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Russian Media: Two Ukrainian Drones Flown toward Kremlin; Russia Claims Ukraine Attempted Assassination On Putin; Zelenskyy Say's White House Told Him Nothing About Discord Leaks; Man Accused of Murdering Five People Including Child Arrested in Texas; Biden Administration Deploying 1,500 Active Duty Troops to U.S. Southern Border as Title 42 Ending; Former Texas Republican Congressman Will Hurd Interviewed about Ongoing Crisis as U.S. Southern Border. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 03, 2023 - 08:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: -- after the arrest of the suspected gunman accused of murdering five of his neighbors.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And we have brand new reporting about a major crackdown on the Chinese version of Facebook and Instagram accounts that were pretending to be news outlets in the United States and Europe. This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

COLLINS: This is news that was breaking just moments. We watched the press conference here live. Several arrests have now been made, several, that is multiple, in connection to the capture of the Texas massacre suspect. You can see him here as he was being walked out yesterday. That is according to the sheriff's office at a news conference. As we know, the suspect was on the run for four days after he allegedly stormed into his neighbor's home with an AR-15 and killed five people, including a child, after they had complained about him shooting his gun outside. The FBI says it was a tip, a critical one, that led them to a house actually only miles away from the murder scene where he was found hiding in a closet under a pile of laundry.


CHIEF DEPUTY SHERIFF TIM KEAN, SAN JACINTO COUNTY, TEXAS: Anybody that helps -- anybody that helped this maniac has definitely got some kind of issues as far as I am concerned.


COLLINS: As the chief deputy was there speaking, Ed Lavandera was there asking questions at that news conference, and they said that they have been speaking to him. They've said that there have been several arrests. Do we know how many or who it is that could have been arrested here?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, those are the details we are still trying to unravel, and I think it's going to take some time as investigators, as you just heard from the cheap deputy of the San Jacinto County sheriff's department, say that they could only really say and confirm at this point that several arrests have been made. So we are continuing to try to unravel this.

We do know that the house where this suspect was taken into custody last night does have a connection, according to law enforcement sources, to Francisco Oropesa's family. But exactly who that is and how they have been helping or not helping is the details we don't quite have yet.

The chief deputy did say that Francisco Oropesa had not been at that home the entire time while he was on the run. So there's clearly some movement. The chief deputy also said that he was communicating with a cellphone with various family members. This comes because we do know that right on Saturday, after the -- the day after the shooting, investigators found a cellphone and clothing belonging to the suspect in a yard several houses just down the street from where the murders took place.

So, clearly, this continues to change and continue to develop as investigators are turning a much closer eye to Francisco Oropesa's family and anyone who might have been helping him while he was on the run for four days.

Kaitlan, the location where he was found is roughly about 10 miles away from where the murders took place. So investigators were just telling me after the press conference, they believe that because of that, that he was a very good chance he was going to be closer to this area and not really have the ability to get farther away, even though tips of sightings of him were coming in from all over the country, even though warnings were being put out especially along in border communities because this suspect is a Mexican national. There was always the concern that he might escape south of the border.

But he is expected in court to meet with a judge to set the bond. As of now, his bond is set at $5 million. He has been charged with five counts of murder already. The sheriff did tell us last night that there's a chance that those criminal charges get elevated to capital murder, we means he would be eligible for the death penalty here in Texas. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes, and of course, it was that one critical tip that led to this. Ed Lavandera, as you learn more, keep us updated. He do want to know -- there were five victims here. The youngest was nine-and-a- half, the oldest only 31 years old. Of course, we are continuing to keep that family in our thoughts. Ed Lavandera, thank you.

HARLOW: Meantime, the Biden administration is bracing for a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. An additional 1,500 active duty troops will be sent to reinforce the southern border for 90 days. The number of encounters between migrants and Border Patrol is expected to rise drastically when Title 42 ends next week. That Trump era policy allows officials to expel migrants citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our CNN correspondent Rosa Flores joins us again this morning from El Paso, Texas. Rosa, good morning to you. As you continue to follow this, what is the situation there right near the border? And do you have the sense that 1,500 active duty troops being added to Border Patrol there already will make a meaningful difference?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: About those DOD personnel, Poppy, it will allow Customs and Border Protection to do their law enforcement role because the DOD will be doing more administrative.


So that will help in the sense that it will allow Border Patrol agents on the border to do their jobs. As to what people here might think about it, just take a look. This is a very similar scene to yesterday. There are still hundreds of migrants who are sleeping here in the streets of El Paso around a Catholic church. What these people are worried about right now is where they are going to eat, where their children are going to sleep.

I talked to a mother and her children yesterday and I asked her little boy, what was his dream here in the United States? He said he wanted a shower. Basic things. He was hoping for some food. Those are the things that are crossing the minds of the individuals who are here right now. A lot of these migrants sold everything that they had in their home countries and risked their lives to come here to the United States.

I talked to the priest who runs the shelter, the shelter has a capacity of 120, 130. Most of the individuals who are inside the shelter are women with children. And Poppy, he put it like this. This is a mass migration issue that involves the entire world, because there are nationalities from all over the world that are coming into the country. And what he -- how he described it is very interest, because he said El Paso appears to be the funnel where most of these migrants are coming through at this point in time. That's why you're seeing what you're seeing right here in the streets of El paso. It's this funnel. That's what El Paso is looking like right now.

And he is overwhelmed. The priest says that he really doesn't know how much longer this can go on, but he was asking for the federal government to step in, to do something, to figure out a solution because, as he says, the worries for a lot of these individuals that are here is not their immigration status. He says we can't ignore that these are human beings that are in America, and now America has to figure out a way -- America has to figure out what to do.

HARLOW: So much will change next week when Title 42 goes away. Rosa, thank you for the reporting there on the border.

COLLINS: For more on what is happening at the border, I want to bring in Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from Texas who for six years represented a district that spanned a third of the U.S.-Mexico border. He is also a former undercover CIA officer. So good morning, Congressman, and thank you for joining us. We now have this news that the Pentagon has confirmed they are going to send 1,500 U.S. troops to the border to help with the situation that Rosa was just laying out there. Do you think that's a good move, in your view? WILL HURD, (R) FORMER TEXAS CONGRESSMAN: No, it's a sign of how bad

this situation has become. This administration is ignorant. They are incompetent and they're foolish when it comes to dealing with this border crisis. It's actually a humanitarian crisis from their own making. And the reality is, the thing that they need to do is actually stop treating everybody that's coming into our crew as an asylum seeker. That's why we have had over 6.3 million people come into this country illegally since President Biden came into office. Last year that was 2.5 million people.

And these policies are aiding and abetting human smugglers and human traffickers. This policy is not humane, and it's having an impact on all of our cities. It's not just having an impact on the border anymore. It's having an impact in Chicago and New York. And if President Biden actually listened to his Border Patrol officers, he would figure out what they need to do in order to solve this problem. It's gotten so bad, it's unbelievable. And ultimately, I think Secretary Mayorkas needs to be fired and somebody else needs to be brought in in order to try to address this problem.

COLLINS: Yes, I know that's a position you maintained, that Secretary Mayorkas, who runs DHS at this time, should not be in that position any longer. But it was in 2018 when Trump also decided to send U.S. forces to the border to the tune of about 5,000 of them when it was the caravan that was approaching the southern border right around the 2018 midterm election. So this has been done before. The question is, what's the alternative if you don't think this is what works?

HURD: Well, look, I had a problem with it when the last administration did it, too. And guess what, the last administration are the ones that started treating everybody as an asylum seeker. The reality is we need to deport more people. It is illegal to come to our country in between our ports of entry without the proper documentation. And to be an asylum seeker, you have to be a part of a protected class, which is usually something to deal with your race, your religion, your sexual orientation. Your government has to be persecuting you because you are part of that protected class.


Wanting to come to the United States America just to get a better job is not a reason for asylum. And as a gentleman said in the earlier segment, when people are in our custody, we should treat them humanely and treat them properly, but we should be sending them back to their home countries. Oh, and by the way, if we deal with this issue on the border, then we could start working on streamlining legal immigration to get more people into the country appropriately. Even with the economy being bad as it is, there are so many industries that need workers. Let's do it -- get people here legally.

So there's a number of solutions. You all know, I was one of the architects of the last really bipartisan immigration border security bipartisan piece of legislation, and we can do this -- we should be supportive of immigration and our country is better for it, but it needs to be done the right way. And unfortunately, our last two presidents have taken terrible decisions that have ultimately allowed us to have open borders, which is something that we won't be able to sustain long term.

COLLINS: Given that this has been at the forefront of what almost all Republicans have run on for the last however many years, why is it still such a fight? We are watching this play out on Capitol Hill now, Republicans cannot agree what an immigration package should look like. Why can't your party, given how much they prioritize this and the way they speak publicly, why can't they find a solution for this?

HURD: Sure, and I appreciate the question. But Democrats are just as bad on this as well, too. They could have streamlined legal immigration. There is the bill, the USA Act, that it was when Republicans were in charge we tried to jam Republican leadership to pass this, and when Speaker Pelosi came into power, she could have picked that up.

But I agree with you. This is one of the reasons people are frustrated with Washington, D.C., and politicians, because everybody talks a lot of noise but don't follow it up with action. And so there is another a number of pieces of legislation. I would start with the USA Act. That was done in a bipartisan way. That is something that ultimately could be moved. When it comes to the hearings about understanding how DHS is working, making sure DHS understands the problem, the fact that Mayorkas came at one of his hearings and said that the border was secure. The fact is that's not true. The fact that President Biden's communications director, or, excuse me, press secretary said that immigration was down 90 percent. Either she was lying or somebody was lying to her. How do we not have the right information about what's going on? And again, Secretary Mayorkas didn't know how many kids had been lost in the system. So the fact that they don't even understand the basic numbers is a sign they can't get things done.

But I agree with you. Republicans should be pushing legislation forward on how to deal with this problem. But ultimately Border Patrol has the tools to deport more people. It's the administration making a policy decision not to do that. And so that starts in the White House. That starts in the executive chambers of Department of Homeland Security, and they need to be enforcing the laws that are on the books. We have been dealing with border security for a long time before people started using Title 42, and this is a problem. These communities are being impacted. And oh, and by the way, we have a foreign policy that works in these countries where the --

COLLINS: Congressman --

HURD: -- majority of the illegal immigration is coming from to address those problem there.

COLLINS: Congressman, I want to jump in here, because you are talking about that. You have been very critical of the Biden administration. You are also said to be considering a 2024 run for the Republican nomination. Have you made a decision on that?

HURD: I haven't made a decision. But look, I have been fortunate to serve my country in a number of ways, whether it was overseas, in the CIA or in Congress. And I am not closing the door on being able to serve again in the future. COLLINS: OK, not closing the door. If you don't run, if Trump is the

Republican nominee given he is leading the polls at this time, do you think he would lose in a head-to-head contest with President Biden?

HURD: Yes. President Biden is campaigning on finishing the job, right? And if he were to finish the job, that means inflation is going to continue to be out of control, crime is going to rise. His strategy, President Biden's strategy is based on Donald Trump being the nominee. We know the facts. We lost the House in 2018. We lost the White House and the Senate in 2020. The red wave didn't materialize in 2022. President Trump has too much baggage that is going to be used against him in November, and that's going to cause Republicans to continue to lose.

I am sick and tired of losing, and I want to make sure that we have real conservative thought that is driving this country. And oh, by the way, guess what, there is an opportunity. When seven out of 10 Americans don't want Joe Biden to run for reelection, that's an opportunity for us.


But we have to nominate the right candidates, that can -- that can appeal to independents, that can appeal to some Democrats. And if we do that, then we're going to be able to see a real red wave and be able to see us win, not just the popular vote. But we can win in some of these contested Senate races, we can win some governorships, but that requires more people to vote in primaries, and make sure we get somebody that can -- that can beat and take advantage of this opportunity to beat a weak and ineffective current president.

COLLINS: Yes, I should note those polls also show that Republicans would rather see someone other than Trump as the nominee despite the fact that he is still leading that race. If you do decide to get in, please let us know Former Congressman Will Hurd, thank you.

HARLOW: Fascinating conversation. Also, this just into CNN, the Russians, claiming that two Ukrainian drones were flown toward the Kremlin overnight. The Kremlin Press Service says it was quote, an attempt on the President's life. They're also calling it a terrorist act. And this Ukrainian president Zelenskyy calling out the Biden White House saying it is told -- has not told him anything about the leak of top-secret U.S. Intelligence. All of that is ahead.


COLLINS: We have breaking news just into CNN. The Russians now accusing Ukraine of trying to assassinate President Putin. The Kremlin says in a new statement that two Ukrainian drones were flown towards the Kremlin, last night. The Press Service released a statement moments ago and I'll read it to you now. They say quote, "We regard these actions as a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the President's life." It also says, Russia reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit.

I should note they say Putin was not in the Kremlin at the time that this was happening. I want to go to CNN, Nic Robertson, who was live in Eastern Ukraine with this breaking news. Nic, what are we learning about this? And I do want to note, this is coming from the Kremlin, if you take everything they say, with a grain of salt, of course, we've asked the White House, we've got to ask the Pentagon for comment. What have you learned about this, Nic?


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, it really has to be taken with a lot of concern and treated with the fact that we know that the Kremlin often lies about the situation. But what we know is what the Kremlin tells their population often sticks with the population that Russians will often most often, believe what they're being told by the Kremlin. And that's another reason to take this seriously. Because it is this an effort by Putin to try to find some way to escalate or again justifies war in Ukraine. What do we know at the moment?

We know that State Media reported that two Ukrainian UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were flown towards the Kremlin that they were intercepted disabled, that the debris that fell from them didn't cause any injuries inside the Kremlin. After that, the Kremlin then said this was an attack and attempt on President Putin's life. However, as you said, we know that Putin wasn't there inside the Kremlin at the time. There are social media videos of what purports to be this incident but again, this requires absolute scrutiny and CNN at this time cannot verify.

Eyewitnesses, about the time that this event is allegedly supposed to have taken place, do report hearing at least one loud clap or small explosion in the area. But at the moment, Ukrainians haven't said anything officially about it. But it is clear that for Ukraine, this would be a concern about how Russia will respond and use this information that they're putting out in the population. What more do we know about these drones? We do know that Ukraine does have longer distance drones than it did in the past. They threatened the Kremlin and this way they haven't -- we need to pay very close attention to as close scrutiny of this video and the events surrounding it.

COLLINS: And it is -- it is important to note that we have seen Russia alleged things in the past and tried to use them to justify its own actions that is important here. But you said Nic, we have not heard anything from the Ukrainian side yet on this?

ROBERTSON: Correct, false flag operations have been the modus operandi, the playbook of the Kremlin. Absolutely, they want to do this sort of thing to use it as propaganda, as they have in the past for events that are yet to unfold. We know that Russia is concerned about a potential Ukrainian counter offensive, we know that they're that Russians are losing troops at the frontline in Hind (PH) -- the frontlines with troops who fight in those frontlines today. And, you know, they talk about the intensity of the fight, the expectations or the training they get for the battle ahead of them.

So, the expectation on the ground all along the frontlines in Ukraine is that the fighting here is going to heat up what we have also seen in recent days. And I think this is very significant, and very important is we've seen two Russian trains just inside Russia, north outside over the border from Ukraine, inside Russia struck earlier this week. We've seen oil depots strike deep in Russia South, not inside Ukraine. So, it appears as if Russia is getting targeted inside Russia, not clear by whom on vital supply lines for train links and fuel stores. So, is the tempo of activity over the border inside Russia heating up, who is perpetrating it? We don't know, the events over the Kremlin, Russian propaganda or real events. It's unclear at the moment.

COLLINS: Nic Robertson, if you do hear anything, please keep us updated.

HARLOW: Let's bring in retired Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman. He is the Former European Affairs Director at the National Security Council, he served as the Trump administration's top Ukraine expert, you are the perfect voice to have on this breaking news that you just heard recorded from our Nic Robertson. How would you expect this? Even if it is Russian propaganda? How would you expect this to cause Russia to act toward Ukraine? What would retaliation look like? And how would you be advising the administration if you were still doing that?

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN (RET.) FORMER EUROPEAN AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Sure, so, the first thing is we get set aside that one possibility is that this is a pretext for the Russians to target Zelenskyy, as they have periodically throughout this war, especially early on for assassination. So, it's a pretext saying that this is a response to Ukrainian tech, more than likely, this is probably a shaping operation. We've seen these long-range attacks. Ukrainians have indigenized, a long range, unmanned combat aerial vehicle capability and obstruct out against targets on the Russian side of the border, deep into Ukraine.


This is a demonstration of capability, you know, hundreds of kilometers, 600 plus kilometers to Moscow. And they went after what's probably a strategic messaging target. Which is the Kremlin itself, that the Kremlin is vulnerable, that they were able to launch UAVs, that got that close to the Kremlin, or potentially towards the Kremlin. The media -- videos that are on media show fire burning on one of the chapels in the Kremlin itself. That's a pretty powerful demonstration, and something intended to send a signal to the Russians, that they are no longer safe at home either. And as the Ukrainian start to lend blows, in this counter offensive in the coming weeks and months. This is also going to show that there's a cost directly to the Russian population. So, I think it's probably part of a shaping operation more than likely, rather than pretext. But it could be a pretext.

HARLOW: And it also speaks to what Nic reported there, at the end of his report that Russia is getting targeted inside Russia and deeper inside Russia, unclear by whom?

VINDMAN: All right, that's definitely, I mean, it's pretty clear. The thing is that the Ukrainians have gone to a policy and kind of an Israeli policy of non-attribution or not --

HARLOW: Right.

VINDMAN: -- taking credit for these attacks. But in fact, it's pretty clear, logically, who's conducting these attacks. It's the Ukrainian Armed Forces, attempting to set conditions to liberate their territory, further people from Russian occupation. And I mean, these are kind of minor events that are unfolding in a precursor to a major strike by Ukrainian Armed Forces that will achieve broad effects, I think. I mean, these -- we're not going to see the war end in the next five, six months.

But the Ukrainians are going to achieve some major gains. I'm not a sceptic here. I believe what I see with my eyes that the Ukrainians have demonstrated a capability to liberate territory, they're going to do that. And they're going to put enormous pressure on Vladimir Putin, to either put up or shut up. Put up, meaning, he's going to have to do another mobilization, conducting a pulling in hundreds of thousands of troops or start to put his toes into negotiation, which is the more likely course of action.

COLLINS: Obviously, we take everything Russia says with a grain of salt, given how much they lie. But do you think that there is a real chance here that this is what Ukraine was trying to do that it was an attempt on Putin's life?

VINDMAN: I don't think it's an attempt on Putin's life. The fact is that the Ukrainians probably better than anybody else know, the patterns of life for Vladimir Putin. He's -- it's pretty evident when he's in the Kremlin. There are massive motorcades that kind of lock up to the city of Moscow when he's travelling there. So, they were pretty confident that he wasn't going to be in the Kremlin. And it was more of a, again, a strategic strike on the kind of the heart of Russia's power. The Kremlin itself, with a demonstration that even that location is not safe. So, it's unlikely that it's an assassination, more likely just a demonstration of capability and cost.

COLLINS: Can we also ask you about President Zelenskyy, in this interview with the Washington Post yesterday saying, you just said that you do believe Ukraine will be able to make significant territorial gains in this spring offensive. There were documents that were leaked online, that the White House has disputed how authentic they are, said some of them may be doctored. But they seem to say, that actually behind closed doors, there is skepticism in the administration of what Ukraine will actually be able to achieve when it comes to retaking land. What do you make of the fact that they haven't spoken to Zelenskyy about that leak?

VINDMAN: So, let's start with the premise that our analysis has been consistently wrong and underestimated, Ukrainian power and overestimated Russian power. So, half of that analysis in those leaked reports is inaccurate, it's just -- it's just a fact. So, in terms of the kind of raw damage from these leaks, it's quite minimal. The bigger damage comes from the fact that we've continued to undermine our standing with these leaks. Our other allies are going to be dubious about sharing information with us. This important validates, the fact that the Ukrainians were very reluctant to share information and intelligence with the U.S. throughout this war, especially early on, they started getting a level of confidence. President Zelenskyy in particular, has some scar tissue. Trump released the transcript to that was embarrassing to Zelenskyy. That is really not the way we're supposed to interact with our allies and partners. But the problem is that there are different tiers of relationships, and it's not just Ukraine.

We would never allow something like this to occur with Russia or China, where there's a potential leak that's damaging to the relationship. Even though they're adversaries, we would probably talk to him. But lesser powers unfortunately, don't get the same kind of consideration. So, Zelenskyy is already skeptical, we need to do better about coordinating with our allies. We need to treat them accordingly, especially now that Ukraine has demonstrated itself as probably the most important partner in that part of the world. And hopefully we learn from this mistake and start to be a little --


VINDMAN: -- bit more thoughtful and not discount the Ukrainian so much.

HARLOW: Yes, we heard Zelenskyy tell the western U.S. we did not have that information.