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CNN This Morning

Ten Killed in America's Deadliest Mass Shooting Since Uvalde; Germany to Decide Soon on Delivery of Tanks to Ukraine; Today, Failed GOP Candidate Accused of Plot Against Democrats in Court. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 07:00   ET





This has been a safe neighborhood for them to walk around and have community, a history, Taiwanese, Chinese community. So, to this happen in this place is shattering.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is Monday, January 23rd. I'm Don Lemon. You see Poppy and Kaitlan there in New York. I am live in California.

A gunman found dead after killing ten people here in Monterey Park, the massacre shattering this largely Asian-American community. We have the latest on the gunman, who he is and what may have driven him to kill.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also today, Solomon Pena in court, the failed Republican candidate from New Mexico accused of hiring accomplices to shoot up the homes of Democrats. And now investigators want to know if drug sales helped fuel his campaign.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: In New York, powerful Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik is denying she knew anything about George Santos' deceptions, the many deceptions, of course, that he told voters. She did spend over a year, though, doing everything in her power to get him elected in that district. CNN is going to take a look at that relationship.

LEMON: It is a busy money morning, but, first, we're going to get to this, the nation reeling from its deadliest mass shooting since Uvalde. Investigators searching for a motive after a gunman massacred at least ten people and wounded ten others at a ballroom dance hall here in Southern California.

Now, the sheriff says the gunman shot killed and himself in his van when police finally tracked him down hours after his bloody rampage. CNN is learning that he used to be a frequent here at the same dance hall that he attacked and it's where he met his ex-wife.

We're also told the shooter also went to a second dance hall after the shooting to kill even more victims but the people inside wrestled away his gun before he could hurt anybody and drove off in his van.


SHERIFF ROBERT LUNA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: 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 semiautomatic assault pistol. Not an assault rifle but an assault pistol that had an extended large capacity magazine.


LEMON: CNN's Kyung Lah has been following the story from the very beginning for us. Good morning to you, Kyung. That was the last press conference that they have last night, but there's still much more to go today, much more investigating, still no motive.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. The motive is going to be key today as investigators try to piece together exactly what would drive a 72-year-old man to turn on his own community, to head into these dance halls, not just one, but two, an attempt to try to attack two different locations. So, the motivation is going to be key today in trying to piece all of this together.

Investigators also need to figure out how did he obtained this gun? The gun is illegal here in California. Was it purchased? Was it legally purchased and then altered? So, there are a lot of questions about the weapon itself.

And then this narrative, Don. We've been talking about The New York Times interviewed a man named Brandon Tsay. And what he told the New York times is that he actually came face-to-face with the gunman at the second location and he was able to wrestle the gun away. So that is what helped bring investigators to the gun and then to identify this man.

LEMON: One of two community members, Kyung, who made this tragedy a lot worse than it could have been this terrible, but they credit him for taking down the man, at least wrestling the gun away before he was able to get back into his van and then they were able to get him in Torrance turning the gun on himself.

But it is interesting because it is believed, if you're speaking to law enforcement, and we spoke to one member of law enforcement last hour, that he was familiar obviously with the community and that he possibly had beef with someone they don't know. They're investigating but that's one element that they have to look at today.

LAH: The curious thing is that the ex-wife, who CNN spoke with, they divorced many years ago. So, what exactly is it that would bring a man, again, 72 years old, to obtain this weapon, to drive -- Hemet is not close here.

LEMON: Hemet is where he lived.

LAH: Hemet is where he lived. He lived in a 55-plus community, there are trailer parks there, and he lived in one of those trailer homes. He had sold his home here in the San Gabriel Valley, was living in Hemet and then drove back. So, many years after the divorce decided to come back. What is that about? That's going to be something investigators are looking at.

LEMON: Kyung Lah is going to be following this story for us today. Kyung, thank you very much. We appreciate that.

We're going to turn to speak with a representative from California, and that is Mark Takano. He is the vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and his district is next to Monterey Park.


We're so happy to have you this morning to help us get through this very tragic situation representative. Thank you so much

Have you learned anything new overnight about the investigation or the suspect?

REP. MARK TAKANO (D-CA): No, Don. As you know, the investigation is ongoing. I don't have any further information to convey to you about that.

LEMON: Okay. And nothing about motive, because that is what every -- this is so perplexing, nothing about a motive or the suspect's history, Representative?

TAKANO: No. Hemet is not in my district but it's closer to where I represent in Riverside County. My district is not adjacent to Congresswoman Chu's. But I want to emphasize that I've been to Monterey Park and the surrounding communities a number of times. It's a vibrant -- they're vibrant communities, Asian-American communities. This is just a tragedy of incomprehensible proportions. My heart goes out to all the people of Monterey Park. And, of course, I'm thinking of my colleague, Judy Chu, at this moment.

LEMON: If you can explain to our viewers just what a celebration like this is like in this area, having so many members of the AAPI community and beyond gather, hundreds of thousands of people were supposed to be here.

TAKANO: Well, Lunar New Year and New Year, the idea of New Years in general in the Asian communities is really very, very important. Shop owners and people will prepare for the New Year by cleaning their homes and straightening their books out, just the idea cleaning out the old and preparing for the new, special foods and cakes are prepared in their festivals. And it's just a joyous time of year for families to get together. And to have a tragedy such as this happen on the eve of the Lunar New Year is just -- it's just incredibly sad and tragic.

LEMON: As the vice chairman of the Congressional Asia pacific American Caucus, I just want to talk about the violence that has been committed against Asian-Americans. The L.A. Times is reporting that violence against the AAPI community increased 177 percent in California alone. Monterey Park is about 65 percent Asian-American. Can the community ever feel safe? Will there ever be a sense of safety here soon in the near future?

TAKANO: Well, I just want to emphasize to the community that thanks to the good work of Sheriff -- L.A. County Sheriff Luna and his deputies, the suspect was identified very quickly. We know that the suspect took his own life. So, the community can feel safe from that threat. They can also go to the Langley Senior Citizen Center, those who maybe have been touched by this violence, that's been set up as a hub.

But I want to emphasize one more thing, Don, is that as the former chairman and current ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I'm very familiar with PTSD. And it's my responsibility to ensure that veterans and service members who have been exposed to horribly violent experiences get the help they need to heal the unseen wounds, the invisible wounds, as well as whatever physical wounds they have.

This is I think the issue that we need to pay attention to for this community, and all communities. Just last year, there were over 600 instances of gun violence, and gun violence being defined as incidents with four or more people killed or injured in a shooting. We've already got 33 of these incidents this year. I'm thinking about literally the thousands of people who are touched by these moments of gun violence, the physical wounds they have to recover from, but also the invisible wounds. And they're not unlike what our veterans face, I mean, the long-term support that we are going to need to provide them.

LEMON: Yes. And we're only three weeks into the year with 33 such incidents so far. Congressman Mark Takano, thank you so much.

TAKANO: You're welcome. Thank you.

LEMON: Kaitlan?

COLLINS: All right. Don, we'll stay with you on the ground.

Also this morning, there's some news coming when it comes to the international effort in Ukraine. Germany says that they are expected to make a decision soon on the delivery of those Leopard 2 tanks potentially going to Ukraine. They're specifically designed to compete with the Russian T-90 tanks that have been used in this invasion.


That's why Ukraine is pleading for them.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin is issuing a stark warning saying that Ukraine will pay if Germany does send those tanks there, if they send other weapons. CNN's Fred Pleitgen is live in Kyiv. Fred, this has been such a big question over whether or not these tanks are actually going to go. It's caused this huge discussion that we've seen playing out. There was that massive meeting in Germany on Friday with -- including the Pentagon chief. What is the latest on where they stand on whether or not they are actually going to sign off on countries being able to send these tanks to Ukraine?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Hi, Kaitlan. It certainly seems as though it's moving in that direction but it's unclear how long it is still going to take. It was quite interesting because yesterday, the German foreign minister came out and said, look, if, for instance, Poland, which has been pushing Germany very hard, wants to send these German-made battle tanks, which Poland also owns, to Ukraine, the Germans wouldn't stand in the way.

Now, it's not clear whether or not the German foreign minister got ahead of herself a little bit, because today, the Germans came out and said they haven't even received an official request from the Poles yet to send those main battle tanks. Meanwhile, Poland has been ripping into the Germans, saying that they want to create their own coalition of European countries to send those tanks and then wouldn't even ask the Germans for permission if they were to send those main battle tanks, which is usually not in line with the way these things are done.

One of the things we do have to mentioned is that the Poles so far have sent a lot less modern material to Ukraine than the Germans have. The Germans have sent multiple rocket-launching systems, very capable air defense systems and are now going to send infantry fighting vehicles as well. But the main battle tanks are literally the main issue at this point in time.

The Germans say they want the U.S. to also send Abrams tanks if the Germans are going to send the tanks that they make. Of course, we know that the U.S. is not there yet or says it won't send Abrams. I spoke to a Ukrainian official. And he said the Ukrainians need about 300 to 400 modern western tanks to really turn the tide here on the battlefield, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: And can you just quickly explain why Germany is reluctant to send these and why they have to sign off for other countries to send these German-made tanks to Ukraine?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Well, because they're German made. The country of origin has to sign off if a country that bought these thanks is going to export those tanks to another country. That's something that's general practice. For instance, if a company buys Abrams tanks to the U.S., they couldn't just export them to Ukraine either.

The Germans have various problems with that. First of all, they fear that it could escalate the situation in Ukraine, that the Russians could retaliate against Germany as well, even though we heard from the Kremlin, as you correctly pointed out earlier, that they said it would be the Ukrainians that who would bear the brunt of their retaliation. But that's something that the Russians have said with pretty much every new weapon systems that was delivered to Ukraine. They have always said there would be a massive response and a few times has there actually been a massive response from Germans.

Of course, the Germans also have a big legacy in this part of the world as well, of course. They invaded this place, Nazi Germany did, in the 1940s. And that certainly is something that still weighs very heavily with them. One of the things that the Germans really don't want is the optics of a German tank rolling over a Russian position in Eastern Europe, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Fred Pleitgen, great reporting, thank you. We'll stay on that decision.

Ahead, we're also going to be joined by the former national security adviser in the Trump administration, John Bolton, to weigh in on this as well.

HARLOW: Meantime, Solomon Pena faces a court hearing in just a few hours. He is the losing Republican candidate for the statehouse of New Mexico who allegedly hired accomplices to shoot up the homes of Democrats. And now prosecutors want to know if drug sales helped finance his failed campaign.

Our Lucy Kafanov has been following this story from the beginning and she joins us now with more. So, obviously, he's got this court appearance in just a few hours, and now major questions about potentially nefarious connections in funding for his campaign.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning, Poppy. I mean, the story just keeps getting more and more bizarre. CNN has learned that the New Mexico attorney general has opened a formal investigation into Pena's campaign finances after finding that one of his biggest donor donors was also one of the alleged gunman for hire. He was arrested earlier this month with cash, guns and fentanyl pills while driving Solomon Pena's car.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Pena, you will be afforded a hearing on the state's motion for pre-trial detention.

KAFANOV (voice over): That next hearing for Solomon Pena will happen later this morning where prosecutors are expected to begin unraveling his journey from Republican state candidate and election denier to accused mastermind behind four politically-evaluated drive-by shootings targeting the homes of Democrats, like Debbie O'Malley.

DEBBIE O'MALLEY, FORMER BERNALILLO COUNTY COMMISSIONER: This happened when my husband and I were asleep and my grand kids could have been spending the night.

KAFANOV: Albuquerque Police say Pena was fuelled by election lies and drew from his criminal past. Pena spent years in prison for charges, including burglary and larceny, telling reporters last summer that jail time had changed him.


SOLOMON PENA, FORMER REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: I had nothing more than a desire to improve my lot in life.

KAFANOV: That path would lead to Republicans politics as a follower of Donald Trump. Video shows Pena at multiple Trump rallies from Washington, D.C., to Phoenix Arizona. And like Trump, when Pena lost his 2022 run for state office by a massive landslide, he invoked the former president saying he never conceded.

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

KAFANOV: Ring video shows him tracking the homes of the Democrats he wrongfully blamed for his election loss. Police say Pena then texted the addresses of targets to four suspects to carry out the shootings, writing, they just certified it, they sold us out to the highest bidder, they were literally laughing at us while they were doing it.

Prosecutors alleged Pena then paid this man, Jose Trujillo (ph), who help carry out the shootings. Things fell apart when officers caught Trujillo (ph) him driving this car, containing fentanyl and guns. One of the guns traced back to the shootings. The car registered to Solomon Pena, according to a law enforcement source.

Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa was also targeted. Four bullets ripped through her home into the room where she had just been playing with her granddaughter.

ADRIANN BARBOA, BERNALILLO COUNTY COMMISSIONER: It makes me angry that one person -- it makes me angry that we have a former president and current elected officials in highest level of government that think it's okay to invoke violence in these situations. So, yes, a range of emotions, anger, sad, disappointment.


KAFANOV (on camera): Police are also investigating whether drug money was laundered into Pena's race for office. His defense attorney telling CNN this accusation is still under investigation. She urged the public to avoid a rush to judgment. Poppy?

HARLOW: Lucy Kafanov, so many developments in this story. Thank you very much for the reporting for us.

COLLINS: Also this morning, the problem surrounding George Santos and the lies he told about his background are putting key House members, House leaders in the spotlight.

CNN's Anchor and Chief Investigative Correspondent Pamela Brown is with us now. Pam, I guess the question here that what you've been looking at is Elise Stefanik's role specifically in this given she is one of the most prominent Republicans, she is a New York Republican and she worked hard to get George Santos elected. What has she said that she knew about his background?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, one of George Santos', as you point out, his biggest cheerleaders throughout campaign was Elise Stefanik. She is the number four Republican in the House of Representatives and the most influential Republican in her home state of New York. And a senior Republican official involved in campaigns I spoke with told me, quote, Stefanik's team was laser-focused on electing George Santos to Congress more than just about any other race in the country.

Now, Stefanik insists, she tells -- her team tells CNN she didn't know about Santos' pattern of deception until The New York Times revealed he made up the stories about his past, including lies about his jobs, his school and family history. But throughout the Santos campaign, Stefanik was a significant reporter. And we talked to several people who donated to Santos' campaign, including one man who gave tens of thousands of dollars who paid Stefanik -- said Stefanik's support influenced them to donate.

And Stefanik endorsed Santos early on his campaign, we should note, more than a year before the election. Her tweet included a link to a fundraising page that would benefit both her and Santos. And then she later tweeted that a lunch event raised over $100,000 to help George flip New York District 3. One donor who was at that lunch told CNN the only reason they donated was because of Stefanik.

And Santos understood the power of Stefanik's endorsement as well. He used a photo of the two of them, as you see right here, as the banner image for his Twitter page up until last week. Republican consultants said they first heard of Santos' issues the summer of 2022, but it's unclear how so many pros in the political arena let Santos slip through the cracks. Of course, we also know Republicans really needed that district. Kevin McCarthy did for one to get the vote to be speaker. So, he even did an event, we should note, October 3rd, just before the election, in support of Santos. And he said he always knew there were issues with his resume just recently.

HARLOW: Right. And the question is, what issues? If you always knew what issues, I mean, I think the fact that The New York Times revealed this weekend that vulnerability report, Pamela, that was done, right, that a lot of people from his campaign knew about a lot of these vulnerabilities, some of them quit because of it, even raises the bar in terms of answering those questions about what did powerful Republicans who got behind him know or not. And in terms of Elise Stefanik, she endorses a lot of folks, right? So, what makes this different potentially?

BROWN: Well, I mean, what makes this different here is that Stefanik didn't just endorsed and helped fundraise for Santos.


According to multiple sources we spoke with, with direct knowledge, one of her top aides was advising Santos' campaign. Though we should note there's no record it was in an official capacity. We're told he even helped Santos to hire people.

Now, when we asked Stefanik for comment, her spokesperson said, no one from her team worked for or advised Santos. And they sent a statement that reads in part, Congresswoman Stefanik supported all GOP nominees and targeted New York seats, just like every other New York Republican-elected official and the entire House Republican leadership team.

COLLINS: Yes. It's just fascinating reporting to look at and to examine that, especially as these leaders are obviously going to continue facing questions over this. Pam Brown, thank you so much for that reporting.

BROWN: Thanks.

COLLINS: All right. Also this morning, we are waiting for the release of the first opinions of the Supreme Court session. The court is moving at a historically slow pace. So, what or who is behind the slowdown.

HARLOW: Also gun violence shattering the lives, communities across the country this weekend.



HARLOW: This morning, the Supreme Court is set to release its first batch of rulings for this term, about three months into the term. It marks the first time in the high court's history that the justices have waited this long to release an opinion in a case.

Joan Biskupic joins me now. Joan, it's not just the length. They're going to get back to reading their opinions, some of them from the bench but not the dissents. Things feel different.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: It is different and it's sort of great to have them back all up there. First of all, it's noteworthy because it's the longest time since they started in October that they've been able to announce the resolution of one of their cases. They heard cases in October, November, December and early January. And it's a real mystery what has caused the delay.

It could be that, you know, many of the divisions that we saw at the end of last term in the abortion rights case still linger. There are certainly signs of that. The justices have also started new security protocols for how they handle drafts and deliberations as they try to come up with a ruling that has at least five votes on it.

And we have a new justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who's been quite active during oral arguments and she might be writing more or wanting more time for deliberations behind the scene. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who are both no longer in the court, were known for their speed and maybe things are just taking a little more time.

But then the other piece of history today, Poppy and Kaitlan, is that they will actually be there to read the excerpts of their opinion from the bench. That hasn't happened since early 2020 when everything broke for COVID. They came back in 2021 but were releasing their opinions only electronically. So, it's going to be exciting to see them up there on that mahogany, expensive bench.

HARLOW: Yes, getting back to the way it was, certainly.

BISKUPIC: That's right.

HARLOW: Joan, thanks very, very much. We'll wait for those opinions at 10:00 A.M.

COLLINS: Yes, but with such a different context given all this investigation and everything.

HARLOW: Given no result in the leak investigation, I mean, that's incredible.

COLLINS: Yes. And that New York Times report, it's kind of deepened the mistrust there.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

COLLINS: Fascinating to see.

All right, this morning, we are just three weeks into this year, 2023, and the Monterey Park shooting, if you can believe it, this was the 33rd mass shooting in the U.S., another weekend in this country underscored with gun violence.

In Atlanta police arrested six people who were protesting the fatal police shooting of an activist, even charging them with domestic terrorism. We have the latest for you ahead.