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Suspect in Custody After 24-Hour Murder Rampage in Memphis; County Official Charged with Killing Las Vegas Reporter; Steve Bannon to Surrender in New York State Indictment; Michigan GOP Leader Tells Poll Workers They're Secret Agents. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2022 - 07:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Bump into them, well, I would if I saw that portrait of Obama. I certainly would.

NEW DAY continues right now.

Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It's Thursday, September 8th. I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

And the Memphis mayor is calling it a senseless murder rampage. Four people are dead this morning, three others are hurt, after a gunman went on a shooting spree that all but shut down the city. This began around 1:00 yesterday morning. It continued through the late evening hours last night. A shelter in place order was issued as police searched for the suspect.


MAYOR JIM STRICKLAND, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: And I'm angry for our citizens who had to shelter in place for their own safety until this suspect was caught. This is no way for us to live, and it is not acceptable.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Police say they arrested 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly after a high-speed chase. The Memphis mayor says the suspect was previously charged with criminal attempted first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated assault in April of 2021. He was sentenced to three years, but only served 11 months in prison before being released in March.

KEILAR: Let's go to CNN's Gary Tuchman who is live for us in Memphis, Tennessee, with the latest.

Gary, what can you tell us?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna and John, it was a night that terrorized and paralyzed the people who live here in the city of Memphis and the surrounding area. The 19-year-old Ezekiel Kelly is in this jail behind me in downtown Memphis. We're actually standing on the street doing live reports about another story we were here for, a teacher who was kidnapped on Friday, her body was found Monday, and we saw police cars racing up and down the street with lights and we realized something was going on and then we learned what was happening and it was terrible.

Four people dead, three people wounded, at least three cars stolen, at least one car carjacked and it ultimately ended after what police say the suspect drove across the state line into Mississippi, which is about 15 minutes away from here, stole a vehicle, they got the description of the car, he drove back into Tennessee, and he was then nabbed. Another part of this that is very disturbing and upsetting, in the age of social media, social media is wonderful but sometimes it's horrible, some of this was put on Facebook live.

We were talking about the mayor of this city, he's very angry because, yes, this guy was in jail, he was in prison, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault after being charged with first- degree murder. He got out of prison this past March. He was supposed to be in longer. And the mayor, as you'll hear, very upset about that.


STRICKLAND: If Mr. Kelly served his full three-year sentence, he would still be in prison today and four of our fellow citizens would still be alive.


TUCHMAN: The mugshot of Ezekiel Kelly shows him with a big smile on his face. What was essentially happening last night, everything was shut down, the city was paralyzed, actually went to get some water at a grocery store nearby. I pounded on the door just to see if I can go in, the guy goes, are you crazy, there's a mass killer on the loose.

Brianna, back to you.

KEILAR: The city that has gone through so much. Gary, thank you so much.

BERMAN: All right. With me now is John Miller, CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst.

John, thanks so much for being with us this morning. First I want to ask about the manhunt for this suspect. They had a shelter in place order. They essentially shut that city down for a period of time as they went from crime scene to crime scene. How unusual is that? What's the consideration behind something like that?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: It's very unusual and yet not unprecedented. You'll remember the subway shooting we had here a few months ago, where we knew the gunman was on the loose, we didn't know where, and we asked people to stay inside and avoid that area.

You'll, of course, remember the Boston marathon bombing where they did a very similar don't come out of your house as they closed the circle around those two suspects. So it's been done, but it's a thing that cities hate to do.

BERMAN: Yes, I remember in Boston, Boston was very strict. They really said, everyone just stay inside, and that lasted quite a long time. I also want to ask about what the mayor was saying about this suspect who had been charged with criminal attempted first-degree murder, pled guilty to a lesser charge aggravated assault, only served 11 months of a three-year sentence, and the mayor there blaming that release on the fact that this crime was allowed to happen.


MILLER: Well, we're seeing it across the country, mayors and state legislatures having this friction about various criminal justice reforms. There is a tension there. But I think if you look at the news this week, Saskatchewan, 13 crime scenes, multiple people dead, two individuals with long criminal records for repeated violence. If you look at Memphis, you know, we had the body of a kidnap victim found there who was kidnapped off the street by an individual who just got out of jail for kidnapping and before that rape.

So it's probably not big news that our most serious criminals tend to be recidivists and that we are in a system that is struggling to find a balance between reform and effective punishment.

BERMAN: John Miller, stick around. We have more to discuss with you in just a moment. Brianna?

KEILAR: A local Nevada official is in custody this morning, charged with the murder of an investigative reporter in Las Vegas who was stabbed to death last weekend. The victim was working on a story about the official when he was killed.

CNN's Josh Campbell is live in Las Vegas for us. Josh, tell us what's happened here?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, we're hearing residents here in Las Vegas and indeed journalists around the country mourning the death of this acclaimed investigative journalist, Jeff German. We're also hearing outrage at the possibility that a local Democratic politician may be to blame, may have targeted this journalist, who was covering this politician with this investigative reports.


CAMPBELL (voice-over): A stunning arrest in Las Vegas. Clarke County public administrator Robert Telles was taken into custody Wednesday and charged with murder in connection with the fatal stabbing of "Las Vegas Review-Journal" reporter Jeff German. German was found with multiple stab wounds outside his home Saturday morning.

In May, German filed an investigative report on Telles' office, reporting it was mired in turmoil and internal dissension over the past two years, with allegations of emotional distress, bullying and favoritism leading to secret videotaping of the boss and a co-worker outside the office. Telles denied the accusations, but the following month, he lost his primary bid for reelection. "The Review-Journal" reported German was working on another story at the time of his death.

Las Vegas police solicited help from the public on Tuesday, releasing this video of a suspect dressed in a straw hat, gloves and a bright orange jacket, along with an image of a red SUV.

ARTHUR KANE, VICTIM'S COLLEAGUE AT LAST VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: Initially over the weekend we had assumed it was a, you know, robbery gone bad. Police released the picture of this vehicle, and our reporters started to see the Google images of this vehicle that looks like a vehicle just like in Telles' driveway. So that was really concerning and surprising.

CAMPBELL: "The Review-Journal" reported police arrived at Telles' home early Wednesday morning and blocked off the surrounding streets. Police would not provide CNN information on what transpired at the home, but "The Review-Journal" was outside all day and reports that a search warrant was served later that morning. A red SUV and another vehicle were towed from the home.

Later that afternoon, Telles returned, wearing a white hazmat suit. He was seen exiting a car and entering his home, where he was interviewed by police. A SWAT team arrived early in the evening, and Telles was arrested, removed from his home on a stretcher. It's unclear whether he's retained an attorney.

The executive editor of "The Review-Journal" writes, "We are relieved Robert Telles is in custody and outraged that a colleague appears to have been killed for reporting on an elected official. Journalists can't do the important work our communities require if they're afraid a presentation of facts could lead to violent retribution."


CAMPBELL: Now, Brianna, Telles will have his first court appearance here in Las Vegas this afternoon. Police aren't release any information at this stage about the motive but the more we're learning, one thing is certainly coming into focus. It appears that this journalist may have been targeted for doing the most basic function of journalism, holding the powerful to account -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Do we know why Telles left on a stretcher, Josh?

CAMPBELL: We don't. We have seen some reports that there was some type of injury, perhaps self-inflicted. We have not confirmed that ourselves. But that is one piece of information we're getting is authorities attempted to take him out. There was some kind of medical situation that requiring him to be taken out by medics and, of course, he has now been booked into jail. Again that court appearance will be taking place here in Vegas just a few hours' time.

KEILAR: All right, Josh Campbell in Las Vegas, thank you.

BERMAN: And John Miller is back with us.

And John, I understand you knew Jeff German, the investigative reporter in Nevada. MILLER: I knew Jeff for a long time. We worked together on the Ted

Binion casino murder out there. Jeff actually wrote the book on it. And, you know, he was part of a small club of American reporters who was an investigative reporter who took on the mob, who took on, you know, casinos, corruption, all the things you can find in the underbelly of a place like Las Vegas, and he did it fearlessly and with precision.


BERMAN: And John, you also know what it's like to be a reporter at risk. I remember earlier in your career when you were reporting on the mob here in New York City, you very much felt like you had a target on your back.

MILLER: Well, I mean that is the nature of the beast when you're finding out things about people that they don't want you to find out. I think when you look at Jeff German, though, the mob, you know, criminal organizations, murderers, stories in the desert about buried gold. If you asked me who would be behind the murder of Jeff German I would have gone through a long list before I would have found my way to a public official who worked in a boring job dealing with, you know, people's wills and estates in an office where people called him a bully.

BERMAN: In this investigation, John, you've made some calls on sort of the timeline here.

MILLER: So, very interesting the way it unfolds, and it unfolds pretty fast. But German is killed near his house at 10:33 a.m. on Saturday. Las Vegas Metro gets there, they realize it's the Jeff German, a person that the police department knows very well as a reporter, and they start an extensive video canvass in that neighborhood. What they do is they make it a major case right away. In Las Vegas Metro terms, that means 24/7 coverage.

That means the team working that homicide, when they go at the end of a long day, another team is behind them at night following up on every lead which is I think why things unfolded so fast. The video canvass shows them that guy in the hat and an orange jacket with reflective stripes like a construction person would wear. They know there's a burglary pattern in that neighborhood. They've been focused on that.

And they start to look at this person, but when they get that car, the maroon GMC with the silver handles and the sunroof and they get that picture and they put that out at Telles' house, they see that car almost exactly sitting in the driveway. So that kicks it up on Tuesday when they released that picture and make that connection, and then yesterday you see the search warrant. They obtain a search warrant for that car and the other car, they flatbed them away.

They get a search warrant for the house. And they encounter Telles somewhere, where they probably have a search warrant for his person because when they encounter him he comes home not with his pants but in a tie back suit which they probably took for DNA trace evidence and things like that. But whatever put them over the top yesterday is either what they found in the car or what they found in the house that allowed them to come back and make that arrest.

And Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of Las Vegas, who I know very well -- actually we all know him well. You'll recall he's the guy who led us through these, those days of the Las Vegas sniper. He's got a 10:00 press conference where they're going to lay out what they can about what they can prove.

BERMAN: That will be very interesting based on what we've already seen.

John Miller, thank you so much for sharing your expertise in this.

KEILAR: This morning, Trump ally Steve Bannon is expected to surrender to New York state prosecutors on criminal charges of fraud linked to an alleged scheme to raise money for building the wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

CNN's Kara Scannell is standing by just outside of the courthouse in New York about what we can expect.

Kara, good morning.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Brianna. In a short while Steve Bannon will surrender to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. That building is just over my shoulder behind the courthouse. He will then be taken into custody and arrested. We're expecting then later this morning that the indictment charging him will be unsealed and we'll learn the specific state charges that he is facing.

But as you say this is all related to a fundraising effort to raise money for construction of a wall along the U.S. southern border. Bannon had previously been indicted by federal prosecutors on the same related conduct. They say that he and his co-conspirators had raised $25 million for the construction of the wall, but they secretly diverted more than $1 million of that to cover their personal expenses.

Former President Trump had pardoned Banon but a presidential pardon does not cover state charges. That brings us back to today. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office expected to announce these charges later this afternoon then Bannon will be arraigned in the courthouse behind me later this afternoon around 2:00. His attorney tells me that he will plead not guilty to these charges, and then we may hear from Steve Bannon as he does love to come and speak to the cameras, but this will be unfolding later this afternoon. Bannon, though, we're waiting for his arrival at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office in his self-surrender -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Kara, thank you. We'll be watching that with you.

Alarming new video of Republican leaders in Michigan training poll workers to break the rules and act as secret agents during the midterm election. A CNN exclusive investigation next.

Plus Pennsylvania Senate race is heating up. Democrat John Fetterman agrees to debate his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz. [07:15:05]

BERMAN: And COVID cases among children rising just as the new school year begins. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us.


KEILAR: Now to a CNN exclusive video showing election workers being trained by Republican leaders in Michigan to break the rules so they can act as, quote, "undercover agents" during the midterm elections in November.

Drew Griffin joins us live with this CNN investigation. This is incredibly alarming, Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Doubly troubling, Brianna, because this becomes amid a big nationwide push by this ultra-MAGA crowd to get involved in the election. The people who didn't believe the last election was fair for some reason still are now getting involved in running this election, which is why what you're about to see is troubling.




GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN obtained this recording of a Wayne County GOP training session over Zoom the night before the Michigan primary last month.

CHERYL COSTANTINO, GOP COUNTY CHAIRWOMAN: So you're all really undercover agents. Congratulations. That's undercover training.

GRIFFIN: It is extra training, partisan training, not just for volunteers observing elections, but including the actual paid election workers who will check in voters, hand out ballots, even help in the counting, which is why what they are being told is alarming.

COLBECK: There is a lot of bad stuff that is happening in this upcoming election, so we're going to have to keep our heads on a swivel and just start documenting irregularities.

GRIFFIN: The poll workers are hired by towns and clerks, and Wayne County's Republican chairperson Cheryl Costantino tells them they may need to break the rules to uncover fraud.

COSTANTINO: They were told by their trainers that they could not have their phones with them. So I would say maybe just hide it and maybe hide a small pad in a small pen. You need to take accurate notes.

LARRY LUDKE, TRAINEE: If we are observed with a pen and a piece of paper writing at anything, they just said they would -- they would ask us that, that they would remove us. COSTANTINO: That's why you got to do it secretly.

GRIFFIN: This training for the primary was just practice for the upcoming midterms according to Costantino and it's not just what's being taught, it is who is doing the teaching.

COLBECK: We think a lot of the monkey business that's happening is happening at the vote aggregation location.

GRIFFIN: That is election denier Patrick Colbeck, who co-led this training session. He is a former state senator who wrote a book called "The 2020 Coup" and has a blog filled with debunked conspiracy theories about voting machines. He spread so much disinformation about the 2020 election, he got this cease and desist letter from Dominion, the voting machine company, saying, "You are knowingly sowing discord in our democracy, all the while soliciting exorbitant amounts of money."

He's appeared on Steve Bannon's show and with the MyPillow guy, Mike Lindell.

COLBECK: We did see evidence that it was connected to the Internet.

GRIFFIN: There is no evidence any voting machines were connected to the Internet in the 2020 election, but Colbeck is still asking Republican poll workers to check.

COLBECK: There's this little icon down the very bottom right-hand corner, and what I'm trying to do is to see whether or not these machines are indeed connected to the Internet.

GRIFFIN: Colbeck refused to speak to CNN, but the other leader of the training, Cheryl Costantino, did.

(On camera): If you are training these people to be undercover spies, that was the words you are using. And I'm wondering why?

COSTANTINO: Well, first of all, if you remember in the election two years ago, there were so many problems.

GRIFFIN (voice over): With election staffing, she said, with who counted ballots, but she is an election denier, too. She filed a baseless lawsuit in Detroit alleging election fraud in 2020, it was thrown out. Why did she tell election workers to act like spies?

COSTANTINO: To kind of reframe it and make it more fun and interesting. I said that, just, you know, instead of causing a bunch of scenes and things like that, just write it down, just kind of be like spies and let me -- you know, let me know what's going on.

GRIFFIN: While Michigan's primary election went smoothly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did nothing wrong.

GRIFFIN: A poll challenger affiliated with Colbeck and his training was thrown out of Detroit's ballot counting center for repeatedly getting too close to workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I told them that they were breaking the law.

GRIFFIN: What's happening in Michigan is happening across the nation. Attempts are underway to make sure the ultra-MAGA run the election process from poll workers all the way up to candidates for secretary of state and attorney general.

Trump attorney Cleta Mitchell has led seminars in eight swing states all under the presumption Democrats cheat. CNN caught up with her in Wisconsin.

CLETA MITCHELL, PRO-TRUMP ATTORNEY: So that we'll be able to make sure that there's another set of eyes going on watching the ballots, watching the voting, watching the process, knowing what's going on in the election offices.

JEFF TIMMER, SENIOR ADVISER, THE LINCOLN PROJECT: These training sessions are planned chaos. These people are being radicalized.

GRIFFIN: Jeff Timmer used to lead the Michigan Republican Party.

TIMMER: They think they're saving democracy from the cannibal socialists where in fact what they're doing is eroding the public's faith in elections.


GRIFFIN: Brianna, secretary of states, particularly in Michigan, they're preparing for whatever might come up, but there is a bright spot in this. And that's from the town clerks that actually run these elections. They say that most of this election denialism is coming out of ignorance and once they get these volunteers and even employees in there, even suspicious ones, and they see how the system works, they actually become believers in how we vote in this country. So hopefully that will take place as this MAGA army moves into its running of these elections.

KEILAR: Yes. Maybe hope springs eternal in that case. But it is alarming to see just how much of true believers some of these folks are that makes them so unrelenting in what they're trying to do here.


Drew, thank you so much for bringing us that report.

BERMAN: All right. With us now CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod and CNN political commentator Scott Jennings.

Wow. I mean, just wow. To see that footage that Drew got there. What I like to call a single entendre, there's really only one interpretation of these poll workers being trained to do something that you can't do.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, I mean, the thing that's most disturbing, John, is this is all predicated on a massive lie, which is that the last election was fraudulent, that there was massive fraud, and people are mobilizing around that to be not only to break the rules, but to be disruptive and this is a virus in our -- this is a virus in our politics. It's a virus in our election system.

And you know, the fact that so many, you know, good people can be misled, 70 percent of Republicans saying the last election was in some way fraudulent or illegitimate, it shows you how widespread this is.

BERMAN: What do you think when you're watching that, Scott?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I was heartened by the end of it. You know, when you get -- because the defused nature of the way we run elections from the system of clerks and secretaries of state, the volunteers that have to be recruited to do it, it's actually -- it protects the integrity of the system. No one person can flip a switch. So it's very important that this system work and that the network be recruited and that it exists in every election.

So when the reporter there said, when you get people in and you train them and you show them how it works, and they say oh, you know, then the light bulb goes on, I was heartened by that. Watching the videos, though, of people, you know, saying we're now secret agents and we're spies and break the rules, it's incredibly troubling, candidly, and, you know, you need like good citizens who want to do their civic duty to sign up for these jobs.

And when you're watching videos like that, you know, the average person who might have one day had a fleeting thought, well, I might want to sign up and do this and then they may see something like this, and they might conclude, I don't want to be affiliated with that.

There's a poll worker shortage in America. We're having trouble filling all these all over the country. So I worry about, you know, can we get enough, you know, citizens who want to be engaged to do these jobs and do them correctly.

AXELROD: Partly because they don't want to be intimidated or targeted for doing their jobs. But the heartening thing isn't just the end of that report. The heartening thing is we did have a certifiably clean election. No election has been more scrutinized than the 2000 election so -- and that's because of people all across the country just doing their jobs, just following the rules. It's important.

BERMAN: Let me ask you both about the Pennsylvania Senate race, if I can. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman says that he will debate Mehmet Oz once before election day. He says he wants to figure out a way to do it to be sensitive to his recovery from his stroke. I want you both, because you've both been on campaigns and you both have been in these rooms where they're planning this, so I want you both to tell me, what's going on inside each campaign as they plan for this right now? What are they trying -- how are they trying to handle this issue, David?

AXELROD: Well, look, I mean, this is an issue. I mean there's no question, whether Fetterman can perform as a senator is a legitimate question. It's been -- it's increasingly been raised. He disappeared from public view for quite a while after his stroke, which was a few days before the primary. He's out now. He's campaigning. I think inside his headquarters, the discussion is, this could be a problem.

We have this race in our sights. We have it where we want it. But it could be upset if we don't answer this question. And I think they've been pretty transparent about the fact that he has, you know, processing issues, you know, audio processing issues that he's working through. I think it's smart to, frankly, you know, take it on and it's important that he does perform in a debate. I think it would be a mistake if the Republican candidate, Dr. Oz, said no, I won't allow any adaptations for him, like closed captioning on questions. You know, I think this could easily be mishandled.

JENNINGS: I think Oz is on offense on this issue after being on defense on other issues for quite some time. They finally got this issue into the race in a way that Fetterman could no longer ignore. I mean, Fetterman went months and months and months sort of as David said off the campaign trail and tried to make this race about, you know, Dr. Oz and where he lives and where he's from and so on.

Now Oz is on offense on a non-ideological matter. Can you fulfill the duties of the office? So I think Fetterman really had no choice but to say he'll do a debate. Now it was nonspecific. They didn't commit to a date. And the details have yet to be worked out.