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Investigators Look at Right-Wing Extremism as Possible Motive; Mercenary Boss Appears to Backtrack on Threat to Withdraw; Poll Shows 58 Percent of Democrats Want Someone Other Than Biden in 2024. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 08, 2023 - 07:00   ET



LEBRON JAMES, LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD: My goal doesn't mean it's his.


So, you know, and I'm absolutely okay with that.


COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: He's also okay with a game four tonight on our sister channel, TNT, Warriors and Lakers. L.A. leads that series 2-1. LeBron is so proud, though, Phil and Poppy. Of course, you know, the cool thing about this, USC's games are played just five minutes down the road from where dad plays his games for the Lakers.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, dad's dream right there. Coy Wire, as always, thanks so much, my friend.

HARLOW: Thanks, Coy. CNN This Morning continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Investigators now believe the attack that killed eight and wounded at least seven others was connected to right-wing extremism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy just had -- he held his neck like this and it was like blood just dripping down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we don't do something, it will happen again. It could happen any (INAUDIBLE) out there at any time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Border Patrol and the FBI working to determine the identities of the eight people killed when a driver plowed into a crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Between 20 and 25 migrants were sitting on the curb waiting for a bus. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're driving that fast and there's people around there, there will be some sort of reckless, maybe criminal action.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a hugely consequential meeting.

JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: In early June, a day will come where we're unable to pay our bills. Financial and economic chaos would ensue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Biden has determined that he doesn't want to negotiate on this.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): We have to avoid default, period, full stop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the frontlines in the east, Russian forces are increasing their attacks on Bakhmut.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very public rift between Yevgeny Prigozhin and Russia's defense ministers. Ukrainian officials were interpreting that as potentially a turning point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ukraine is doing everything it can to prevent Russia from bringing home a victory ahead of May the 9th.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I here present to you King Charles.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: More than 2,000 gathered in Westminster Abbey for this once in it a generation event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coronations are a declaration of our hopes for the future. And I know she's up there fondly keeping an eye on us and she'd be a very proud mother.


HARLOW: It is top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. We're so glad you're with us. Kaitlan is on assignment this week. Phil Mattingly, so great to happy to have you here.

MATTINGLY: I haven't broken the place yet. I feel good about that.

HARLOW: No. How are you doing with that wakeup call?

MATTINGLY: It's pretty awesome (ph) to wake up.

HARLOW: It was great?


HARLOW: Newbie.

MATTINGLY: I'm one of those terrible morning people.

HARLOW: Newbie. MATTINGLY: I know. I know. I'm sorry.

HARLOW: We're glad Phil is here. But we do start with very serious news this morning. Investigators are looking at far-right extremism as a possible motive for the mass shooter who killed eight people at this Texas outlet mall on Saturday. A senior law enforcement source tells CNN the gunman had a patch on his clothing with the letters RWDS, which police believe stands for Right-Wing Death Squad. We are told he also had a lot of social media posts that related white supremacy.

Video obtained by CNN shows the gunman calmly got out of his car. He just opened fire on shoppers outside of the H&M store. We froze that video right before he pulls the trigger. But in 11 seconds from the first shot fired, we counted at least 24 gunshots. Here's how witnesses describe the rampage.


GEOFFREY KEATON, OUTLET MALL SHOOTING WITNESS: My daughter and I were eating inside of the Fat Burger where we started to hear commotion outside and we started seeing the people run. And then we started to hear the gun shots. And then you could tell that it was getting closer because the shots were getting louder.

KINGSLEY EZEH, OUTLET MALL SHOOTING WITNESS: I just felt like people were running behind me. So, I told them to run. And I saw two ladies rushing towards me. And then one was like someone is shooting, someone is shooting. And then right behind her on the other side, right in front of DKNY, was the guy with -- he just had -- he held his neck like this and was like blood just dripping down.

MAX WEISS, OUTLET MALL SHOOTING WITNESS: In the beginning, we just heard the tail end of the shots, which was initially terrifying, but it was also just kind of startling because we couldn't determine that they were shots. And then after that, one of my co-workers yelled there is a shooter. And then when we were in the back, all that we heard were sirens, just sirens on sirens on sirens.

BILL MCCLEAN, OUTLET MALL SHOOTING WITNESS: As we were watching, the shooter goes right across, he's not running but he's kind of in a deliberate assault-type move. He was firing and shot about four or five shots as he proceeded towards the hamburger place. So, I don't know who he shot. And a few moments later, we saw a police officer came across in front of us like he was in pursuit of the individual.

STEVEN SPAINHOUER, OUTLET MALL SHOOTING WITNESS: It was a guy on the phone, and he was begging for help, and he didn't speak a lot of English. I took the phone from him and told the operator, I started counting the bodies on the ground. I said I have got one, two, three, five, six, seven bodies.



HARLOW: Wow. We want to show you the victims that we know of at least this morning. We're now learning the names of some of those killed. 20-year-old Christian LaCour was a security guard at the mall. His family described him as sweet, as caring, and a beautiful soul. Local CNN affiliate WFAA is also reporting the name of another victim that is Aishwarya Thatikonda, an engineer who is originally from India.

MATTINGLY: So much more to come. Joining us now is CNN's Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller. John, I want to start with -- we have sources saying that authorities are investigating possible links to right-wing extremism. What are we hearing right now about possible motive?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: So, what we're hearing is he's got postings and he's in places where right-wing extremism is being discussed. Of course, there is the perceived Right-Wing Death Squad, you know, initials patch, which is another point there. But the reason they did the search warrant at the home and then the reason they rolled back to the search warrant at what appears to be a transient residence, he was actually living at after leaving the home, is to find what did he leave behind. Is there a note? Get his phone, any computers, any saved media, because they want to go deeper into where was he going here?

And, for instance, you know, from a behavioral science standpoint, what were the stressors in his life that might have been pushing him towards something desperate. Why was he out of the home into a transient place? Had he lost his job? What was his background in the army? Had they need to peel back the layers.

But something really interesting, which is look at Louisville, lots of notes, nothing was released to the press about what he was saying. Look at the Nashville shooting, same thing. We're seeing a trend towards that stuff going to the experts for analysis, but not being put out because they're trying to remove the payoff, deny the objective. If you want the attention and you want to be heard, that's why you do it, let's get drift away from that.

HARLOW: That's really interesting. Given your former position before you worked here, do you think that is a net positive or do you also see the transparency concern?

MILLER: Both. I mean, it's a three-level thing. Number one, from the behavioral science point, you want to know what are driving the shooters so you can get deeper into that area. Let's say it is right- wing extremism, in a number of cases, which it has been. Look at the Tuff Supermarket in Buffalo. Two, from a transparency point, the public wants to know and it's our job to deliver that. The third piece is the complicated one, which is what is for the greater good? Are we encouraging the next shooter by saying you can be famous in your manifesto, your ideas, your voice will be heard now as it wasn't in life.

MATTINGLY: There's some pretty graphic video photos. You see a photo of the shooter, tactical vest and AR-style weapon, at least one, perhaps more as well.

MILLER: Well, that and handguns. MATTINGLY: And handguns. What does that tell you about kind of his appearance going into an act like this?

MILLER: Well, you're looking at somebody maybe coming out of the military, who is a trained security officer. In Texas, there are a couple levels of certification and he has got the second level, trained in firearms. But there is also this warrior complex that the shooters have, where they get the tactical gear and they get the weapons that they wouldn't be carrying at work and they see themselves as some kind of warrior and they attach to an agenda. Because when you peel back to the bottom of many of the guys, it's because they were no one with no friends, with no group, and they attach to something they can be a part of and they were still failing in life and lashed out. So, these are accouterments that make them part of something that they never felt they were.

HARLOW: I'm interested in your take on Texas in particular. We heard from Governor Greg Abbott. He gave an interview to Fox News Sunday yesterday. And he talked about the need for more funding for mental health, making those allocations. But we've also seen gun laws in Texas in particular really loosened in the past few years, just a couple of them, 18-year-olds can now carry handguns with no permits, no training is needed in Texas for using these guns, open carry laws.

And I think it's interesting, The New York Times made a connection yesterday, saying that many authorities in Texas have told The Times they have seen an increase in spur of the moment gunfire since September 2021, and that's when the state began allowing most adults to carry a handgun without a license.

MILLER: You're seeing a loosening of the gun laws in Florida as well. People are attaching these agendas actually to politics. And tracking back for a minute to the Louisville shooting, you know, this is the individual who left a bank. His note, which we did some reporting on, although that hasn't been released, actually said, part of my agenda here was to show how a person with such obvious mental health problems could walk into a store and buy an assault weapon and go do something like this.


MATTINGLY: It happens so much, so often. Thanks for the great reporting, as always. We know you have got a lot more work to do and I'm sure there will be more based on my experience working with you over the course of the last several months.

All right, also in Texas this morning, in this border city of Brownsville, at least eight people are dead after an SUV plowed into a group of people on Sunday. It happened outside a homeless shelter that has been housing migrants. Police say driver has not been cooperating, instead giving authorities different names. Brownsville has declared an emergency after a surge of migrants over the past few weeks.

CNN's Nick Valencia is there. Nick, have we learned anything at this point about the driver? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Phil, the fact that the driver is not cooperating with authorities is making it increasingly difficult to get to that motive. But authorities had initially indicated that this potentially could have been unintentional act. They've since backed off from that claim, saying now that their investigation into this violent crash continues.

All of it was captured on surveillance footage with video showing the Range Rover that this suspect was driving, traveling at a high rate of speed before appearing to hit a curb and then appearing to lose control into a group of about two dozen migrants, some who were seated on a curb across from a shelter where they were staying at.

Witnesses, however, though, described something a lot more sinister, saying they believe that the driver intentionally blew through a red light before veering into them and plowing into them. Investigators say that they will hold a press conference later this morning.

All of this, of course, unfolding just days before Title 42 is expected to sunset, that Trump-era border policy, which is a lot of people anxious here about the incoming migration that will come in the coming days. Phil?

MATTINGLY: Nick, Governor Greg Abbott, as you noted, he's going to speak about Title 42 in about an hour. What do we expect to hear from him given that border situation seems to be nearing a breaking point right now?

VALENCIA: Well, we've heard him be very frustrated in last recent months and we could expect a lot more finger-pointing and blame towards the Biden administration. But it's preparations that the DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, has defended in a recent interview. Just take a listen.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We've been preparing for this for quite some time. We tried to end Title 42 repeatedly and we're stopped from doing so by the courts. So, we are prepared, number one. Number two, we have a migration information center that is specifically set up to communicate with state and local officials, and we have been doing so.


VALENCIA: The press conference from Texas Governor Greg Abbott expected to happen about an hour from now. Meanwhile, that updated press conference here from police in Brownsville expected to happen in the 10:00 hour. Phil?

MATTINGLY: Nick Valencia for us in Brownsville, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Now to this. It looks like Russia's mercenary boss is backtracking on his threat to pull his troops from a crucial battle in Ukraine on Friday. The oligarch who's come to be known as Putin Chef, blasted Russian military leaders and accused them of withholding ammunition from his men. He claimed that he was going to withdraw his mercenaries from that key area of Bakhmut this week. He's now suggesting they will stay after being promised more supplies.

For the big picture, our Chief International Security Correspondent Nick Paton Walsh joins us on the ground in Southeastern Ukraine. So, was it all a bluff, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, incredibly hard to know. I think only that Yevgeny Prihozhin himself, the Wagner mercenary boss, can answer that question. But fundamentally here, it's only really him that's been making statements about withdrawing and now saying he's got what he wants and therefore he'll stay. Remember, he appeared in front of a collection of his own dead mercenaries behind him, saying that they had died because of a lack of ammunition shells.

So, he's sort of been having this public conversation almost with himself, with the exception of a brief comment by the Kremlin spokesperson saying that he was aware of media reports about it. But it's been a startling moment, frankly, of dissent inside the Kremlin ranks, very rare indeed, and at a very important time, too. Ahead of tomorrow's Victory Day parades inside of Moscow, where Russia talks about its victory over the Nazis, they had indeed almost vowed to take the key city of Bakhmut, where Prighozhin is based.

By that day, that's not going to happen. And instead, we've had this remarkable statement where he unilaterally said, we're leaving because we haven't got what we want. Quite what led him to change his mind here, we will probably never know. But it added to that general sense in the last week or so, that there were increasing members of Russia's elite making very vocal comments about how badly the war is going.

This just ahead of Ukraine's counteroffensive showing signs of being underway at this point, a bad message to Russian troops in the ranks already experiencing low ammunition, low morale. Certainly overnight, though, we've seen some, again, evidence of how Russia is likely to respond to any Ukrainian advances. 35 drones launched at the capital, Kyiv, all of them taken out, but five people injured from the debris falling from the sky.


And, separately, eight missiles attacking the port city of Odessa, where one night watchman in a warehouse that was struck was killed.

So, Russia continuing to lash out, sending these messy signals about dissent in its own ranks and Ukraine staying relatively quiet on its military maneuvers, but showing signs that its counteroffensive is underway. Poppy?

HARLOW: Nick Paton Walsh, I appreciate that reporting from Southeastern Ukraine. Thanks very much, Phil?

MATTINGLY: And there's some new polling that was rattling around Washington yesterday, President Biden trailing Donald Trump in the race for president. We'll break down the numbers, coming up next. HARLOW: The ex-girlfriend of Tiger Woods is accusing him of sexual harassment. What we're learning about her legal claims, that's ahead.



STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST: Why would an 82-year-old Joe Biden be the right person for the most important job in the world?

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Because I have acquired a hell of a lot of wisdom. I know more than the vast majority of people. I'm more experienced than anybody has ever run for the office. And I think I've proven myself to be honorable as well as also effective.



HARLOW: President Joe Biden brushing back concerns about his age and arguing his experience makes him the top candidate for president again. But different stories told in these new numbers from a Washington Post/ABC News poll. It finds that Americans aren't really feeling the same. His overall job approval rating in this poll stands at 36 percent, it's down from 42 percent in February. In a head-to- head matchup against former President Trump, Biden is behind. 44 percent of Americans say they would pick Trump.

Let's talk about these numbers because there's a whole lot here and other political headlines. Joining us this morning, National Political Correspondent at The New York Times Shane Goldmacher and CNN Political Commentator and Political Anchor at Spectrum News Errol Louis. Good morning, guys.

Just one sort of caveat to the 36 percent number, there are some who are asking, is this an outlier, because it's off like five, six points from other polls. Also, this poll was a poll of voting age adults rather than likely or registered voters. But, net-net, this is not good, Shane, for the President.

SHANE GOLDMACHER, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. This is so far out from an election. I think you want to look at the direction of a poll, right? So, the direction is down. That's a problem for Joe Biden. And, really, it's the deeper in numbers that are more problematic in this poll, which are questions about his mental acuity that voters think that he just doesn't have it, and including a chunk of Democratic voters and a big share of independent voters.

And the thing is, how do you fix a problem where voters think you don't have enough there to continue being president? That is a tough challenge to fix. That's not an ideological challenge. That's not we don't like what you did on this policy challenge. That's a fundamental challenge of who you are.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And it's unclear how this is going to play out politically, right? I mean, the independents, they've got to be especially, I think, worried about and they've got to be especially worried about whether or not this attitude translates into negative votes.

I mean. There were questions that were raised in his second term for Ronald Reagan, who at the time was the oldest person ever to be and to run for president, and it didn't play out in a way that was negative. In fact, he won 49 states when he ran for re-election. Clearly, Joe Biden would like to replicate that, but it's not clear how you do that.

I would also point out, just as a sign of the kind of political challenges that they have, is people who are wise and who are competent don't sit on national television and say that they are wise and they are competent. There are other people who are saying it. And so they've got to figure out how to make that happen. They're at the beginning of a very interesting season for themselves.

HARLOW: What's the famous -- was it Walter Mondale in the debate about my opponent's youth --

MATTINGLY: I will not hold my opponent's youth against me? It was Reagan.

HARLOW: Yes, there you go. That was better. I just said (INAUDIBLE) my mind.

LOUIS: I will not exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience, he said in 1984.

HARLOW: There you go.

MATTINGLY: So, Shane, like me, I think you've probably gotten the full rundown from the president's advisors as to why they believe they can address this issue, why they don't believe that this is the prevailing issue. And I think, like you, I looked at kind of the crosstabs in these numbers and thought, okay, this is perhaps more of an issue than they think it is, maybe the polls an outlier, all those caveats.

What do you think the campaign wants to do, needs to do, thinks it should do related to this issue that they don't really want to address publicly all that much.

GOLDMACHER: Yes. I mean, well, the first thing is that they are making the argument that he's not the only old candidate, right?

MATTINGLY: Which is true.

GOLDMACHER: That the frontrunner for the Republicans is Donald Trump, he's also would be the oldest president in American history should he win in 2024. But the poll shows problems with that argument, which is that only one -- I think it was 1 percent of voters thought just Donald Trump was too old. So, a big chunk thought just Joe Biden was too old. No, they would both be the oldest president. But that's not a thing that's resonated just yet. HARLOW: That stood out to me, too. It was like 26 percent or something for Biden and 1 percent for Trump who were really concerned about it.

What about, Errol, on and the economy? If it is the economy, stupid, if that's what people vote on, right, then it's not good for it's not good for Joe Biden. This poll shows, by a 54 percent to 36 percent margin. People think Trump did a better job handling the economy than Biden has done.

LOUIS: Yes. I mean, we'll say, here, again, a political challenge for this administration because, you know, look, he has every right to turn around and say, listen, which part of the economy do you have a problem with it? Is it the 3.5 percent unemployment? Is the inflation, which, while troublesome, is now headed in the right direction, which is down? Like, what part of this are you upset about? We're back to pre-pandemic levels of employment in most regions in almost every state. So, he's got every right, I think, to sort of go out and tout his economic program.

In fact, I think those age numbers really, in some ways are like a proxy that there's something that people are not happy about. There's something that has made people unsettled, whether it's the economy or something else. And they're maybe aiming it at age and saying like there's something wrong here. We're not sure what it is. We don't know if this is the guy that we want to steer us through this rough patch.

MATTINGLY: Shane, as you look at kind of the macro issues that the Biden campaign, the president faces going forward, there's a micro, but potentially very macro issue in the debt limit meetings that's coming on Tuesday, kind of where that stands.


How do you think this plays out? When you look at the two positions, they are completely incompatible. They always seem to find a way. This time feels a little different. Reassure me, please.

GOLDMACHER: I don't have guaranteed reassurance that they're going to find a solution before the debt limit. But what we've seen is that this White House thinks that voters are going to blame Republicans for being too extreme. If you want to ask, what's the answer to the age question, what's the answer to the debt limit question, it's that Republicans are too extreme. They've branded them as too extreme repeatedly since the last two years. And so that seems to be their approach here.

First they said they're so extreme by making any concessions. Now, they're saying the specific concessions, there will be some kind of an agreement they have to strike. The Joe Biden original stance that we're not going to negotiate is not going to be the long-term stance. He already has breakaway Democrats saying that's not going to work. So, they have to come to a table in some sense and find a way to meet the agenda Republicans have, which is something, to gain something and Joe Biden to raise the down limit. HARLOW: Errol, let me just -- I wanted to pull this up to ask you about something that just crossed. Rockland County, which is just sort of north of New York City here, has declared a state of emergency because migrants are being shipped from a number of states, but in Texas, Florida, up to state cities like New York City. And now New York City says it will take some of those migrants and put them in Rockland County.


HARLOW: This is a huge issue, is it not, for this administration, as Title 42 ends on Thursday?

LOUIS: Some of this is stage management and strategy that may have gone wrong because this is New York City saying, look, we'll pay the hotel bills for four months for these people, a stone's throw from New York City, we will even provide them with services and so forth. The way it landed in those suburbs is like, oh, my God, they're sending all of these people here. We're going to declare a state of emergency.

The reality is it's somewhat different from Texas sending a bunch of people here, where no health screenings, no clothing that's weather appropriate, just kind of dumping them at the doorstep. New York, right from the beginning, was suggesting that some of the upstate counties might be good places for these folks to end up and they're going to have to have a much better conversation.

People should not be getting surprised in Orange County that all of a sudden 200 people, again, with all expenses paid and with services and so forth, are suddenly going to land on their doorstep. That's sort of making the problem that New York City has had for the last year, one that's going to spread statewide and it's going to get everybody riled up and upset.

And I think if that's the only policy that we're going to have in New York and other places, what a mess, what a mess it's going to be.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Riled up and upset. That seems to be the policy direction of a lot of things right now. Errol, Shane, mostly I'm just happy you're here. I was going to steal your reporting and call it as my own for the remainder of the week. Thanks, guys, so much for being here.

Also, a source telling CNN investigators now believe Saturday's Texas Mall shooting could be connected to right wing extremism. Next, we will speak to a Texas state lawmaker who has been trying to pass gun safety laws.