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Missing Informant is Israeli Professor; CIA Drops Recruiting Video; Americans' Debt Climbs; Jenna Barbee is Interviewed about Showing a Disney Movie to Her Classroom. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 06:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He's also alleged that the president may have been improperly influenced by some of those financial dealings.

Joining us now is CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.

There is a lot - a lot, a lot, a lot here. When I read the -- what we just told our viewers, that news that you guys broke yesterday about who this informant was. There's that. There's a separate so-called whistleblower.

What do people need to know this morning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Poppy, I think it remains to be seen how much of an informant this guy actually is. You know, this is an Israeli professor who claims to have incriminating information about Hunter Biden. The committee has not investigated, corroborated that information, as you pointed out. And again, the hitch here is, this is someone who by his own account on his own Twitter page was accused by the U.S. of arms dealing. According to international press reports, he was apparently arrested in Cypress and then he either went missing or skipped out on his bail. Again, this is according to international press reports. We have not been able to independently confirm that.

And when I reached out to the attorney for Gal Luft, he did not want to speak to me.

So, it's really unclear what exactly the committee is hoping to learn from this gentleman, if they will ever be able to learn anything from this gentleman. But I think their hope is that they would be able to press him for more information related to their broader investigation that they're doing into the Biden family's business dealings, Poppy.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: This all comes amid the investigations overall. We've seen these press conferences coming from the chair of the House Oversight, Comer, that you just heard from there.

What actually is the latest on these investigations and where they stand and whether or not they actually have any evidence tying it to the president directly as they've kind of implied? MURRAY: Yes, I mean, we heard from Comer about this last week. He had

a press conference. He knew they subpoenaed all of these bank records and so they have been getting information and they alleged that there were millions of dollars in payments from foreign entities that were going to some members of the Biden family, including Hunter Biden. But they were not able to show any payments that were going directly to Joe Biden, either when he was vice president, when he left office, or, you know, really at any point. So, they haven't been able to corroborate this sort of central allegation that Comer has trotted out there, that somehow Joe Biden could be compromised by his family's business dealings.

We also heard a lot of frustration from Republicans that DOJ should be doing more on this front. Listen to what Nancy Mace had to say.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): DOJ needs to get off its ass and investigate. We have done the work for them so they can't screw it up now. If these allegations, any of these allegations are proven true, then someone with the last name Biden needs to be charged, prosecuted and maybe spend a little time in prison to take to account and responsible for the actions they've taken today.


MURRAY: So there's a pretty harsh order from Nancy Mace, but even in the report Republicans put out last week, they didn't allege that there was anything illegal about the payments that they were actually able to document. And we know from our previous reporting at CNN, there's been this long-running criminal investigation into Hunter Biden. The Justice Department did look at payments from foreign entities to Hunter Biden as part of that probe, looking for potential money laundering, looking for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

We, of course, know that now that probe has narrowed. That sort of leg of it has fizzled and they're now looking at a false statement as well as tax issues.

Kaitlan. Poppy.

COLLINS: A lot going on there.

HARLOW: A lot.


HARLOW: Thank goodness for Sara Murray.


HARLOW: Seriously.

COLLINS: That's what we always say. This is really interesting. This caught my eye yesterday. An emotional

pitch that is being made to Russians, Russian citizens, from the CIA, to become spies for the United States. How they are recruiting them using the dark web. We have CNN exclusive reporting on that next.



HARLOW: New video just in overnight. Missiles lighting up the skies over Kyiv during a Russian air raid. The head of the Kyiv city administration called it a, quote, complex assault from multiple directions simultaneously using UAVs, cruise missiles and probably ballistic missiles and that, quote, the attack was exceptional in its density. The office added that the vast majority of Russia's targets in Kyiv's air space were detected and destroyed.

Now, this marks the eighth attack on Kyiv since just the beginning of this month.

Also this just in, the boss of the Russian mercenaries, the Wagner group, is claiming that an American citizen died fighting in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut overnight. Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a video inspecting a body and what he claims to be a U.S. identification document.

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of these documents and cannot confirm the nationality of the body shown in that video. But it obviously raises alarm bells.

CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment.

COLLINS: And speaking, of course, of what's happening in Ukraine, the CIA is now trying to recruit Russian spies pretty openly. The agency dropping an emotional two-minute-long video just last night targeting disgruntled Russians. Their goal, persuade them to share any secrets or sensitive information they may have that could help the CIA.

CNN's senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt is joining us live from Washington.

Alex, you got an exclusive interview with CIA officials about these efforts. What exactly is it that they're doing here?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kaitlan, and we also got an early look at this video.

Now, the CIA officials I sat down with, they told me that they see Russia's war in Ukraine as a rare, even historic opportunity to recruit more Russian spies. Now they're taking their efforts up a notch with this new recruitment video, trying to communicate to Russians who have sensitive information, we know what you're going through and what you have is valuable.

Kaitlan, they're even quoting Tolstoy (ph) and Dosdoefski (ph) to try to convince them to get in touch with the CIA. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Is this the life I dreamed of?

The path I chose?


MARQUARDT (voice over): Questions being asked in Russian in a new, dramatic video by the CIA, just released to try to recruit more Russian spies by appealing to Russian's patriotism, frustrations and the oppression they face under the Putin regime.

CIA officials told CNN in an exclusive interview that the war in Ukraine has created an unprecedented opportunity that they want to capitalize on to recruit new Russian assets.

WILLIAM BURNS, DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Disaffection with the war will continue to gnaw away at the Russian leadership beneath the steady diet of state propaganda and practiced repression.

MARQUARDT: In the past year of the war, the CIA has been encouraging Russians with valuable information to contact them quietly, securely and anonymously through a portal on the dark web.

DAVID MARLOWE, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, CIA: We're looking around the world for Russians who are as disgusted with that as we are because we're open for business.

MARQUARDT: Instructions have been posted on the CIA's social media accounts. And this new video, after making an emotional pitch to Russian viewers, details how to do that using the dark web browser called Tore (ph).

You're not powerless, it says. Contact us in a safe way.

The CIA recruitment video was first posted Monday evening on Telegram, the social media app that is highly popular among Russians who can't easily accessed unfiltered news or other social media sites.

JAMES OLSON, AUTHOR, "TO CATCH A SPY: THE ART OF COUNTERINTELLIGENCE": I call it hanging out the shingle. You know, spreading the word far and wide that U.S. counterintelligence is open for business, and we have deep pockets. And if you want to strike back against this man you hate, Vladimir Putin, you have an opportunity now to do it safely.

MARQUARDT: CIA officials told CNN they hope the video will resonate beyond intelligence and security officials, with people who may not realize that they have sensitive information to share, working, for example, in cyber, tech, finance and other fields. They may think contacting the CIA is too difficult or too dangerous. The CIA telling CNN they want to demystify that.

OLSON: We need people all through the Russian economy to cooperate with us. We need to know what's going on in this adversary country. MARQUARDT: There is no direct mention of Putin or Ukraine, nor CIA

officials insist is it meant to fuel unrest in Russia. Rather, they tell CNN, these are timeless themes that they hope will drive Russians into the arms of the CIA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This will always be my Russia.

I will endure.

My family will endure.

We will live with dignity.

Thanks to my actions.


MARQUARDT: And the CIA says that their campaign so far during this war to recruit new spies, disaffected Russians, has been successful. They won't say to what degree or how many people they've recruited, but one CIA official told me in his words, there's contact coming in. And they say they wouldn't be rolling out this new recruitment video if they hadn't already had some success.


COLLINS: Huh. Fascinating report.

HARLOW: That was the most fascinating thing of the morning. Alex, thank you.

COLLINS: Thanks, Alex.

HARLOW: For months the price of eggs was soaring. Now that bubble may have cracked. We'll tell you what's behind the big drop ahead.



HARLOW: All right, huge number. For the first time America's debt tops $17 trillion with Americans having more debt than ever and more falling behind on paying it off.

Joining us, CNN anchor, chief business correspondent, Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's what we really want to focus on -


ROMANS: Any kind of signs of weakness in these numbers, right? So that debt binge up $2.9 trillion since before the pandemic. So that shows you that people didn't spend on their credit cards, didn't take on a bunch of new debt in the Covid pandemic emergency and now they are. HARLOW: Now.

ROMANS: And here are the categories, Poppy. Mortgage debt is the biggest part of our debt. We hold more than that than anything else. Student debt. This has been a pause on student loans. So, watch this space when kids have to start -- adults have to start paying their student loan debt. Auto loans. Here's the weak spot I saw in here. Auto loans delinquencies for people under 40 are rising.


ROMANS: So, people under 40 - and because of higher prices because of inflation for the car and higher interest rates, the average auto loan is like $700 a month. That's a problem for people who are on the younger age of the - of the spectrum here.

And credit cards, $986 billion, knocking on the door of a trillion dollars in credit card debt. This is a space to watch here because credit card debt, with all these higher interest rates, if you are keeping your credit card debt on there, not paying it, about 54 percent pay their credit card debt in full every month. But for those who don't, if you're only paying the minimum on a $2,000 balance, at a 20 percent interest rate, it would take you 15 years and about $2,700 in interest to pay it off.

HARLOW: In interest alone?


HARLOW: What's good news in terms of prices falling?

ROMANS: OK, gas prices are down about 30 percent from a year ago and that has been a consistent part of this story.

HARLOW: Right.

ROMANS: And egg prices -- remember when we were all upset about egg prices?

HARLOW: Finally.

ROMANS: Those are coming -- the supply chain avian flu problems are working themselves out in the egg industry. So that's about $1.50. These are retail egg prices. You're paying $1.50 less at the grocery store today than you were in January.

So, some relief.

HARLOW: I noticed that. I noticed that over the weekend.

ROMANS: I did too. I bought eggs to make a cake the other day and I was like, wait a minute, this was like $6.99 the last time I checked.

HARLOW: Of course you made a cake.

Thank you, Romans. ROMANS: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Making me hungry.

All right, a fifth-grade teacher is now under investigation in the state of Florida for showing her students a Disney movie that featured a character who's gay. That teacher is going to join us on that investigation, next.

HARLOW: We also have new details about Special Counsel John Durham's report on the origin of the FBI's Trump/Russia probe, including Durham's interview with Hillary Clinton.



COLLINS: A Florida teacher is now under investigation for showing this animated Disney movie that you see here to her fifth grade class.

Jenna Barbee played the movie "Strange World," which is about a family of explorers and also features a character that is gay.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any sweethearts waiting for you back home, huh? Ah, there it is. Who is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's no one. Diazo (ph). His name is Diazo (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diazo (ph), huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really like him a lot. I just don't know how to tell him.


COLLINS: Shannon Rodriguez, the parent and school board member who reported Barbee for showing her class this movie, says that the movie was shown without approval.



SHANNON RODRIGUEZ, COMPLAINED ABOUT DISNEY MOVIE IN CLASS: It is not a teacher's job to impose their beliefs upon a child, religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above. But allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door -- and please hear me -- they assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: This school district confirms to CNN the state is investigating Barbee. And this statement was sent home to parents. Quote, while not the main plot of the movie, parts of the story involve a male character having an expressed feeling for another male character. In the future, this movie will not be shown.

So, we're joined this morning by that fifth-grade teacher, Jenna Barbee.

Jenna, good morning and thanks so much for being with us.


HARLOW: I know you're still teaching, right? This is still your class.


HARLOW: Can you tell us why -- tell the viewers why you chose to show this movie to the class?

BARBEE: I chose this movie because the biggest elements of this movie are about Earth and taking care of it and how it's alive. And my -- I'm all about that. I'm a huge person that is an advocate for cleaning up and taking care of the Earth every day. So - and that was our segment in science at the time, was ecosystems and how they interact.

COLLINS: And, Jenna, I know that you've said that you had parents of your students sign permission slips at the beginning of the year when it came to films and what you were going to be showing in your class. It was a PG movie.

What is your sense of what this investigation looks like? Are they questioning you? Are they questioning students? Are they questioning parents? What does this actually look like?

BARBEE: They've questioned me, and they've questioned students. And now the DOE is coming this week to question students more because I am - I guess I'm under investigation by the -- from the school board and the DOE. So, it's two different things going on at the same time.

It's - it's just a mess. This was not even a topic that my students even noticed or cared about because it's already an accepted topic in the classroom, just like how Ms. Rodriguez said the doors - those doors are open. Those doors are not something that's new in this public education system. The students have one to one devices. They're able to have access to all this information already. So, this is a common theme that is talked about already.

So, it was not thought anything of until it got brought this much light and this much attention. And now it's definitely a conversation. So if anyone opened the door, Ms. Rodriguez did.

HARLOW: You've said that not only you've been questioned in this investigation, some of your students, right?


HARLOW: So, I'm - I'm just interested, like, you go to --

BARBEE: Yes, that's -

HARLOW: You go to class every day. What -- how is this impacting your students? Are kids talking about it in class?

BARBEE: Yes. Now it has to be -- now it's something that has to be constantly shut down because now it's a common conversation. It's something that students are continuing to want to talk about and ask more questions about and ask me, why is this such a big deal? Because, to us, we just saw it. It was - it's not even a theme of the movie, it's an element. And the students didn't think anything of it. I didn't think anything of it. And now it's like, whoa, Ms. Barbee, you're in so much trouble because of this? Why is it so wrong? Why is it so wrong?

And, like, how do I answer that? So I just have to say, oh, go ask a parent. Go ask your parents. But that's what we're making them think, that this is so wrong that their teacher is under fire for it.

COLLINS: And, Jenna, you've said you feel that this is a targeted attack. What do you mean when you say that?

BARBEE: This -- that same school board member is currently going around right now trying to - well, along with, you know, the whole -- what DeSantis is doing, trying to get rid of all basically diversity elements out of schools completely. Like, they're trying to strip individuality and diversity to fit one common agenda. And it's ruining everything. It's not what America stands for.

HARLOW: I think -- let's let our viewers listen to what that parent said that complained about you doing this in a recent school board meeting.

Here it is.


SHANNON RODRIGUEZ, COMPLAINED ABOUT DISNEY MOVIE IN CLASS: It is not a teacher's job to impose their beliefs upon a child, religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above. But allowing movies such as this assist teachers in opening a door -- and please hear me -- they assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.


HARLOW: We had played that for the viewers in the introduction, but I just want to give you a chance to respond.

BARBEE: Yes. So, that's -- what she's missing and what these parents are missing is, they're not in the school system. That - that just shows me that she's ignorant and has not come and volunteered at all because our -- these conversations, these doors, they're open. These students have one to one devices. The amount of things that they're able to pull up that we have to shut down, they - they -- these conversations, these doors that she's talking about, that's telling you I'm stripping her rights as a parent, those rights are gone when your child is in the public school system because there are students talking about these things.


It's where they get 90 percent of their socialization for the day. And we can't shut down every conversation every child has.

HARLOW: Thank you for being with us.