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Soon: Failed GOP Candidate Accused Of Targeting Dems Appears In Court; Brian Walshe Charged With Murdering His Missing Wife; George Santos Took $3K From Dying Dog's GoFundMe, Veterans Say; Trump Implores Facebook To Unblock His Account. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 15:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: It's the top of the hour on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.


Any moment now, failed GOP political candidate Solomon Pena will appear in court. The New Mexico election denier is accused of orchestrating shootings at the homes of local Democratic officials. Now, Solomon Pena faces a slew of charges including conspiracy and attempted aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for the attacks.

CAMEROTA: Pena lost his state house race to a Democratic opponent by a margin of more than 50 percent. Police say he visited the homes of at least three of the officials before the shootings. Some of those visits were caught on doorbell cameras.

CNN's Josh Campbell joins us now. Josh, what do we expect at the hearing?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This hearing starting just minutes from now there in New Mexico, this will be the suspect's first appearance in court since he was arrested by Albuquerque SWAT officers on Monday.

Now, take a look at these charges. They are obviously very serious. He's being charged with felon in possession of a firearm as well as attempted aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, shooting at occupied dwelling four counts there, four counts of shooting from a motor vehicle as well as conspiracy.

Now, we've reached out to Pena's attorney, but what police alleged is that he was the ringleader in this conspiracy to target Democratic officials in New Mexico shooting at four homes. This came after Pena allegedly went to the homes of three of these elected officials essentially berating them, very erratic claiming that he believed that he won his election, despite losing it in a landslide.

Authorities released in this criminal affidavit, a litany of evidence they have. It includes the firearms that were recovered, it includes a cell phone technology they were able to use and analyze to put him in the location around these areas. Police also say they have a cooperating witness, someone with knowledge of this conspiracy has flipped and is providing information to authority, so again, a very strong case there.

Again, you look at the alleged motive here, this is someone who was motivated by election lies, it appears, that is drawing the ire of law enforcement. The prosecutor there in New Mexico was on CNN this morning, slamming these political lies that have resulted in this violence in this case, take a listen.


SAM BREGMAN, BERNALILLO CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It is unacceptable at every level. It doesn't matter if they're Democrats or Republicans. This kind of violence carrying out your politics or election denying or whatever it might be in the - in - with acts of violence, shooting firearms into homes is unacceptable. We're going to do everything we can to bring all the individuals involved, including Mr. Pena to justice.


CAMPBELL: Again, this hearing is about to get underway. We expect it to be brief. But one key thing we're watching to see is whether the judge in this case determines that this suspect is an ongoing threat to the public, whether he is remanded into custody without bond, guys.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Keep us posted, if you would, Josh.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Josh Campbell.

CAMPBELL: You bet.

CAMEROTA: Joining us now is one of those officials allegedly targeted by Pena, former commissioner of Bernalillo County, Debbie O'Malley.

Commissioner, thanks so much for being here.

Can you just describe to us what happened that night? So it was December 11th, it was the middle of the night, you and your husband were asleep in your home, and what happened?

DEBBIE O'MALLEY, FORMER COMMISSIONER IN BERNALILLO COUNTY, NEW MEXICO: Well, we heard loud banging. We both sat up at the same time, it's pretty unusual and Doug (ph) described it as someone using a - was just banging on door with their fist, it was so loud.

When we both got up, that banging continued and we realized it was gunfire. We did - get up look at the ring cameras in the - in our gate and we thought, well, nobody is on the property because that's what (inaudible) on the property. And so we were shocked, my husband was, to see a day later the bullet holes in our wall.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And we're seeing those right now on our screen. And is it true that you pretty quickly figured out who was behind it? O'MALLEY: Well, I had - the only unusual thing that had happened was this visit from this individual who was clearly agitated, and upset about the election. It's been said many times, this is a - he want - he ran in a seat that is 75 percent performing Democrat.


O'MALLEY: So did he do that on purpose, so you could cry out foul and become some sort of a martyr? Anybody would know that, that the likelihood of you winning as Republican in that district is very, very small chance of that happening or none. So, yes, he did go at the gate, he told me that, he equated had knocking on so many doors with what he felt should have been votes for him.


And I told him it doesn't work that way. He did hand me some papers that at first - the first was a letter asking me to respond and then a lot - the rest of it was just downloaded from websites that talk about fraud, the election fraud.

CAMEROTA: So Commissioner, we're looking at the doorbell cameras right now. First, before you had that encounter with him, he went to a different home that was not yours. He believed it was yours, but it wasn't. And he tried to find you. So let's listen to that for a moment.



SOLOMON PENA: Hi. My name is Solomon Pena. Can I speak with Debbie O'Malley?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She doesn't live here anymore.

PENA: Oh, okay. Well, the public record says she owns this. Do you know where she lives?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, she lives around the corner (inaudible) ...


CAMEROTA: Okay. So the homeowner knew where you lived, told him he then went to your house and we see you have that actual encounter with him at the outside gate. What did he say - when he approached, what exactly did he say to you and what did you say to him?

O'MALLEY: Well, he approached me - I was, you know, I stepped out and I was outside on the porch and he's like shouting me down. And I go there and he said, I want to talk to you. And he explained that he was upset that he felt he should have won the election.

And I knew of him - I had not spoken to him before, I had not met him. I knew of him because he was challenged in court to be on the ballot as - because he's a felon. So yes, I didn't - I - honestly, I didn't feel threatened. I knew that he was agitated and because this hasn't happened before here. I've been in elected office for 20 years, I've never had anything like this happen.

CAMEROTA: Yes. This is - unfortunately, we appear to be in a new era. And so, Commissioner, you as you know, he has a court appearance today, what do you want to happen to Pena?

O'MALLEY: That he needs to remain in custody. He has to have a trial - I mean, he needs to be accountable for what he's done and this man is dangerous. And based on what you're seeing and the evidence that's coming forward, I know you're guilty - you're not guilty until you - you're innocent, sorry, until proven guilty, that sort of thing.

But I think that evidence is pretty clear, it seems to me and that's why he's been arrested. And, yes, that this kind of action, it's just so disturbing to me. It really saddens me that people would do things like this. I do believe that my level of vulnerability has certainly caught up. I've never felt that way. This community I've lived in - I was born in this - in Albuquerque, so my family's been here a long time.

I know a lot of people. I've got really strong supportive community, strong family, families here. I just never expected anything like this. It's just - was very shocking, very disturbing.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. I mean, it's disturbing for all of us in the abstract, but you've just lived through what appears to be political violence. Commissioner - former commissioner Debbie O'Malley, we really appreciate you taking the time to tell us what happened and we'll be watching the case very closely.

O'MALLEY: Of course.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

O'MALLEY: All right. Bye-bye.

BLACKWELL: Prosecutors in Massachusetts have laid out their case against Brian Walshe. He's accused of killing his wife, Ana and dismembering her body. Now, Walshe appeared in court today on murder charges. Prosecutors revealed some chilling new details about the evidence they've collected so far.

CAMEROTA: They also outlined dozens of disturbing internet searches that they say Walshe made from his son's iPad.

Let's bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's live for us in Quincy, Massachusetts. Brynn, what have you learned after today's hearing?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Victor and Alisyn, just a number of those Google searches that prosecutor says Brian Walshe made on the day that Ana Walshe disappeared and then subsequent days. Some of them included how long before a body starts to smell; can you identify a body with broken teeth; what happens to hair on a dead body and that's just a few of them. They also laid out a number of evidence that they found at a trash distribution site that we had been seeing video for, for the last couple of weeks when investigators were there. They said they found a number of items with the DNA of Ana Walshe and Brian Walshe and personal items belonging to Ana Walshe including her COVID-19 vaccine card, a purse, the clothes that she's believed to be last seen wearing. And it goes on and on, including, investigators say, they found a number of pieces of evidence regarding his car when they went to the couple's home doing a wellbeing check. Take a listen.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On January 4th, when he has the police went to the house on the wellbeing check, officer searched his Volvo with seats down and a plastic liner in the back of the car. The next day of view the Volvo showed his seats folded down, floor mats with some dirt and the carpet appeared to show fresh vacuum streaks. When asked about the liner, the defendant said he threw it in the trash. Chemists later analyzed the car and there was a presence of blood in the bar.


GINGRAS: As far as a motive, prosecutors say that Walshe was also Googling about divorce. Now he has pleaded not guilty to these new charges. His defense attorney releasing a statement in it. She says, "It is easy to charge a crime and even easier to say a person committed that crime. It is a much more difficult thing to prove it. In my experience, where, as here, the prosecution leaks so called evidence to the press before they provide it to me, their case isn't that strong." And he's going to be back in court next week.

Really quickly, guys, I want to mention I just talked to Ana Walshe's former colleague, a friend. She says right now we know her three boys are in the custody of the state. She said that the community has reached out getting an applications to hopefully bring them into a new home where they can remain together, because she says she watched this on TV just like many of us who saw this and was stunned by the amount of evidence against Brian Walshe, guys.

CAMEROTA: Yes. We appreciate that update. Of course, this is - at its heart - is a family tragedy. Thank you very much, Brynn.


CAMEROTA: Okay. With us now to discuss the latest is attorney and Legal Affairs Commentator, Areva Martin and retired FBI Special Agent, Jennifer Coffindaffer. She also - she's also the CEO of Firearms Beyond International. Ladies, thank you very much for being here.

Areva, in all of our reporting, I think it is fair to say we have never seen such a damning and astonishing set of Google searches that police say Brian Walshe did that morning. The morning that his wife, Ana, went missing. And I just want to - I mean Brynn read some of them, but I think they bear repeating. How long for someone to be missing to inherit money; can you throw away body parts; what does formaldehyde do; how long does DNA last; can IDs be made on partial remains; dismemberment and the best ways to dispose of a body; how to clean blood from a wooden floor; what does luminol do blood; what happens when you put body parts in ammonia; is it better to put your crime scene clothes away or wash them. I mean, tell me, Areva, this is an open and shut case.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. This is pretty overwhelming evidence, Alisyn. We forgot to mention the one where he says can you be prosecuted for murder without a body. This amount of evidence, the attorney says she doesn't think there's enough to hold him accountable. She says you can charge a crime but getting a conviction is different and she's right, there is the standard in this kind of case would be proving him guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

But we not only have - or the prosecution not only has those Google searches, it also has cell phone data and DNA evidence. There is a mound of evidence that this defendant would have to overcome to not be found guilty of killing his wife. I don't think that's possible given what the prosecution has laid out so far.

These Google searches are incredibly incriminating. When you put that with the DNA evidence, you put that with the cell phone data, this is going to be a very, very difficult case for any defense attorney to overcome.

BLACKWELL: Jennifer, add to that list the 10 trash bags of potential evidence that were collected, we learned from the prosecutor. Jennifer, the question of why, motive here. Brynn mentioned some Google searches about divorce, but this is as I've said before, a very intimate, close contact way to kill if Brian Walshe is indeed convicted of this, how relevant is motive here when you have all of this evidence?

JENNIFER COFFINDAFFER, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I think motive is always relevant. That's what a jury wants to understand and hear no matter how strong evidence may be. They want to understand the why. And this why seems to be pretty evident. This is a case of domestic violence that rose to the highest level: Murder, stabbing, it's passionate and it was clear that he wanted out of this marriage.

There was another Google search about how long he would have to wait for a missing person to be missing before he could collect inheritance. So clearly, there are some well-established motives that are laid out in those Google searches.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And Areva - actually, this wasn't his first brush with the law. In the past in various court documents, he was referred to by witnesses or people who knew the family that he was a sociopath.


And we've remarked before his affect, his expressions, his facial expressions are strange, so there's that. We have the video of him when he's first been arrested and he's smiling at all the cameras. And then in court today, we see him - they're reading this long list of horrible, gruesome things and he's not blinking. He's sort of just staring ahead, he's impassive. Do you have any thoughts on what kind of criminal this is?

MARTIN: Yes. I think, Alisyn, you make a good point about those records related to the other charges had been filed against Brian Walshe. We know he was under house arrest, because he had been charged with selling some phony artwork. He hadn't been sentenced yet for that crime.

And there's a record, a very established record with respect to that crime, in fact, a letter from his wife, Ana Walshe, where she's pleading with the judge to be lenient towards him and also other documents in that court file that talk about his psychiatric issues, mental health issues that he's had. They talk about the impact of his mother and father's divorce on him, and how that divorce and treatment by his mother and father impacted him mentally and psychologically.

So I think we're going to see a lot of that evidence brought into now what has been - now what is the murder charges that have been filed against him as it relates to his wife. So I'm not surprised by the affect. I'm not surprised of what we've seen to date in court, because it is consistent with that record that is established in that other case where he was charged for passing the phony art.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Defense attorney says that the prosecutors don't have a strong case. It sounds pretty strong.

Areva Martin, Jennifer Coffindaffer, thank you both.

MARTIN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: So while gearing up for 2024, the Trump campaign is asking Facebook to unblock the former president's account. How the company's responding?

CAMEROTA: And the controversy surrounding George Santos just won't quit. New allegations against the embattled Congressman, this time involving veterans, a dying dog and thousands of dollars, that's next.



BLACKWELL: A new - well it says shocking, I don't know that it's actually shocking - allegation today against Congressman George Santos, an embattled Republican who grossly embellished his resume, personal background while running for election. Two veterans from New Jersey say that Santos promised to raise funds for life saving surgery for one of their dogs and then just took the money.

CAMEROTA: That's the shocking part. I mean, not necessarily that George Santos has another claim against him ...


CAMEROTA: But you know how people - I mean, if you haven't been upset about George Santos thus far, this might (inaudible) ...

BLACKWELL: Taking the money from a sick dog?

CAMEROTA: Yes, taking money from a sick --

BLACKWELL: Yes, that might do it.

CAMEROTA: The pit bull was named Sapphire and died about six months after they last made contact with Santos.

CNN Eva McKend joins us now. Eva, what do we know about this claim?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. This is a very sad story. CNN spoke with U.S. Navy vet, Richard Osthoff. He told us his pit bull, Sapphire, began developing a tumor in 2015. It continued to grow the following year. Osthoff was homeless at the time, living in a tent.

Ultimately, he got connected with Santos, who he knew then is Anthony Devolder. Santos went on to set up a GoFundMe account for Rich and the dog. But when rich tried to access the funds $3,000 for the life saving surgery, he kept having to jump through hoops and he never got the money. Now the dog ultimately died.

For his part, Santos is denying these allegations telling the news sites, Semaphore, the story is fake and he has no clue who this person is. Now, CNN reached out to Santos' lawyer and his congressional office for comment. We'll let you know if they get back to us.

In the meantime, we are hearing from GoFundMe. They tell us when we received a report of Santos' - of an issue with the fundraiser in late 2016, "Our trust and safety Team sought proof of the delivery of funds from the organizer. The organizer failed to respond which led to the fundraiser being removed and the email associated with that account prohibited from further use on our platform. GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing."

So this of course is not an isolated story of Santos' shady dealings. Victor and Alisyn, this is part of a troubling pattern of allegations.

BLACKWELL: Oh, it certainly is and the list gets longer nearly every day. Eva McKend, thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: Now to this, former President Donald Trump's campaign is petitioning Facebook to unblock his account. The social media company blocked him after his response to the January 6th insurrection.

BLACKWELL: CNN Kristen Holmes and Oliver Darcy are with us now with the latest. Kristen, let's start with you and exactly what the Trump campaign is arguing here.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, the campaign is saying that not being on Facebook is hindering Trump's free speech, particularly now that he has announced candidate for office in 2024. So in this letter, he asks to meet with the head of Meta, Facebook's parent company and they write this. This is written by Trump's lawyer.

It says: Donald J. Trump is a declared candidate for President of the United States. We believe that the ban on President Trump's account on Facebook has dramatically distorted and inhibited the public discourse. Moreover, every day that President Trump's political voice remains silenced, furthers and inappropriate interfering in the American political and election process."

Here's the other part of this though. This is obviously, not surprising he's talking about free speech here that's going to be one of the major platforms of his 2024 campaign. We've reported on that before.


But the other part that's not in this letter is about money and that's something that you need a lot of if you are running for president and we know from sources that not being on Facebook has hurt Trump's fundraising. It has stopped his ability to find new donors. It has also hindered him from putting advertisements out even in his own voice that might get more donations and this is particularly interesting, given the fact that we've heard from so many mega donors who have said that they will not back Trump this cycle. So finding those new donors becomes incredibly important.

And the other thing to pay attention to here, and I know Oliver will have more on this, but we had already reported that Facebook was deliberating whether or not to let Trump back on. It just appears now that the campaign wanted to accelerate that process.

CAMEROTA: Okay. So Oliver, I think we still associate Donald Trump with Twitter ...


CAMEROTA: ... that we don't even necessarily remember his presence on Facebook. So what will their response be?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, we don't know yet. Facebook isn't responding directly to this letter, but they have said as a company that they do expect to let us know whether Trump will be allowed back on the platform within the coming weeks, so we should have something soon.

And I think it's important to point out while this will also have ramifications for the 2024 election cycle, whether Trump can raise money and advertise and other things on Facebook, it's also going to have implications for free speech on the platform. This is a massive decision that Facebook is going to have to make and it's going to have ramifications for a wide amount of subject matter moving forward.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll see how he uses these platforms other than Truth Social of the next couple of months to years. Oliver Darcy, thank you. Kristen Holmes, thank you for the reporting.

CAMEROTA: In an attempt to differentiate his case from President Biden's, former President Trump has a new line of defense, the classified folders he kept he says they were just a "cool keepsake." We'll discuss.