Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Man Accused Of Ramming U-Haul Near White House Appears In Court; 1 Year Since Gunman Killed 19 Children & 2 Teachers In Uvalde; Target Removing Some LGBTQ+ Merchandise After Threats To Workers; Alex Murdaugh Indicted On 22 Federal Counts For Financial Schemes; Sources: Senior U.S. General Ordered Twitter Announcement Of Drone Strike That May Have Killed A Civilian Instead Of Target. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 13:30   ET



CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: But in the west, back out here, the water's warm almost all year long. There isn't a hurricane season -- or typhoon season. It's just forever. It can help any month of the year -- Boris?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: We certainly hope those folks in Guam are OK after that storm as we watch --


SANCHEZ: -- video of some of the damage.

Chad Myers, thank you so much for the update.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Well, just moments ago, the man accused of ramming a U-Haul truck into a security barrier very near the White House appeared in federal court.

Investigators say 19-year-old Sai Varshith Kandula made disturbing comments at the time of his arrest, very disturbing, telling police he intended to kill the president. They also say he had a Nazi flag, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us live outside the federal courthouse in Washington.

Brian, I wonder, are we going to hear from the defendant at this hearing? What do we expect to happen inside the courtroom?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we could well hear from him, Jim. He's in the court right now, pretty much as we speak, we believe. We expect to get an update from our producer who's in the courtroom very shortly.

But what we expected would be happening right now in the courtroom was that he would be read the charge against him. Right now, one federal charge against him and that is depredation of property of the United States in excess of $1,000. But we're told there could be additional charges filed.

Also what we could hear from in this hearing is whether he has an attorney. What the attorney has to say about all of this.

As you mentioned in your lead-in here, there have been some very disturbing things that he said to a Secret Service agent who interviewed him and filed some court documents yesterday in this case.

Basically, indicating that this defendant said he supported Nazi ideology, that he supported the Nazi idea of eugenics, that he said Hitler was a strong leader, and that he said he would kill the president and harm anyone who got in his way.

This is what he told an interviewing Secret Service agent on Monday evening after he emerged from that truck with a Nazi flag, of course after he rammed that truck into a security barrier about 200 yards from the White House. So we hope to get some more information on kind of his disposition.

We have been told by law enforcement authorities, Jim, that authorities are considering the idea of how much mental health may be playing a role in this incident. Maybe we'll learn about that during this hearing.

CNN did speak to two of his classmates from high school back in Chesterfield, Missouri, who said he was a very quiet guy in high school, that he never got in any trouble. But again, he just graduated from high school last year.

And we talked to experts on extremism. A lot of people become radicalized online. Their parents, at that age -- he's 19 years old -- parents don't necessarily know about it. That was the case with the Buffalo shooter, we were told.

So again, we'll maybe find out more information on that from this hearing.

SCIUTTO: I've got to say, when I look at that video again, authorities in that moment did not know what was in that truck, right? They did not know if there were explosives, et cetera. Certainly, a harrowing moment outside the White House.

Brian Todd, at the courthouse, thanks so much.



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: One year later, what has and hasn't changed in Uvalde, Texas, after the mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers? We are live outside Robb Elementary School next on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


[13:37:39] KEILAR: One year ago today, a teenaged gunman walked into an elementary school and unleashed evil. Nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers slaughtered in Uvalde, Texas.

And a botched police response followed by a lack of transparency and accountability has only added to the heartbreak and agony.

Last hour, across the state, Texans held a moment of silence at 11:30 Central time, marking the moment that the shooting began. Statewide, flags are also flying at half-staff.

And this afternoon, President Biden will speak, calling on Congress to confront the nation's gun violence epidemic.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in Uvalde.

And, Shimon, you've spent so much time there over this past year. How's the community holding up today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME & JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, certainly, you can feel the sadness. You can kind of feel the loneliness, the emptiness of what is around us at this moment.

You know, behind us is the school. We're seeing community members, parents bringing their kids, laying flowers. We've seen some of the family members of victims come here and lay flowers. So it's a somber day, of course. We'll see more activity later tonight when there's a candlelight vigil.

But this is a day that, for parents here, they were scared. They were afraid for this day. They didn't know how things were going to go because this community is still so divided, Brianna.

There are still so many questions about what happened here, the fact that there's not been any transparency. Many of the families still asking for answers to the questions they have about exactly what happened here.

And the other thing is family members had the opportunity recently to go inside that building and see where their kids died, took their last breaths. And from what I'm told from these family members, it was such a sad moment for them.

But they appreciated that moment to finally getting to where their kids spent their last moments.

So there's still a lot of grief, still a lot of anger here as they really try to move forward. But there are things, Brianna, that are just preventing that from happening.

KEILAR: They want to know what their children went through.

And, Shimon, this weekend, you unveiled a documentary on the massacre, what's really been a tragic mishandling by law enforcement.

[13:40:00] And you talk about transparency. So many of these parents have found their best shot at transparency has been through journalists like yourself.

I wonder what the feedback has been from the community seeing some things in that documentary that they never saw before.

PROKUPECZ: Well, for some of the family members who've asked us to see video, body camera footage of their kids who survived running from the classroom, they are appreciative.

They are happy that they can see this footage. They are happy that they can know more information about exactly what happened to their kids.

Because law enforcement and specifically the district attorney here is not providing any information. She's not answered any questions from the media about the investigation.

Instead, kind of, Brianna, what she's done is she's attacked our reporting.

Just the other day, when we did our story about the video and allowing the family members to see that video, she released a statement sort of attacking us, saying that we were sensationalist journalists and that we were retraumatizing these families.

When, in fact, that was not the case. The family members wanted to see this because they're trying to get answers to certain things about what happened here.

And the district attorney here has prevented that from happening. She's claiming there's this investigation, but she's not really explaining to them exactly what's going on.

So that is a frustration here for the family members certainly. But, hopefully, at some point, she will be able to release some information for them. They cannot see that closure until they get more information.

KEILAR: There is a lack of ethical and moral accountability, but perhaps, it's on their part.

Shimon, thank you so much. We do appreciate the reporting as we remember those who were lost on this day, one year ago. Shimon, thank you.

And we'll be right back.



KEILAR: This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL. And here's a look at some of the other headlines that we are following this hour. Colombian officials say search teams have discovered new traces of the

four children who went missing last week following a plane crash in the Amazon.

They report finding a pair of tennis shoes about 550 yards from the site of the crash along with a dirty diaper, the cover of a baby bottle and the frame of a mobile phone.

The new discoveries are closer to the wreckage site than a set of footprints that were uncovered last week.

Plus, a new study claims taking multivitamins could help improve memory in older adults. The research published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that taking a multivitamin each day for three years slowed cognitive aging and improved memory in adults over 60 compared to those who took a placebo.

And nearly two dozen alleged tomb raiders accused of running an international art trafficking ring are now in custody.

Italy's art theft police squad say that it recovered more than 3,500 pieces of ancient art, 3,500 taken by grave robbers in southern Italy. Officials say some of these artifacts were taken from previously unexplored archaeological digs.


SCIUTTO: Well, confrontations between customers and employees, team members getting threats, shoppers causing a scene, even throwing merchandise on the floor. That's why Target says it is now pulling some LGBTQ-plus products, like this, from its store shelves.

For several years, the retail giant has celebrated Pride Month with items ranging from clothing, books, music, home furnishings. These are just some of the items that are part of the Pride Month collection.

CNN's Matt Egan joins us now with more on this.

Matt, I wonder, have we seen this elsewhere, these kinds of protests? And have we seen companies then respond like Target is here by just pulling the stuff wholesale from its shelves?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Well, Jim, clearly, this is really just the latest battleground in these culture wars in the United States. I mean, last month, it was Bud Light facing this anti-transgender backlash.

And now Target, yes, they're saying that they're pulling some Pride products just days before the start of Pride Month.

And what's really interesting to me here is of course why they're doing this. They say that they're worried about the safety of their employees.

Let me read you what Target said in the statement. They said -- they said, "We've experienced threats impacting our team

members' sense of safety and well-being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans, including removing items that have been at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior."

Now, we don't have all the details on the precise nature of the threats here, nor where they happened.

But Target told the "Wall Street Journal" that people have confronted workers in stores, that they've knocked down Pride merchandise displays, they've put up threatening posts on social media that included video from inside the store. Clearly, some serious reaction.

Now the actual collection at Target, some 2,000 items, includes everything from gender-fluid mugs and queer calendars to children's books. Target hasn't said exactly which items they're pulling, but some are going to be pulled here.


And I think, Jim, this is just the latest example of how brands are struggling here, trying to navigate this political minefield, these culture wars in the United States, where, one wrong move, they'll threaten to alienate a big segment of their customer base.

It is very tricky for brands and it's very upsetting for customers, too -- Jim?

SCIUTTO: It looks like the protests worked, right? If you throw enough rainbow flip-flops on the floor of a store, you can get the store to pull their products. I just wonder how Target explains that.

EGAN: That's some of the criticism we're already hearing from people reacting to Target's move. We heard from the Southern Poverty Law Center via Twitter and they said that the message here to opponents of LGBTQ community and their rights is that violence and threats of violence actually works here.

SCIUTTO: Appears to have worked.

Matt Egan, in New York, thanks very much.


SANCHEZ: Convicted murderer, Alex Murdaugh, is facing new charges today. He's been indicted on 22 federal counts related to alleged financial schemes. You'll remember the disbarred attorney was convicted in March of killing his wife and son two years ago.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has been following all of this for us.

Dianne, alleged financial crimes. What exactly do these new charges entail?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, 22 in that now-unsealed indictment from the federal grand jury. Fourteen counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, two counts of fraud conspiracy and one count of bank fraud.

All of this is in relation to the multiple victims that those who have been following the Alex Murdaugh family are familiar with, the family of Gloria Satterfield, the former housekeeper, the Filer (ph) sisters, Hakim Pinkney and others, again, whose names are probably familiar to those who have followed these allegations surrounding Alex Murdaugh.

His attorneys did release a statement to CNN that said, quote, "Alex has been cooperating with the U.S. attorney's office and federal agencies in their investigation in a broad range of activities. We anticipate that the charges brought today will be quickly resolved without trial."

Now, look, they did not elaborate beyond that. But of course, Alex Murdaugh is currently serving two life sentences in a state prison for the murders of his wife and son.

And so, it is worth pointing out, he is currently in state prison. And it's possible that they could be looking at -- seeking a relocation of some sort to a federal installation.

I will point out that we received a statement from an attorney representing many of those victims in the indictments. The last line of that, Boris, simply said, "While it is said that Lady Justice is blind, she is not a sucker."

Bottomline, can't run or hide from justice.

SANCHEZ: Quite the statement there.

Dianne Gallagher, in Charlotte, North Carolina, for us, thank you so much.


KEILAR: Now to a CNN exclusive. Some new details about the U.S. drone strike in Syria earlier this month that may have killed a civilian by mistake.

A senior U.S. general ordering his team to tweet that a senior al Qaeda leader was targeted in the strike without proper evidence confirming who was killed. This is according to multiple defense officials.

CNN's Oren Liebermann was part of the team behind the story.

Oren, take us through the timeline here.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So, Brianna, this story plays out basically since the beginning of the month or nearly the beginning of the month. And it starts on May 3rd. That's when U.S. Central Command carries out a drone strike against what they had high confidence at the time was a senior al Qaeda leader. And as we've learned from multiple defense officials, it shows Erik

Kurilla ordered U.S. Central Command, known as CENTCOM, to put out a tweet saying they targeted a senior al Qaeda leader, and saying more information will become available when there are more operational details about the strike itself.

And this plays out in the hours after the strike is carried out. Even though officials knew at the time that it would take a few days, if not longer, to get a better sense of who exactly was killed in the strike. And that's because there are no U.S. troops in northwest Syria.

So as the days pass, there is no absolute confirmation or evidence confirming that the person that they were targeting, a senior al Qaeda leader, was, in fact, the person that was killed.

On May 8th, according to officials, "The Washington Post" begins presenting information to CENTCOM, suggesting that it wasn't that senior al Qaeda leader that was killed or a member of al Qaeda at all, but it was a civilian that was killed.

CNN has also spoken to members of that casualty's family, and it was a 56-year-old farmer, a father of 10, who was killed in that strike, not a member of al Qaeda.


It takes another week from that point, until May 15th, for U.S. CENTCOM to open what's known as a CIV CAR, a Civilian Casualty Credibility Assessment Report, to look into whether it was, in fact, a civilian that was killed or somebody else. And that is ongoing.

At that conclusion, there may be a 15-6, a more formal investigation, to find out if it was, in fact, ruled that it was a civilian that was killed. So all of this plays out and has been playing out.

The question, of course, the timeline, why did Kurilla order a tweet to go out so quickly, saying a senior al Qaeda leader was targeted, if CENTCOM knew it would take longer to have fidelity on who it was that was killed in the strike?

Officials say there is still some belief that it may be a member of al Qaeda that was killed. Though, of course, this isn't close to the high confidence that there was when the strike itself was carried out -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, just so unusual the timing of that tweet.

Oren, thank you for that exclusive reporting. We appreciate it.


SCIUTTO: Well, still ahead, the days of using your parents' or friends' Netflix account may be over. How much a new password crackdown may cost you.