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Gunman Opens Fire on Lunar New Year Celebration; Andrew Chou is Interviewed about the Monterey Park Shooting; Activist Killed Near Cop City Project; Biden Makes Staff Change. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 09:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning. I'm Erica Hill.


Happening this morning, a Los Angeles coroner's office is now working to identify ten people killed during a mass shooting in Monterey Park, California. A gunman opened fire inside a dance studio during lunar new year's celebrations Saturday night.

HILL: That suspect is a 72-year-old man who targeted another local after his initial rampage. Police say he then took his own life after an hours-long standoff in a parking lot the following day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was disarmed by two community members who I consider to be heroes because they saved lives. This could have been much worse. The weapon that we recovered at that second scene, I'm describing as a magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol. Not an assault rifle, but an assault pistol that had an extended large- capacity magazine.


HILL: And just ahead you're going to hear from one of the men who confronted and fought off the gunman, one of those heroes, fighting him off before he could open fire at that second dance studio.

Let's begin this hour with CNN's senior national correspondent Kyung Lah, who's on the scene there in Monterey Park, California.

So, Kyung, what more can you tell us this morning?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica and Jim, what investigators are focusing on is that motive that you were talking about. Really trying to answer the why. Why would a 72-year- old man who once lived in this community, who did have a connection to this particular dance studio, and the other one, the second location, Alhambra (ph), because (INAUDIBLE) met his ex-wife through these dance halls, why would he return here? An ex-wife who they had divorced many years ago. He had moved away to a senior community some distance away, but decided to return on this day. And, according to witnesses, he came into this Monterey Park hall with an intent -- with certainly an intent to harm. And you hear that also from the person who saw him and came face-to-face with him in Alhambra.

The other focus of the investigation will be this gun. How was it obtained? You heard the sheriff there describing how it is an assault pistol. It is illegal in California. Was it altered? How was it obtained? That is going to be another focus of the investigation.

And then lastly, it's really trying to help these victims and this community. The victims, you know, you come to these dance halls in Asian American communities like this because it's a place where older people can gather. People in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. It's a place where you drop off your parents if you are Asian American. And so it's in these dance halls that people feel safe and they feel older and happy and connected often with language and culture. And so they are going to try to help these victims and help their families, as well, here as a community.

Jim. Erica.

SCIUTTO: Kyung Lah, thanks so much.

HILL: Well, police, as you just heard, say that it was quick thinking and bravery by an employee at a second dance hall in Alhambra, just 20 minutes after that mass shooting, which managed to save countless additional lives.

We do have some surveillance images that 26-year-old Brandon Tsay shared with ABC News. And he says they show him struggling with the gunman. He says he wrestled with that man for about a minute and a half before eventually getting the gun away from him.

Here's more. Take a listen.


BRANDON TSAY, HELPED DISARM MONTEREY PARK GUNMAN: When he was looking around the room, it seemed like he was looking for targets, people to harm. I needed to get the weapon away from him. I needed to take this weapon, disarm him, or else everybody would have died.

When I got the courage, I - I lunged at him with both my hands, grabbed the weapon, and we had a struggle. We struggled into the lobby, trying to get this gun away from each other. He was hitting me across the face, bashing the back of my head. I was trying to use my elbows to celebrate the gun away from him, creating some distance.

Finally, at one point, I was able to pull the gun away from him, shove him aside, create some distance, point the gun at him, intimidate him, challenge him and say, get the hell out of here! I'll shoot! Get away! Go! And at this point, I thought he would run away, but he was just standing there contemplating whether to fight or to run away. [09:05:08]

I really thought I would have to shoot him if he came at me. This is when he turned around and walked out the door, jogged back to his van.


HILL: Brandon Tsay says he actually thought he was going to die, but knew he had to fight back.

SCIUTTO: With me now is Mayor Andrew Chou. He is the mayor of Diamond Bar, California, a city just east of Monterey Park.

Mayor Chou, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

MAYOR ANDREW CHOU, DIAMOND BAR, CALIFORNIA: Good morning, Jim. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: First, I want to ask you, your community's gone through a horrible, horrible tragedy. You're part of that community. How are you all doing this morning and what are you able to do to help?

CHOU: Thank you, Jim. We're doing OK. First of all, our hearts go out to the families of the victims in Monterey Park. My city, similar to Monterey Park, it's about 60 percent Asian American. So much -- a lot of our residents do have family or friends from Monterey Park. And our hearts just go out to the victims this - this -- today.

SCIUTTO: Well, ours do as well.

It's early. I think it's always natural to ask what a motive is. I wonder, are you learning anything, are investigators sharing anything about a motive, a possible spark for an act of violence as horrible as this one?

CHOU: Not with us directly. I did have a chance to speak with Mayor Henry Lo of Monterey Park last night. Not just to offer our condolences, but also extend our support to his city any way that we can. I want to thank Mayor Lo for his steadfast leadership during this unthinkable tragedy.

He said that he has been receiving a lot of calls and support from other elected officials. Congressman Judy Chu was on the ground. I believe Governor Newsom was also on the ground just yesterday. So, there's a lot of support and the communities are coming together during this difficult time.

SCIUTTO: There's a natural focus on the weapon. What we know about it now, semi-automatic pistol, though with an extended magazine. And so often in mass shootings like this one, we see extended magazines play a role because they allow the gunman to fire many more shots, kill more people without changing the magazine.

Have you or the mayor of Monterey Park learned anything more about how the gunman obtained this weapon? CHOU: At this point, all we know is what has been shared by Sheriff

Luna of L.A. Sheriff's Department. I believe he did indicate that with the extended magazine, a semi-automatic pistol. But other than that, we don't have any other confirmed information at this point.

SCIUTTO: If you're like me, as an American, we're hearing about mass shootings all the time. And somewhere deep down you wonder if you yourself will ever face one or someone you know and love will face one like this. And I wonder, did you ever think an act of violence like this, of gun violence like this, would come to your area, to your community?

CHOU: Absolutely not, Jim. And that's why this tragedy was so devastating to all of us. We do have a friend who attends the dance studio every Monday night to dance. And we're hearing stories of another friend whose father was at the dance studio that night, but, fortunately, he left about 10 to 15 minutes before the shooting took place.

So, yes, unfortunately, these events are happening way too frequently, and they're coming closer and closer to where we are. And it's very concerning to all of us.

SCIUTTO: What do you -- and I know it's early, but I'm sure, as mayor of this community, so close to where this shooting took place, you're thinking now about what you can do. What your community can do to make acts of violence like this less likely. What comes to mind?

CHOU: Yes, so as a city, we're always prepared for tragedies such as this. We do have our emergency preparedness plan in place. And we'll continue to work with our staff and our city to make sure that in case something like this does happen, we have the resources and the personnel available to handle this type of event.

And, fortunately, so far we haven't needed to use our emergency preparedness plan, but we stand ready in case something like this does happen closer to our city.

SCIUTTO: California has strict gun laws. Some of the most strict in the country. Are the changes you would like to see there or nationally to make events like this less likely?

CHOU: Yes, I do think common sense gun reform is needed and necessary. And we're hearing too many of these gun violences in our country. And now it's coming a little too closer to - a little too close to home. So, yes, we would like to see something done on a federal level to ensure that this type of gun violence incidents are happening less and less frequently going forward.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, our hearts go out to you and your community there, Mayor Andrew Chou. We know it's very close to you and we wish you the best.

CHOU: Thank you so much, Jim. HILL: These events continue to hit far too close to home for so many

American communities. In fact, the Monterey Park shooting joins a staggering 32 other mass shootings in just the first three weeks of 2023. That's according to the gun violence archive.


HILL: And, sadly, it was not the only shooting over the weekend. There were two mass shootings in Louisiana on Sunday. One in Baton Rouge, where 12 people were injured in a nightclub.

SCIUTTO: And in Shreveport, a drive-by shooting left eight people wounded, three of them were children.

In Atlanta, a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed. That's the latest in a string of deadly shootings involving children under 16 in that city.

CNN's Ryan Young has more on the weekend of violence in Atlanta.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In downtown Atlanta, six people were arrested Saturday night after protesters erupted in response to the fatal police shooting of 26-year-old activist Manuel Esteban Paez Teran earlier in the week. Police say he was shot near a proposed 85-acre $90 million law enforcement training facility dubbed cop city by its opponents who set up camps trying to halt construction. Police were implementing a clearing operation to identify trespassers when they say Teran opened fire on them. The fellow demonstrators and his mother say he was a known pacifist.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, however, bolstered the account of authorities when they said that Teran was in possession of the very firearm used to shoot a state trooper and that the bullet recovered from the trooper's wound matched the same weapon. Police say protesters marched peacefully until the group began breaking business windows and set fire to a police cruiser.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were pulling up in U-hauls and they had the type of glass breaker that taps the window and the glass just automatically shatters. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't believe that this was happening here in America.

MAYOR ANDRE DICKENS (D), ATLANTA: These individuals meant harm to people and to property. And so to the people of Atlanta, I have said from the beginning of my administration that keeping our city's streets safe is my top priority. And we will continue to leverage all of the city's resources to make that happen.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The elevation of it clearly had to be stopped relatively quickly by the police, which happened, and I think it is telling that most of these people are not from Atlanta. Not even from Georgia. YOUNG: And on the west side of Atlanta, a 13-year-old boy was found

dead with multiple gunshot wounds, according to Atlanta police. Investigators have not released information on a motive or suspect.

DICKENS: My message is simple to those who seek to continue this type of criminal behavior. We will find you and we will arrest you and you will be held accountable.

YOUNG: Meanwhile, a tragic scene unfolds in Baton Rouge. Twelve people were shot at the Dior Bar and Lounge and left three people in critical condition early Sunday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, we can say that it is believed to be a targeted attack and that no -- this was not just a random act.

CHIEF MURPHY PAUL JR., BATON ROUGE POLICE: There's someone who knows something. Do the right thing.


YOUNG: Yes, Jim and Erica, you can think about all the open investigations that are involved in these cases.

Back here in Atlanta, that destruction that was left behind by those protesters can still be seen. If you look here, you can see glass on the inside of this Wells Fargo. And all these boards here represent windows that have been busted out. And you can see the damage left behind to the ATM. And, of course, those protesters even setting fire to a police car.

So many questions, but, obviously, a violent weekend that have so many people wondering, what's going on and what can be done now.


HILL: It -- so many people wondering, you're right.

Ryan, appreciate it. Thank you.


HILL: Just ahead here, an additional FBI search of President Biden's home uncovers new classified materials. How the White House is responding to critics from inside the Democratic Party.

Plus, new scrutiny on one of the top-ranking Republicans in the House because of her support for embattled Congressman George Santos. What we're learning now about just how critical Elise Stefanik was to getting him elected.

SCIUTTO: And right now jury selection is underway in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh. And there are new details about a Snapchat video that his son, Paul, sent to friends just before he was killed.



HILL: This morning, President Biden is under growing scrutiny from leaders of his own party after FBI investigators on Friday found additional classified materials while conducting a voluntary search of his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, weighing in on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," said Biden has lost the high ground here when it comes to criticism over classified documents.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Let's be honest about it. When that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it because it's not supposed to happen.

The elected official bears ultimate responsibility.


SCIUTTO: As some Democrats growing more critical of Biden's handling of classified documents and House Republicans pledge yet more probes to come, the White House is making a major staffing change.

CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz is in Rehoboth, Delaware, with the president, preparing to return to Washington this hour.

I wonder, how is Biden's circle explaining this personnel move? The chief of staff, Ron Klain, had an enormous role in the administration. Why now and what will Zients do differently?


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it comes, of course, as their -- the administration is grappling with this issue of the classified documents. But the decision to appoint Jeffrey Zients as the White House chief of staff comes as they're really entering a new phase in the presidency. One part of this is that they're going to focus a lot on the implementation of the laws that President Biden got signed into law over the course of the past two years. And if you talk to sources at the White House, as well as those who know Zients well, he is kind of known as -- what one person described as a master implementer. They're pointing to his time as the coronavirus response coordinator, also pointing to his efforts to fix that website when it had a disastrous launch back during the Obama administration.

But this really comes at a challenging time for the president. It's a critical juncture in the president's time at the White House as they are not only grappling with the special counsel investigation, but also preparing for battles ahead with Republicans who are in control of the House up on Capitol Hill.

Now, this is all playing out against the backdrop of that special counsel investigation. And over the weekend, there were new revelations about how many classified documents were in President Biden's possession. The president's personal attorneys revealed that there was an unprecedented FBI search of the president's home just on Friday. It lasted about 13 hours. And one thing that the White House and the president's personal attorneys have been quick to point out is that this search was done in cooperation with the lawyers and the Justice Department. There was not a search warrant to search through the president's home. But still, they opened up the home, the working, the living, and all the storage spaces so the FBI could go in and take a look at how many documents, or if they - if they could find more classified documents at the home.

The personal attorney revealing that they did identify six items that included materials with classified markings. It's unclear exactly what that entails.

But this is all prompting a lot of criticism, new criticism, from some Democrats who have -- are longtime allies of President Biden, as you heard right there from Senator Dick Durbin. There's some frustration about the way that this situation has played out. But, certainly, so many more questions regarding this classified document saga, including whether there could be possible FBI searches of other locations tied to President Biden. This is certainly an issue that does not seem to be going away.

HILL: Yes, that is for sure.

Arlette Saenz, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining us now to discuss, Heidi Przybyla, national investigative correspondent for "Politico," and Margaret Talev, senior contributor for "Axios."

Good to see you both this morning.

Margaret, as we look at the changes that are coming to the Biden White House here, Jeff Zients moving over to be chief of staff, how, if at all, do you see this changing the White House response to this ongoing documents issue?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they have been -- they were preparing to be investigated anyhow, including this sort of special internal White House lawyer structure. That's going to continue apace. I don't think they knew this was going to be the investigation.

But, look, Jeff Zients, there's all - different kinds of chiefs of staffs over the years to different presidents. Some are very political and heavy-handed, personality driven. Jeff Zients is in a different category. He is a management consultant. A very successful, self-made one at that. And he's known for being well organized and handling sort of complex operations. So, I think one of his first big tests is going to be his handling of this investigation.

But there's something else to focus on with Jeff Zients, and that is his experience with the economy and with budgeting. All the way back to the Obama administration, giving economic advice, performance manager, all these sorts of roles. And then, of course handling the vaccines. If there is a recession, a soft recession, economic recovery issues, Jeff Zients is going to be well poised as chief of staff to implement that sort of policy approach and response.

And, you know, even beyond the r-word, I just think the economy is going to be such a big issue. And he is just well positioned to deal with those issues. Deficit reduction, we've talked about, you know, the Republicans are trying to force Biden to make a deal in order to increase the debt limit. This is the sort of thing that Jeff Zients has actually a lot of practical experience with and understands the issues. So, we may see him play out there as well.

SCIUTTO: Heidi, the administration is trying, it seems, to handle this differently than, for instance, Trump. They're not attack the FBI. They are cooperating. They said it was a voluntary search of the home there.

But, of course, you have Democrats acknowledging, as Durbin did, they've certainly lost the high ground. The president's certainly lost the high ground here.

Does the White House have a vision of how this ends and when it ends for them because a whole host of decisions hang in the balance, including the possibility that Biden might announce for 2024.


HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": Yes, it seems that they're balancing their desire to cooperate with this investigation with the politics of it, and the optics of it, which are not going in a great direction here. The latest poll from ABC/IPSOS showing 64 percent of the American people believe -- do believe that he handled it inappropriately. But, then again, a plurality thinks that the situation with Donald Trump is far worse. So that's where we are, not going in a good direction.

But at the same time, it's important to ask these questions, like Chairman McCaul is asking, which is, what are these documents? And I can say as a reporter who covered the Hillary Clinton classified documents email issue, that is an important distinction. And the problem is that given that we don't have the answer to that, the politics are kind of going in a direction here where a lot of the Republicans, unlike McCaul, are taking this to an extreme, right, saying, oh, this must have had to do with his profiteering off of his family business.


PRZYBYLA: So that's the risk that they're taking here is that they are cooperating. So they're not saying anything.

But, for instance, just to remind everyone how that document scandal ended with Hillary Clinton's emails, which was, a number of the classified markings were simply emails that had been retro marked as classified, or issues like newspaper articles, things that her aides had forgotten to take the "c" off of.


PRZYBYLA: So, in the end, he stayed quiet, but paid the price politically. And that is the situation that the president finds himself in right now, which is that even though those of us, you know, who are in the media can point out these big differences right now when it comes to intent, 12 boxes taken intentionally, refused to render them, and Biden, who appears to have not even known that some of these were in his possession, the political machine is kind of already been kicked in here.

HILL: Yes, I mean, you know, to your point, Heidi, most people see the headlines, right? And in the headlines it feels like it is very much the same situation. The reality, we know, is that it isn't. Part of that challenge here that we've seen from this White House in terms of their - of their messaging.

You know, Margaret, I would also love to get your take on -- we did hear from Ruben Gallego. I'm told we're out of time. I'm sorry. That's the first time cue I got, so I'm sorry.

SCIUTTO: All right.

HILL: But we will have lots of time to discuss that on another day.

SCIUTTO: We will. This won't be the last time we speak to Heidi Przybyla and Margaret Talev. Thanks so much for joining us.

TALEV: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, you may remember this chilling 911 call.


ALEX MURDAUGH: I need the police and an ambulance immediately. My wife and child have been shot badly.

DISPATCHER: What is your name?

MURDAUGH: My name is Alex Murdaugh.


SCIUTTO: Now, jury selection has begun for the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh, accused of killing his wife and his son in South Carolina. We have the latest details in that case, coming up.