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Police Investigating Pena's Campaign; Steve Williams is Interviewed about Meeting with Biden; Restricting Abortion Access Top Priority for GOP Legislatures; Teacher Shot By Student Released from Hospital. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired January 20, 2023 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Developing this morning, former Republican candidate Solomon Pena, already accused of plotting to shoot up the homes of political rivals, is now facing new criminal allegations. Police are investigating whether Pena's campaign -- his failed campaign for New Mexico statehouse was funded in part by drug money from fentanyl sales.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: Investigators say after he lost that race, he hired a team of accomplices to shoot at the homes of Democratic officials.
Joining us to discuss is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller.
So, we keep on learning more and more revelations these days. What are you hearing about the connection between Pena and fentanyl?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, this is reporting that was done by CNN's Paul Murphy yesterday when he was going through the campaign contributions. Now, an individual named Jose Trujillo is arrested in a car with the gun that's allegedly ballistically matched to the last of the shootings of Democratic rivals' homes, but also nearly 900 fentanyl pills with a street value of about $15,000, $3,000 in cash. This is an individual, who claims to be homeless, with the smoking gun and the drugs driving the candidate's car. And he's also the single largest cash contributor to Pena's failed campaign.
So, you have an individual who is now federally charged with being in possession of drugs and weapons and is the guy who was funneling cash from himself and a relative into the campaign to the tune of just under $10,000. And as a suspected fentanyl dealer, who was allegedly working for the candidate, shooting at rivals, one has to ask the investigative question, were those contributions generated by the fentanyl sales.
BERMAN: In the legal business I think that's what we call a bad set of facts right there.
BERMAN: I mean could this lead to additional charges for Pena? What would that require? He would have to have had knowledge that it was drug money?
MILLER: So, John, it's a complicated case because the campaign finance piece will likely go to the state attorney general where that's their jurisdiction. So, they're going to start looking into this as early as today. The police investigation is into the shootings. The FBI's violent crime squad has the gun and the drug angle. And ATF is matching the ballistics. So, you have a real mix of Albuquerque PD and federal authorities who are going to be peeling back all of the layers here.
Pena's charged, but there's -- as well as Trujillo, but there's a team of four people, including Trujillo's father, who are on the radar here and named in the complaint as potential suspects.
Of course, this comes back to a candidate who had to go to court to run for this office because he's a convicted felon who had served seven years for a smash and grab robbery crew.
BERMAN: A lot going on here it's safe to say.
MILLER: There's a lot - there's a lot going on there.
BERMAN: John Miller.
MILLER: What's sure is we have not heard the last of it.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, exactly.
BERMAN: Can't wait for Monday's report from you on this, John. Thank you very much.
So, hours from now, President Biden will welcome a bipartisan group of mayors to the White House. This is an annual event, but the first since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. One of the mayors who will be in attendance is the Democratic mayor of Huntington, West Virginia, Steve Williams.
Mr. Mayor, great to see you.
I always enjoy talking to mayors when they get to Washington because it's interesting to find out what the gap is between what you're dealing with on a day to day basis in your home and what's actually being discussed daily in Washington. So how would you describe that gap?
MAYOR STEVE WILLIAMS (D), HUNTINGTON, WEST VIRGINIA: Well, the gap is very simple, is that mayors deal with individuals every -- every single day. Here in Washington, it's whenever somebody is able to get home.
We were having a conversation last night over dinner where we are coming face-to-face with individuals in the grocery stores, at church, as we're walking down the street, and I'm a living example of individuals coming up and saying, mayor, we need to do x. And the fact of the matter is, we have to come up with solutions. We can't talk about it, we have to do it. And I think that's one of the advantages that mayors have, when we come to Washington, we're able to say very directly to the president and others, this is what we are seeing.
And usually we get a very, very good welcome.
BERMAN: What is x right now? What is it that people are coming to you and saying that needs to happen?
WILLIAMS: Sadly, the problem that we're continuing to deal with in my community and I had a discussion yesterday in a packed room is the -- dealing with the opioid epidemic and particularly with what you were just talking about, fentanyl. Fentanyl is 100 times stronger than heroin. And as a result of that, it's just killing people.
In Huntington from 2019, '20 and '21, we had 379 -- 379 overdose deaths, 349 of them were as a result of fentanyl. Now, 349 as a result of fentanyl. I remember several years ago then Senator Biden, in the late '80s, was speaking at Wake Forest University. And one of the things that he was saying is that we're having a proliferation of drugs being shipped into our country and that is an active war.
Well, yesterday I heard one of my fellow mayors say something that just struck a chord with me, that fentanyl coming from China is a weapon of mass destruction. Is that there's enough that are coming in to our nation right now, coming through the border and other means and how it's being packaged is enough to be able to kill every American across the -- across the country.
And this is frightening. We have to be able to do something of this nature. And, frankly, when we're talking with the president this afternoon somehow expect that that will be addressed because it was addressed yesterday when we were talking with Dr. Gupta, the drug czar, on our panel discussion, and he talked very specifically about the problems of having to deal with China and their shipping of fentanyl over into our country.
BERMAN: Look, it's very poignant, very moving when you put it in the terms you just did, a weapon of mass destruction.
BERMAN: Mayor, I am curious, when the people are coming up and talking to you in the supermarkets, how much are you hearing from your constituents about President Biden's possession of classified documents, because that's what's being discussed a lot in Washington these days?
WILLIAMS: I haven't heard anybody say something about that. People are concerned about their livelihoods, wanting to be able to take care of their families, doing everything that's necessary for that. They're thrilled that we are able now to be able to do things with infrastructure, within our community, that has not been done in 60 to 70 years, and it's because of the infrastructure law, because of the Inflation Reduction Act, because of the rescue plan. We have resources to be able to fix things and actually correct some wrongs within our community.
We have two brownfield sites within my city that have long been shut down that we're able to repurpose those into -- one of them is being repurposed in coal country for a training and logistics program for solar panels and solar panel installation. On another piece of property that was built in the late 1870s when my city was first founded and has been shuttered for 20 years, we've been able to partnership with the federal government, Department of Commerce, Appalachian Regional Commission, EPA, being able to clear that property and now we have a logistics robotic training center that's going to be locating on that and positioning ourselves so that we might be able to bring other digital aging businesses into the area, not businesses that came as a result of the industrial revolution.
BERMAN: Mayor Steve Williams, Huntington is a beautiful city. I hope everyone gets a chance to visit. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
WILLIAMS: Thank you. Thank you for letting me be on with you.
GOLODRYGA: Just another reminder of why it's so important to reach out beyond the beltways and hear from these communities and their mayors, right, to talk about the issues that are, in many regards, are bipartisan.
BERMAN: Yes. It's two different worlds what he's dealing with and what is often being discussed out lout in Washington.
Well, up next, as abortion rights opponents prepare to march through the capital today, we're getting an early look at how critical the issue is to Republicans taking the reins across the country in state offices.
BERMAN: Later today, abortion rights opponents will rally on the National Mall for the 50th annual March for Life demonstration. This comes as Republican lawmakers across the country begin their legislative session with abortion -- really restricting access to abortion as a top priority.
GOLODRYGA: CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider has the latest on all of this.
So, Jessica, this is a priority now. We're six months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that could have a lot of impact on state laws. What can we see? JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Bianna and John,
we're already seeing this really big push from state Republican lawmakers to either ban or significantly restrict abortion. And that's all because legislatures around the country have just now come back into session in January. So you might ask, you know, why this six- month gap from when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, to the legislation we're seeing introduced now.
The fact is, you know, when the court issued the Dobbs decision in June, most state legislatures had already adjourned. A few did come back into special session. But January now marks the time when they are all back in session. And we're already seeing significant action here. A number of states.
So, Wyoming, in the past few days, they introduce a full abortion ban, complete with criminal penalties for doctors who perform these abortions. And earlier this week, we saw Nebraska Republicans introduce a ban as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detected. That's usually around six weeks.
And on the opening day of Virginia's session, they introduce a 15-week ban. That's something that's been pushed by the state's Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.
So, we are seeing a lot of activity in these solidly Republican states. And I've actually spoken with a prominent right to life group. Their leaders are saying that they've been consistently consulting with Republicans in various states around the country. They're helping them model legislation that would completely ban abortion in other states, including Wyoming. Their bill is based on this model legislation.
So, there's more to come here. The general counsel wouldn't tell me which states, but more are definitely poised to act.
And on top of that, you know, the numbers here, 22 states are solidly controlled by Republicans, 15 controlled by Democrats. So, in addition to what we're seeing from Republicans, we are seeing a lot of push back in Democrat-controlled states as well, like Michigan and Maryland.
Michigan, for example, is working to repeal an abortion ban that's been on the books since 1931. It was blocked by a judge after Roe v. Wade was overturned. So they are still in the process of that.
Maryland, now, pushing to put the right to abortion into a constitutional amendment for voters in 2024.
So, guys, this is all happening around the country, this swirl of activity on both sides here, Democrat, Republican, and also abortion rights groups that are stepping in here. So, a lot to watch as we move through the year with these legislative sessions just ramping up now.
BERMAN: And that's what the Dobbs decision did, it opened the legal gates here.
BERMAN: Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.
GOLODRYGA: Well, new details we're learning this morning after the Supreme Court released a report on its failure to disclose who leaked the draft decision overturning Roe versus Wade last year.
BERMAN: That report highlights the court's shortfalls in its technology, protocols and confidentiality and overall institutional safeguards.
CNN's senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic joins us.
So, you know, Joan, the report did not identify a culprit. Also apparently they didn't speak to the justices. But what were the other major revelations here?
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Yes, good morning, John and Bianna.
It, you know, in the most consequential case in decades, most serious breach we've ever seen at the court, they came up empty. But on every page of its 20-page report, there were many revelations about how the court has operated and how there was something inevitable about this leak, unfortunately. The justices weren't able to really go back and retrace how their technology had been used, their computers and their printers to know, you know, how many copies had been made of this, how easily it might have been to get the document out the door and make it, then, you know -- lead it into the hands of "Politico," which published it on May 2nd, about eight weeks before the final opinion was released.
The -- as you said, John, the justices themselves were not interviewed. Likely not any of their spouses or anybody in the family. Law clerks revealed when they were interviewed by investigators that some of them had talked to spouse and partners about the case. So there were all sorts of ways that the court itself was a bit of a sieve during this time when this very important case was being negotiated behind the scenes.
And I have to say that when you think of the basic protocols that most legal offices undertake, they were really missing at the Supreme Court. We will never know just how much this leak affected the outcome of this huge case, rolling back a half century of abortion rights. But in this report it does make clear that the leak might not have been inevitable.
GOLODRYGA: It is notable and does raise questions as to why the justices weren't interviewed as well in this investigation.
Joan Biskupic, thank you.
BISKUPIC: Yes. Thank you. BERMAN: The parents of a Virginia six-year-old who took a gun to school, then shot his teacher, are speaking for the first time. Where they say an acute disability contributed to the incident and how the school is responding.
BERMAN: We are learning new details in the shooting of a Virginia teacher by her six-year-old student. First grade teacher Abby Zwerner, who was shot earlier this month in her classroom, is now home and recovering.
GOLODRYGA: Now the family of that student is speaking out.
CNN's Brian Todd has been following this story for us.
So, Brian, what are the parents revealing about what led up to this shooting?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna and John, the parents, in breaking their silence about this case, reveal what some may consider a surprising amount of detail about their son, about the challenges that he's facing. One of the first things they said in the statement issued by their attorney, James Ellenson, was that the firearm that their son accessed inside the home was secure. The statement went on to say this, quote, our son suffers from an acute disability and was under a care plan at the school. That included his mother or father attending school to him and accompanying him to class every day. The week of the shooting was the first week when we were not in class with him. We will regret our absence on this day for the rest of our lives.
Now, after they came out with that statement, we corresponded with their attorney, James Ellenson, who helped them issue the statement. I had several questions for him. Number one, how was the firearm secured? How did the child get access to it? What are the parents saying about that? Mr. Ellenson said he could not comment on that.
Now, regarding the part of the statement that I just read, I asked James Ellenson, what were the specific disabilities that the son is dealing with and were there any other previous disciplinary issues involving him in the school?
And Ellenson said he could not comment on that any further.
Earlier this week, guys, there was a school board meeting where several parents and teachers attend. They were really, really angry. They vented their anger at the school board saying that this should, of course, never have happened. Some calling for the superintendent of the Newport News Public School System, Charles Parker (ph), to resign, and other members of the school board to resign. And one parent getting up and saying that this particular child should never be allowed back into the Newport News Public School System. So, a lot of anger in that community this morning and throughout the
week. The Newport News Public Schools issued a statement after that board meeting saying their reflecting on all of this and they're determined to restore public trust in the school system. But that's going to take some doing, guys, after this incident and all the community anger there.
BERMAN: Yes, look, I'm just glad the teacher is at home recovering.
BERMAN: They have a lot to work through there.
Brian Todd, thank you so much for your reporting.
GOLODRYGA: The U.S. defense secretary prepares to face questions as a standoff continues. Will the U.S. send Ukraine the tanks they're asking for and open the path for German tanks, too? We're live in Ukraine, up next.