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Chopper Carrying Ukraine's Interior Minister Crashes Near School; Failed Candidate Arrested; Santos Awarded Committee Seats. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, breaking news out of Ukraine, where a helicopter crash near a kindergarten killing some top officials and children.

Plus, the self-described MAGA king who falsely claimed election fraud. Why police say that he is the one behind the gun attacks targeting Democrats in New Mexico.

And Congressman George Santos apparently qualified to serve on two House committees, even though no one is sure what is real qualifications are.


ROMANS: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with this breaking news: tragedy in Ukraine, a devastating helicopter crash in a suburb of Ukraine's capital. The chopper plunged to the ground near a kindergarten, the crash killing Ukraine's interior minister and his leadership team and killing some children on the ground, who are being taken to kindergarten by their parents.

CNN's Clarissa Ward live from the scene in Brovary.

Clarissa, what more do we know about this rapidly developing story?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, as if Ukraine has not experienced enough horror and tragedy, this morning's events are truly devastating. You can see the kindergarten behind me where that helicopter crashed in, the latest information that we are getting at the moment is that 18 people were killed, including all nine people who are on board that helicopter. That includes the interior minister, his deputy, his secretary of state, six others.

We know that at least three children have been killed, but as you can probably see behind me there is now an enormous emergency services and rescue and recovery response. Basically what they are trying to do is to determine whether there are any other children who are still inside that kindergarten because right before the helicopter actually crashed, you can see that there was some kind of debris or flames or jet fuel that came down and hit that part of the building.

That caused a floor of the kindergarten to collapse, so it is possible that there are other people, children or teacher, we just do not know, who could potentially be unrecovered inside their. They say they do not know how many children have been killed beyond the three that they definitely know were killed. They also said that the others who were killed, you have the nine on board and the three children, were basically parents dropping their kids off at school.

So this really is just a heartbreaking tragedy. At this stage, we don't know exactly what caused the helicopter to crash. We do know that early this morning, the weather was very bad, there is very poor visibility, a lot of fog, but basically, Ukrainian authorities, Christine, are saying that they are investigating every --

ROMANS: Clarissa, we can see fire in the video that we see there, it is the fire out at this point?

All right. Clarissa there on the ground for us. Obviously, we lost our connection there. But she will be updating us throughout the hour.

All right. Today in Albuquerque, Solomon Pena will be in court to face charges that he orchestrated a series of shootings to damage the homes of Democratic elected officials. Pena was a Republican candidate for the New Mexico legislature who claimed election fraud without evidence after losing by a landslide last November.

The state's governor telling CNN she is relieved Pena is in custody.


GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM (D), NEW MEXICO: It is chilling to realize that you have a member of your community who ran for office, who uses the same propaganda that instills violent reaction for others. And then perpetrates, orchestrates and directors with quite simply was the attempted -- it was not just harassment -- potential murder of innocent victims across the city. It makes anyone running for office terrified.


ROMANS: CNN's Kyung Lah has more from Albuquerque.


DEBBIE O'MALLEY, BERNALILLO COUNTY COMMISSION CHAIRWOMAN: One came right through here and then we got the rest over here.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): About a dozen bullets embedded in the outside of Debbie O'Malley's home.

O'MALLEY: I was very angry, and just disgusted about the whole thing.

LAH: These are significantly sized holes.

O'MALLEY: They are. It was so loud, this happened when my husband and I were asleep.


LAH: O'Malley immediately suspected who the gunman might be. This man.

SOLOMON PENA, EX-GOP CANDIDATE: Hi, my name is Solomon Pena. Can I speak with Debbie O'Malley?

LAH: Solomon Pena who had been looking for O'Malley, went to her daughter's address and then to her home a month before the shooting. This is him on the other side of the fence.

O'MALLEY: He seemed agitated. He seemed a little aggressive to me. I didn't consider him a threat then. But he was upset that he had lost the election.

LAH: Police arrested him Monday in connection with a string of what they call politically motivated shootings of homes of four Democratic leaders in New Mexico. No one was injured.

CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: It is believed he is the mastermind that was behind this.

LAH: Police say he is suspected of hiring a contractor for cash to commit at least two of the four shootings, from December 4th to January 3rd.

Pena was a Republican candidate for state house seat in New Mexico. And he spent years in prison for burglary and larceny. But a judge allowed the convicted felon to be on the ballot in 2022, calling it unconstitutional for Pena to be denied the ability to serve.

PENA: I had nothing more than a desire to improve my lot in life.

LAH: He lost in November, by a landslide, then accused his opponent of rigging the election.

Wearing a MAGA sweatshirt, Pena tweeted he stands with Trump and never conceded his own race in New Mexico.

Election denialism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is some shenanigans going on.

LAH: That he heard at Trump rallies like this one in Phoenix in 2021. Pena tweeted this picture, saying that heat camped out all night to see Trump.

Photographs in the arrest warrant show Pena, pictured with this man. The warrant alleges he is one of the suspected shooters who was arrested with a gun used in one of the shootings.

Police say Pena texted the home addresses of four Democratic targets to four suspects who carry out the shootings. In an exchange, texted, they just certified it, they sold us out to the highest bidder. They were literally laughing at us while they were doing it.

ADRIANN BARBOA, BERNALILLO COUNTY COMMISSIONER: Everybody's going to have to be more worried now.

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

BARBOA: It makes me angry that one person, makes me angry that we have a former president and current elected officials in the highest level of government that think it's okay to, you know, invoke violence in the situations. So, yeah, a range of emotions -- anger, sad, disappointed.


LAH (on camera): Despite how emotionally draining and scary this is all been, what we are not hearing from these victims is any of them backing down from representing that people in politics and in government. Pena makes his first court appearance on Wednesday.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ROMANS: All right. Brian Walshe set to be arraigned today in Norfolk, Massachusetts, on charges he murdered his wife, Ana. The mother of their three children has been missing since the New Year.


MICHAEL MORISSEY, NORFOLK DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Growing this investigation, the police developed probable cause that her husband, Brian Walshe, age 47, had misled police investigators all material manners important the search for Ana Walshe. He has pled not guilty to those charges and is currently being held at the Norfolk County House of Correction. The continued investigation is now allowing police to obtain an arrest warrant, charging Brian Walshe with the murder of his wife.


ROMANS: Ana Walshe was reported missing by coworkers two weeks ago, triggering a widespread search. A circumstantial evidence including blot, a bloody knife, searches on Brian Walshe's computer for how to dismember and dispose of a 115 pound woman's body, and a hacksaw, and apparent bloodstains at a trash collection site.

All right. The attorney who first discovered classified documents at President Biden's think tank office has now been interviewed by federal investigators. Biden attorney Patrick Moore made the discovery walking up the office for the president. About 20 classified documents Biden's time as vice president were found at the Penn Biden Center, and later at one of his homes in Delaware.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden, again, ignoring questions about the investigation into his handling of classified documents.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a couple of special guests.

MATTINGLY: As the head coach and star guard of the world champion Golden State Warriors made their appearance in the briefing room.

STEPH CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Something that we don't take for granted.

MATTINGLY: For a White House scrambling to get its footing --

JEAN-PIERRE: You guys can ask me this 100 times, 200 times if you wish, I'm going to keep saying the same thing.

MATTINGLY: -- a not so subtle effort to turn the page on a turbulent and perilous moment for Biden.

JEAN-PIERRE: The president has confidence. They reached out to the Archives. They reached out to do the Department of Justice.

MATTINGLY: The sources saying Biden plans to stay focused on his schedule and agenda.

JEAN-PIERRE: The president is going to stay laser focused on delivering for the American people.


MATTINGLY: And far away from any more public commentary like this amid an ongoing special counsel investigation.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage, OK? So, it's not like it is sitting out in the street.

MATTINGLY: The probe now in its early stages to pin down how roughly 20 documents of classified markings from Biden's time as vice president ended up in two separate locations, a Biden affiliated think tank in Washington and Biden's family home in Wilmington, Delaware.

White House officials pledging full cooperation with the early stage special counsel investigation.

MIKE GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm here today to announce the appointment of Robert Hur as a special counsel.

MATTINGLY: But for a second day, slamming House Republicans who have now launched two probes of their own. The White House spokesman on Monday saying the lawmakers have, quote, no credibility and are playing politics in a shamelessly hypocritical attempt to attack President Biden. IAN SAMS, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: House Republicans lose credibility

when they engage in fake outrage about an issue that they're clearly pursuing only for partisan gain.

MATTINGLY: Followed by a news conference Tuesday to level more attacks. But the messaging effort doing little to address critical questions.

SAMS: With the appointment of a special counsel, we will continue to be limited in what we can share publicly.

MATTINGLY: With little detail on more than two months from the initial discovery of documents on December 2nd to December 20th additional documents, to a third and fourth discovery of additional documents just last week.

But as White House officials maintain the ongoing investigation will continue to limit their public answers --

SAMS: I understand that there is a tension between protecting and safeguarding the integrity of an ongoing investigation with providing information publicly, appropriate with that.

MATTINGLY: A clear public effort to draw attention elsewhere.


MATTINGLY (on camera): And while White House officials continually, almost daily pledged full cooperation with a special counsel investigation, it appears less likely when it comes to the two house Republican investigations that are now underway. They have said that they will engage in good faith with any good faith efforts brought their way from house Republicans, it is pretty clear based on their comments in the last several day that they do not -- has in good faith.

As for the deadlines that have already been laid out, for responses, well, we are told that they will reply at some point with whatever they think is necessary.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.

ROMANS: All right Phil, thank you for that.

As House Republicans or do their own investigations, CNN looks into how Joe Biden's son hunter and his brothers Jimmy and Frank used their family name to try to make money. That's ahead.

Instead of pushing George Santos to quit, Republicans just appointed him to two House committees. Why?

And chaos on the court, two gunshots at a high school basketball game.


[05:16:47] ROMANS: All right, after shamelessly lying to get elected, Republican Congressman George Santos been awarded seats on two House committees. Santos is facing mounting legal problems, growing calls for him to resign for lying about virtually every single thing on his resume, but for now, Republican leaders are taking a hands off approach.


REP. BARRY LOUDERMILK (R-GA): He hasn't committed a crime, he has not been indicted on anything at this point. And in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. So we are going to treat him like any other member and keep an eye on him.


ROMANS: Let's bring in Daniel Strauss, a senior political correspondent for "The New Republic".

It's so nice to see you this morning Daniel.

Look, Santos is facing an FEC investigation into campaign finances, the SEC accuses the Florida company that he worked for of running a Ponzi scheme. New York is probing his financial disclosures and yet he is assigned to a Small Business Committee.

What does that tell you I guess about Kevin McCarthy's leadership here?

DANIEL STRAUSS, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: I mean, it tells me right now that Kevin McCarthy is extremely concerned about having any or enough votes to make a majority in congress.

But let me just stress a little bit that the two committees that Congressman Santos has been assigned to are not exactly the creme de la creme here. These are not the most prestigious committees in congress. But they are committees, all right. for someone who lies drastically outnumber the truth that he's told overtime.

So the real motivation among House Republican leadership is that, right now, well Congressman Santos has not been found guilty of any crime or any saying totally, I don't even know. This is such a bizarre story that he still needs to be seated. He still needs to be treated like every other member in Congress and so that is what we are seeing for the moment.

If one of the many investigations against him come out with some kind of indictment or some kind of criminal charge, I think you are going to see something different among congressional leadership.

ROMANS: Yeah, he won his election, right, so that seems to be the only qualification that he has here is that he won his election.

Santos holding on, even though some members, not leadership, about some members of his own party of called on him to resign. Are there concerns here about him being on these committees, having access to maybe America's secrets in briefings in these committees? I mean, he is really found himself in the upper echelon of policymaking in this country.

STRAUSS: Yeah, I suppose. But these are not committees where they are exposed to a large amount of top secret documents, so for the moment it is pretty clear that the damage that a serial liar could do in Congress right now at this level is somewhat limited, or it could be worse.

ROMANS: Maybe that is strategic. Maybe they have parked him someplace where they can keep an eye on him.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, by the way, is one of the GOP elections deniers assigned to the homeland security committee and there are several Republicans leading the House Judiciary Committee. These are higher profile committees, some of those people on the house judiciary committee also questioned election results.

What does this tell you again about Majority Kevin McCarthy's direction for his party?

STRAUSS: I mean, again, this is McCarthy concerned about support among rank and file members of Congress and the conservative base of the GOP. The fact that Marjorie Taylor Greene, a major figure among the far-right wing of the party, has regained her committee -- after losing in the last Congress speaks to have McCarthy much prefers the velvet glove to the iron fist. He likes to try to please everyone and tried to wash out virus that way, rather than punish people or keep people out of the tent.

ROMANS: It speaks to the razor-thin majority, right? That is also very clear here.

Daniel Strauss, so nice to see this morning, thank you.

STRAUSS: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hands across America, now gunshots at a high school basketball game near Oklahoma City. The announcer docked, fans scrambled for cover, a fight led to the gunfire. At least one man was shot and taken to hospital.

Federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for Patrick Crusius. He was the man of in a 2019 racist attack at an El Paso Walmart.

Governor Ron DeSantis pushing the Florida legislature to permanently banned COVID restrictions like mask and vaccine mandates. DeSantis is already temporarily banned pandemic control measures via executive order.

All right. She says climate protection is not a crime. More on Greta Thunberg's arrest at a coal mine.

And China reopening its stores with investment pitch to global leaders in Davos.


ROMANS: All right. China's economic policy for 2023 is, we are ready to do business.

Back on the global stage on Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland, the Chinese vice premier reassure the World Economic Forum that pandemic isolation is over and economic growth is a priority for Beijing.

Let's go to Anna Coren live in Hong Kong, for EARLY START this morning.

We also made a direct pitch to global leaders, Anna, making it clear that global investment is going to play a big role to China's path recovery. What can you tell us?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, very important to its overall strategy, Christine, as you say after three years of isolation under zero-COVID policy, China's top economic adviser returned to the global stage to reassure the world that China is open for business.

Vice Premier Liu He told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that China was still a good place to do business, outlining the top priorities for economic development, while welcoming foreign investment.

But interestingly, hours before Liu's address, the Chinese argument announced that the country's population had shrunk for the first time in 61 years. It also really figures that economic growth it slow to 3 percent, that is well below the 5.5 percent that authorities had targeted.

Now, as you know, the decline in population, dropping 850,000 just over 1.4 billion is evident of China's falling birth rate, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic that economists will believe will threaten China's long term growth.

But the vice premier said he was confident that China's growth would rebound this year to pre-pandemic levels, stating that, quote, China's national reality dictates that opening up to the world is a must, not an expediency. We must open up wider and make it work better.

And, Christine, he also said that the COVID peak, or COVID wave I should say that his hit China, it has peaked since that abrupt end to the zero-COVID policy back in December, which has claimed 60,000 lives just in the last month. That is according to authorities, Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Anna Coren, following all that for us, thank you, Anna. Excuse me.

All right. Quick hits around the world right now.

The court in the Philippines acquitting journalist Maria Ressa of four tax evasion charges. The Filipino-American Nobel laureate as one more charge to fight. Ressa says the accusations were politically motivated to keep her from doing her job.

German police have detained climate activist Greta Thunberg for a second time this week. Thunberg joined protesters angry over the expansion of a coal mine encroaching on a village.

The world's oldest known person, French nun Sister Andre has died at the age of 118. She dedicated most for life to religious service. She has lived through the ten years of ten popes.

House Republicans are ready to investigate Hunter, Jimmy, and Frank Biden for looking to use their access to the White House and the president, to try to make money. What a CNN investigation found, next.

And, injury stricken Rafael Nadal prematurely knocked out of the Australian Open.