Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Copy of "Burn After Reading" Letter Written by Brian Laundrie's Mother Obtained by CNN; Whistleblower in Hunter Biden Investigation is an IRS Employee; U.S. Remains in Heightened Threat Environment for Domestic Extremist Terrorism; Dutch Man Helped by Implants to Regain Ability to Walk After Paralysis; Google Questioned by Senate Democrats About How It Removes User Location Data. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 25, 2023 - 10:30   ET




RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back, and this is just in. CNN has obtained a copy of a letter written by the mother of Brian Laundrie. He is the man accused of killing Gabby Petito before taking his own life. That letter includes references to getting a shovel and also burying a body.

CNN Correspondent Jean Casarez now here with the details. So, Jean, what does the letter say?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the importance of this letter cannot be underemphasized because the reason we have it is that a judge yesterday said that the letter had to be turned over to the Petito attorney. It had to become something -- a part of discovery because it forms the basis of what their suit is intentional inflection of emotional distress. They believe this letter shows that the Laundries knew that Brian had murdered Gabby, and they weren't telling any information or communicating.

The Laundries saying, not at all. This was written so far before they ever took that trip. It was to show the love between a mother and a son. Let's go right to it because the beginning of the letter is where Roberta Laundrie says that she loves her son. You are my big boy. I will always love you forever. And then she says, "If you are in jail, I will bake a cake with a file in it. If you need to dispose of a body, I will show up with a shovel and garbage bags."

It goes on to talk about death. It goes on to talk about the angels. It says that her love is a verb, it's not a noun. It's a thing that will last forever. And I just got a statement from the attorney that is representing the Laundries and this is from Roberta Laundrie herself. She is saying, this letter was meant to show how much I loved my son. I am sure people use phrases all the time to express to their loved ones the depths of their love. Although I chose words that I thought would be impactful with Brian, given our relationship, this letter was in no way related to Gabby.

Now, the letter was undated. So, that becomes a question of fact, Rahel. And this is for a jury to decide, because if a jury believes that this was in regard to a mother knowing her son had committed murder and was not -- was going to help him in every way possible, there are so many potentials there. But what the way the want to use it in a civil case is the knowledge that the Laundries would have had to not at all communicate. And they say was outrageous behavior when the Petitos just wanted to know what had happened to Gabby.

SOLOMON: Jean, great to have you. Significant questions remain, as you pointed out, but significant development it sounds like.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: An employee of the IRS has now gone public, revealing himself as the whistleblower in the ongoing criminal probe into the finances of President Biden's son, Hunter Biden. Gary Shapley, he claims to have information about the alleged -- what he alleges as mishandling and political interference of that investigation.

CNN's Alayna Treene has much more on this. She's joining us now. He was removed from the investigation. What is he saying now as he's speaking out publicly?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, good morning, Kate. We now know who this whistleblower is. His name is Gary Shapley and he is a 14- year veteran of the IRS. And as you mentioned, he was recently removed from Hunter Biden's case. And we know, through our reporting, that he was specifically working on Hunter Biden's case.

Now, he claims that Hunter Biden's investigation was slow-walked at the direction of the Justice Department. And he claims that -- he believes the Justice Department may have been acting unethically here.


He also said that in his 14 years at the IRS, he has not seen a case treated like this. Now, he went public for the first-time last night with these claims and laid them out during an interview with "CBS News". Let's listen to what he had to say.


GARY SHAPLEY, IRS WHISTLEBLOWER IN HUNTER BIDEN PROBE: There was multiple steps that were slow-walked at the direction of the Department of Justice.


SHAPLEY: I have not, no. These deviations were normal process that -- and each and every time, it seemed to always benefit the subject. It just got to that point where that switch was turned on, and I just couldn't silence my conscious anymore.

AXELROD: Why do you want to navigate these waters? SHAPLEY: I don't want to do any of this. I took oath of office, and when I saw that egregiousness of some of these things, it no longer became a choice for me. It's not something that I want to do. It's something that I feel like I have to do.


TREENE: Now, Kate, Shapley also says that he is not a political person, and his decision to come forward this -- with these claims was not driven by political motivations. But just to take a step back here, we know that for years now, federal prosecutors have been investigating Hunter Biden. Spanning three attorneys general and they've waived bringing charges against him for alleged tax crimes and making a false statement. But so far, no charges have been filed, and Hunter Biden denies any wrongdoing.

But I can say that from my conversations with Republicans and Democrats, they are very eager to hear from Shapley firsthand and figure out what exactly is going on here. He is set to testify here in the Capitol tomorrow before the House weighs in means (ph) committee. Kate.

BOLDUAN: All right. So much more to come from this. Alayna, thank you very much.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: A new public advisory from the Department of Homeland Security says the U.S. remains in a heightened threat environment for domestic extremist terrorism. It's sized a string of racially and ethnically motivated attacks or plots in recent months.

Earlier this month, there was the mass shooting at a shopping outlet in Allen, Texas. The gunman who killed eight people allegedly espoused pro-Nazi views. In Washington D.C., federal officials are assessing the Monday night incident in which a man crashed a U-Haul truck into a security barrier right near the White House. According to court documents, the suspect praised Adolf Hitler to investigators after he was arrested. One official tells CNN, there does seem to be an increase in the calls for violence based on the neo-Nazi white nationalist theme, that on online forums.

Let's bring in CNN Security Correspondent Josh Campbell. Josh, explain what's going on with this advisory.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. So, it's part of its mission the DHS employees, teams of analysts whose job is to survey the threat landscape and make sure that law enforcement across this country understands what is going on. And as part of this advisory, really troubling, the DHS assesses that this ongoing heightened threat environment continues.

They cite several recent examples, as you mentioned. I'll read some of them. There was that incident just this week at the White House, this man with the Nazi flag crashing into the White House complex barrier near the White House. There was also in Allen, Texas, this recent suspected white supremist killing eight people at a shopping mall. DHS talks about a shooting at a Christian school in Tennessee, six people were killed. There was also an Ohio church that was targeted over an apparent trans event. And then finally, we've reported on extensively these attacks and threats to electrical substations. DHS cites a recent case in Maryland where two people were arrested plotting there.

So, the bottom line here, you look at all these recent incidents, DHS assesses that this heightened threat environment is not abating any time soon, John.

BERMAN: It really was remarkable with that U-Haul. To see the swastika laid out on the ground in the video. There's not a lot of ambiguity in a swastika flag in the back of a U-Haul truck, Josh. What's the level of concern heading into a presidential election?

CAMPBELL: You know the -- looking forward, that is of main concerns here to these DHS analysts. They say that, look, you know, it's not just the point we're in now but we know we've seen in the past where this heated political rhetoric has actually led to violence. There was, obviously, the January 6th insurrection. There was an attack on an FBI field office.

And this remains concerning for DHS. I'll read you part of this advisory. They say that, lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances continue to pose a persistent lethal threat. In the coming months, this is important, factors that could mobilize individuals to commit violence include their perceptions of the 2024 election, as well as legislative and judicial decisions.

Things happening in the courts. Things happening in legislators across the country, which is why it's so important that people who continue to parrot election lies understand that there is a potential cost. That there are people out there, extremists who are receiving these lies and could be predisposed to act with violence. John.

BERMAN: Josh Campbell, as always, appreciate your reporting. Thank you so much.

CAMPBELL: You bet.

BERMAN: Rahel.


SOLOMON: And, John, coming up more than a decade after a motorbike accident left a man paralyzed, he's walking again, and that is thanks to a medical breakthrough. We have more on the technology that made it possible.

And authorities catch one of the most wanted fugitives in Africa. Accused of orchestrating the deaths of thousands of people. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: Now, Wagner forces in Ukraine have begun its withdrawal from Bakhmut.


In a video posted to "Telegram Channel", the head of the mercenary group fighting for Russia announced that his troop will pull out of the city by June 1st. Another Ukrainian deputy defense minister confirmed the withdrawal, but also says that Wagner units are being now just replaced by regular Russian military units on the outskirts of the city.

After searching for more than two decades, authorities say they have now captured the most wanted fugitive from the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Officials say, Fulgence Kayishema was arrested yesterday afternoon in South Africa. He's accused of orchestrating the killing of more than 2,000 Tutsi men and women and children during the genocide, more than 2,000 people. After initially denying his identity, he eventually told the team who captured him that, I have been waiting a long time to be arrested.


SOLOMON: Well, check out this remarkable breakthrough. A medical device helped one man with paralysis walk naturally again, more than a decade after he was injured in a motorbike accident. Gert-Jan Oskam says that he can walk just over 300 feet with the device but still needs some help with some activities. He says, he always believed he would be able to walk again, and now he can.

CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has the details. So, Elizabeth, tell us how do this all work.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Rahel, this is so fascinating. Swiss researchers managed to establish a neuralink, that's the word they used. A neuralink between the brain and the spinal cord for this man. He's the first study participant in their study, Mr. Oskam. He's 40 years old. They implanted a device in his brain. They gave him a processing center, that's what they call it, in his backpack. And there is a wireless connection between the two. It worked very soon after the surgery, and he is now able to walk about 330 feet which is really quite amazing.

Now, this is not ready for everyone to use yet. They are still studying it. You know, I always feel a little bad when we do these stories because people who are paralyzed might see this and think, I want to get this. They can get it right now. But the researchers, one of the things they want to do is they want to make it more portable. Rahel.

SOLOMON: Well, Elizabeth, I'm so glad you said that. Because I think when people see this story, that will be the next question. Any sense -- I know you said not right now, any sense of how long it might take before this is a reality for people at home?

COHEN: Rahel, I really think it could be years. You know, back in 2018, I did a story with a woman who was a study participant in the University of Louisville study in Kentucky, and she, also paralyzed, and then got a device, not exactly this device but something sort of similar and she was also able to take steps. So, that was five years ago, and we're still not seeing these kinds of devices on the market. There are still refining that needs to be done. You want to make sure you're not harming the patients. I think it's going to be a while.

SOLOMON: Yes, a lot more work to be done. But still, great to see the progress. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.


BERMAN: So, could Google tracking data be used to help prosecute women who get abortions now illegal in some states. These fresh concerns being raised. Some people in Congress say that Google has broken a promise.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. The world's news network.

BERMAN: This morning, nearly a dozen senate Democrats are asking Google to clarify its policies on user's location history and sensitive locations -- at sensitive locations, including abortion clinics. Concerns over location security have increased since the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade last year. Many worry that stricter abortion laws could lead anti-abortion advocates to seek user data to find out if people have illegally sought an abortion, if they've literally been at an abortion clinic.

If users opt to have their locations turned on, trips to locations would be deleted soon after any visit, according to the company. Earlier this month, the "Washington Post" tested this function and found that Google was not quickly or consistently deleting users recorded visits to planned parenthood locations.

CNN's Brian Fung is with us now. Brian, first, just explain what's supposed to happen and what is happening.

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Yes, John. Google says it will delete the location history of people who visit sensitive locations like abortion facilities or, you know, fertility clinics soon after they visit those locations, you know, provided that they have location history actually turned on. But, you know, as you said, the "Washington Post" and several other privacy advocates have tested this in practice, and they found that, you know, Google might not actually be doing this deletion consistently or reliably or on a timely basis.

And so, what lawmakers, including Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Mazie Hirono are doing is writing Google and saying, hey, tell use more about what's going on. And let me read you just a bit of what comes from the letter. They said here, this data is extremely personal and includes information about reproductive health care. We're also concerned it could be used to target advertisements for services that may be unnecessary or potentially harmful physically, psychologically, or emotionally.

The lawmakers also add that, "Claiming and publicly announcing that Google will delete sensitive location data without consistently doing so, could be considered a deceptive practice." Now, that last bit on deceptive practice is really important, John, because the Federal Trade Commission is empowered to go after unfair and deceptive business practices. And so, what they're implying here is that Google could be exposed to potential federal investigation as a result of its practices here. John.

BERMAN: Brian, very quickly, because I know people are going to be concerned about this. If you have your location data turned off, this does not apply to you?


FUNG: That appears to be correct. Although, you know, when you look at the amount of information that Google supplies in response to law enforcement request, you know, the government has sent various state and local and federal governments have sent subpoenas and warrants to Google in -- just in the last half year alone. The company has reported receiving 20,000 subpoenas and 30,000 warrants in the United States. And, you know, that data pre-dates the overturning of Roe V. Wade. So, you can just imagine -- I mean, now going forward with some of these state laws, those numbers may soon increase. John.

BERMAN: Well, this looks like fuel the fire for people who are concerned that their phone reveals so much. Brian Fung, thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: So, is there a hint of optimism on Capitol Hill? House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says, every hour matters right now in trying to strike a deal and avoid a debt default. Also, just hearing from the House Democratic leader on the state of affairs there. The latest on those talks as lawmakers are preparing to head out of town right now.

And today is the first full day of the DeSantis presidential campaign. Where he's headed first and what it says about the road ahead for the Republican presidential primary. We'll be right back.