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Gunman Kills 10 at California Ballroom Dance Club; Six More Classified Documents Seized at Biden's Home; Joe Biden's Chief of Staff Ron Klain to Soon Leave White House. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired January 23, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, the mystery of the Monterey Park mass shooting. What was the suspect's motive? Plus, more classified documents discovered at President Biden's private home. Where does it end? And the president about to get a new top aide at the White House. Why Ron Klain is out and Jeff Zients is in.

All right, good Monday morning to all of you, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans. Officials in southern California last night identifying the gunman who killed ten people and wounded another ten at a ballroom in Monterey Park, that's east of downtown L.A.

He is 72-year-old Huu Can Tran. Authorities say he died by suicide hours later after police stopped him at a shopping center 45 minutes away in Torrance.


ROBERT LUNA, SHERIFF, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: When officers exited their patrol vehicle to contact the occupant, they heard one gunshot coming from within the van. Our sheriffs S.W.A.T. team approached and cleared the van and determined the suspect sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was pronounced dead at the scene.


ROMANS: L.A. Sheriff Robert Luna says the shooter's motive is still under investigation. CNN's Natasha Chen is on the ground for us in Monterey Park with more.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): On Sunday evening on lunar new year, when this community was supposed to be celebrating, law enforcement gave a press conference confirming that a man they had cornered in a white van in Torrance, California, was, in fact, the shooter of this Monterey Park scene, just a couple of blocks away from us.

Where on Saturday night, he opened fire, police said, killing ten people and almost 24 hours later, still seven people are in the hospital. Now, we understand that the ages of the victims range in the 50s, 60s and beyond. The coroner's office began to take away remains on Sunday afternoon, and they're still in the process of identifying the people who died.

Now, it took about 12 hours for police to find this person in Torrance, about 30 miles southwest of Monterey Park. This after police say that he had gone from this dance hall in Monterey Park to a different one in Alhambra, a city north of where we are. That's where law enforcement says that person matching the same suspect description went in armed, and that a couple of people actually wrestled with him, tackled him and they was able -- they were able to recover the weapon that he had.

And that's how police were able to also recover that weapon and begin to trace who this person might be. Now, this community is still reeling and stunned after this mass shooting happened just after the first day of the city of Monterey Park's huge lunar new year festival that had more than 100,000 people on these streets.

And many of the people speaking at the press conference, local leaders, were at those festivities just a couple of hours before this tragedy. They have reassured the community that they are now safe, that the person that police say died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound when police cornered him in Torrance, that person is no longer with us, as they put it, and that there's no longer a threat to the community.

And this is indeed a huge blow to the predominantly Asian community in Monterey Park here, again, about to celebrate the lunar new year, supposedly a time for joy, for health and prosperity. Instead, having to mourn the loss of their neighbors and loved ones. Natasha Chen, CNN, Monterey Park, California.


ROMANS: Yes, Natasha, thank you for that. President Biden honoring the victims in Monterey Park, ordering the flags at the White House and other federal buildings lowered to half-staff through sunset Thursday. Vice President Kamala Harris, a California native, also remembering the victims during a speech on Sunday.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A time of a cultural celebration, and yet another community has been torn apart by senseless gun violence. So, Doug and I joined the president and Dr. Biden, and I know everyone here in mourning for those who were killed, as we pray for those who are injured, and as we grieve for those many people whose lives are forever changed.



ROMANS: The vice president was in Florida to mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe versus Wade, the abortion precedent overturned by the court last year. All right, police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are searching for at least one suspect in a nightclub shooting that left 12 people injured, police are calling the Sunday morning shooting at the Dior Bar & Lounge a targeted attack.

Witnesses say a fight broke out between two groups of customers and several people pulled out guns and started shooting. Three victims sustained life-threatening injuries. The club was hosting a back-to- school party for Louisiana state and Southern University students at the time of the shooting.

FBI investigators finding more classified material while searching President Biden's Wilmington, Delaware, home. According to the president's attorney, the 13-hour search turned up six items containing documents with classified markings, some of them from Biden's service in the Senate and some from his tenure as vice president. Top Democrats conceding the drip of documents discoveries is damaging Biden.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Let's be honest about it, when that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it because it's not supposed to happen. Whether it was the fault of a staffer or attorney, it makes no difference. The elected official bears ultimate responsibility.


ROMANS: FBI agents also seized some notes Biden wrote by hand when he was vice president. All right, a shakeup at the highest levels of the Biden administration, Ron Klain out as White House chief of staff. He's expected to step down in the coming weeks. Klain's replacement, Jeff Zients is the man who ran President Biden's COVID response, he also served in high-ranking roles in the Obama administration.

Jasmine Wright live this Monday morning from Washington for us. Hi, Jasmine. Why the move to replace Ron Klain and how did the president decide on his replacement?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Christine, well, ultimately, it was Ron Klain's decision to leave his official post at the Biden White House. Now, sources told us that he had been mulling the decision since that November midterm election. And we, of course, know how grueling being chief of staff and all that it comes with is.

So Ron Klain made that decision. Now, there is no end date for him exactly announced yet, though. Sources tell us that he's looking at somewhere after State of the Union that's slated for February 7th. Now Zients has been picked by President Biden to come in. We know that he really chaired that COVID recovery response for him, but of course, he comes at a time when Biden is facing real political head winds.

Just to name a few, the Republican investigations into facets of his administration, the special investigation by the DOJ into his handling of classified documents, of course, now that he is overseeing a divided government, we have to take a look at how his domestic agenda may be stymied by those house Republicans and of course, that 2024 expected re-election run that he is expected to amount in the next few weeks.

So, of course, a lot of things that Zients will have on his plate when he comes in as chief of staff -- not even to mention just the big shoes of Ron Klain's that he will have to fill as Ron Klain has been one of the more visible chiefs of staff we can remember in the last few administrations as well as he's well liked in the building. He's often working until late hours, and of course, tweets a lot.

Folks say that we will not see that as much from Zients, if at all. But of course, Zients, even though, he hasn't been in the Biden orbit like Klain for those last decades, he is well liked within the administration. He hooked up with him during the transition, helped during that period, and also ran that COVID response. And he finds that folks who work for him become very loyal under his tenure.

And now, he will have to not only help Biden work the divided government, but he's also seen as a chief of staff, which is one of the reasons why Biden picked him as someone who can implement those large policies that President Biden and the White House were able to shepherd through Congress over the last year. But of course, he will have his work cut out for him when President Biden has really kind of a tumultuous next few months while in office.

ROMANS: A lot to do, all right, Jasmine, nice to see you this morning. Thank you. All right, the gun police say a first grader, a 6- year-old used to shoot his teacher in Newport News, Virginia, was kept on the top shelf of his mother's bedroom closet. That's according to the attorney representing the child's family. Who tells CNN the gun had been secured by a trigger lock.

It's not clear how the 6-year-old was able to reach or unlock the weapon. The gun was legally purchased by the child's mother who could face charges. Teacher Abby Zwerner has been released from the hospital and will continue her recovery from home. All right, now, to the war in Ukraine. Germany still refusing to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv despite mounting pressure from the West.

But now, the Germans are saying, they will not block Poland from sending them, if asked. Frederik Pleitgen live from Kyiv. Fred, how significant is this, I guess, apparent compromise by Germany?


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Christine. This was the German foreign minister saying this. Now, it really is still very much unclear whether or not, that is the German policy to allow Poland to send those tanks if they want to or whether or not she might have gotten ahead of herself saying that.

One of the things we do know though, Christine, is that the Poles have absolutely been ripping into the Germans. In fact, the Polish Prime Minister saying that Poland will not allow Ukraine to bleed to death essentially, while the Germans are looking on. Now, this despite the fact that Germany definitely has sent a lot more modern weapons to Ukraine than Poland has.

In fact, Germany is probably in third place right now if you look at for instance air defense capabilities, infantry fighting vehicles, but also those multiple rocket launching systems that also the U.S. has sent, which have been so effective on the battlefield. Nevertheless, main battle tanks are right now the main thing that the Ukrainians say they absolutely need to make advances, but also to defend against the Russians as well.

The Germans are saying, as of right now, that they have not gotten an official request yet from the Poles to allow those tanks to be exported to Ukraine. So that's something that's still in the works. The Germans have also been saying that they want the U.S. to give Ukraine M1 Abrams tanks if the Germans are going to give the Leopards to Ukraine.

The U.S. says -- said it will not give the Abrams so far. So, there is still a lot to be sorted out there, even though it seems as though some incremental headway might be made, one of the interesting things that we learned, Christine, we spoke to some top level Ukrainian officials over the weekend. They say they need around 3 to 400 western-made battle tanks to really turn the tide here, Christine --

ROMANS: Wow, 3 to 400. All right, Fred Pleitgen for us in Kyiv. Thanks, Fred. A mass shooting in Monterey Park leaving ten dead, the suspected gunman also found dead, what we know about his motive, next. Plus, officials in Atlanta calling weekend protests an act of domestic terrorism. And a spike in smuggling at the southern border, not drugs, eggs.




REP. JUDY CHU (D-CA): I still have questions in my mind, which is, what was the motive for this shooter? Did he have a mental illness? Was he a domestic violence abuser? How did he get these guns? And was it through legal means or not?


ROMANS: So many questions this morning with the gunman in the Monterey Park shooting now dead. Huu Can Tran shot and killed himself in a white cargo van, hours after opening fire at a dance studio, killing ten people and wounding several others. The L.A. County Sheriff's department obtained a search warrant for the shooter's home in a senior community in Hemet, California.

Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst, Jonathan Wackrow, so nice to see you this morning for such a terrible reason. What do you think, Jonathan, investigators are looking for at the gunman's home as they try to -- try to determine what the motive is here? JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, you bring up

that next phase, right? If you think about this investigation and the incident as a whole, the arc of the incident is really transitioning into that investigative phase to answer, you know, motive, why? Why did this, you know, 72-year-old man walk into essentially what was a pillar of the community, it's not just a dance studio, it was really a part of the community where people, you know, went for enjoyment.

You know, what type of signal was that? So law enforcement right now is trying to go through and answer that question why? The challenge that they face right now, Christine, is that the shooter, the attacker is dead through a self-inflicted wound, so they don't have the opportunity to interview him. So what can they do?

So absent of a clear motive as stated by the shooter, what they can do is, they can actually take this from a threat perspective. And I think if they look back at other investigations, targeted acts of violence like this are typically in response to some type of grievance. So that's what they're going to focus in on.

They're going to interview friends. They're going to interview family members. They're going to understand everything about this person's life to figure out what triggered this individual to walk into this dance studio and create, you know, and create such havoc and cause such trauma --

ROMANS: Yes --

WACKROW: To the community.

ROMANS: Yes, walking into the dance studio and then going to another location where these early reports are, he was disarmed and maybe had been injured in being disarmed, and then walked into an emergency room, and then found later in this white van. Just a remarkable set of circumstances for law enforcement to try to unravel.

We know that one of the weapons the shooter possessed was a magazine- fed semiautomatic assault pistol with an extended magazine. It's illegal to possess that in California. The state with one of the nation's strictest gun laws, but here we are again. Talk to me about --


ROMANS: The law enforcement angle here, how you look deeper into how he obtained this weapon.

WACKROW: So that's exactly where, you know, the federal assistant from law enforcement ATF is going to work with local and state officials to actually figure out how did this individual, you know, obtain this weapon? Why did he have it? Again, we look at these types of weapons, they have a high rate of fire.

We see firsthand, again, the damage and destruction that they can cause, you know, when in the hands of the wrong person. But you know, it goes beyond that. I mean, this is intent, right? So, this person utilized this platform with the intent to cause harm. But it also ties into a few other things that investigators are looking at. Think about like the white van, right?

The white van actually, you know, we saw reporting and we heard during the press conference yesterday, the white van actually had stolen license plates on it. Again, was this an attempt to try to, you know, avoid, you know, detection from police? When were those, you know, plates put on?


This is the challenge that law enforcement has. There's all of these data points that they're putting together to try to get to that motive and start bringing closure to those, you know, the victims and victims' families around, you know, why did this happen?

ROMANS: All right, Jonathan Wackrow helping us understand it a little more. CNN law enforcement analyst, thank you.

WACKROW: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, quick hits across America now. Six people face charges including domestic terrorism and arson after protests in Atlanta, Saturday. The demonstrations were over a controversial police training facility and the fatal shooting of an activist by police. A 76-year-old woman could be charged with first degree murder after police say she shot her terminally ill husband to death at a Daytona Beach hospital this weekend. They say it was intended as a murder suicide, but she couldn't go through with shooting herself.

In Houston, a pilot walked away uninjured after his small plane clipped the tip -- top rather, of an 18 wheeler before crashing on to the highway, then catching fire. Officials say, the driver of the big rig was also unharmed. Wow. Right, a new challenge for border agents. Smugglers trying to sneak into the United States with contraband eggs. And tens of thousands of Israelis taking to the streets to send a message to Benjamin Netanyahu.



ROMANS: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complied with a court order and fired a key far-right ally from his cabinet as more than a 100,000 people took to the streets this weekend. Remarkable. They're protesting the new government's plans for judicial reforms allowing parliament to overturn high court decisions.

Let's go to CNN's Hadas Gold live in Jerusalem. The pictures just show so many people there, protests have been going on for weeks over these reforms. What more can you tell us?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the third week that people have come out to protest against government in these reforms, and the numbers are just growing. Eighty thousand last week, we were out there with them in the pouring rain. And then on Saturday, more than 100,000 not just in Tel Aviv, but tens of thousands more in cities all around Israel.

And they're not just protesting against this new right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, but specifically, against these proposed judicial reforms that were unveiled just a few weeks ago. And as you noted, among them is the possibility that the parliament which would essentially mean whatever party is in power would be able to overturn Supreme Court rulings.

Now, there are other reforms in this package, including allowing politicians to have more of a say in what judges are appointed, but it's these specific reforms that got these protesters out on the streets. Now, I should note, Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies say that these reforms are a long-time coming, that they're needed.

They claim that the Supreme Court is overreaching in some of its rulings, but the opponents, these protests including former Prime Minister Yair Lapid and the president of the Supreme Court say that these reforms will destroy the independence of the judiciary, and the firing of that right-wing minister that you mentioned, Aryeh Deri, that plays into this.

Because the Supreme Court is the one that forced Benjamin Netanyahu's hand to fire this minister because of his previous criminal convictions. But Netanyahu has vowed to bring him back, and one of the few venues opened to bring this person back would be to amend the basic law of this, which is essentially Israel's constitution, that would allow the government to prevent the Supreme Court from interfering in ministerial appointments.

So, you can just see how the firing of this minister and this ongoing raging debate are all going to really just come to a head here in the coming weeks. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Hadas Gold for us this morning from Jerusalem, thank you. A prominent Chinese government scientist says about 80 percent of the country has been infected with COVID-19, as more than 2 billion people are expected to travel for the 40-day lunar new year season following the end of virus restrictions.

CNN's Ivan Watson joins us live from Hong Kong. Ivan, Chinese health authorities have also said that visits to clinics are down and that infections have peaked. I'm asking, how reliable are these statements given that China has so under-reported deaths and infections?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, that is the big question here because for much of December and the beginning of January, officially, the government was saying that only 40 people had died of COVID. And then overnight, about a week into January, it suddenly said, actually 60,000 people had died in hospitals of COVID from kind of the beginning of December to the beginning of January.

Another 12,600 people, the government says have died of COVID in hospitals over the course of the last week. The World Health Organization has said on the record, criticized China, for under- reporting the death toll. But now, here you have this official who is trying to argue that the peak of the infections is past. And we just don't know because we have seen overwhelmed hospitals in

the more developed cities in the east of the country. The big question is, you've got the biggest holiday of the Chinese calendar, which is the lunar new year, this has described pre-pandemic times as the world's largest annual human migration.

It's when billions of people move around to go see their families. And Chinese have not been able to do this for the last three years because of restrictions due to COVID. Now, they can move. And now, we're getting these estimates of huge numbers of people on the road, in planes, on trains as you mentioned.

Estimates that by the end of this 40-day spring festivals, more than 2 billion passenger travel units would have taken place. And the big question is going to be, will the virus be brought to less developed parts of China? And what will the impact be in areas that don't have as developed healthcare systems. And we're just going to have to wait and watch and see.

ROMANS: Yes, absolutely. All right, Ivan Watson for us in Hong Kong. Thanks, Ivan.