Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Coroner Identifies Two Women Killed In Dance Hall Massacre; Jury Reaches Verdict In Second Oath Keepers Trial; FBI Searches Biden's Home, Finds More Classified Docs. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 14:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello there, I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.


We're learning more about the victims of the latest mass shooting in America. Again, a celebration destroyed by gun violence. This time, a hero managed to grab the gun and prevent even more carnage by the shooter. Police say this man, 72-year-old, right here on your screen, he obtained a gun somehow and he opened fire at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in California during a Lunar New Year event. He killed 10 people and wounded at least 10 others.

BLACKWELL: That was in Monterey Park. And then the shooter went on to another dance hall where he was confronted by Brandon Tsay. Now, Tsay's family owns that dance hall. He told Good Morning America he had never seen the shooter before. Now, he first noticed that gunman after hearing what he described as metal clinking.


BRANDON TSAY, HERO AT LAI LAI BALLROOM: That's when I turned around and saw that there was an Asian man holding a gun. My first thought was I was going to die here. This was it. Something came over me. I realized I needed to get the weapon away from him. I needed to take this weapon, disarm him, or else everybody would have died.


BLACKWELL: After Tsay forced that gunman to leave, police say that the shooter shot himself in a van in Torrance, California after a standoff. There have been 36 mass shootings so far this year. Today, it's only the 23rd of January. That's according to the gun violence archives. And it means that there have been more mass shootings, as you heard more than there are days so far in the year.

CNN's Josh Campbell and Natasha Chen are near the scene of the massacre in Monterey Park. Josh, first, let's start with what more you are learning about the shooter. JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning, Victor, more about the type of weaponry that was used in this attack that left 10 people dead here in Monterey Park. Police say that this was a semi-automatic assault pistol that was used and it is actually illegal under California law. Now, there are still questions remaining about how the suspect got access to this weapon. Because of his age, he's 72 years old, it could be that he bought that weapon decades ago prior to California's assault weapons ban going into effect, but authorities are continuing to look at that.

We're also learning chilling new details about how this could have been much worse as you were just playing some sound there earlier from that brave young man who was able to disarm that shooter at the second location in the neighborhood of Alhambra. I want to take you -- have you take a listen to some additional sound from that young man, just a truly, truly harrowing story. Have a listen.


TSAY: I lunged at him with both my hands. Grab 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, especially in the back of my head. I was trying to use my elbows to separate the gun away from him, creating some distance.


CAMPBELL: Now, it was that weapon that led authorities to identify the shooter after that second location he was disarmed, he fled. Authorities got a vehicle description. They broadcast that out to law enforcement around the Southern California area here. It was a police officer in the city of Torrance which is about 30 miles from where Natasha and I are, here at the crime scene, that officer saw the van, tried to execute a traffic stop, the suspect began to flee, those officers then heard one single shot. Those officers backed off. They called in the SWAT team.

And we saw yesterday on CNN live this long standoff that was going on. Eventually, that tactical team decided to make entry to that van. They found the suspect deceased from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And finally, because the suspect is now deceased, they obviously cannot interview him so they're working to determine what was the motive here talking to people that he knew and conducting a search at his residence for any clues, guys.

CAMEROTA: What incredible action by that hero. I mean being hit, being as he said, you know, was punched in the face and still didn't let go. Natasha, tell us what you're learning about the victims.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The LA coroner's office identified two of the 10 people who died at this dance hall behind us on Saturday night. They are 65-year-old My Nhan and 63-year-old Lilan Lee. There are three more women and five more men who have yet to be named but we know that all of the ages of the victims are in their 60s and 70s with one of the women in their -- in her 50s.


And so, this is truly devastating. It shows -- and this is what we've heard from people who have been to this dance studio before that this is the demographic who came to have fun and to learn ballroom dance. In fact, we're learning that the suspect himself was a regular at this dance studio, gave informal lessons according to his ex-wife. She told CNN that they actually met at this dance studio.

We also know 10 more people were injured as of last night. Seven of them remain in the hospital. I spoke to one person whose friend was inside and he was still looking for her as of last night, and I couldn't get an update on that this morning. But it goes to show that horrible feeling for so many family and friends who were trying to locate their loved ones -- their loved ones going out to celebrate during this Lunar New Year weekend and did not come home.

Here on the scene, we've had people come up to the gates right there laying down flowers, telling us that while they may not have a personal connection to the people who passed or were injured here, they are members of the community, they are shaken. One woman brought her nine-year-old son here and said that unfortunately, he can't be shielded from this. She has to explain to some degree what's going on. And I also just saw a group of people huddled together praying. So, this has definitely shaken this predominantly Asian American community of Monterey Park here, Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. OK. Josh Campbell, Natasha Chen, thank you.

Joining us now is Ed Davis. He's the former police commissioner of Boston, also here, Mary Ellen O'Toole, a former FBI special agent who has also served as a senior profiler. And, Mary Ellen, that's why I want to start with you. This is not what we've come to expect with mass shooters. This guy is 72 years old and he's part of the community from all of the reporting that we have, he frequented that dance studio. What do you see here?

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: He definitely is an outlier. At that age, compared to the average age of most shooters, which is really in their -- in their 30s, I think there's more here, but I think he did target those, the first club, at least because he had ties there. But based on the way his shooting was described and based on his preparation with all the ammunition, I mean, he went there to kill people. He didn't go there to scare them or rob them or just injure them not with that kind of a weapon. So, you need to pull back. And what they're doing now is looking at all of his background to see if there might be some kind of pattern of paranoid behavior here, which would be consistent with what some people reported about him years ago.

He believed he was being poisoned by a family member. And there was also a report that he had thought that the dance instructors there at the club were saying things behind his back. And with somebody of his age, it's possible that his paranoia got increased. And that could be associated with domestic violence and it also could be associated with suicidal ideation which happened in this case. BLACKWELL: Commissioner, we're used to -- unfortunately, we've done so many of these. We're used to seeing 5000-word manifestos posted online or going through direct messages, maybe with some other person, maybe telegraphing what's coming. Social media demographics suggested a 72- year-old man doesn't have any of that, but still have to get to the question of why. Walk us through -- talk us through that process that's likely happening now.

ED DAVIS, CEO, ED DAVIS LLC SECURITY: That's a great observation, Victor. There's probably not going to be a big footprint on social media with this guy. So, they -- the investigators will go back to the old fashioned tried and true methods of interviews and executing searchers -- searches at the residence and in the vehicles in the place of business of this individual. They will pull every piece of paper, they will pull all of the digital information from his cell phone, and then very methodically, they will go through one by one each acquaintance that he has, all of his family members, anyone who can shed light on what Mary Ellen has just said to try to figure out exactly what went wrong with this guy.

Tragically, we just see this combination of deep-seated psychological problems combined with high-capacity firearms. It's a toxic mix that's really hurting this country.

CAMEROTA: Mary Ellen, in addition to his paranoid behavior that you brought up, there are also reports from former friends of his as well as his former wife, that he was easily agitated. He was hostile. He was quick to anger. But that was 20 years ago. And so, does that track with some personality disorder that gets worse over time and can lead to violence?

O'TOOLE: Well, it could, especially if he's -- if those are his personality traits.


Your personality is hardwired by the time you're in your mid-20s so you can't expect changes in what your personality traits are. So, if he continued, especially living alone where there was no pressure on him to seek professional help, those traits could have gotten worse and that includes becoming more and more paranoid.

BLACKWELL: Commissioner, this went from the initial shooting to the situation resolved and the end of the threat in less than 24 hours. And we've heard from the sheriff there in LA County and from all of the leaders that they credit this Joint Regional Intelligence Center in giving them the opportunity to share information. Very quickly, explain how crucial that has been in this case thus far.

DAVIS: That can't be understated by the amount of cooperation that's occurring now. Just after basically 911 -- just after 911, I and a number of my colleagues met with Director Mueller and talked about the importance of force multipliers and the importance of all working together towards the solution to terrorism. But that has expanded over into the type of cases you see now. I've been to innumerable homicides where the final motivation has been determined to be someone who was disrespected. And it -- sometimes, it's as simple as that. But if you don't have everybody pulling together getting the information out there, looking at the profiling information, as we talked about, trying to figure out where this guy may go next, then there's a very good chance he's going to go and kill somebody else.

Every police officer in that area was looking for that white van after the sheriff made his comments. The sheriff did a tremendous job but it took a team effort to find this person 30 miles away at a place where if he was allowed to go on, he clearly had another firearm because he shot himself with it, there could have been more of a disaster here. So, everybody did a heads-up job on this one.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Mary Ellen, I know you're a criminal profiler but can we just talk about the hero for a second and what his medal is made of? I mean, he was wrestling the gun -- first of all, he immediately recognized from looking at this guy's eyes that he himself was probably going to die voluntarily. And yet, he went towards the danger. He was wrestling the gun away from the gunman. He was being bashed in the head and hit in the face. I mean, what's that guy made of?

O'TOOLE: It's unbelievable because most people in his situation probably would not have done that because they would have realized just how dangerous that interaction was. So, the selflessness and the bravery and the commitment to stick with it so he could pull the gun away from that offender is just incredible. And he's so humble about what he did, which is an incredible display of ability and just courage and really true heroism.


BLACKWELL: Yes. Mary Ellen O'Toole, Ed Davis, thank you both.

President Biden is under growing scrutiny from leaders of his own party now after FBI investigators found six additional classified documents at his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The White House will take questions a short time from now. We'll take you there live.

CAMEROTA: And more warning signs today the recession is on the horizon. We'll tell you when it could hit, ahead.



CAMEROTA: OK, this is just into our CNN Newsroom. Jurors have reached a verdict in the second seditious conspiracy trial. This one involves three alleged Oath Keepers and a fourth person accused in the January 6 insurrection.

BLACKWELL: The defendants face a range of charges including three conspiracy charges, obstructing the Electoral College vote, and tampering with evidence. The new Republican share of the House Oversight Committee wants to know who had access to President Biden's Wilmington, Delaware home where classified documents were found. Congressman James Comer has sent a letter to the Secret Service requesting visitor logs for the president's residence. The FBI found six more items containing classified material during a nearly 13-hour search on Friday.

CAMEROTA: This is on top of the classified documents that were discovered previously at the Wilmington residence and at the former -- vice president's former office in DC. The White House Counsel's Office said today the president is taking the situation seriously and the DOJ will have access to whatever information it needs. But Democratic Senator Joe Manchin just told our Manu Raju that he is worried.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D-WV): But it shows there's a real concern that we all should have. And how this can happen, that's really what the Special Counsel is going to find out. Is there been any damaging things have occurred because of these documents? And how do we prevent that from ever happening?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When Biden says there's nothing there there, I mean, did you buy that?

MANCHIN: That's not -- that's just not a good statement. We don't know.


CAMEROTA: All right, here with us now CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid and CNN chief White House correspondent Phil Mattingly. Paula, what do we know about these latest documents that were found?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this search certainly represents an escalation in this ongoing investigation. But most of what we know about this search on Friday comes from the Biden team. Now, they emphasize this was a planned search that was conducted with their consent. They've really been trying to hammer home this theme of cooperation, amplifying that message, so as to differentiate this investigation from the one into former President Trump, which not only deals with the retention of classified information but also looks at whether he tried to obstruct that investigation.

Now, what we've learned about what was taken from the house also comes from the Biden team, and they describe what was retrieved as "six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials." But, Alisyn, we don't know exactly what that means. They're using this very specific but nonspecific term, items. We know from our reporting that investigators are still reviewing what they took from the house so it's possible we could get additional updates.

[14:20:03] They have historically updated us when the page number -- the page total was greater than what they first revealed. But it could also be that they're using this generic term so that they don't have to offer us more updates. Well, the White House wants to downplay this. I mean, the fact is that an FBI search of the home of a sitting president is unprecedented and raises a lot of questions about why there were still classified materials from his time as vice president in this house, and how secure they were.

And of course, the Special Counsel Robert Hur, he hasn't even started yet. He's expected to begin his job in the next week or so. And then he will oversee a full criminal investigation into the handling of these classified materials.

BLACKWELL: Phil, Democrats are now becoming more critical of the president's handling of classified documents. How is the White House handling this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, and that's a risk I think that White House officials who have been cognizant of. But there's difficulty in terms of managing it in part because of the strategy. White House officials have been so steadfast at maintaining it's a strategy, but its kind of framed around a long game trying to focus entirely on ensuring the legal risk is as minimized as possible, not necessarily trying to go out and answer every single question or perhaps trying to spin things to somebody's favor. And I think that leaves open the possibility that Democrats who are watching this like Senator Joe Manchin, Senator Richard Durbin, earlier this weekend as will look at it and grow concerned and then start to raise issues.

Now, Democrats, for the most part, have been very clear that they support the appointment of a special counsel, they want to wait and see what that investigation ends up laying out. But obviously, this creates another wrinkle for White House officials to try and grapple with as they've been grappling with the repeated disclosure of new classified documents being discovered. And they're also, of course, guys, grappling with the investigations that are ongoing from Capitol Hill. House Republicans have ramped up their efforts, both House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight Committee to try and dig into this as well.

White House is now officially responding to one of those committees, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer. Stuart Delery, the White House Counsel sending a letter to Comer talking about the White House has received the request that they've gotten saying that they are willing to be responsive to "legitimate requests." However, there are a number of considerations they need to take into effect, not the least of which is, as they quote in the letter, "as I'm sure you're aware of these considerations include the critical need to protect the integrity and independence of law enforcement investigations."

To some degree, the White House Counsel echoes what the Justice Department told the House Judiciary Committee last week. And what it says implicitly in that is given the fact that special counsel investigation is ongoing, House Republicans probably shouldn't hold their breath about getting a lot of information. Now, the least of which is because keep in mind most of the information here, the White House doesn't actually have access to at this point, guys.

BLACKWELL: Phil Mattingly, Paula Reid, thank you both.

Joining us now. Harry Litman, a former U.S. attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Also with us, CNN national security analyst and former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, Juliette Cayambe. Welcome to you both.

Juliette, let me start with you.


BLACKWELL: And this request of visitor logs from House Oversight to the Secret Service. It was about a week ago that Congress asked for the visitor logs from the White House.


BLACKWELL: They said you know keep them at a private residence. This secret service was proactive that and saying we don't have them either. Should there be visitor logs? Should that be a new practice that is enacted so we know who's visiting the president when he's at his personal residence? KAYYEM: It might be. I'm not even sure if that request for this

information is actually relevant to the investigation at hand. I mean, as you know, Victor, there's a certain amount of crocodile tears going on with these efforts against the White House.


KAYYEM: And there are reasons why a president may not want everyone to know who is visiting him since he does have a personal life. But I think that can be an easy fix. I don't even know why it would be opposed. And in this sense -- in this sense, you would want to know who is visiting a president and that he's not bypassing normal rules by having meetings elsewhere.

But if this -- right now, we certainly know that this request for information has less to do with the classified information than to try and to do some sort of linkages between what Trump was doing at Mar-a- Lago and these -- and these data materials, which they are. I was thinking about this just from the National Security counterintelligence perspective, I know I could go blue in the face saying they're so different. I was thinking that the best analogy is to say that this is like equating, you know, dandruff and decapitation.

You know, they're both problems related to the head, but they're very different and in kind in the sense, of the willingness of the Biden White House to give these materials. And also where they -- from a counterintelligence and national security perspective, the fact that most of them, at least what we know so far are quite dated, as compared to more contemporary information and as we were reporting an obstruction concern by the Trump folks. CAMEROTA: Well, yes. I mean, I think the obstruction is a big difference. But we don't know what's in these documents.


CAMEROTA: We just don't know. I mean, and so there's a feeling of are our national secrets being exposed?


And, Harry, same question to you. I was surprised that there aren't visitor logs kept. I know it's his private residence, but he is the president. Now, mind you, of course, the oversight Chairman Comer had no problem with this at Mar-a-Lago.


CAMEROTA: He didn't need to see visitor logs when this happened at Mar-a-Lago. So, yes, there's a double standard, but just for the American people, aren't we entitled to know who's visiting the president on his off days?

LITMAN: Maybe. There's a strong tradition in the country since George Washington that former presidents state private citizens, but I can see that and I think that Juliet and Paula Reid and Senator Manchin for that reason, raise the right questions, what should we do? Why is it so easy?

But the important point here, those questions are in no way criminal law questions, and we now have a criminal law special counsel to look into them. Presumably, Hur will get to the bottom of it. But I think the White House's efforts over the last few days are to push reset. They had hoped to keep it quiet, not go on to a criminal footing that has proved a vain hope. And then scandal with has arisen around them.

So, Fine. Let's look into these. Why does it happen? Is it very easy to do, etcetera, et cetera? But let's always keep in mind, and leave it of course to Juliet to have the perfect analogy, that this -- there is no question yet of any, any kind of criminal behavior, even knowledge, especially on the part of the president.

BLACKWELL: Harry, let's listen to Senator Dick Durbin here who is one of the Democrats who is becoming increasingly critical of the president's handling of classified information.


SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D-IL: 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. Whether it was the fault of a staff or attorney, it makes no difference. The elected official bears ultimate responsibility.


BLACKWELL: This is the fifth discovery of classified documents. Now, again, we're talking about a couple of dozen documents compared to the hundreds from the former president. But what do you make of Senator Durbin's characterization of this? Harry, to you.

LITMAN: I make along with Manchin that there's a concerted decision by the Democratic folks to say he's got to be more contrite. He has to really own it a little. Of course, it's frustrating.

From his point of view, I think as best he knows he's -- he literally did nothing. But they're saying there's a political exigency to try to put this behind you, in part by Mea culpa or modified Mea culpa. You can see why they wouldn't want to.

And their overall strategy is to say this is all with DOJ now. But something like this is probably going to be forced on him by the politics especially since they know that the Republicans and you saw an example are you know laying in wait with bare teeth ready to bash him on any aspect of this. Again, though, policy issues and political issues are different from criminal law issues.

CAMEROTA: OK. Harry Litman, Juliette Kayyem, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Well, it was another weekend plagued by violence and unrest. In Atlanta, police cars were torched after protests turned violent. We'll take a closer look at troubling crime trends haunting U.S. cities. That's next.

CAMEROTA: Also, the U.S. and Germany are facing pressure to send battle tanks to Ukraine but Moscow warns against it. Hear what the Kremlin is saying, ahead.