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DOJ Says It Will No Longer Seize Reporters' Records For Leak Probes; Today's Voting Preceded By Spike In Political Killings; Golfer Pull Out After Positive Test. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired June 06, 2021 - 06:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to your NEW DAY. I'm Amara Walker in for Christi Paul.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Boris Sanchez. Deeply flawed. Powerful Democrats blasting a federal judge's ruling overturning California's ban on assault weapons. What survivors of gun violence and the NRA are saying about the ruling.

WALKER: Set to sail, Royal Caribbean announcing six of its ships will once again sail from Texas and Florida, and passengers will not have to be vaccinated.

SANCHEZ: Plus, pushing the big lie. New CNN reporting on the lengths that former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows went to back up baseless election conspiracies.

WALKER: And a bizarre scene at the PGA as a golfer is forced to withdraw from the tournament after receiving a positive COVID test as the entire moment plays out live on national TV.

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much for waking up with us this Sunday, June 6th. Amara, always a pleasure to see you and doing this with you.

WALKER: Thank you so much for having me.

SANCHEZ: Of course. We start this morning with the fallout after a federal judge overturned California's assault weapons ban.

WALKER: Yes, the ruling and injunction have been stayed for 30 days, and California's attorney general has said he plans to appeal. But reaction from across the country was swift with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the ruling deeply flawed and a clear and serious threat to public safety. While an NRA spokesman praised the judge saying the ruling is, "Well-reasoned and principled -- demonstrates the importance of appointing judges who accurately apply the original meaning of our Constitution."

Now, in his ruling, the judge spoke favorably of modern weapons.

SANCHEZ: Yes. His comparison of an AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife was very controversial to say the least. CNN's Polo Sandoval now reports on how his words drew sharp criticism from those whose lives have been changed by gun violence.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): California's ban on certain semiautomatic rifles has weathered decades of opposition until now. San Diego U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez ruled to overturn it, passed in 1999 on the heels of an elementary school shooting in Stockton, California, that left five children dead. The law was touted as California's first assault weapons act and established what an assault weapon is and made them illegal to buy or possess in California.

This week, Judge Benitez ruled that ban was unconstitutional, and deprived law abiding Californians of weapons allowed in other states, weapons he compared to Swiss Army knives.

BRANDON WOLF, PULSE NIGHTCLUB SHOOTING SURVIVOR: If a Swiss Army knife had been used at Pulse, we would have had a birthday party for my best friend last week, not a vigil. The weapons we are talking about don't come with a nail file and corkscrew just in case you get lost in the woods with a bottle of wine.

SANDOVAL: In his ruling Judge Benitez wrote, "Firearms deemed as assault weapons are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles." Benitez's decision is being celebrated by pro gun groups, one suing the state of California in this case said it was -- quote -- "delighted with the outcome." But those calling for stricter gun laws are outraged.

KRIS BROWN, PRESIDENT, BRADY MOVEMENT: Frankly, the wording in that ruling sounds like it's taken directly from an e-mail or a memo written by the National Rifle Association.

SANDOVAL: First nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003, Judge Benitez has a history of butting heads with the state of California and its efforts for stricter gun laws. In 2017 he issued an initial injunction blocking the state's high capacity magazine ban. Eventually a federal appeals court upheld this ruling declaring the ban unconstitutional.

And last year Benitez blocked a law requiring background checks for ammo purchases, calling the law defective and a burden on the Second Amendment in his opinion granting a preliminary injunction. The state says it is appealing the latest ruling.

Among the families of those lost to mass shootings there is a sense of fear that what happened to their loved ones could happen again.

FRED GUTTENBERG, DAUGHTER KILLED IN PARKLAND SHOOTING: I'm upset for the loss of my daughter and for all the other victims. But I am fearful because I know there's someone out there right now who will go out and buy an AR-15 because of this judge and use it.

RICHARD MARTINEZ, SON KILLED IN MASS SHOOTING: This ruling, if it were to stand, would make our country a more dangerous place. Assault weapons, assault style weapons make our country a more dangerous place.


SANDOVAL: Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


SANCHEZ: Thanks to Polo for that report. Let's turn now to a critical week ahead for President Biden. Look, a lot of his legacy could be shaped by decisions that are made over the next few days on both the domestic and international front.

WALKER: Yes, tomorrow the president speaks again with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito on infrastructure after rejecting the latest GOP counter offer. Both sides are still some $700 billion apart, and bipartisanship could be a bust.

On Tuesday, the president heads out on his first international trip. The G7 will be meeting for the first time in person in two years because of COVID, setting the stage for Biden's summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin on the 16th.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we're also expecting to go see the White House's first slate of ambassador nominees. Former Obama White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti among the names expected to be announced.

So let's dig deeper on all of this and get some perspective from CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali. He's also a former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. Tim, always great to see you and converse early on a Sunday morning.

So, as you have taught me, the early days of a presidency in many ways are critical to shaping legacy. And this week President Biden's agenda, his efforts toward bipartisanship face some really critical tests domestically. He's also preparing for his first international trip, including a sit down with Vladimir Putin.

How impactful do you think this phase of his presidency is going to be, especially with midterm campaigns not that far away?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Boris, we're going to see on the domestic front whether President Biden is happy -- is going to be happy with half a loaf or getting no loaf at all. On Monday, he has an important meeting with Senator Moore Capito, who is the lead person among the Republicans for negotiating some kind of compromise package on the infrastructure matter.

The two sides are millions of dollars away from each other and progressives are -- the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is very disappointed or at least publically disappointed with the president for not pushing harder for the entire $2 trillion package. And the issue for President Biden is does he want to run -- does he want Democrats to run in the midterm elections on having gotten no money for infrastructure or getting about a trillion dollars for infrastructure? Some of it's re-purposed money and the rest of it is about 3 or 400 million new money. That's a big question for him. He's going to give us a sense of where he wants to go on Monday.

With regard to foreign policy, the president has already had a very good start to the G7. That's the economic meeting. It's already started well for him. Secretary of Treasury Yellen has already secured an agreement among the other G7 states to establish a minimum corporate tax.

Now, that may seem like a very arcane to most people, but this is key because the president is not going to be able to raise corporate taxes as he wants. But what he really wants is for American businesses to pay their fair share. And 55 out of the Fortune 500 companies don't pay any federal U.S. taxes at all because of deductions and other benefits that they get elsewhere.

The president wants all big multinational companies to pay at least 15 percent to their resident country. It was a big achievement on his part to get the other countries to agree. That means that regardless of whether he's able to increase corporate taxes, American businesses, big businesses are going to pay more of their fair share, which gives them revenue to put money into infrastructure. It's a big achievement.

WALKER: It's definitely a major -- yes, sorry about that. It absolutely is. It's a major breakthrough for President Biden.

And on that note, we are mentioning, Tim, you know, that President Biden will head out on his first trip a broad on Tuesday. And he kind of gave a preview through an op-ed that he wrote in "The Washington Post," saying in part -- quote -- you know, where his trip is about to start in Europe, and he says, "America rallying the world's democracies."

He writes, "This is a defining question of our time: Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world? Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century prove their capacity against modern-day threats and adversaries? I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the chance to prove it."

So, Tim, I guess the question is how much can Biden undo what Trump undid with this trip abroad, especially when it comes to reasserting America on the world stage and renewing a lot of these historic alliances that were damaged?


NAFTALI: Personal relations matter a lot in global affairs. He can do a lot to repair the damage. I think that our president sets a tone when he and some day she goes abroad. And so I think that quite a bit of the damage can be repaired.

I think the other challenge for him is that we in the United States are at a different stage in recovering from COVID. We are not through the pandemic yet, but we are near the end of it Whereas some of our colleagues, some of our friends in the European Union and Canada are a little bit further away from the finish line. And so he can be discussing ways in which the western world at least can exit the pandemic.

America can show a leadership role. It is already by sharing or announcing that it's going to share some of the extra vaccines, so I see many opportunities for President Biden to reestablish excellent relations with our colleagues abroad.

SANCHEZ: Now, Tim, all eyes are going to be on this meeting with Vladimir Putin. Joe Biden says he's going to address human rights abuses. The challenge for Biden is obviously expressing a potential cost to deter Vladimir Putin from continuing to be a bad actor around the world. He has to pair that with laying out ground work for some cooperation with Russia on important issues. How does he do that?

NAFTALI: That's tough. I think expectations should be low. Russia has proven itself time and again to be an adversary of the United States. A recent cyber attack made that clear.

The Russians are also playing hardball with regard to holding on to U.S. denominated securities. The Russians are not our friends and Putin is definitely an adversary.

Biden -- President Biden needs to just stand up for American rights and also for all of those rights that our allies expect us to stand up for. I don't expect much out of this relationship except a reassertion that America is back, and that we are prepared to defend our national interests with regard to the Russians.

WALKER: Yes, that reassertion that America is back, I have to put this to you, since you are a presidential historian, Tim. I mean, it really is quite a contrast, right, to compare President Trump's first trip abroad, which was to Saudi Arabia. And, of course, I remember those images of seeing his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner by his side.

And then you have President Biden's first trip, will be the several summits in Europe with Jill Biden by his side. It really underscores, you know, just how diametrically opposed they are when it comes to foreign policy, but also regarding the democratic values that they embrace.

NAFTALI: Well, I believe that certainly this historian but I think many historians and policy analysts are going to describe the Trump era as an unusual era when national -- U.S. national security interests were not at the forefront of what our government did abroad. So he -- I believe it's -- President Trump who's the outlier, it's not a matter of Democrats versus Republicans.

So, I think President Biden will reassert American -- the American tradition in diplomacy which has been a bipartisan tradition. So, I think you can see a return to the kinds of words and commitments that previous presidents made, whether Republican or Democrat.

WALKER: Tim Naftali, appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you so much for that.

SANCHEZ: Great to see you, Tim.

NAFTALI: Thank you, Amara. Bye, Boris.

WALKER: All right. Turning now to the coronavirus, and a recent CNN analysis projects that the U.S. will not meet President Biden's July 4th vaccine goal. He is aiming for at least 70 percent of all adults, 18 and older, to receive at least one dose. And so far only 63 percent of adults have had their first dose.

SANCHEZ: Yes, with a slow climb in vaccinations, the U.S. expected to fall somewhere between 67 and 68 percent by the holiday just shy of that goal. Of course, this hasn't stopped America's push for normalcy. Some cruise lines are making plans to set sail again as soon as next month, notably without requiring some passengers to be vaccinated at all.

WALKER: That's eyebrow raising. Royal Caribbean will resume some cruises beginning in July. This announcement comes more than 15 months, more than a year after the cruises were halted, when the CDC issued a no sail order.

SANCHEZ: Let's get to CNN's Natasha Chen. She joins us now live. Natasha, this was a standoff at one point between Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, and the cruise lines. Now we're learning Royal Caribbean is not going to require any of its cruise passengers leaving from Florida or Texas to be vaccinated. What about other points of departure?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris and Amara, there's still a standoff, but it's between DeSantis and the CDC, and the cruise lines are sort of caught in between. Royal Caribbean, as you mentioned, not requiring vaccination of passengers when they're departing from the ports in Texas or Florida.


But for the Seattle departures and the Bahamas departures, Royal Caribbean is requiring the vaccination of all guests 16 and older, come August that will change to guests 12 and older. So it's very clearly a carve out for just Florida and Texas cruises in the next couple of months at least when you look at their cruise schedule.

As we mentioned, this has become a legal fight between the Florida governor and the CDC. The CDC basically had a no sail order more than 15 months ago, stopping the entire industry for the past year. They have slowly issued a lot of guidance and requirements for how cruise lines can get back to sailing. And some of that involves some restrictions but with a lot of latitude for ships that have 95 percent of their passengers and crew fully vaccinated.

And of course in Florida, though, there is a rule where businesses cannot actually require vaccination of customers or they may meet a fine. So, that's where the standoff is. Here is a maritime attorney talking about that struggle right now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WINKLEMAN, MARITIME ATTORNEY: The cruise lines have a trump card for lack of a better term which is that they can pick up and leave Florida and make their home ports in the Caribbean. And I think Governor DeSantis who claims to be so business friendly would really be playing with fire by forcing a multibillion dollar industry to pick up and leave from all of its gigantic bases of operations in Miami or Florida.


CHEN: I did check with the Florida governor's office and while businesses can be fined for requiring vaccination of their customers they are still allowed to ask the question. If the customer is vaccinated the person doesn't have to answer that, and it cannot be a condition of entry.

But still this is a strong sticking point here especially as these cruises are trying to get back to sailing. I should mention that when Royal Caribbean made these announcements, they said that 90 percent of their passengers have indicated that they are either vaccinated or plan to be before they get onboard -- Amara and Boris.

SANCHEZ: Quite an interesting situation. A lot of pent-up demand for travel. We'll see how it translates to the cruise industry. Natasha Chen, thank you so much.

Still to come, new reporting that former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pushed the Justice Department to investigate unfounded conspiracy theories, Italian satellites.

WALKER: Plus, former President Trump returns to the stage and demands China pay for its role in the COVID-19 pandemic. We have more on that speech next.



SANCHEZ: New this morning, this starts to tiptoe into the bizarre. CNN has obtained a document showing Mark Meadows, former President Donald Trump's chief of staff, tried to get the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the big lie that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of President Biden.

WALKER: Yes, numerous e-mails to then Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen shows Meadows pressuring him to look into baseless conspiracy theories in an effort to reverse Trump's election loss, and there is no indication from the e-mails that Rosen agreed to launch that investigation. CNN's Marshall Cohen has more on this.

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Boris and Amara, think back to December when President Trump was pushing false claims of voter fraud and pressuring local election officials to overturn the results. We're now learning that at the same time, one of Trump's top aides was also trying to get the Justice Department to join Trump's quest to find that supposed fraud and to investigate baseless conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines.

According to e-mails obtained by CNN, President Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows sent five messages to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, pushing for these investigations. Meadows even tried to get Rosen to meet with a former CIA employee who was pushing the insane theory that Italians somehow used satellites to steal votes from Trump.

Meadows sent these e-mails to Rosen, shortly after Rosen took over as acting attorney general. And around that same time, Trump himself summoned Rosen to the Oval Office and pressed him to support Republican lawsuits that would have thrown out millions of lawful ballots, according to "The New York Times."

Now, there is no indication whatsoever that Rosen ever agreed to do anything that Meadows asked of him. And Rosen has publicly said that the election results in 2020 were legitimate.

So here's the bottom line. These e-mails about Mark Meadows reveal new brazen attempts by the Trump administration to lean on the DOJ and use the powers of federal law enforcement for Trump's political and personal benefit. This really was something that was an all too common theme of President Trump's four years in office.

So what's next? "The New York Times" reports that Meadows -- these e- mails from Mark Meadows were discovered by congressional investigators who are looking into whether anyone at the DOJ helped Trump undermine the election. Democrats in the House and the Senate are still examining this matter and they might even get Rosen to testify according to "The New York Times." Boris and Amara.

WALKER: Thanks so much. Former President Trump making a return to the stage Saturday night at the North Carolina Republican Convention. And while his first speech in months started out addressing GOP policy heading into the 2022 midterms, well, he couldn't stay away from rehashing last year's election and the claim that he didn't actually lose.

SANCHEZ: It is a lie and one that Capitol police officers know the repercussions of all too well. Listen.


SERGEANT AQUILINO GONELL, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: Some of these things could have been prevented, when you're condoning a lie, words matter. What I blame him the most is for the thing that he didn't do. He did not send out help.


We were waiting for support that day.


SANCHEZ: CNN's Martin Savidge has more on last night's convention in North Carolina. Martin, what else did Trump say in his speech?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Good morning to you, Boris. This speech was pretty much a compendium, a collection, if you will, of Trump lies, of falsehoods, and of his fear mongering, and it also starkly demonstrated once again how the former president is a potential threat to the American election system.

Trump's speech sounded pretty much like a rally you would have heard in 2020. He praised, of course, many things his administration did. He criticized just about everything the Biden administration has done so far. And, yes, at points, he obsessed on the outcome of the 2020 election, which he called the crime of the century. He lost that election.

And then he began to do a lot of what seemed to be reframing over what many perceived to be his administration's greatest failure which was the handling of the pandemic. The former president took credit, of course, for the vaccine, but he ignored the fact that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans died under his watch. He blasted Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that he was not a good doctor but he was a great promoter, and then he demanded money from China for the coronavirus. Here's that moment.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But Fauci is perhaps never been more wrong than when he denied the virus and where it came from. The time has come for America and the world to demand reparations and accountability from the Communist Party of China. We should all declare within one unified voice that China must pay.


SAVIDGE: And that moment actually brought the crowd to its feet. Then after repeating all the lies about the outcome of the election, the former president said this -- quote -- "Remember, I am not the one trying to undermine America, I am the one trying to save it." Well, of course there are many who see exactly the opposite of that.

One glaring omission from last night's speech, not a single mention of the January 6th insurrection, which many, of course, blame directly on the former president. As far as that speech went, it never happened, Boris and Amara.

WALKER: He is not trying to undermine democracy. He is trying to save it. Martin Savidge, that sums up his mindset. Thank you so much for your reporting.

Coming up, the Justice Department making a pledge that it will no longer seize reporters' records and leak investigations. We will discuss what it means for the Biden administration and the journalists who are trying to cover it.


SANCHEZ: The Justice Department says it is no longer going to seek the e-mail and phone records of reporters during leak investigations.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: And then, investigations started under the Trump administration, but continued under President Biden records were gathered from reporters here at CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other news organizations.

Joining us now to talk about this is CNN Chief Media Correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" Brian Stelter. Good morning to you, Brian. This is a major shift between the Trump and Biden administrations.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is. And it may have all started with one of our colleagues asking President Biden a question. Look, you go back 10 years, this has been a controversial practice of the United States government in both the Obama years and in the Trump years. There have been calls from press freedom groups to stop this both in the Obama years and the Trump years.

What happens is when the government is desperate to find a leaker, they will sometimes resort to demanding the phone or e-mail that logs of reporters at news outlets. They don't see the content of the emails or they don't hear the phone calls, but they will know, they can find out who we are calling, who we are e-mailing in an attempt to stop the leaks.

Now, President Biden is saying he will stop that practice of secretly seizing phone and e-mail logs. But he's only saying that in the wake of the revelation that the Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN all had phone and in some cases, e-mail logs taken by the Trump Justice Department.

So, when this first came out a couple of weeks ago, here's what CNN's Kaitlan Collins asked Biden. She said, is this going to continue under your administration? Here's what Biden said.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Would you be seizing reporters' phone records and e-mails, and would you prevent your Justice Department from doing that?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Only yours. But beyond yours -- no. It's absolutely, positively, it's wrong. It's simply, simply wrong.

COLLINS: So, you won't let your Justice Department do that?

BIDEN: I will not let that happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, thank you, guys. Thank you, guys.


STELTER: Pretty strong statement from the President. But it seemed off the cuff and perhaps the Justice Department was surprised by Biden's statement. Now, a couple of weeks later, his words are being put into practice. On Saturday, the Justice Department said this government, this administration will not secretly seize, snoop on the records of reporters.

However, this does not seem to be putting into place a standard for future administration. So, for now, it's just the Biden DOJ saying it's going to follow this promise. Now, why is this happening now this weekend? Well, it's because on the front page of the New York Times, a shocking revelation about a gag order. Not only were phone logs from the New York Times secretly subpoenaed, but the New York Times lawyers were under a gag order so they couldn't talk about the case for several months. And that gag order continued into the Biden years.

This is probably embarrassing for the Biden administration. They're trying to clean this up this weekend. But this is front-page news right now because we're learning about the abuses, the excesses of the Trump years, and we are seeing Biden try to break with that.


SANCHEZ: Brian, it is potentially extremely problematic. What are some news organizations now saying about this? How are they responding?

STELTER: Yes, there's still some things we don't know. Was the Washington Post under a gag order at some point? Was CNN, someone at CNN under a gag order at some point? We don't know that. We're trying to report it out. But here's what the editor of The Washington Post Sally Busby said yesterday. She said, "Secret efforts to obtain journalists' phone and e-mail records severely hinder the ability of news outlets to uncover information of clear public interest." She says, "it damages the First Amendment."

So, she wants answers. She says we call on the Biden administration and the DOJ to provide a full accounting of the chain of events in both administrations and to implement protections to prevent this from happening again. That's the statement in the Washington Post, similar message from the New York Times overnight.

And later on "RELIABLE SOURCES," I'm going to speak with Adam Goldman, one of the reporters whose phone records were seized both in the Obama years and in the Trump years. So, you know, this might sound theoretical or hypothetical, but this has real world implications for reporters and the people who are trying -- and the people we are all trying to inform, of course, the viewers at home.

SANCHEZ: Of course, Brian Stelter, thanks so much for that. An important conversation about the independence of the press, and you're going to be talking more about that later on at 11:00 today on "RELIABLE SOURCES." Don't miss it right here on CNN.

Coming up, a gunman kills over 100 civilians in Burkina Faso's worst attack in years. We'll take you live in Johannesburg next.



WALKER: At least 132 civilians were killed after a barbaric attack in the village of Solhan in northern Burkina Faso Friday night. That is about 150 miles northeast of the capitol.

SANCHEZ: Yes, officials say it's the worst militant attack in that country in recent years. The president now declaring a three-day period of national mourning. Let's get straight to David Mackenzie who's live from Johannesburg.

David, just on Friday, there was another attack that killed 14 people, and last month a different attack killed 30. What is happening with all these militant groups in Burkina Faso? Why is this happening now?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris and Amara, it's just the latest escalation and the horrific toll of this attack, as you described, on the border of Niger, some -- more than 100 people killed by unknown assailant. According to state media, shooting that -- up that village indiscriminately burning structures, driving people out ahead of the red crosses, many injured fleeing to neighboring areas.

It's the latest sign of escalating violence there by Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups. More than a million people pushed away from their homes in Burkina Faso alone in the last year or two. And that is really showing that the security forces in the region including U.S. and French troops are just not making the impact they need to make. Boris, Amara?

WALKER: Why are we seeing this deepening security crisis there, David? And do we have any idea for a motive behind this attack?

MCKENZIE: Amara, no group has claimed responsibility. But in that particular region, an al-Qaeda-linked jihadi group has been terrorizing both security structures and civilians. Now, this bears the hallmarks, I think, of a reprisal attack because of a lack of security and national government support these areas in the border regions of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Really, people have banded together to form defense groups. And this might be a reprisal against one of those groups. Amara, Boris?

WALKER: Horrible story. David McKenzie, thanks for falling -- following it. Voters in Mexico going to the polls today in the largest election the country has ever held. It's also been one of the deadliest. More than 80 prospective candidates have been targeted and killed. We're going to take a closer look next.



SANCHEZ: Millions of voters in Mexico are heading to the polls today after a midterm election campaign that has been extremely violent and bloody.

WALKER: Dozens of candidates have been killed and many more targeted in one of the largest elections in Mexico's history. CNN's Matt Rivers looks at the violence.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Amara and Boris, today's midterm elections here in Mexico are the largest to ever take place in this country, more than 20,000 candidates for a variety of offices on ballots nationwide. But the person who's being talked about with the most perhaps gain or lose from the outcome of these elections is someone who's not even on voters' ballots, Mexico's president.


RIVERS (voice over): Here is Abel Murrieta, a candidate from local office in the Mexican municipality of Cajeme. Crime was his number one issue.

ABEL MURRIETA, MEXICAN POLITICIAN (text): Enough of the drugs that steal our kids and destroy our families. I am a man of the law. I'll lay down the law. May hand isn't shaking. I'm not afraid.

RIVERS: With just one day after filming this ad, he was dead, shot and killed May 13 in broad daylight on a busy street while handing out campaign flyers. State authorities say Murrieta was deliberately targeted but don't know by whom. Suspects or not, though, it's just further proof that in Mexico, politics can be deadly.

From September of last year through May 25, at least 88 politicians or candidates have been killed according to Mexican consulting firm Etellekt Consultores. They're a part of the more than 565 politicians or candidates overall that have been targeted by some sort of crime ranging from murder to assault to threats, the firm says.

The government says it believes both numbers are actually far lower, though they don't say how they tally their numbers. But still it admits there's a problem.

It's a difficult time for these campaigns, says Mexico's president. We're going to keep protecting them.

Though Mexico has consistently failed to protect its candidates, political assassinations have been a problem for decades, but this year is particularly bad.

ANA MARIA SALAZAR, PUBLIC SECURITY EXPERT: I do think that this is going to be considered one of the most violent elections in Mexican history.

RIVERS: Security experts like Ana Maria Salazar says politicians are killed for a number of reasons but it most often involves organized crime. In many cases, she says criminal groups want their preferred candidate in office and so they might target others they don't like especially candidates who make crime a centerpiece of their campaigns.


SALAZAR: Candidates that talk the way Abel Murrieta speak clearly are going to run bigger risks.

RIVERS: Murrieta was known for challenging criminal groups and drug cartels. As a private lawyer, He was also representing the LeBarons, an outspoken family with dual U.S.-Mexico citizenship that lost nine of its members when they were murdered by suspected cartel members in Mexico in late 2019.

Adrian LeBaron tweeted shortly after Murrieta was killed saying in part, "They have killed my defender. What do we call this? The rule of law?

Do you believe he was killed because of his opposition to the cartels?

ADRIAN LEBARON, MEMBERS OF HIS FAMILY KILLED BY CARTEL MEMBERS: Yes, he was always exposing them. To me, he died a martyr.

RIVERS: Authorities have not identified any suspects or motive in Murrieta's murder, but the victim seemed to know he was at risk saying this a few days before he died.

MURRIETTA (text): I am serious and going in with no fear. To do this, you have to be very conscious of what you're going to do and not be scared.

RIVERS: He went on to say the streets belong to the people, not to criminals. And some of those people turned up here to his funeral in Cajeme. They gave him a standing ovation as his coffin was let out.


RIVERS (on camera): Now, I've spoken to a number of foreign policy experts who told me they do believe that the U.S. will address some of these concerns publicly sometime soon. The question is if on those political party does well in today's elections, will he be less willing to listen to what the U.S. has to say.

And before I send it back to you guys, I should note that levels of violence here in Mexico are among the highest they have ever been and these elections have not escaped that fact. According to Mexican consulting firm Etellekt, at least 91, 91 politicians and or candidates have been killed here in Mexico since the campaign season began last September. Boris, Amara?

SANCHEZ: Excellent reporting from Matt Rivers. Did you see this? A pro golfer that had been dominating the competition this weekend will not be playing today. He was forced to pull out after learning he tested positive for COVID-19 literally while on national TV. You won't want to miss this. We'll be back after a quick break.



WALKER: So, a bizarre and kind of sad scene unfolding in Ohio. A pro golfer shocked to find out he had tested positive for COVID.

SANCHEZ: Carolyn Manno is with us now. Carolyn, he's sitting out, forced to withdraw from the tournament. The video of him finding out about his diagnosis is just difficult to watch. CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was really stunning

-- good morning, guys -- to see this play out on live television the way that it did in front of thousands of fans right in front of the clubhouse. And when you see the video, I know you guys watching may have felt the same way. Your stomach dropped for a minute because you didn't know exactly the kind of information that he was receiving after his third round at the memorial tournament in Ohio.

Like you mentioned, Amara, officials can be seen coming up to Jon Rahm. He was leading the tournament by six shots. He had played so well all day. When you saw him double over in disbelief, the commentators the crowds frantically trying to figure out what was going on before the official word came out that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The PGA Tour released a statement shortly after that. They call this situation incredibly unfortunate. They said that Rahm is the first positive asymptomatic case since the tour returned to play almost a year ago. And the tour also confirmed that he was put into contact tracing on Monday after they learned that he had come into close contact with somebody with the virus.

He went ahead and elected to play after that. He finished the first three rounds before that follow-up test came back that he was positive. And after withdrawing, he tweeted that he's taking all of the necessary precautions to be safe and healthy, that he's thankful that his family is OK. You might recall that his wife gave birth to their first child back in April.

So, the tour declined to say whether or not he was vaccinated, Boris and Amara. They don't have to release that kind of information. That's obviously sensitive information. If you're a player that's not vaccinated, you are tested regularly. And the other thing that we're learning as we head into the final rounds today, too, is that the other players that he was playing with have reportedly cleared those contact protocols and they will be allowed to continue the final round two of those players tied for the lead now heading into Sunday's final round.

So, a very bizarre, unfortunate situation that you saw occur right on the 18th Green. It was just wild to watch it play out in real-time.

WALKER: You felt so sorry for him. I mean, just to have to deal with it live on TV. Was there any way to, I don't know, do this more discreetly?

MANNO: Yes. I think that that's something that the PGA Tour might want to consider moving forward. I mean, I think there was obviously a sense of urgency here. They needed to get him off of the course as soon as possible. They needed to test the players around him as soon as possible. So, I think maybe hindsight is 2020 to have a play out in front of thousands of fans.

And you know, the reaction was so stunning, so scary at first that, you know, maybe they'll take another look at that and say, hey, this was -- this was a little bit sensitive to do this like this. But I think they were just trying to mitigate the situation as quickly as possible.

SANCHEZ: Yes, this also shows just how differently people react to this virus, and one of the complicated things about being asymptomatic and not even knowing you have it. He was performing so well. Carolyn Manno, thanks so much for the update.

WALKER: Thank you, Carolyn. And a quick programming note. Be sure to tune in tomorrow night. We have President Obama joins Anderson Cooper for a rare one-on-one about his life post-presidency. An "ANDERSON COOPER 360 SPECIAL" Barack Obama on Fatherhood, Leadership and Legacy. It airs tomorrow 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

And stay with us. "NEW DAY" continues right now.