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CNN This Morning

At Least 7 Dead in Another California Mass Shooting; Death Toll Rises in Dance Studio Shooting, Motive Still Unclear; Russian Intel Ordered White Supremacists to Bomb by Letter; Ex-Top FBI Official Accused of Working for Russian Oligarch; Today: Hearing on Fate of Report in Trump Election Plot Probe. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 24, 2023 - 06:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Tomorrow, though, could be a train day for you. Here are still those power outages, and they're not going away any time soon. Crews having a hard time getting one branch off another, you know?


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: January, here it is. Right? All right.

MYERS: We'll take it.

ROMANS: Yes, all right. Chad, thank you. Nice to see you this morning.

And thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come here, come here! Hands up!




DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And here we go again. Welcome to CNN THIS MORNING. Good morning, everyone. You see Poppy there. Kaitlan is on assignment. I'm Don Lemon.

We begin with an American crisis. California suffering its third mass shooting in just three days. The nation as whole up to nearly 40 mass shootings in 2023. This year is just over three weeks old right now.

Just look at this map. Nearly 70 people killed already this month in mass shootings. Seventy people who were living on New Year's Day alongside friends and family, they're no longer here.

This deadly month coming after America suffered 647 mass shootings last year. That's a significant jump from five or six years ago. One of those includes fourth graders inside their classroom. There are nearly 400 million privately-owned firearms in the U.S.

That's 120 guns for every 100 Americans. No other nation has more civilian guns than people.

In 2019, the number of Americans who died from gun violence was 18 times the average rate in developed countries. The U.S. is only developed nation to have mass shootings every single year for the past two decades.

And remember last year alone, was -- it wasn't just one mass shooting; it was 647.

Objectively, soberly, honestly, tragically, this is an American crisis and nothing -- ever -- changes.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And as Don mentioned, overnight a gunman killed at least seven at two different locations: a farm and trucking facility in the small city of Half Moon Bay. That's in Northern California.

Less than two hours later, the sheriff's deputy found the suspect, sitting in his car at a police substation. This dramatic arrest. Look at that. That's what happened overnight, right in front of the news cameras.

The suspect is 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, is believed to have been a worker at one of those locations. And authorities say he is cooperating with their investigations.

We begin this hour on this American tragedy yet again with our colleague Veronica Miracle. She joins us in Half Moon Bay.

And Veronica, when I saw this news cross last night, all I could think is, Don just left a mass shooting in California to come back here, and now another mass shooting in California.

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it's absolutely devastating, not only for this community and the state, but as you guys mentioned, this country.

The Half Moon Bay shooting specifically, those two shooting locations were less than a mile apart. At that first location, sheriff's deputies arrived and found four bodies, and they found a fifth critically injured.

And then less than a mile away, they found three other bodies. All of those victims died from gunshot injuries.

They say the gunman, 67-year-old Chunli Zhao, was acting alone. They say that they found him, authorities say they found him at a police substation in his car. They were able to take him into custody relatively without incident.

Here's what authorities had to say about the arrest.


Zhao was located in his vehicle in the parking lot of the sheriff's substation here in Half Moon Bay, by a sheriff's deputy. Zhao was taken into custody without incident, and a semiautomatic handgun was located in his vehicle. Zhao is believed to have acted alone, and there is no further threat to this community.


MIRACLE: And those seven victims have not yet been identified, but they are believed to be farm workers. No motive right now. That's still unclear -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Veronica Miracle, thank you for the reporting.

LEMON: Let's bring in now mayor of Half Moon Bay, Deborah Penrose.

Mayor, thank you for joining us. We're so sorry that you're going through this, but we do appreciate you giving us some information on this.

Yesterday we heard the latest on -- you know, we saw what happened yesterday in California, covering that, and then we heard this latest shooting now. Can you give us the latest on the investigation?

MAYOR DEBORAH PENROSE, HALF MOON BAY, CALIFORNIA: At this stage. we don't know a whole lot more. We have been working to provide some release [SIC] to the families of the victims. It's been our job to get our -- our human services agencies and our fire protection and emergency medical services onboard and together to support the families of these victims.

HARLOW: Yes, I wonder what it was like for you, Mayor, to hear about this mass shooting in your community, just after the mass shooting in California the day prior that Don was covering?

PENROSE: Yes. I'm still in shock. I think all of us are in shock. It was a horrific event. It shocked us. Our hearts are -- are torn out of our chests for -- for all these individuals and families. Our neighbors, our friends, the people that work in our community and live in our community. We're a small agricultural coast-side town, and we have never experienced anything like this.

LEMON: Can you give us an update on the -- do you know anything about the suspect, about the investigation, about the motive, Mayor?

PENROSE: No, we don't. We don't -- we don't have any more information than we did a few hours ago. The -- the -- only -- only thing we do know is that some of the victims were Chinese. That the -- the perpetrator was Chinese, and that this was an agricultural community. They were agricultural workers.

HARLOW: Mayor, thank you for your time, very early this morning. We say that every time. But we are so terribly, terribly sorry, and we're thinking about everyone in your community today.

PENROSE: Thank you.

LEMON: Well, thank you very much.

Want to take a look at these now. These side-by-side videos that we're going to show you. As police were investigating the massacre in Northern California, there was a vigil in Southern California for Saturday night's mass shooting at a dance hall.

Another victim died in the hospital, bringing to 11 the number of people killed there.

CNN obtained surveillance video of the Monterey Park gunman entering a second dance hall, where it is believed he planned to carry out another deadly attack. Video is choppy, but you can see a young man by the name off Brandon Tsay. He charges that gunman. He goes up to the gunman. He tries to get the gun.

Tsay was able to wrestle the gunman's pistol away from him, forcing him to run away.

Here's what he told our Anderson Cooper last night.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And how long was this struggle for?

BRANDON TSAY, DISARMED MONTEREY PARK GUNMAN: I would say the struggle lasted 40 seconds, but it felt like way longer. It felt like an eternity with adrenaline and my thoughts. I was always thinking about, if I let go of this gun, what would happen to me, the people around me, my friends, my family.


LEMON: CNN's Kyung Lah has been following the shooting from the very start.

Kyung, good morning to you. Here we are covering another shooting. And you know what? Yesterday we talked about it. Sometimes we go to these scenes. The same scenes, of similar cities -- or the same cities, I should say, twice for different shootings.

And here we are, another shooting in the same state, similar circumstances. What are we learning? What have investigators found inside the gunman's home this time? What do you know?

KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're learning is that they've been able to get more of the evidence to understand how bad this could have been.

What investigators have done is they've gone into the gunman's home. They found a rifle. Hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and evidence that he was building firearm suppressors. Those attachments that are homemade. So that is disturbing.

But then here at the dance studio, what investigators have been able to find are 42 shell casings, a large-capacity magazine, as well as an additional handgun in the van.

But what we don't have any more clarity on, Don; what we are stuck on here in this city, with investigators, is a clear motive.

This is a shooter who had a limited criminal history. There's a lot of confusion about exactly why this place and right now, though he did have connection to the studio, Don.

LEMON: You're so familiar with this community, Kyung. How are people going about their lives now while facing this tragedy?

LAH: You know, I think it's hard to talk about Monterey Park without talking about Half Moon Bay. This community is a majority-Asian- American community. It prides itself in being the very first suburb that is Asian-majority. So they feel that they've built this very special place.

But in the context of what happened just last night, it feels like a lot of wash, rinse and repeat. That after so much devastation from COVID, as well as anti-Asian racism, that this community feels shell- shocked.


It's not a new feeling. It's just new to this community in particular.

And something else, Don. You and I chatted about this yesterday. It's very confusing that the profile of the shooter, a 72-year-old man, and then what happened in Half Moon Bay, a man in his late 60s. That's something that the Asian-American community is very alarmed by, and very confused by.


HARLOW: You know, and Kyung, just to add to that, I was really struck, you know, watching the two of you from here yesterday when you brought that point up, Kyung. And you said, there are real questions that we need to be asking within the Asian community.

And I think you know now, seeing this shooting overnight by an elderly Asian man, as well.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, also, Kyung, if we can talk about this.


LEMON: There was a study that showed that Asian-Americans, many elderly Asian-Americans, feel safer -- they don't feel safe in America. Right? They don't feel safe here.

LAH: They don't.

LEMON: They feel safer in other places. Kyung, you saw that study. Right?

LAH: I absolutely did, and I relate to that, because my mother lives here. She lives just North of where I'm standing.

And it's a -- a feeling of isolation. When you see news like -- English-language news, like CNN, you get bits and pieces, and you -- you hold onto some of the most alarming bits of news.

So yes, it hits a non-English-speaking community or a limited-English- speaking community in a very different way.

LEMON: Kyung Lah, reporting to us from Monterey Park, California, once again this morning. Thank you, Kyung.

HARLOW: And now, if you can believe it, to news of another shooting, to Iowa and a deadly shooting at an educational center for at-risk youth.

This morning, an 18-year-old man is in custody, charged with two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and criminal gang participation.

Police in Des Moines say Preston Walls shot and killed two teenagers from a rival gang. The -- the activist, the rapper who's a founder of the educational program was also left seriously injured. The shooting infuriated neighbors.


DEANDRE SMITH, PARENT: We're trying to make this program for these kids, and like, the dude got it going on. They got studios, everything in there for them kids. For them to come in there and act like that.


HARLOW: Well, the police arrested the suspect following a traffic stop. This happened minutes after the shooting. They say he jumped out of the car and started running before they caught him.


CONNIE BEECHER, WITNESS: I look out the window, and I actually saw some policemen and a German shepherd running along the back; and I thought, Oh, you know, what's happening?


HARLOW: We have also learned that Walls cut off a court-ordered GPS ankle monitor about 16 minutes before that shooting.

LEMON: Russia's reinforcing its front lines in Ukraine. A senior U.S. military official tells CNN tens of thousands of new troops have been added to the battlefield over the past few months. But the officials says those additional forces have made very little difference in the conflict, because they're arriving ill-equipped and ill-trained.

The troops began arriving following Russia's public mobilization of 300,000 new personnel in October.

Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley says the Russians suffered well over 100,000 casualties since the war began nearly a year ago.

And new this morning, U.S. officials believe Russian intelligence agents ordered a white supremacist group to carry out a letter-bombing campaign last year that terrified the city of Madrid.

The group targeted Spain's prime minister, the American and Ukrainian embassies, and the Spanish defense ministry.

Our Kylie Atwood, live from the State Department with more this morning.

Good morning to you, Kylie. What have you learned?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you'll remember, this was late last year. It was a terrifying set of incidents that happened in Spain.

As you said, these letter bombs were targeting the Spanish prime minister, the Ukrainian and American embassies in Spain, as well as the Spanish defense ministry.

And what we're learning is that U.S. officials believe that Russian intelligence officers directed a Russian white supremacist group, the Russian Imperial Movement, to actually carry out that letter-bombing campaign.

Now, the Russian Imperial Movement is actually deemed to be a terrorist group by the United States. That designation was given in 2020.

But there are still sort of some questions about the direction and the operation that carried out this letter campaign and the direct ties to Russian intelligence. So the details here are still a little bit fuzzy.

U.S. officials are still really looking into this, and, of course, Spanish authorities are also investigating the matter.

The other question here is whether or not the Kremlin and President Putin had knowledge that this campaign was being planned and carried out. We don't yet know that.

So there are still some questions here, but it's highly significant. And I talked to a U.S. official who said that Biden administration officials do believe that Russia would look for proxy groups in Europe to try and carry out these campaigns of terror, as they are faltering on the battlefield.


LEMON: Kylie Atwood, reporting from the State Department this morning. Thank you, Kylie.

HARLOW: So we have learned that a former top FBI counterintelligence official is under arrest here in New York for allegedly trying to help get a Russian oligarch off the sanctions list and also dig up dirt on his political opponent.

Charles McGonigle is one of the highest-ranking former FBI officials ever charged with a crime. He has pleaded not guilty.

Our Kara Scannell joins us now to talk about this.

One thing that I think is also really interesting, Kara, is that he used to supervise investigations into Russian oligarchs, then went to allegedly work for and get paid a lot of money by Oleg Deripaska.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that's the crux of this charge right here, right? So this is the former top official running the New York FBI office counterintelligence operation. Preeminent position in the bureau.

Now, he is charged with violating money laundering and sanctions laws because of work he did once he left the bureau. He started working for Oleg Deripaska. He is a sanctioned Russian oligarch, because of his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And what authorities say is that, you know, as you said, he was -- he supervised investigations into oligarchs, including into Deripaska, and then immediately went and started working for him after he retired.

They say that he was hired to dig up dirt on a rival of Deripaska's and that he hid this relationship by using a shell company and forging signaturing to try to keep the path away from him so no one could detect this.

But that wasn't just it. He was also charged yesterday by prosecutors in Washington, D.C., with failing to disclose $225,000 payment he received from a former employee of an Albanian intelligence agency, and that payment was while he was still in that top post at the bureau.

HARLOW: Wow. While he was still doing this work.

SCANNELL: He was still in charge of counterintel. He received this payment, and he also, according to the indictment, failed to disclose trips he took to Europe with this individual, who was a former, you know, intel official in Albania.

And also failed to disclose meetings he had with the Albanian prime minister and other politicians overseas. That's all required when he worked for the FBI, particularly in that position, with that type of clearance.

HARLOW: And he -- he's pleaded not guilty, but he could be facing, if convicted, what?

SCANNELL: If convicted of the most serious charges, he could face the statutory maximum of 20 years in prison.

HARLOW: Kara, thank you for the reporting. Well, the Fulton County special grand jury in Georgia, investigating

Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election in that state, has written their final report. Hours from now, a judge is going to decide whether you, the public, gets to see it.

LEMON: And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis explaining his decision to block an African-American studies course from being taught in school.



LEMON: All right. Well, another big win for the Justice Department. A federal jury found three members of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers and a fourth man connected to the group guilty of seditious conspiracy on Monday.

This morning, they are all under house arrest until their sentencing at a later date.

Their conviction stems from them plotting to stop the certification of Joe Biden's 2020 Electoral College win, which culminated in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.

Last fall, two other members of the Oath Keepers were found guilty of seditious conspiracy: the group's founder, Stewart Rhodes, and a leader of a group in Florida, Kelly Meggs.

HARLOW: Well, this morning, an Atlanta-area judge is set to hear arguments on whether to release a special grand jury report on former President Trump and the 2020 election aftermath to the public. Whether you'll see it.

The grand jury was investigating Trump and his allies' efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. It was a seven-month grand jury process. They're also deciding whether the former president should face criminal charges.

Our Sara Murray has been following all of this. She's live from Atlanta.

This is -- I mean, CNN is part of the group of media companies saying, look, transparency; the public should see all of this. And now this judge is going to weigh that with other concerns. Right?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You know, I think that the thing everyone really wants to know is whether Donald Trump and whether any of his associates are potentially going to face criminal charges.

So we are going to be watching closely during this hearing for any inkling of what the grand jury put in their report and especially whether they recommended indictments for anyone.


MURRAY (voice-over): With a special grand jury's final report now in the hands of prosecutors --

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: My job is to make sure that we get the evidence that gives us the truth.

MURRAY (voice-over): -- today a judge in Atlanta is set to hold a hearing on whether that report should be made public. It's expected to include recommendations on whether Donald Trump or his allies should face criminal charges for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

PETER SKANDALAKIS, PROSECUTING ATTORNEYS' COUNCIL OF GEORGIA: It's a rarity, and it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

WILLIS: Good morning.

MURRAY (voice-over): Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis launched her investigation soon after Trump's infamous 2021 call to Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via phone): So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellows, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know? We have that in spades already.

MURRAY (voice-over): For seven months, the special grand jury called witnesses like Raffensperger, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, and former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

In a probe that steadily expanded to include false election fraud claims before state lawmakers, the fake elector scheme, threats and harassment against election workers, and efforts by unauthorized individuals to access voting machines in one Georgia county.

Barred from issuing indictments, the panel released as a final report with recommendations that a regular grand jury can issue indictments.

ROBERT JAMES, FORMER DEKALB COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: They're not going to be empaneled for this long and hear this many witnesses and give you bullet point. It's going to be a narrative.

MURRAY (voice-over): Robert James was a district attorney in Dekalb County when a 2013 special grand jury issued a detailed report on public corruption and referred one public official for indictment and nearly a dozen others for further investigation. But the report was only made public after a fight.

JAMES: That was sort of an issue and one that I was involved in, and it kind of got tied up, and it was this, you know, big wrestling match and, you know, ultimately, it did get released.

MURRAY (voice-over): It will be up to the judge to weigh the public interests against concerns about potentially hindering an ongoing investigation or disparaging individuals who have not been charged.

[06:25:00] SKANDALAKIS: What you don't want is an opportunity for a grand jury to make some allegation of criminal conduct that later on either can't be proven or is unsubstantiated.

MURRAY (voice-over): And whether anyone will actually face charges is a decision that rests with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

WILLIS: This is a criminal investigation. We're not here playing a game.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, we could hear from a number of parties in court today, but who we are not going to hear from is Donald Trump and his attorneys.

They put out a statement yesterday saying that Trump was never subpoenaed as part of this matter. And they added, therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at facts and law as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Sara Murray, we'll see what happens in court. That judge has a big decision to make today. Thank you very much.

MURRAY: You're welcome.

LEMON: The moment you hear that tape, I just need 11,000, whatever it was.

HARLOW: That exact number.

LEMON: It's insane that -- It's just beyond belief.

HARLOW: Can you imagine being on that --

LEMON: If I hadn't lived through it, I wouldn't believe it.

HARLOW: It's true, and being on that grand jury for seven months.


HARLOW: And hearing all of that evidence.

LEMON: Over and over again.

HARLOW: And now we may see a lot of it.

LEMON: Do you remember the first time? It's one of those things where you remember where you were when it happened. It was over the holidays, and I remember, I was, like, on a grocery store aisle, looking for baking goods.

HARLOW: I remember -- I remember listening to it.

LEMON: And -- and I was like, is this really happening? Like I thought it was, like, doctored.

HARLOW: Uh-huh. It wasn't. It wasn't.

LEMON: It's crazy.

HARLOW: It wasn't. OK. Ahead, are you worried about your short-term memory?


HARLOW: We talk about this often. There is a new study, and it finds you can do one thing, and it doesn't even take a lot of time. And it will help you remember things better.

LEMON: The answer is, yes, I am worried.

Plus this --


LEMON: Last year's Taylor Swift ticket debacle triggering a Senate hearing that begins in just hours with Ticketmaster's top executive on the hot seat.