, things like security systems and intercom systems.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy's office says he has empowered the House's top law enforcement official to work with them on this. And this is coming as we are learning more of the suspect of that brazen attack at Representative Connolly's office.

The suspect is 49 and, according to his father, he is schizophrenic and he has not been taking his medication for three months. The representative says the suspect had contacted his office in the past and reached out for help on a particular issue. And the staff said he made some strange statements but never made any

threats like yesterday's attack. The congressman was not in the office at the time but said the suspect entered the office filled with out of control rage and demanded to see him. And this is more of what he said.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): I don't think that there is a motivation but we are talking about real mental illness. If you are a member of Congress and your office is in the federal building, you have security. But in a commercial office space, you have no security.

And what could go wrong?

We learned the answer.


SERFATY: The suspect is under arrest and facing charges of one count of aggravated malicious wounding and one count of malicious wounding.

BERMAN: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

SIDNER: The one certainty about the debt limit, time is running out. Congressional leaders and the president will try to hash out a deal again today.

And keeping artificial intelligence in check.

Later, doctors in demand. The shortage is being felt nationwide but especially in Black and Brown communities. All of that ahead on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.





BERMAN (voice-over): On the radar this morning, 9-1-1 tapes have been released by the city of Allen, Texas, from the mass shooting at a mall. On the call, a woman tells the dispatcher she is helping someone who has been shot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Describe their injuries.

What's going on, ma'am?


We have her -- (CROSSTALK)






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, I'm sorry, ma'am. We've got a lot going on.

We've got a shooting victim at H&M.

OK, ma'am, keep her safe, please.

Can you please press something on her to stop the bleeding?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I have got help on the way. I'm letting them know. I need you to bear down, please, OK. I have to keep taking 9-1-1 calls.



BERMAN: Eight people were killed that day, including three children. That gunman was shot and killed by police.

The Biden administration is set to announce nearly $11 billion to help rural Americans invest in clean energy, coming the Inflation Reduction Act. The goal is to move electricity coops and utilities in rural America to renewable energy systems.

In Florida, governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs at all state universities. He says they are a distraction.

BOLDUAN: In Washington, they are running out of time and, today, the leaders are once again going to the table. President Biden is set to meet this afternoon with congressional leaders for debt limit talks.

And this is the second sit-down for the principals ahead of the June 1st deadline. It is expected and feared that the United States could default on its debt. Kevin McCarthy is speaking ahead of the big meeting. And CNN's Lauren Fox is on the Hill.

And I see you walking with McCarthy this morning and what is he telling you?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was not optimistic that they would have breakthroughs today, unless something significant changed. He did not see the prospect of any big movement at this meeting this afternoon.

He also indicated to our colleagues just a short while ago that one of the red lines that is emerging for the Republicans is that any bill will need to include some type of work requirement for the social safety net programs or an expansion of the work requirements.

And meanwhile that is something that Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic leader of the House, indicated to members today that he is not supportive of. So it is showing you that on one issue the kind of hurdles that are ahead.

That is one of many issues they need to discuss today and this is about raising the debt ceiling but they have to have a discussion about reducing spending, how many years they are going to raise the debt ceiling for.

And all of the items are on the table but so far, as long as the staff is meeting around the clock, there is not the movement that McCarthy and others believe they should have to advance it in both the House and the Senate in short order.

This is what Kevin McCarthy said about the president leaving tomorrow for an international trip.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president is the President of the United States and he can make that decision one way or another. But we have 16 days to go and I would not spend eight days out of the country.


FOX: Of course, Kevin McCarthy indicated earlier that he believes that a deal needs to be reached by the weekend in order to draft the legislation and give his members time to read over it and pass it in the House and pass it in the Senate and get the president to sign it.

And that is a lot ahead for the negotiations that have not shown signs of progress, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Lauren, thank you so much.

SIDNER: Truly. Everyday we are talking and it and it is not taken care of and the debt limit discussions are focused on an opportunity to come together. The first one is permitting reform where new energy projects are a priority but they do not agree on the details of the projects.

Republican leaders and Democrat Joe Manchin want to expand oil and gas drilling and expand pipelines to carry the fuels but most Democrats want to increase renewable energy projects.

Then there's new work requirements for certain government programs. The Republicans want to increase the work requirements for recipients of food stamps and Medicaid and Democrats, including President Biden, have supported tougher aid programs in the past.

But Biden is not likely to get on board with any Medicaid restrictions that would take away any health coverage or push Americans into poverty.

The next issue is clawing back unspent COVID-19 funding. After meeting with the Republican leaders on the Hill last week, President Biden said that this is on the table. And the question is how much of that money can be agreed on.

The final major sticking point is broad spending cuts over the next decade. The Republicans have offered maxing out the discretionary spending at 2022 levels for as many as 10 years.

But the Louisiana Republican Garrett Graves said that the White House is pushing for a much shorter window and other Republicans say it is difficult to accept a two-year spending caps deal -- John.


BERMAN: All right. Joining us now is CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Great to see you, Gloria.


BERMAN: So President Biden or House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has the harder time with compromise?

BORGER: I think both of them. You are hearing from the progressives in the Democratic Party saying they don't want tougher work requirements and they don't want tougher permitting for oil projects and McCarthy has the right wing constituency in the Republican Party, who is saying, you know, we have to push for more spending cuts.

I think that in my experience with these debt ceiling negotiations, what happens is that everybody says that you cannot reach any kind of a decision until they reach a decision. That is usually in the 11th hour.

And the Republicans are going to complain that the president should not be abroad even though there are telephones that work. And they all have to hold their noses at some point to get it done and that is usually how it works.

BERMAN: You will see a lot of frowns in the next several days on this.


BERMAN: Let's talk presidential politics. Obviously, Donald Trump did a town hall last week.

And the super PAC that is supporting Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce, that super PAC put out a statement the night of the town hall and attacked Donald Trump, saying that he spent his time on CNN saying what he did or didn't do on January 6, whether he will or will not pardon people who harm police officers.

How the 2020 election was rigged and then this tweet from the super PAC for Ron DeSantis, how does this make America great again?

That's last week. Now Semaphore (ph) is saying that DeSantis allies are getting skittish about this. And they are saying that one member said they 100 percent recognized that the tweet was an error and the post was a massive mistake.

Why are they so nervous about taking on Trump directly?

BORGER: Well, they are so afraid of alienating the base of the party. That is the problem all Republicans have, because how do you take on Trump without sounding like Democratic talking points?

Republicans are saying to this PAC, you are sounding like a Democrat. That is not what Ron DeSantis wants to do. He wants to talk about his own record of accomplishment and how he is no drama as a candidate.

But at some point, you have to handle Donald Trump and if you cross that Rubicon -- Chris Christie, if he should become a candidate, has already done that. Asa Hutchinson has done that.

But what will Ron DeSantis do?

We don't know yet.

BERMAN: Let's talk about another possible candidate in the field, former vice president Mike Pence is making the moves to possibly get in the race.

And Scott Reed, who worked for Bob Dole way back when, says this campaign is going to introduce the country as Mike Pence as his own man, a true economic, social and national security conservative, a Reagan conservative.

How much room is there for that type of Republican right now?

BORGER: I don't know, because I spoke to Reed after that. And he said there is a lane for Mike Pence, a true conservative, Midwestern lane and they are issue-oriented and no out-Trumping Trump.

To get back to the previous point, that is not what Mike Pence is going to try and do. So we know that Mike Pence can't beat Donald Trump. I don't think that he wants to continue to take him on directly, because he loses when he does that.

Reed is saying that we have to have our own lane and it'll be conservative like Ronald Reagan bedrock conservatives. And that other guy that I used to work for, I am not paying much attention to him. And so we will see if it works.

BERMAN: We will see if it is a highway lane or teeny tiny bicycle path. BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, an IRS whistleblower is claiming to have

information about mishandling and interference in the investigation into Hunter Biden. That whistleblower has now been removed from the case.


BOLDUAN: What this means for that ongoing probe. That's next.




SIDNER: New this morning. An IRS whistleblower claiming to have information about the alleged mishandling and political interference with the Hunter Biden investigation has been removed from the investigation. CNN's Sara Murray is joining us with the developing story.

Who exactly removed him from this investigation?