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Inside Politics

School Police Chief To CNN: "I Am In Contact With DPS Every Day"; Official: Teacher Closed Door Gunman Used, But It Didn't Lock; Changing Stories: New Details Don't Match Officials' Early Statements; New Aid To Ukraine As Russia Gains Momentum On Battlefield; U.S. Sending More Advanced Weapons To Thwart Russian Gains; Yellen: "I Was Wrong" That Inflation Would Be Transitory; Eurozone Inflation At Record High 8 Percent; Biden Meets With Yellen, Powell Amid Inflation Worries. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 01, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. CNN exclusive, the school police chief in Uvalde, Texas speaks publicly for the first time since the shooting. He says, he is cooperating with investigators. And it's not what the state said yesterday.

Plus, President Biden authorizes sophisticated new rockets for Ukraine with the goal of slowing Russian gains in the east, but there is a catch. They cannot be fired across the border into Russia. And gas prices jumped $0.05 overnight to another record. This as the White House scrambles to deal with high inflation.

We begin though, in Uvalde. With that very important CNN exclusive. A conversation with the school's police chief, the state says made that decision not to storm the classroom where 19 students and two teachers were slaughtered.

Chief Pete Arredondo tells CNN he is "in contact with DPS every day." That is contrary to what DPS, the State Department of Public Safety said just yesterday. The chief today also repeatedly declining to explain his actions what DPS calls his wrong decision, not to follow the protocols and storm that classroom.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz spoke with the chief. Shimon, critical, important reporting. What did the chief say?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. It's really critical, because we need to get his side of the story. We've been looking for him. We've been trying to get his side of the story after it was revealed that he was the man who made the decision not to storm that room, that classroom where the gunman was, and that it took over an hour for the police to eventually take him out. So, we spotted him, we found him going into work this morning, and we ask them those questions. He obviously dodged us. He didn't want to answer any of those questions. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHIEF PETE ARREDONDO, UVALDE SCHOOL DISTRICT POLICE: We have people in our community being very respectful.

PROKUPECZ: The (crosstalk) saying that you were responsible for the decision - going to that room. How do you prepare yourself?

ARREDONDO: We're going to be respectful to the family.

PROKUPECZ: I understand that you have an opportunity (crosstalk)

ARREDONDO: We're going to do that eventually, obviously.


ARREDONDO: And whenever this is done, and let the families quit grieving, then we'll do that, obviously. And just, so everybody knows, we've been in contact with DPS every day.

PROKUPECZ: They say, you're not. They say that you're not cooperating.

ARREDONDO: I've been on the phone with them every day.

PROKUPECZ: But they are saying you're not cooperating.


PROKUPECZ: What is your reaction? What is your reaction, sir?


PROKUPECZ: And John, you know, obviously not wanting to answer the key question here. The chief, saying that he'll address that when the families stop grieving. But I'm not sure any of these families are ever going to stop grieving.

Certainly, this community, people I've been talking to families, people who live here, they need an explanation of from the police on what exactly, when you're especially, when we've been given so much bad information, information that contradicts other information that we've been given. And that's the whole point of this, to get answers for these people who live here and for these families, John.

KING: And so, Shimon, help me if we can, clarify this because you just, in your conversation there with the chief. He says he's on the phone with DPS every day. Every day he says. DPS said this yesterday. Uvalde PD and Uvalde ISD, that's the school district are still cooperating. However, the chief of police for ISD has yet to respond for Rangers requests for a follow up interview they made a couple of days ago.

So, the DPS says the chief is not helping coordinate this interview. Is this semantics that he may be in touch with them, but he's not ready to cooperate? Is this lawyer conversation? Or is this yet again, two very different accounts?

PROKUPECZ: Right. John, you make an excellent point there. It could be that. It could be that he has lawyers that are communicating with DPS investigators. But the fact is DPS went on the record yesterday in a statement to CNN saying that the school district is cooperating, that the local police is cooperating that they've had follow up questions for this chief, and that he has not returned our calls and he has not answered their follow up questions. He is key to their investigation, because obviously they need to know exactly what he was thinking.

KING: And Shimon, is it also a new statement from the school district today. Helped me understand the importance. There's been a debate and a change in the timeline. A teacher propped open the door at the back of the school. Initially, we thought the door was left open. Now the school says the door was closed but left unlocked. What's the new information today?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So that information comes from the police. But interestingly enough, John, it came from DPS, the state investigators that didn't come out until the teachers' lawyer put that information out through a local newspaper. And it was after that that we learned DPS confirming that they found new information that shows that the teacher did close the door but that it didn't lock.


When I was over at the school earlier, I tried to get answers to that, the school spokesperson obviously refusing to answer those questions. They have put out a statement, simply just saying that they're cooperating with investigators, and that also that students will not be returning to that school. But they are not answering many of the critical questions, that certainly families out here have had, the community here has had. And so, we wait. There may be a report, John, here that comes out from state investigators on Friday, but we'll see.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, on the ground for us. Shimon, I just want to congratulate you and your team. You're proving right there the value of persistent, polite, respectful but forceful reporting. That's the way to get answers in this situation. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you. With us now to share his insights and expertise is Anthony Barksdale. He's the former acting police commissioner, and a CNN law enforcement analyst.

Commissioner Barksdale, great to see you on this day. Just because of your experience. You heard the chief there. He says he's not talking out of respect for the families. And because these burials are ongoing. I suspect many of the families would take offense at that. Do you see a chief there who's maybe not talking because his lawyers have told him, be careful?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, sir, I do. This chief, I am really concerned with what I see coming from this chief. First of all, the parents will never stop grieving. So, answer the questions now. Give them what they are owed due to his failure, the truth. And Shimon is doing everything that a commander would do when things go wrong in a police operation.

The after-action review, you go in a room with fellow commanders and all who are involved in that incident. And you answer for what you did. You own it. As the incident commander, that chief needs to own what he did. Answer the questions now. But the way this is going, he's going to have to wind up answering questions under oath. Because Shimon can't swear to hi, CNN can't swear a man.

So hopefully, President Biden, our Attorney General Garland, Assistant Attorney General Gupta, start getting a little more involved in this tragedy. I'm sick of it. And all law enforcement executives should also be sick of what we're seeing in Texas.

KING: Help me also Commissioner, understand sometimes there are language differences in the sense that you may as a cop, as an investigator may communicate with language that the average person hears quite differently. When the chief says, I'm in contact with a DPS every day. If I'm a suspect, or from somebody, just a person of interest that you want to talk to an investigation. I might be in touch with you every day but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm cooperating, right?

BARKSDALE: That's right. Just because you're in touch or on the phone or whatever, doesn't mean that you're answering the questions. It does not mean that you are honestly giving the facts that the investigators need. So, John, you are 100 percent correct. And I'm sorry if I talk too much like a cop.

KING: That's why I appreciate the side because I understand your frustration with this as the good cops see the mistakes being made, or at least the lack of transparency, and they want to hear the answers. I appreciate this. And part of the issue here, it's not just the chief, he's obviously central to this.

The state says, he's the one who made the decision to not what everyone else says follow the protocols, go into the classroom. But we've seen just a number, a number of changes, so they originally said the back door had been propped up by a teacher.

Now they say the back door was closed, but not locked. The school police officer engaged the shooter. We once heard that there was a school resource officer there, now they say there was no school resource officer there on site when it happened.

The gunman was wearing body armor, was an initial account that it was he wearing a tactical vest, but no body armor. The suspect barricaded himself in the classroom then no, there was no barricade, the door was simply locked. Just in terms of a, A, for the families, 21 families who lost a loved one, then a grieving town.

And then just the larger questions of transparency. How important is it that each of these things be cleared up once and for all, so that we're not having a conversation next week about some other detail that was reported to be A, but now Z?

BARKSDALE: John, it's very important to account for every second of this tragedy. Every second, especially the moment where this chief decided that it was no longer an active shooter and to hold as if though it's a hostage barricade. It is crucial. The families deserve these answers. And what we all just saw it doesn't seem like that's going to be coming anytime soon from this chief.


KING: Anthony Barksdale, thank you sir, as always for your important insights into the point. You were making the community in Uvalde, continuing on this day to mourn, the 19 students and two teachers who were killed. There are funerals today. Several funerals today for some of the victims, including 10-year-old Jose Manuel Flores Jr. and teacher Irma Garcia funeral services, 10-year-old victims, Nevaeh Bravo, Jayce Luevanos and Jailah Silguero.

This heartwarming development. The family business in Texas is donated. You see them their custom caskets for some of the victims, personalizing them to match each victim, including softball, TikTok and spider man themes.




KING: The United States and Germany making major new weapons commitments to Ukraine today, as the war approaches the 100-day mark. And as Russian forces make strategic progress in the Donbass region, here in the eastern part of the country. Germany says, it will now send its most sophisticated battlefield air defense system to Ukraine. The United States sending new rockets that can strike targets just shy of 50 miles away, far short of the 200-mile range that Ukraine had requested.

President Biden outlining this decision in a New York Times Op-Ed today, saying the new rocket system will allow Ukraine to quote more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield in Ukraine. That on the battlefield in Ukraine is the critical context. The White House deputy national security adviser making clear here, the president does not want these new U.S. rocket systems fired into Russian territory.


JONATHAN FINER, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We believe that this does meet their needs. We believe that they are very satisfied with what they're providing. And yes, as you indicated, we have asked the Ukrainians for assurances that they will not use these systems to strike inside Russia.


KING: CNN's Barbara Starr, live for us at the Pentagon. Barbara, I want to bring up some of this new aid package here. And obviously at the top of the list, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, more sophisticated weapons, more precise targeting than anything sent previously. There are other systems as well. But as I show some - show our viewers just what these new rockets look like and how they fire. Explain, what is the capability? Why is this important? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is range and precision, John, exactly what you're talking about, they can hit targets 49-50 miles away, that is a much longer range than the artillery that the U.S. has given the Ukrainian so far. That's more in the 18 to 20-mile range. The Ukrainians need to be able to reach out and touch and kill Russian formations in eastern Ukraine.

This is a step towards getting them there. But as you say, not as much as Ukraine wanted, they wanted something much longer range. The Biden administration said no, there is concern at this point, as this war grinds on, that nothing be introduced into the battlefield, that could lead to a sudden Russian escalation.

KING: That's why I brought this map back up as you speak, Barbara. Just assuming that most of the fighting is over here in the east right now. If you bring these new mobile rocket systems in, if you're talking about, so you can fire in a range, say in here where the fighting is but not, take it outside of the borders into Russia. Why?

STARR: Well, look, the Russians are very adamant in their rhetoric and their language. Would they live up to it? That's the question. They say, it's escalatory. They want to keep this all under control. They believe they are making progress in eastern Ukraine. And in fact, they are. It may be slow. It may be incremental. But this is something the Russians are achieving.

They are beginning to take more territory in eastern Ukraine. They're beginning to consolidate those gains. They are depopulating, eastern Ukraine shipping thousands of Ukrainians out shipping them to camps in Russia. It will be very difficult to see how the Ukrainians can quickly if at all, turn it around in eastern Ukraine. They want bigger, heavier weapons in Ukraine. The Ukrainians do and of course, the Russians don't want to see them get back.

KING: And that does - it gets back. Let's follow on the why now part of it. And as we do so, I just want to show this time lapse, so our viewers can understand. This goes back to March 5. This goes back aways in the war. But as you watch it play out, Russia loses territory up here. Ukrainians, that's the yellow, taking it back.

But if you look at what's happened here, especially in this month Barbara, now by some estimates, Russia started this war with Crimea, the separatists' territories about 30 percent of the Donbass region over here. This is the Donbass here, about 30 percent, now up to 65 percent or 70 percent. So, why now and is it too late?

STARR: You know, the timeline, that's the critical question. In fact, just a few days ago, here at the Pentagon they were talking about. They know the clock is ticking. That time is not on the side of the Ukrainians. Look, it is a long-standing tenet that wars end at the negotiating table. The problem right now and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is talking about this, this war may have a fairly ambiguous ending.

There is now a projection that this could go on for months, dragging on for months. The Ukrainians want to get to the negotiating table in their strongest position possible. That's what the U.S. is hoping to do. Give them enough weapons to push back against Russia, even just a bit and back and get them to the negotiating table.


The hope is in a stronger negotiating position against Moscow. But will that work? Because of course right now, Vladimir Putin, still his troops may be inept at this point. But he has plenty of troops, he has plenty of weapons, plenty of equipment. He can drag this on for months. The U.S., the allies and the Ukrainians know that. John?

KING: Barbara Starr, live at Pentagon. Barbara, thank you so much. Keep in touch as this plays out. Up next for us. The treasury secretary admits, she miscalculated. How long high inflation would last? What that means for your family budget and what it likely means for midterm politics?




KING: Inflation, rising food prices, gas inching towards $5 a gallon. That's not what a president wants to face, the summer before a midterm election. Overnight, the price of gas jumped again. Now it is averaging $4.67 a gallon. That's up from $3, one year ago. You see this, of course, reflected in the president's job approval numbers, now at 40 percent, according to the latest CNN poll. But don't call it a crisis, the White House says, "we're just in a difficult time right now."

With me to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of The Daily Beast, CNN's Eva McKend, and Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post. OK, let's accept for the sake of argument that we're just in a difficult time right now. They say the month of June is going to be about the economy. They say that inflation is their number one priority right now. Just yesterday, the treasury secretary on CNN said this.


JANET YELLEN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take. As I mentioned, there have been unanticipated and large shocks to the economy.


KING: We should welcome transparency, people who understand, I got that wrong. People things change, things changed. However, in this political environment, that's a Republican ad in the making.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I mean, I feel like Republican operatives are watching that, watching any moment that they could just quickly clip and save, and put into a 30nd ad, which is why the White House has been and administration officials have been so careful to not give them that talking point earlier in the day, Brian Deese, was actually asked a very similar question in the briefing room. And he refused to say, it was a mistake to call inflation transitory, like the administration constantly done.

And I do think it was notable that a treasury official kind of downplayed, Secretary Yellen's comments almost immediately afterwards, saying, you know, you have to put in the context of all the unexpected crises, Ukraine, other issues that we face sense, but certainly it's a challenge on multiple fronts, but a certainly a challenge communicating for the Biden administration.

KING: And you know, facts matter, and context matter. We can just show you right now, this is the Eurozone. Look at the Eurozone. This is a global problem right now. And it's because of COVID, the pandemic and supply chain issues, and now the war in Ukraine. But that's European inflation. You see the right, you don't need to even read the numbers, you just see the right side, arrow up.

So, this is a global issue, but then, you know, so when Janet Yellen says there are unexpected things happening in the world, when the president says is a global problem, they're telling the truth. But he's in charge, voters go to the polls in November. History tells us voting in a tough climate like this, voting is the stick, the people in charge of the pin yada.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, they absolutely will get blamed for this, no matter what. I think what we see now is that they are messaging hard on this, but they are fighting a battle that they cannot win. And it seems as though President Biden frankly is kind of out of options, the policy prescription that he would have liked to see to address some of these issues with build back better, members of his own party don't support. So, what we're seeing now is them, kind of trying to throw everything possible out at this. But really, this is beyond the president's control.

KING: You say everything, it's also everyone, you know, that you have the president out, writing an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal about inflation yesterday. The vice president was out traveling. They say the cabinet and other key members are going to be traveling around the country, and they're popping up on television saying, we know it's a problem, we're trying.


BRIAN DEESE, DIRECTOR. NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: The President is making fighting inflation, his top economic priority.

YELLEN: He realizes, we all realize what an important and huge burden inflation is placing on American households.

JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA PRESIDENT: My plan is address inflation, starts with a simple proposition. Respect the Fed, respect the Feds independence.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Again, it's this fascinating political moment where at that up, the American people want to see the people in charge trying to do something about it. And if what you tried today doesn't work, try something else tomorrow. So, you see that. The other issue though, is to your point, president doesn't have a ton of tools. If they say, we're trying harder. We're on top of this. It's the number one priority. And a month from now, six weeks from now, even closer to election day, the numbers haven't moved much than what?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: And they're also doing this, I feel your pain. We know this is a problem. Like we know this is hurting your family, as Biden wrote in the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. You know, one of his biggest campaign promises was, you know, lifting up the middle class, and this is something that is definitely hurting the middle class.

I mean, the other issue here, I think, is over promising and underperforming a little bit. This whole at the beginning, calling a transitory, kind of downplaying inflation. We're actually seeing several administration officials do this on the idea of a recession coming, saying that no, no, no, there's all these jobs, like there are so many things to talk about, so many good things to talk about, and perhaps not preparing if this is going to happen, not even letting in the daylight that this might be on the horizon for people and preparing some folks for the potential of the contraction of the economy.

KIM: And quickly to that point. I mean, President Biden himself was asked in Tokyo by a reporter, like should Americans be preparing for recession? And his one-word answer was no, we'll see how much if that comes back at all in the coming months.