Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Negotiators Nears Close Deal on Debt Ceiling; Trump Employees Move Documents, as per Washington Post Report; White House Launches National Strategy Plan on Anti-Semitism; Biden Shares First Ever National Plan To Fight Antisemitism; Super Typhoon Mawar Heading West After Thrashing Guam; Brian Laundrie's Mom Wrote A 'Burn After Reading' Note. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 26, 2023 - 02:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead here on "CNN Newsroom." The White House and Congressional Republicans said to be inching ever closer to a deal to raise the debt ceiling. But that could just be the beginning of an effort to avoid a default.

New reporting from "The Washington Post," employees of former President Trump allegedly moved boxes of papers at Mar-a-Lago, a day before the Justice Department showed up to collect classified documents.

And, Russia has apparently begun moving tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, Ukraine's northern neighbor. What experts are saying about it.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Paula Newton.

NEWTON: So talks between the White House and Congressional Republicans to avoid an economic catastrophe are set to resume in the day ahead. But there is late word from Washington that negotiators are moving closer to a deal. Now, CNN has learned both sides are talking about a compromise to raise the debt ceiling and cap federal spending for at least the next two years. Now, this is key, veterans benefits and defense spending would be exempt from any cuts.

But as CNN's Manu Raju reports, nothing is final until it's final.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The negotiations between the speaker and his top allies and the White House still ongoing, still unresolved, even as the U.S. is stirring the prospects of the first ever debt default as soon as next week, and amid warnings that the U.S. credit rating could be downgraded if the national debt limit, which now stands at $31.4 trillion, is not raised.

The dispute still over federal spending and how far to go in cutting spending. Republicans have demanded that as part of the negotiations have also pushed for a range of policy measures, including new work requirements on certain social safety net programs like food stamps, something Democrats have resisted, but the White House is now indicating it could go along with in order to get a deal to raise the debt limit potentially through the end of 2024.

Now, there are a number of concerns. Some progressives are concerned, and a number of others, even some moderate Democrats, about the Democrats, the White House giving up too much in the negotiation, and some conservatives are worried that the speaker is watering down the Republican position and our warning may not support any deal that is reached.

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-NY): I'm very frustrated. You know, I called on the president to invoke the 14th Amendment and mint a coin and do not negotiate with hostage takers. I mean, we don't negotiate with terrorists globally. Why are we going to negotiate with the economic terrorists here that are the Republican Party?

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): And if that were true, that would absolutely collapse the Republican majority for this debt ceiling increase from my point of view.

RAJU: How many Republicans would vote against it?

GOOD: I don't want to make predictions because I haven't seen what is, you know I just heard some rumors that there may be some sort of a deal that would be less than desirable to, I believe, to the majority of Republicans.

REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): It looks like we're warding it down, which is not acceptable. The 218 passed a bill that would make sense.

RAJU: Now, even if a deal is reached right away, it is still uncertain whether or not this can go through the legislative process and be enacted by June 1st or how quickly that could occur.

That's because it will take probably at least two days, maybe even longer, to get bill text drafted, and any sort of legislative framework that has reached framework agreement that has reached, also will take some time to get a cost estimate from the congressional budget office you'll take three days in order for it to move through the House given that Speaker McCarthy has promised 72 hours for members to review this legislation and then in the Senate it's anyone's guess and any individual senator can hold up progress there maybe up to a week or so, so that all indicates how difficult this will be for Congress and the White House to get this done in time, and avoid that default, especially given the disagreements that still remain between the White House and House Republicans.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE) NEWTON: Now, many members of Congress have in fact gone home from Memorial Day weekend already. Now, there are still differences, as you just heard Manu talk about. Some are staying behind on Capitol Hill to try and work out the deal on this debt limit. Listen.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: We've been talking to the White House all day, we're going back and forth, and it's not easy. We want to make sure this is an agreement worthy of the American people, and so it takes a while to make it happen, and we're working hard to make it happen.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): The validity of paying off our national debt is not questioned. That's the 14th Amendment. I think he should invoke it. What that would mean in practical terms, I believe, it's never been done before, is that we would continue to pay our bills. I suspect it would be challenged in the courts very, very quickly. I think the courts do not want to see the world economy crumble, and I think it would be sustained.


NEWTON: So according to "The Washington Post," Donald Trump's staff was moving boxes around Mar-a-Lago last year, just a day before they knew that the FBI was coming to look for those classified documents. Now, the newspaper reports that Trump also allegedly held a so-called dress rehearsal for moving sensitive papers before they were subpoenaed, and that was about a year ago. Investigators reportedly view the timing as a potential sign of obstruction.

Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post" spoke to CNN about his reporting.


JOSH DAWSEY, WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS AND ENTERPRISE REPORTER: What we've reported is that the boxes were previously moved after Vizabina arrived. And then the night before federal officials came to Mar-a Lago, they were put back into the storage room. We're also reporting that federal investigators probing the classified documents handling of former President Trump have multiple witnesses who've told them. He displayed classified information to visitors, left it out and showed it to others.


NEWTON: The report says Trump also allegedly conducted a dress rehearsal, as we were just saying, and the reason is that he was trying to make sure that he could move those sensitive papers. Again, that is according to Washington Post reporting.

Now more than two years after the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, two convicted ringleaders of the insurrection were handed stiff prison sentences on Tuesday. But Oath Keepers founder Stuart Rhodes, who played a central role on January 6th, was unrepentant, declaring himself a political prisoner.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has those details.


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SR. CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison on Thursday. That is a sentence, the largest among any January 6th Capitol riot defendant.

And the reason Rhodes is receiving that much time is because the judge decided he was the reason the members of the Oath Keepers came to Washington D.C. on January 6th and decided to move into the Capitol in their riot gear, in military-esque gear, as a unit.

Now, Rhodes spoke to the judge today and said that he had no remorse at all, that he still believed that the election of 2020 was illegal, that this was an illegitimate government governing the United States. And so the judge responded to that quite harshly, telling Rhodes that his crimes of seditious conspiracy and other crimes amounted to domestic terrorism in his sentencing, and also that he believed Rhodes poses a continuing ongoing threat to the American Republic to American democracy.

There was another person sentenced today to a deputy who was working with Rhodes on January 6, a man named Kelly Megs from Florida. Megs was a very different defendant in that he did express remorse. He said he was sorry to be involved in an event that put such a black eye on the country. But the judge also gave him quite a significant sentence, believing it to amounted to a crime of domestic terrorism, seditious conspiracy, and the judge gave him 12 years.

Kelly Maggs, whenever he was receiving his sentence, was crying. But the judge also took a step back and told him quite sternly that violence was not the answer and is not the answer for people who disagree with the political process in the United States.

Judge Amit Mehta, he also said, we have a process. It is called an election. You don't take to the streets with rifles. You don't hope that the president invokes the Insurrection Act so you can start a war in the streets. You don't rush into the U.S. Capitol with the hope to stop the electoral vote count. We will slowly but surely descend into chaos if we do.

More sentences for oath keepers are to come, but these were the most significant sentences so far in the January 6th seditious conspiracy cases.

Katelyn Polantz, CNN, Washington.


NEWTON: Technical problems announcing his plans to run for president don't seem to be hurting Ron DeSantis when it comes to raising money. A spokesperson says the Florida governor has raised more than $8 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. DeSantis is also sharpening his attacks against Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the Republican race.

CNN's Jessica Dean has our details.



JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's going to kick it off in Iowa, in Des Moines, and I think that should tell you a lot. He is going to Iowa first. Of course, it is the first caucus for the Republicans, and it tells us a lot that he's going to be spending a couple of days there. He's then going to go on to New Hampshire and then also to South Carolina.

And this has been a big strategy for him and his team that he wants to be in these early states often. He wants to be talking to voters on the ground. They make the pitch that he can outwork any of his rivals, especially his clearest rival at this point, former President Donald Trump.

So we have that. We also have money. He's at a donor retreat as we speak here in Miami. He's got some of his biggest donors, bundlers. They are working the phones' fundraising. My colleague Kit Maher is there at the hotel. She reports that it's a very positive vibe based on what she's hearing from sources, that it's very positive in that room, that they are really happy that the governor is there, that he's jumping on the phone with people as well.

And when asked about the Twitter glitches in the kickoff last night, they said they don't fault him for trying to do something new. Again, it's all eyes forward. As for the governor himself, he is here, but he is also making the rounds on a number of conservative radio stations. And what is interesting, in the months leading up to this, he had really not talked directly about former President Trump. That's changing today. Listen.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A lot of what he's doing is showing everybody that he understands that I've got a good chance to beat him because he doesn't criticize anybody else now. It's only me. They wouldn't do that if they didn't think that I had a chance because I think they realize I am offering folks a record of achievement that's second to none.

DEAN: And then of course Tuesday in Des Moines, what they're calling the campaign kickoff, that gets them another chance.


NEWTON: Our thanks to Jessica Dean there.

Now, President Biden has in fact a wide advantage over his Democratic primary challengers. CNN surveyed 432 Democrats and Democratic leaning independents who are registered to vote now 60 percent say Joe Biden is their first choice to become the Democratic nominee for president. Controversial activists and lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is polling at 20 percent, one in five. The margin of error in this poll we should point out is at least six points.

Kennedy was once best known for his environmental activism and of course his family name but he's gained attention for spreading misinformation and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

All right a reminder it is the start of a holiday weekend in the United States but extreme weather could dampen some Memorial Day plans. Now parts of west Texas and the Rockies could see storms.

The forecast includes damaging winds and large hail. Meantime the south could also get dusty winds and dangerous surf along the coast. Heavy rain, meantime, is expected in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic. But good news, as you get farther north, you will hopefully see some sunny skies for that long weekend.

Still ahead for us, Russia moving tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus. What could possibly go wrong? It's not just dangerous, but one of the world's leading experts tells us it's also illegal.

Plus, a farmer in Japan is now in police custody. We'll have the latest just ahead.




NEWTON: Belarus confirms Russia has started transferring tactical nuclear weapons to Belarusian territory. Now, Ukraine's northern neighbor has been Moscow's closest ally since the war began last February. Russia has repeatedly used Belarus as a staging ground for incursions into Ukraine.

Now, Russian and Belarusian defense ministers signed the agreement on Thursday to deploy those tactical nuclear weapons. Opposition leaders in Belarus denounced the move. The U.S. government, meantime, says NATO is not changing its defensive posture. Experts say the move is not only dangerous, it's against the law.


JOE CIRINCIONE, NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT: It's illegal. This violates several international agreements, including that Belarus has signed, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, where it says it will be a non-nuclear state, will not possess nuclear weapons.

It violates the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, when Belarus gave up, the Soviet nuclear weapons that have been stationed there. It violates the Belarusian constitution. It violates Putin's own statements of just two months ago when with China, he declared that no nation should station nuclear weapons outside their own territory. Here he is doing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NEWTON: Ukraine says fighting around Bakhmut has now eased. Now this comes as Russia's Wagner mercenaries claim they are leaving the city following months of brutal fighting. As Fred Pleitgen reports, Ukraine sees that as an opportunity at this point to try and advance.


FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just as the Ukrainian military say their forces are retaking ground on the outskirts of Bakhmut, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin says his mercenaries are moving out.

That's it. Moving out in 10 to 15 minutes, he tells these tankers. Everyone leaves before June 1st. We'll rest, prepare and then get a new task.

Wagner's exit could mark a turning point in one of the bloodiest battles in Europe since World War II. The mercenaries assaulted Bakhmut for months, often using human waves to try and storm Ukrainian positions.

Prigozhin trying to prove to Putin his hired guns can get the job done where regular Russian units fail. Even during the withdrawal, a swipe at Russia's defense minister. Prigozhin joking he'll leave two scrawny fighters behind to help the army when they take over Wagner's positions.

That is Bieber and that's Dolik, he says. The moment the military are in a tough position, they'll stand up and block the Ukrainian army. Guys, don't bully the military.

While the Ukrainians tell CNN they cannot confirm Wagner is really pulling out of Bakhmut They believe a withdrawal could give them a boost in Kyiv's quest to retake the city.

SERHII CHEREVATYI, UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES (through translator): Compared to other units of the Russian army, Wagner did fight better and conducted more offensive actions. But this was literally due to bloody discipline and threats of execution.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): While Moscow's army struggles in Ukraine, Russians clearly feel threatened on the homefront as well.


The intelligence service FSB releasing dramatic footage of arrests from earlier this month of what they claim were Ukrainian intelligence operatives plotting to attack two nuclear power plants in northwestern Russia.

While the Ukrainians haven't commented, Russia blames Kyiv. Moscow also lashing out after U.S. intelligence assessment saying Ukraine may have been behind a drone attack on the Kremlin in early May.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN (through translator): Behind this is the Kyiv regime. We know this, and we are carrying out our work, based on this.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Russia using the incident to justify its war against Ukraine, where Putin's top mercenary is regrouping his forces and vowing to return.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kyiv.


NEWTON: Something we're following, we're getting reports of an explosion in the Russian city of Krasnodar. Now social media videos geolocated by CNN show what appears to be a building on fire, you see it there video also appears to show a drone in the sky followed by sounds of a blast.

Russian state news outlets say there are no reports of casualties and emergency services have been sent to the scene. Krasnodar is located about two hundred and forty kilometers or a hundred and fifty miles east of the occupied Crimean Peninsula.

Police in central Japan say they've arrested a local farmer after four people were killed in a deadly rampage on Thursday, and they include two police officers. Police initially received a call that a suspect wearing a mask and camouflage had stabbed a woman who was trying to run away from him.

When officers arrived, the suspect allegedly opened fire with what appeared to be a hunting rifle, killing two of them. Police eventually found a fourth victim, an elderly woman who later died of stab wounds. There's no word yet on a possible motive.

Inflation has dragged Europe's largest economy into recession and economists seem split over how long it could last. Germany's output fell 0.3 percent in the first three months of the year, marking its second straight quarter of decline.

CNN's Anna Stewart has our details.


ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: We had a hint of bad news for Germany's economy earlier this month with data for March showing a significant drop in German industrial production and a fall in retail sales. And the IMF, of course, had already projected that the economy would shrink this year, albeit only by 0.1 percent. Now, some economists, Capital Economics, Commerce Bank, they think this recession could actually deepen further.

The main cause of the contraction is the impact inflation is having on spending. German inflation has fallen from its peak, but it's still running hot, coming in over 7 percent in April, and food prices increasing by 17 percent from a year ago. So perhaps it's unsurprising that household spending decreased by 1.2 percent in the first quarter. And you can see in the data today that people are spending less on all sorts of things, food and beverages, clothing and footwear, home furnishings and cars. Now car manufacturing, which is of course a huge industry in Germany,

has also taken a hit due to Germany phasing out grants and subsidies for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank has raised rates to their highest level since the 2008 financial crisis. And that of course is further squeezing those households with mortgages and debts to pay. And the bank's president, Christine Lagarde, has hinted that there are further hikes to come.


NEWTON: Our thanks to Anna Stewart there.

Still ahead for us. Progress reported on a deal to raise the U.S. debt limit. I'll tell you what spending will not be cut under the proposed compromise.

And with anti-Semitic incidents in the United States at their highest level in decades, the White House unveils the first ever national strategy to combat anti-Semitism. Details on the four-part plan, next.




NEWTON: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Paula Newton and you are watching "CNN Newsroom."

I want to get you right up to speed on our top story. The White House and Congressional Republicans are moving closer to a deal to avoid a U.S. government default. Now, negotiators are discussing a potential compromise to raise the debt ceiling and cap federal spending levels for two years. Funding for veterans and the Pentagon would be spared. Talks are expected to continue right into the weekend.

Now, for the first time ever, the White House is rolling out a comprehensive national strategy to fight anti-Semitism in the United States. President Biden says it's going to take a whole of society effort to bring down the rising tide of hatred.

CNN's Brian Todd has details now from Washington.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): October 2018, a lone gunman kills 11 people, wounds six others at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack ever on the Jewish community in the U.S.

Six months later, on the last day of Passover, a gunman enters a synagogue just north of San Diego with an AR-15-style rifle, kills one woman and injures three others, part of a rash of violence against Jewish communities in America in recent years.

Now, President Biden and his team are out with a new plan to combat anti-Semitism in the U.S.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Evil will not win. Hate will not prevail. The venom and violence of anti-Semitism will not be the story of our time.

TODD (voice-over): The new White House plan has four components, increasing awareness and understanding of anti-Semitism, improving safety and security for Jewish communities, countering discrimination by building solidarity across communities, and reversing what's known as the normalization of anti-Semitism.

How has it been normalized?

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: We see elected officials, political candidates, campus activists, public figures like celebrities and athletes and so on using anti-Semitic tropes.

TODD (voice-over): Like when rapper Kanye West, now known as Ye, tweeted last October that he was quote going death con 3 on Jewish people.

GREENBLATT: We found evidence that people after Kanye West comments were more likely to spew anti-Semitism online.

TODD (voice-over): The new White House plan against anti-Semitism comes the same week as a teenager was arrested after ramming a U-Haul truck into a White House security barrier.


Then, emerging from the vehicle police say with a swastika flag. And it comes less than three weeks after a gunman who investigators believe supported Nazi ideology, killed eight people at a Texas outlet mall.

Both incidents where Jewish communities were not specific targets, but were the perpetrators were associated with anti-Semitism. Also this week, one homeland security official told CNN that on online forums, there has been a recent increase in calls for violence based on the neo-Nazi and White Nationalist theme. One analyst who monitors extremism says many people who are anti-Semitic also target LGBTQ people, Muslims, and others.

MIA BLOOM, PROFESSOR & EXPERT ON VIOLENT EXTREMISM: When we're looking at anti-Semitism, we are looking at the root of this horrible tree that is basically providing the basis for a lot of the hate for other groups.

TODD: Part of the new White House campaign includes working with professional sports leagues like the NBA, the NFL, and others to use their powerful platforms to combat anti-Semitism. Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League believes that's connected to a controversy last fall when NBA star Kyrie Irving created a public relations nightmare for the NBA when he publicly supported an anti- Semitic movie.

BRIAN TODD, CNN, Washington.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN ANCHOR: An American tourist is recovering after being attacked by a shark in the Turks and Caicos Islands, details after the break. Plus, super typhoon Mawar was one of the strongest storms ever to strike Guam. And now, it's strengthening even more as it heads West. The latest, right ahead.



NEWTON: An American woman has reportedly lost her leg in a shark attack in the Caribbean. Now, according to police, it happened on Wednesday when the 22-year-old Connecticut woman and a friend were snorkeling at a resort in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Police say the woman is in hospital and in serious condition now. An excursion company in the area says a Caribbean reef shark probably attack the woman in what is known in diving circles as a case of mistaken identity. Experts say shark attacks are in fact rare but advise that hitting a shark on the nose can temporarily stop an attack.

We're a week away from the June first start of the Atlantic hurricane season, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a few predictions for this year. Take a listen.


RICK SPINRAD, NOAA ADMINISTRATOR: NOAA is predicting a near-normal 2023 Atlantic hurricane season. Specifically, there is a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, a 30 percent chance of an above-normal season, and a 30 percent chance of a below-normal season.


NEWTON: So, 70 percent chance, it'll be OK. Forecasters at the agency predicted 12 to 17 named tropical storms this year. And just a reminder here that the average is about 14. Now, they say five to nine of them could become hurricanes, and they expect as many as four of those hurricanes could strengthen to category three or higher.

So, super typhoon Mawar is gaining strength in the open waters of the Western Pacific. It now has sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. Think about that.

That's equivalent to a very strong Category-Five hurricane. Its wrath has already been felt in Guam. And while there's no threat to land for the next couple of days, it could threaten the Philippines or Taiwan early next week.

CNN's Chad Myers has the latest on this storm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Really, what an impressive storm here in the Pacific. Now, Mawar, super typhoon, obviously, you see the eye there. At times, it's wobbling still.

It did wobble around Guam, thank goodness. It still had a very devastating hit for Guam. But it did not make a direct eye landing. They're the center of the eye. They're receiving a couple of wobbles in the past couple of frames there.

So, this thing is still traveling to the West. The super typhoon still gaining some strength. Here's some of the damage here from Guam seen by James Reynolds, one of our guys that are out there right now.

285 kilometers per hour, 177 to 180 miles per hour right now. Now, no planes are flying into this, so the pressure and the wind speeds are not really exactly technically perfect. But they can estimate it by the satellite for sure, still with that kind of strength, even 24 hours.

But then after that, some slightly cooler water works its way in, and things begin to kind of go down in intensity. That's some good news because there are other places out there, at least for the next 24 to 48 hours, there's nothing in the way. This is just plain open water here, but the temperatures are in the upper 20s lower 30s, so 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

And this is what the storm looks like on the European model. So, this thing is still a healthy storm as it makes its way just north of the Philippines there. And you know that's five days out.

A left turn or a right turn can make all the difference with this storm. We'll have to keep watching. And there's going to be a lot of rainfall. The good news is the rain is going to fall in the ocean.

But, boy, what an impressive storm on the satellite here. Eye -- center of the eye, clear. Eye walls just going up. Lots of lightning around the system too.


NEWTON: And our thanks to Chad. Now, Virgin Galactic is one small step closer to taking tourists to the edge of space for the astronomical price of $450,000. Billionaire Richard Branson's company successfully tested its supersonic plane on Thursday, carrying its crew about 80 kilometers above Earth.

Commercial passengers are expected to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see Earth's curved horizon. About 90 minutes after takeoff, Virgin Galactic tweeted a touchdown, VSS Unity. Now, our crew and spaceship are back on Earth.


A Nepali Sherpa has broken his own record after climbing Mount at -- Mount Everest for the 27th and 28th time within a week -- within a week. Can you imagine? Kami Rita Sherpa set a new record as the world's tallest mountain on Tuesday, the most of any mountaineer. He received a warm welcome, as you can see there, from family and friends afterwards.

The 53-year-old first climbed Everest in 1994 and has made his way to the summit almost every year since. Kami Rita says he has no plans to hang up his climbing boots just yet. A friend of his named Pasang Dawa Sherpa is close on his heels scaling Mount Everest for the 27th time on Monday.

I'm Paula Newton. "WORLD SPORT" is next for our international viewers. For viewers in North America, the news continues after a short break.



NEWTON: A letter Brian Laundrie's mother supposedly wrote to her son is now at the center of a civil case in Florida. And now, you will remember this story. Brian Laundrie returned from a cross-country road trip without his fiancee Gabby Petito in the fall of 2021.

Her remains were later found in Wyoming. Now, we're learning Laundrie's mother wrote him a note marked burn after reading. CNN's Jean Casarez has the details.


PATRICK REILLY, PETITO FAMILY ATTORNEY: As we all know, the letter references burying a body -- bringing a shovel and burying a body, baking a cake, and putting a shave in it.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Gaby Petito's family and Brian Laundrie's family battle it out in a Florida courtroom over a letter written by Roberta Laundrie to her son. Investigators found the undated letter in Brian's backpack close to his remains when they were discovered on October 20, 2021, at Florida's Carlton Reserve.

You are my boy, nothing can make me stop loving you. Nothing will or could ever divide us. No matter what we do or where we go or what we say, we will always love each other. If you're 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.

The Petitos say the letter is evidence that Laundries already knew Gabby was dead when Brian returned home alone in the fall of 2021. The Laundries say the letter was written well before Gabby went missing.

MATTHEW LUKA, LAUNDRIE FAMILY ATTORNEY: She wrote the letter because she and Brian were experiencing a difficult period in their relationship. And he was about to leave home. He was about to go on this long trip with Gabby. And she was hoping to repair their relationship before he left.

CASAREZ (voiceover): But Petitos say the Laundries should be found liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the Laundries refused to talk with them or give them any answers. The Laundries argue they had no duty to respond to them.

Weeks after Gabby was reported missing following a highly publicized nationwide search, the 22-year-old's remains were found in Wyoming. A Colonel ruled her cause of death to be strangulation, and the manner of death, homicide. Brian disappeared during the search for Gabby.

His body was discovered soon after hers. A notebook found near his remains revealed he claimed responsibility for Gabby's death according to the FBI. A medical examiner ruled he died by suicide.

LUKA: Only permits discovery regarding matters that are relevant

CASAREZ (voiceover): Laundries' family attorney argued the letter should not be interpreted literally, pointing to other parts of a letter. If you fly to the moon, I will be watching the skies for your re-entry. If you say you hate my guts, I'll get new guts.

In her affidavit, Roberta Laundrie reference to children's books that she says the letter was based on. The Petito family attorney rejected that premise.

REILLY: There's nothing about burying a body or bringing a shovel or putting something in a cake if somebody goes to prison. Although Mama Bear did say she would bake Little Bear a cake on his birthday.

CASAREZ (voiceover): And written on the front of the envelope, burn after reading. Jean Casarez, CNN New, York.


NEWTON: outrages growing in Mississippi after an 11-year-old Aderrien Murry was shot in the chest by a police officer after the boy called 911 for help.


CARLOS MOORE, ATTORNEY FOR MURRY FAMILY: Time is up. We gave you 48 hours to do my thing. An 11-year-old lapboard in the city of Indianola came within an inch of losing his life. He had done nothing wrong and everything right.


NEWTON: Aderrien had phoned police on his mother's request after she felt threatened by a man in their home with whom she had another child. Now, the responding officer ordered police to exit the home, and that's when Aderrien's mother said her son was shot. Aderrien is recovering from his wounds. The officer is now on paid leave as the investigation continues.

So, the culture wars have taken a dark turn for U.S. businesses with major companies now facing threats and intimidation over their LGBTQ marketing. One right-wing commentator in fact says the goal is to make Gay Pride toxic to corporate America.

The latest retailer, Target, which recently pulled some gay pride merchandise from its shelves after an online campaign went viral. Target said it made the move out of concern for its employees' safety but critics say the company caved to bullies.


And it's not just Target. Other large brands like Bud Light are also facing a fierce backlash after transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney posted an endorsement of the beer during March Madness. Industry analysts report Bud Light sales have been down ever since.

Tim Calkins is a clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. And I'm excited to hear your insights on this because this has been a bit confusing in terms of what has happened to these companies and what the response has been. I just want to ask you right off the bat, why do companies engage in this kind of branding? I mean, is it virtue signaling, or is it more to try and enhance the brand, and by extension, the bottom line?

TIM CALKINS, PROFESSOR, KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think there's two things that are usually behind it. One is it's in some ways about reaching out to consumers and engaging with people and trying to bring more people to these brands. The other piece is, I think there is, in many cases, a sense of being progressive and being welcoming, and doing good in the world. So, I think there's often these two things that are working together when you see companies make moves like this, to engage and reach out.

NEWTON: It's been interesting to see the backlash in many different quarters to some of these corporate campaigns that I want to kind of have a bit of a throwback here, three decades ago, actually. Let's talk about Bud Light. Now, we should point out, it has had a long association with culturally relevant issues and rights for a long time. Let's look at this ad that aired three decades ago for Bud Light. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bud Light, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight's Ladies Night, and there's a special on Bud Light.


NEWTON: Now, look, this ad is clearly meant to be funny. It's hardly a salvo in a culture war here. So, I ask you. What's changed since 1993?

CALKINS: Well, I think what's changed is how people view these issues, especially when you think about transgender issues. We've come so far over the past few decades. You know, it's interesting, you just would never see a spot like that run today because the understanding and the thought around how people think about transgender issues have changed dramatically.

But what's hard right now for brands is that, that issue is one of the most controversial issues that is sort of tearing this country apart. People have hugely polarizing views on that. And what happens is, if you're not careful as a brand, you can get caught right in the middle of that fight. And that is what happened to Bud Light.

NEWTON: Yes. And all -- obviously, Target now, in the middle of this. Now, you argue that look, brands are only responding to certainly those cues that they are getting from the broader cultural context. So, why is it so polarizing now?

CALKINS: Well, what's happening right now is that you know, there are a lot of issues in the country that are really divisive. And what also is different now is that the level of discord in the country is really extreme. And so I think right now, it makes it very difficult for brands to get caught in the middle of that.

So, for the most part, what you see is brands are working very hard to try to back away from the controversy. And they're taking steps to say you know that is not our issue. I think Target certainly made an interesting move this week to announce they were going to not carry certain items.

I think what was interesting about Target is how they explained that move. They said we're going to do that because we're concerned about the safety of our employees. And so, they really tried to explain it.

And what they tried to do is avoid what happened to Bud Light, where Bud Light came out with their promotion. When they were attacked for it, Bud Light didn't rally to the defense of the promotion. And in the process annoyed everybody.

Here, Target is trying to be very careful on how they're taking steps to move away from the controversy, but not do it in a way that suggests they don't support one side or the other on this. And they're trying to stay in that safe middle ground and not take a stand.

NEWTON: Yes, which is such a good point that you make in terms of trying to hug that middle ground, if there is any middle ground left them. I don't have a lot of time, but what would you say are there lessons learned here for big top brands? Is it just to sanitize everything, stay away from it?

CALKINS: It's to be thoughtful about what you get involved in.


If there's a controversial issue, and there's lots of them, if it's not central to your brand and your company, it's just probably not a topic you should be commenting on and getting involved in. There are times where brands will get involved in controversial issues. Patagonia is always there on environmental issues.

But if it's not really fundamental to your brand, and if it's controversial, probably, it's best not to get caught in that particular dispute. That certainly is one of the big learnings from Bud Light. And I think now from Target. NEWTON: Yes. And, Tim, as you remind us, right, incredibly polarized consumer. And for that reason, as you said, probably better to just stay away from it. Tim Calkins for us, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

CALKINS: Thank you.

NEWTON: And that does it for us. I'm Paula Newton. Thanks for your company. I will be back in just a moment with more news.