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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

2 Americans Kidnapped in Mexico Found Dead, 2 Others Hospitalized; Capitol Police Chief Blasts Tucker Carlson's Use of January 6 Video; Zelenskyy Defends Decision to Keep Forces in Besieged Bakhmut. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 08, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States, and around the world. I'm Christine Romans. This is EARLY START.

At least one, person has been detained in Mexico in connection with the death of two Americans. They were among four people kidnapped in the border city in Matamoros, officials say in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

Mexican authorities have detained Jose and would not confirm whether he's connected to a criminal organization. Nor would they shut the number of people they believe were involved.

More now from CNN's Rosa Flores across the border in Brownsville, Texas.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two of four missing Americans are back in the United States and receiving medical treatment in Texas, after being kidnapped in Mexico. After what a U.S. official tells CNN was a case of mistaken identity. Two members of the party were found dead, and one of the survivors is severely injured with a bullet wound to his leg, according to U.S. and Mexican officials.

In the party of four, Latavia Washington McGee and Eric Williams survived. Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard were killed.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON : We are providing all appropriate assistance to them and their families, and we extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased.

FLORES: They crossed the border from Brownsville, Texas, into Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday for McGee to obtain a medical procedure, according to a friend of McGee's. They drove a white mini-van with North Carolina plates across the border and got lost while trying to locate the medical clinic where they were headed, the friend told CNN.

Before they were able to locate the clinic, disturbing video shows the aftermath of the kidnapping, as heavily armed men loaded them into a white truck and transported them to various locations to evade capture, according to Mexican officials.

The Mexican president saying today during a news conference that those responsible will found and punished. A U.S. official familiar with the investigation told CNN they believe a Mexican cartel kidnapped the group after mistaking them for Haitian drug smugglers. Mexico's president saying the Americans were caught in a confrontation between two groups.

The State Department has issued its highest level four warning, do not travel to the Tamaulipas state, where the group was abducted, due to heavy crime and kidnapping in the region.

JOHN MILLER, CNN ANALYST: There are many people who cross over that border for these medical appointments.

JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Attacks on U.S. citizens are unacceptable. No matter where or under what circumstances they occur.

FLORES: McGee and Williams are now under the care of the FBI and U.S. officials are making arrangements to bring home the bodies of Brown and Woodard.

PRICE: We want to see accountability for the violence that has been inflicted on these Americans.


ROMANS: Rosa Flores, thank you for that.

I want to bring in Mike Vigil, former chief of the DEA international operations, so nice to see this, morning just a tragic reminder of how dangerous this area is, controlled by cartels, the U.S. State Department, Mike, warns Americans against traveling there. I mean, how entrenched are the cartels in some of these parts of Mexico?

MIKE VIGIL, FORMER CHIEF OF DEA INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS: Well, the cartels are very entrenched throughout Mexico, and they control large swaths of territory, and they are extremely violent. Not only do they fight among themselves, but they also have conflict with Mexican security forces.

ROMANS: Talk to us about what was likely happening behind the scenes with U.S. agencies and Mexican government trying to find these Americans.

VIGIL: Well, there was intense effort to locate these individuals, and I have to assume that when they were moving them constantly from one location to another, to include a clinic, there were individuals that probably had provided information, as to their whereabouts, because this was highly publicized in the publicity in this effort significantly helped.

ROMANS: You say the policies of the Mexican president making the country more dangerous, explain your criticism there. VIGIL: When Lopez Obrador came into power, he created this policy of

hugs and not gunshots, in other words, a non-confrontational approach to the cartels which allowed them to operate with greater impunity, and apart from that you know, in total, in this regard to the rule of law. So they are hyper, hyper-violent, and Mexico suffers from at least 35,000 deaths from cartel violence each year.

ROMANS: Mike Vigil, thank you so much for your analysis. It is a tragic story there. Thank you.

Ahead, Octavio Washington McGee's mother and daughter will speak about the horrific ordeal she faced in Mexico on "CNN THIS MORNING".


All right. The U.S. Capitol chief of police tearing into Fox host Tucker Carlson over the way he used footage from January 6th that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy gave him exclusive access to. In an internal memo obtained by CNN, Chief Tom Manger said Carlson conveniently cherry-picked from the calmer moments of our 41,000 hours of video, and called Carlson's commentary filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6th attack.

Several congressional Republicans most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Carlson's portrayal of the riot.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): With regard to the presentation on Fox News last night, I want to associate myself entirely with the opinion of the chief of the Capitol police about what happened on January 6th.


ROMANS: Remarkable.

CNN's Manu Raju has more from Washington.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has come under sharp criticism not just from Democrats, but also Republicans as well in the wake of his decision to provide security footage, internal capitol security footage about the January 6th attack, to Tucker Carlson, given that the Fox News host has long downplayed the significance, and seriousness of the deadly violence on that day, and used that footage to try and suggest that it was not as serious as has been portrayed. Something that even the U.S. capitol police chief said has been cherry-picked, saying that it is offensive the way he has portrayed, it even Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican leader said it was a mistake by Fox News to depict January 6 the way that Tucker Carlson has done it.

But Kevin McCarthy is speaking to reporters last night defending his decision as I pressed him about why he decided to move forward. REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THRE HOUSE: No, I have said

from the very beginning, transparency, and so what I want to producer everybody is exactly what I said, people could look at it, and see what is going on.

RAJU: Republicans from rank and file Republicans, to some in the Republican leadership, the Senate side, sharply disagreed with the way Carlson portrayed, also said McCarthy should provide this footage to all members of the press, and the public as a whole in order for the public itself to understand the significance of that day.

How do you feel about that?


SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): I thought it was an insurrection that, the time I still think it was an insurrection today.

RAJU: McCarthy did say he plans to provide the public and media with the rest of the security footage, roughly 40,000 hours of that. He did not see precisely when that would happen, but he is doing all this amid his efforts to try and hang on to his speakers gavel -- McCarthy had to cut a deal with some folks on the hard right of his conference, now he denies that was part of his ultimate deal to become speaker, but he did have conversation with -- about this in the run up to winning the speakership saying he would release all the security footage here.

So despite the criticism that is coming from, Democrats and Republicans, and the concerns that were raised whether Republican leader in the Senate, Kevin McCarthy standing by his decision to release the security footage to Tucker Carlson -- Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Manu, thank you for that.

Now, whatever Tucker Carlson said or says on the air, behind the scenes, we are learning he actually loathed Trump, the explosive new revelations come in legal filings made public Tuesday as part of Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox.

Now in text messages sent two days before the January 6th attack, Carlson wrote, quote, we are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights, I truly can't wait, I hate him passionately. I can't handle much more of this. That is the last four years, we are all pretending we have a lot to show for it, because admitting what a disaster has been is too tough to digest, but come on, there isn't really an upside to Trump.

That wasn't the first time Carlson's public and private opinions were in stark conflict.


OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: I would also point out that this wasn't just one time where Tucker was very honest behind the scenes about Trump, he called this postelection behavior disgusting, he said that Trump not going to Biden's inauguration was disruptive, he called him a demonic force, he called him a destroyer. There is a lot of stuff Tucker Carlson was saying behind the scenes that he never had the moral courage to say to his actual audience.


ROMANS: Among many other revelations in the latest Dominion filings, we are also learning Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch was furious on election day that his network was about to call the presidency for Joe Biden. Murdock wrote an email, quote, I hate our decision desk people.


All right. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis touting his culture war victories in his state of the state address, what he said that signals more on the way.

Plus, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy vowing to keep forces in the bettered city of Bakhmut, what is behind his decision?


ROMANS: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy defending his decision to hold the line in the besieged city of Bakhmut, despite its near encirclement now by Russian forces. In a CNN interview, Zelenskyy once withdrawing from the battered eastern city would risk Russian capture of other areas.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): This is tactical for us, we understand that after Bakhmut, they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, to Sloviansk, and it would be an open road for the Russians after Bakhmut, two other towns in Ukraine, in the Donetsk direction, in the east of Ukraine.


ROMANS: CNN's Melissa Bell live in Kyiv Ukraine with more.


And, I, and I'm wondering if Zelenskyy's military commanders are backing this decision, they are spending a lot of time and manpower in Bakhmut, the Russians are spending even more, though sort of chewing up the Russian military asked a try to take this town.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine, this has become an even more bloody battle than it was before, an extremely difficult for the infantry on both sides, so it is a good question, do they continue to see the -- President Zelenskyy, does or sending men in to what is really a killing field, a grinding machine, very few come out alive, and that happens very quickly. This is street to street combat, particularly brutal for these last few days as Russian forces try to continue their push towards the center of town.

Now, you have to bear in mind, of course on the Ukrainian side this is something we've heard from so many soldiers and commanders fighting in Bakhmut even though. It is for their land, their people, the civilians still trapped inside, they continue to fight. Of course, they have had another galvanizing moment, yesterday when this extraordinarily chilling video was released, showing soldiers, a Ukrainian soldier who went missing from around Bakhmut in early February, being brutally executed. His last words as he smoked a cigarette being for being shot by Russian forces -- glory to Ukraine.

He has become really overnight a sort of iconic image to Ukrainians and if ever they did doubt why they were fighting, or sometimes wonder about the amount of losses, somehow the Russians seem to keep reminding them of why they are there -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that in Kyiv for us.

Be sure to watch more of president Zelenskyy's exclusive interview with our Wolf Blitzer at 9:00 Eastern.

All right. Now, to northern Egypt where at least two people were killed, 16 others injured after a passenger train crashed into a platform just north of Cairo. You can see crowds gathering around the crash site, watching a crane clear some of the wreckage. The Egyptian transport minister promised in a statement to investigate the cause of that crash, and identify those responsible.

Coming up, a former Maryland governor urges the GOP to watch out for a massive pileup of 2024 candidates.

And he just wanted to play ball, watch one of the cutest delays during a soccer game.



ROMANS: All right. Quarterback Lamar Jackson's future with the Ravens is in limbo as the team plays deal or no deal.

Andy Scholes has this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, good morning, Christine, so Lamar Jackson is his own agent, he has been negotiating with the Ravens for two years now on an extension but yesterday Baltimore placed in an exclusive franchise tag on Jackson, basically saying, go find the deal you think you deserve, then come back to us.

So Jackson now has the power to go negotiate with anyone, then the ravens have a right to match a deal he gets, or take two first round picks as compensation. Now it his team is going to step and give Jackson the deal he's looking for. The Ravens in a statement said they will continue to negotiate with Jackson and still hope to sign him long term.

Now, USC offline You'll see offensive linemen Andrew Vorhees meanwhile likely going to miss his rookie season after tearing his ACL at the NFL combine, before he still wanted to do his bench press workout, and with good reason. He benched 225 pounds 38 times, it is time for the most in combine this year. The record, if you are wondering, is 51.

All right. In the Knicks' nine-game win streak is no more, thanks to the Hornets. Minutes to go on this one, Kelly Oubre Jr. going to be in the corner, lead to five, that is pretty much putting this one away. The Hornets went 112-105, Knicks were playing without Jalen Brunson for a second game due to a sore foot.

All right. In the L.A. meanwhile, Lakers retiring their their former superstar Pau Gasol's number last night. Gasol won two titles with the team alongside his good friend Kobe Bryant, and puts his jersey right next to Kobe's in the rafters. Gasol was fighting back tears as they played in old video of Kobe talking about his jersey one day being retired.


PAUL GASOL, 6-TIME NBA ALL-STAR: I can't go on without talking about the person that I don't see. The rather than elevated me, inspired me, challenged me to be a better player, just to be a better man overall.

I missed him so much, like many of us do. I love him, I wish she was here with Gigi, I really do. I think you will be proud. He was looking forward to this moment. So love you brother.


SCHOLES: All right, and there is no such thing as a given in college basketball, but Gonzaga making it to the NCAA tournament, pretty close. The Zags punching their ticket for the 24th season in a row after crushing St. Mary 77-51 in the West Coast conference title game last night, leading the Bulldogs with 18 points, becoming Gonzaga's all time leading score.

Finally, stop what you are doing, watch the cutest interruption in a soccer game you will ever see. Look at this, a dog ran out on the field, and -- apparently wanted to play because they made a beeline right through the ball, started biting it.

A stadium worker scooped up the dog, and carried off the field.


Look at, it Christine, the dog has a big bold smile. He didn't seem to mind one bit. I love, it right when he got on the field, he saw the ball bouncing, and just turned, went right for it.

ROMANS: That is so cute. That is game play everyone can love, just a couple minutes.

SCHOLES: That might be a thing. Maybe my game is not going, it is boring, send the dog out there get the crowd involved.

ROMANS: Exactly. All right. Nice to see you, Andy Scholes. Thanks, Andy.

All right. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signaling another round of culture wars is on the way. What he said in his state of the state address.

And five women suing Texas over the states abortion ban. Why they say it but in their lives that risk.


ROMANS: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is striking a different stone in his state of the state speech Tuesday.

The potential GOP presidential candidate, mostly, mostly away veered away from divisive rhetoric that's been a hallmark of his recent speeches. You know, he never used the word woke, not even once. But he didn't leave the culture wars entirely behind.