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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. Set to Announce $2.5 Billion Military Aid Package for Ukraine; Massachusetts Prosecutors Use Web Searches to Charge Walshe with Murder; Veteran: Santos Took $3,000 from Dying Dog's GoFundMe. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 19, 2023 - 05:00   ET




More firepower. Another $2 billion worth of weapons for the battlefield. Could they one day help Ukraine retake Crimea?

Plus, sinister searches. Prosecutors now say the accused killer husband of a Massachusetts mom Googled how to do it and how to hide it.

And George Santos, dogged by new allegations. Two more veterans say he promised to help a pit bull before taking off with the money.


ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans this Thursday morning.

We begin here, in just days, the U.S. is expected to finalize a huge package of military aid for Ukraine. Valued at about $2.5 billion, it will be one of the largest military packages announced since the war began, nearly a year ago.

Sources tell CNN it is expected to include, for the very first time Striker combat vehicles, along with more Bradley fighting vehicles and more mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, on top of the nearly 500 MRAPs already committed.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live from London.

Clare, it's also notably what's not in this package, right? Long range missiles and especially tanks. The Ukrainians have been pleading for these from the U.S.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, specifically battle tanks, the U.S. M1 Abrams not set to be included, as you say, in this package. The Pentagon and the State Department making it clear that this is more a sort of practical and logistical concern behind not including those things. A lot of training and maintenance are involved, and there were questions around their compatibility with what else Ukraine had in play on the battlefield that it's getting for other European allies.

They are not -- they are not in principle opposed to tanks, we understand from the senior defense minister that the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who we just saw, in Germany, is set to presses German counterpart to allow for the re-export of German tanks to Ukraine, something that Germany is under increasing pressure to do.

In terms of long range missiles, I think that there are greater concerns about how Russia would perceive this given that they would be able to reach Russian territory. In fact, in the past hour, we have heard from the Kremlin, who said that any discussions on supplying Ukraine with weapons, that could hit Russian territory it's extremely dangerous and could take the conflict to a new level.

President Zelenskyy speaking again in Davos, this morning. He said, Christine, that he was not planning to use those missiles and Russian territories to simply strike targets in Russian occupied territory in Ukraine. And, he also made it clear that he will not be diminishing his goals in the face of this continued aggression from Russia, that he still intends to try to take back Crimea.

That, of course, is a very serious topic for Russia, a very sensitive topic, and something that they have warned about in the past that could lead to a significant escalation. So he is not backing down for his rhetoric, all the while continuing to press his Western allies for more weapons.

ROMANS: For us in London, thank you, Clare, for that.

Okay, Brian Walshe now formally charged with murdering his wife, Ana, after prosecutors read out a series of chilling Google searches, they say he performed in the hours before and after they say he killed her and disposed of her body. These web searches paired with surveillance video another evidence amounting to a kind of roadmap to the prosecution's case against Walshe.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has more.


LYNN BELAND, ASSISTANT D.A., NORFOLK, MASSACHUSETTS: Can you be charged with murder without a body?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's just one of many chilling Google searches.

BELAND: Ten ways to dispose, dispose of a dead body if you really need to.

GINGRAS: Massachusetts prosecutors say Brian Walshe thoroughly researched online how to dispose of a body after killing his wife Ana on New Year's.

BELAND: It is believed that Brian Walshe dismembered Ana Walshe and discarded her boy. GINGRAS: Prosecutors laid out their case against the 47-year-old Cohasset man in stunning detail, alleging in the early morning hours of January 1st Walshe went on an Internet search frenzy using his son's iPad, asking Google questions like, "How long before a body starts to smell?" Three minutes later, "How to stop a body from deposing." and more.

BELAND: How long for someone to be missing to inherit? Can you throw away body parts? What does formaldehyde do? How long does DNA last? Can identification be made on partial remains?


GINGRAS: Days later prosecutors say surveillance video shows a man fitting Walshe's description visiting various dumpsters.

BELAND: He walks to the dumpster carrying garbage bags. He's leaning and it appears to be heavy as he has to heft it into the dumpster.

GINGRAS: Prosecutors revealing more of what investigators uncovered at a garbage transfer site more than a week ago. Ten trash bags filled with items covered in apparent blood stains. Some with traces of the couple's DNA. Also finding Ana's personal belongings.

BELAND: Hunter boots, Prada purse, a COVID-19 vaccine card in the name of Ana Walshe. The purse and boots were described as what Ana was last seen in.

GINGRAS: Walshe appeared largely stoic as prosecutors piled on the evidence. He's charged with murder and improper transport of a body after already being behind bars on a charge of misleading investigators searching for his wife.

As for motive, prosecutors argue divorce, something else Walshe allegedly researched.

BELAND: On December 27th, defendant Googled, "what's the best state to divorce".

GINGRAS: He's pleaded not guilty to the charges, with his attorney saying in a statement, it is easy to charge a crime and even easier to say a person committed that crime. It is a much more difficult thing to prove it, which we will see if the prosecution can do.

Investigators have yet to say whether they have found Ana's body. The mother of three disappeared on January 1st. Her employer, not husband, reported her missing on January 4th.

PAMELA BARDHI, FORMER CO-WONER OF ANA WALSHE: One message that I can say, Brian, if you did it, just come forward because the truth will always prevail and your boys deserve to know what happened.

GINGRAS: Brynn Gingras, CNN, Quincy, Massachusetts.


ROMANS: All right, Brynn. Thanks for that.

The State Department confirms two Americans were among the 72 people who died last weekend in a plane crash in Nepal. Also killed, two immigrants who lived in the United States. No one survived a Yeti Airlines disaster. Authorities on the ground are still shifting through the record to figure out why that aircraft went down.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are deeply saddened to hear the tragic Yeti Airlines craft over the weekend which killed 72 people, including two U.S. citizens and two lawful permanent residents. Our thoughts are with the families of those on board. The United States stands ready to support Nepal in any way that we can at this difficult hour.


ROMANS: The State Department has not released the identity of the two Americans who died.

Human error is considered the likely cause between two passenger jets last week at JFK airport in New York. A source familiar with the investigation tells CNN that special flashing lights that warn pilots against taxing across one waves were working, raising the possibility that human error contributed to this disaster. The incident involved in American Airlines 777 that improperly crossed an active runway, stopping within 1000 feet of a Delta jet.

All right. The clock is officially ticking on the nation's debt ceiling drama. The U.S. is expected to hit the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling today. That is a maximum amount the federal government is allowed to borrow to finance its obligations. Now it's up to Congress to raise the limit and that could be a challenge even the lawmakers do have several months to negotiate a deal before it actually default.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: If you have the, trail and you gave him a credit card and they kept raising it and they hit the limits so you just raised it again clean increase for again and again? Would you keep doing that or would you change the behavior? We're six months away. Why wouldn't we sit down now and change this behavior?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The debt limit has been something that has happened three times if you look at just the last administration in a bipartisan way. It is something that should be done without conditions and we should not be negotiating around it. It is the duty, the basic duty of Congress to get that done.

It is essential for Congress to recognize that dealing with the debt ceiling is their constitutional responsibility. This is an easy one. This is something that couldn't be happening without conditions.


ROMANS: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has alerted lawmakers the U.S. could default on its obligations by June.

CNN's Phil Mattingly has more.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The warning from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was ominous. It was also very intentional and part of a plan that is currently being rolled out by the Biden administration when they plan to stick to in the months ahead.

That warning was the fact that the debt ceiling is going to be hit on Thursday. Now, keep in mind, that does not mean that the U.S. is going to default. There are extraordinary measures in terms of shifting funds around, prioritizing what investments we could get. When the treasury can play, and has deployed over the course of several years of these battles and they will, and that should get them roughly four or five months before the true threat of default is actually on the table.


But there is one thing to keep in mind here: White House officials have been steadfast, and very blunt on the idea that there would be no negotiations in their mind. There would be no coming to the table. There won't be any horse trading with the House Republican majority. It is made very clear a clean debt ceiling increase is not on the table.

That, of course, means that there is a stalemate, one that's likely to last for the next several months. But when you talk to White House officials behind the scenes, they make clear two things. One, they believe that this is simply not a negotiation that they can afford to have in terms of just pure governance being able to move forward and pay the bills that have already been accrued, which is what the debt ceiling represents. This is a necessary move that needs to be made.

Obviously, that divergence from the last several years of Republican and Democratic debates over this issue. But the other is the idea that White House officials firmly believe, politically, they are certainly in a good place on this issue. Whatever Republicans put on the table, whether it's cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare, Social Security or whether it's prioritizing certain bills be paid or certain debts be paid instead of others, they feel like they can win the messaging battles on that.

So there is the politics and there's the policy and, certainly, there's the logistics of governance here that White House officials are sticking to. This is a plan that they have been working through over the course of several weeks. It is one that is closely coordinated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries, and the Treasury Department as well. It's laying out the battle lines for what is almost certain to be a very intense fight in the months ahead.

The weight of all, why dust officials say there's only. What a clean debt ceiling increase. Republicans say, not an option. Where this all ends? Well, it could bring us dangerously close. It's something that never happened in the history of the country. Default.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


ROMANS: Watch this space.

All right, Phil. Thank you.

George Santos, not only lied about virtually everything on his resume, he's now accused of stealing from sick dogs. A New Jersey Navy says that New York's new Republican congressman helped him raise $3,000 back in 2016 to be for lifesaving surgery for his dog. Rick Osthoff said that Santos, who went by Anthony Devolder back then, took off with all the cash from the GoFundMe campaign leaving him unable to get the medical care for his beloved pit bull, Sapphire.


RICH OSTHOFF, NAVY VETERAN: She died about four months after this all went down. There was a string of text between me and Devolder, I knew that I wasn't going to get the money at that point. I knew there was something going on.

I was like, I know that you mined my dog and my friends and family's hearts to raise money for yourself. And he told me that was the most offensive horrible thing anybody had ever said to him. And, that I think was the breaking point where he decided that he was not going to give me the money or where he could actually break away from me.


ROMANS: So, Santos tells CNN that story is fake. He has no clue what he is talking about.

And, in another Santos newly uncovered immigration record shows that Santos's mother was in Brazil on 9/11, apparently contradicting his claim, his repeated claim that she was in the World Trade Center during the terrorist attack.

All right. Ahead, New Zealand's prime minister shocking the world by announcing she is stepping down. Plus Washington state men who try to drag a barista through the takeout window.



ROMANS: All right. The arrest warrant for a failed GOP candidate revealing new details about shootings at the homes of New Mexico Democratic officials. Police say Solomon Pena conspired with four hired guns to carry out these attacks. His arrest warrant now reveals the identities of two of them.

CNN's Kyung Lah has more from Albuquerque.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are on the record on Solomon Pena.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once Republican candidate now criminal defendant, Solomon Pena made his first appearance in an Albuquerque courtroom facing charges in what prosecutors call the politically motivated shootings at the homes of four local Democratic leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The state filing a motion for pretrial detention.

LAH: And unsurprising turn for some of Pena's neighbors. Pena lived here on the third story of this condominium, parked outside his car affixed with political bumper stickers displaying his support of Donald Trump.

We went to his condo complex where neighbors say Pena forcefully argued with anyone who disagreed with Trump's lies about election fraud.

SHARON BODE, NEIGHBOR TO SOLOMON PENA: He didn't have conversations. He had accusations and he had a way of telling people they didn't know what they were talking about.

LAH: Always about politics.

BODE: Always about politics, yeah.

LAH: Pena didn't just talk about Trump. He followed him out of state. Video appears to show Pena at three different Trump rallies in Washington, D.C. In one video clip, his name is stitched into his hat.

And in July 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona, CNN video captured a man who appears to be Pena in the rally crowd. Pena would later post a picture of himself as an attendee.

A year later, Pena ran for office in New Mexico as a Republican candidate for the statehouse. He lost last November by a landslide.

But Pena echoing Trump would not accept an election loss. Police say he targeted four Democrats to blame finding their addresses and confronting them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I went to the gate and that's where he was and he seemed agitated. He seemed a little aggressive. I did tell someone about it. They said, this guy is a felon.

SAM BREGMAN, BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Mr. Pena, he orchestrated. He made phone calls. He basically hired people to shoot at people's houses.

LAH: Pena is a convicted felon who spent years behind bars for grand larceny. One of the men he hired say Albuquerque police may have been in the same prison at the same time. What began as a political grind quickly escalated says Albuquerque's police chief.

Text messages from Pena to the other suspects all hired guns point to a greater threat. The warrant says Solomon wanted the shootings to be more aggressive to ensure better target acquisition.

BREGMAN: People are pissed off about this. I'm pissed off about this.


This goes to the heart of what we're all about in a democracy. You can't shoot guns at someone's house and just to terrorize them because they're an elected official and you have some crazy election-denying motivation behind it. That is unacceptable.


LAH (on camera): The district attorney says he, is quote, so pissed about this one that he plans to personally prosecute this case himself. Now, we did hear back from Pena's defense attorney, and she says that right now, these charges are accusations, there is a presumption of innocence, and she says she will fully defend him through this process.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ROMANS: All right, Kyung. Thank you for that.

Let's bring in former Wisconsin assistant district attorney Julius Kim, who's a managing partner of a Wisconsin law Kim and LaVoy.

Nice to see.

I want to, Julius, here's the statement from Pena's attorney, the charges against Mr. Pena are merely accusation, he has a presumption of innocence of course we all do in the American journalist system.

Talk to me about the charges, is accused of having -- does that affect what he's charged with here?

JULIUS KIM, FORMER ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY IN MILWAUKEE COUNTY, WISCONSIN: Not really, because first, of all good morning Christine, not really because as we all know, just because somebody did not commit the actual, crime in this case actually pull the trigger on the, guns does not mean it cannot be criminally prosecuted for their involvement.

There is a concept within the criminal law of being party to, crime or in a conspiracy to commit a crime. And while he may not have been the one who actually pull the trigger and shot into these houses, he coordinated the efforts allegedly. And if he did that, he under the law is just as guilty as the people who conducted the actual shootings.

ROMANS: I have to ask, you how concerned are you about the rise of political violence? You heard the D.A. in that piece, how angry -- and that is my word -- he is that this is happening at all. KIM: Yeah, I'm concerned. I think we should all be concerned. We are

seeing a political violence on the rise. Clearly, it is happening more and, more what I think is happening with regards to political violence is good in terms of the way the criminal justice system is responding to it. The justice system is responding back to him, and prosecutors are prosecuting people even Democrats and Republicans, everyone in between, for political violence.

I think that is something we need to do. Of course, there's a lot of pushback from politicians, and other influential people who are challenging the prosecutions, but I think if we keep doing what we are doing, that is pushing back against these political violence by aggressively prosecuting these set of the cases.

ROMANS: I want to bring up another criminal case that we are watching, here at the Massachusetts -- Google searches as evidence that Brian Walshe murdered his wife Anna. Do you think Brian Walsh could still be convicted of murder, and police not find an s body, which is something in the searches?

KIM: Yeah, under the law, he can. These to be a time along time ago where -- would actually be found and recovered in order to prosecute someone for murder, but the law has evolved and changed as technology has evolved and changed. And science has allowed us to get stronger and stronger evidence.

And so, based upon the fact we have seen so far, it is possible for Mr. Walshe to be prosecuted and convicted of murdering his wife, and whether those Google searches -- say you killed your wife without saying you actually killed your wife.

ROMANS: Right, really, just a terrible story there. Three little kids.

Julius Kim, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

All right. Quick hits across America right now:

The legal challenges of started against Illinois' new ban on certain firearms, and high capacity magazines. Multiple gun rights groups have filed a joint lawsuit saying the law infringes on their Second Amendment rights.

Police have identified the man who allegedly tried to drag a barista through a takeout window in Washington state using a zip tie. Matthew William Darnell made his first appearance in court on Tuesday.

A voting system error in New Jersey could flip the outcome of a local school board race. Officials say technicians uploaded votes twice and a software error failed to block it. Now the race is up for a recount.

Just ahead, the U.S. Coast Guard is tracking a suspected Russian spy ship near Hawaii. And Italy's last godfather about to face a judge after 30 years on the run.


ROMANS: New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, the youngest woman ever elected head of the government has abruptly resigned.


JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: I'm announcing that I will not be seeking reelection, and that my term as prime minister will conclude no later than 7th of February.


ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN's Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong.

She's had some challenges during her term as all leaders do. This announcement, though, was sudden and emotional. What do we know?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this came as a huge surprise to many people in New Zealand, and around the world. Earlier today, the televised address, we heard from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said that she just does not have the energy to stand for reelection in October. She said she gave her absolute all to the role of being prime minister, and plans to stand down as leader of our country by February the 7th.

She also had this to say. Take a listen.


ARDERN: I am now entering the sixth year in office, for each of these years I've given my absolute all. I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have but also, one of the more challenging. You cannot and should not do it, at least you have a full tank.