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Fiery Crash Kills 14 Including Ukraine Officials And A Child; Behind The Scenes Of New White House Strategy In Classified Documents Crisis; Chilling Evidence Revealed As Man Charged With Murder Of Missing Wife; Failed GOP Candidate Suspected In Political Shootings Appears In Court. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new death and suffering in Ukraine after a fiery helicopter crash near Kyiv kills 14 people including key government officials and a child. I'll ask the top State Department spokesperson what the U.S. is learning about the crash at this truly pivotal moment in Russia's war against Ukraine.

Also tonight, the Biden White House is sticking to the script as its new strategy for dealing with the classified documents crisis takes shape. We'll have the latest on what's happening behind the scenes amid growing pressure on the president.

And prosecutors reveal chilling new evidence as a Massachusetts man is formally charged with murdering his missing wife. Our experts will break down the case and all the disturbing new details.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is calling the helicopter crash near Kyiv a tragedy, and he's suggesting that every death in his country is a result of the ongoing war.

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward has more from Kyiv on this disaster and the investigation that is now under way.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A quiet Kyiv suburb turned into an inferno. The sounds of screaming can be heard minutes after a helicopter crashed outside an apartment building just steps away from a kindergarten.

Onboard, the leadership of Ukraine's interior ministry, including the minister himself, Denys Monastyrskyi, and his deputy, Yevhen Yenin.

The chopper was bound for the city of Kharkiv when it lost control smashing into the kindergarten as it descended. One child was killed.

Rescue services worked to clear the smoldering wreckage and searched for survivors as neighbors looked out at the scene of horror.

Ala (ph), tells us she ran outside as soon as she heard the explosion. We saw only injured children who were on fire. Sorry, she says. They were crying and running out from the school.

Ukrainian security services have opened an investigation into the crash. For now, there is no suggestion that foul play was involved. There was heavy fog in the morning. But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said every death is the result of war even when it is far from the frontlines.

The wife of Deputy Minister Yenin sobbed in shock as she took in the scene, another tragedy in a nation that has borne witness to see much horror. As daylight faded emergency services declared the end of the search and rescue and the bodies were taken away.


WARD (on camera): Now, Wolf, the president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that rescue operation lasted nearly nine hours. In addition to the 14 people who were killed, I want to stress 25 people were injured, some of them quite seriously. We know tonight that ten people are being treated at a burn ward here in Kyiv, and among them four children, and among the dead, as we mentioned in the story, one child, one young girl was killed, Wolf. So, truly a tragic day for Ukraine.

BLITZER: Very tragic indeed. Clarissa, I want you to stay with us. I also want to bring in CNN Military Analyst retired Major General Mark Hertling.

General Hertling, President Zelenskyy began his remarks today with a moment of silence for the victims of that truly horrific helicopter crash and then he pleaded for more support. Watch and listen to this.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: The time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill.

The supplying of Ukraine with air defense systems must outpace Russia's next missile attacks. The supplies of western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks.


BLITZER: General, CNN is reporting the U.S. could soon announce one of its biggest military aid packages to Ukraine yet, but what's behind the U.S. reluctance at least so far to grant President Zelenskyy's request for battle tanks?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's a combination of things, Wolf. First of all it has to do with not only providing the equipment, but as we've seen with the provisions of the Bradley fighting vehicles, which are now being trained in Germany, is the requirement to train on these vehicles.


These are not something you just hand over and expect them to have a point and shoot capability. There's a lot of training not only for the crews on an advanced piece of weapons system coming from the west, not just the United States but other western countries, but training on that as crews, as teams, as companies, and most importantly the support packages that is associated with these things.

You know, a lot of the U.S. vehicles have the kind of engines and transmissions and turret systems that are very unfamiliar to the Ukrainian military. They're used to the T-72s and the BMPs. Some of these tanks like the one you're showing right now, the M1 tank, has a turbine engine, nothing like a diesel engine that the Ukrainians are used to and it takes a whole lot more of maintenance, supplies, equipment and training to repair them as well as just the support, just from ammunition and fuel.

BLITZER: Clarissa, you're there in Ukraine for us. What are you hearing on the ground from Ukrainians as they brace for the anniversary of Putin's invasion that's coming up in a few weeks and an expected brand new Russian spring military offensive?

WARD: So, there has been a lot of discussion from Ukrainian officials on the ground here, Wolf, about this sort of much wanted Russian offensive. The main logic behind it is that Putin mobilized 300,000 soldiers, a 150,000 of them will be finishing their training in the next month or two and the next logical step would be for them to be sort of moved into the battlefield.

And the fear would be that you might see some kind of a big offensive. We heard General Zaluzhnyi, who's the commander of Ukrainian Armed Forces back in December, saying that he thinks the Russian's could even try to have another go at taking Kyiv, the capital.

So far, we don't see anything concrete in terms of movements on the battlefield that indicate that an offensive is imminent, that certainly Russia is being forced to put a lot of these young mobilized troops into what they call the meat grinder, which is the sort of state of play in Donbas, where there continues to be brutal heavy fighting.

But I think more, broadly speaking, when you talk to the Ukrainian people coming up to a year in this war, there's a grim determination, there's a belief that they can win it but there's also an understanding that it could be a long, hard slog, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it could be indeed.

General Hertling, Putin today alluded to a spring draft in Russia with Russia planning to increase the size of its military even further. How far will that go to counter some of Russia's major issues conducting this war?

HERTLING: I don't think that will go very far at all, Wolf. He's already attempted a mass mobilization of several hundred thousand and the one he's suggesting now is close to half a million. He just does not have, as I said before, the training capability, the equipment, the trainers or the ability to move these soldiers around on any kind of combat vehicles after they received the training.

So, just like I just mentioned with Ukraine's forces required to train on new equipment, required to get some basic training, the same will be true to some of these mobilized soldiers. Yes, some of them may have been in the military before but you've got to remember the Russian system is usually a one-year draft. So if you're 40 years old and the last time you were in service was when you were 18, there's a lot of things you've forgotten.

So, again, it's Putin attempting to build that meat grinder that you just mentioned. And it is so appropriate to the way the Russians conduct warfare as we've seen around the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut.

BLITZER: General Hertling, Clarissa Ward, I want you to standby.

Right now, I want to bring in the State Department's top spokesperson, Ned Price. He's joining us from the State Department right now. Ned, thanks very much for joining us.

On this tragic helicopter crash near Kyiv, will the U.S. be updated on the investigation into whether this was an accident as it appears to be or was it some sort of Russian attack?

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: I expect we will, Wolf. And I expect we will for a simple reason. We've been in constant communication with our Ukrainian partners throughout the course of the day. Our embassy in Kyiv has been on the line with them virtually every hour to get an update into this situation. Our embassy in Kyiv has been in turn providing updates back to the department here in Washington, D.C.

The short answer right now is that we don't know what caused this helicopter to go down. The Ukrainians have launched an investigation. We stand ready to assist that investigation in any way we can. Our ambassador and senior officials here in Washington have made that clear to our Ukrainian partners.

But more than anything else, what we've made clear is the sorrow we feel for the loss of life not only for our partner, the minister of interior and members of his team, but for the dozens of other individuals who were killed or wounded in this tragic crash today.


BLITZER: Yes, our hearts go out to those families as well.

Ned, CNN is now reporting that the United States, the Biden administration is expected to announce one of the largest military aid packages to Ukraine yet. We're talking about another $2.5 billion aid package. It will include for the first time Stryker combat vehicles, while a handful of western allies want to provide battle tanks, the U.S. is not expected to provide them, at least not now. Tell us why. Why not? PRICE: Well, Wolf, on any fourth coming announcement, two words, stay tuned. As you know we have made the security assistance announcements at a pretty -- a good clip over the past year as this started even before President Putin's invasion of Ukraine started on February 24th. At every step of the way, we have been providing our Ukrainian partners with precisely what they need to defend their country, to defend their sovereignty, to defend their territorial integrity against this brutal land grab, this territorial war of aggression that President Putin has launched.

You used the word reluctance before. I think when you look at everything the United States has provided to our Ukrainian partners over the past year or even longer, I don't see reluctance, Wolf. I see determination. I see determination to see to it that our Ukrainian partners have precisely what they need. You can measure that in any number of metrics, more than $24 billion of security assistance since February 24th, nearly $25 billion since the start of this administration.

And at every step of the way as Russia's plans have evolved and as they have failed each time, we, too, have changed the ark of what we have provided to Ukraine. When it was about the battle of Kyiv in the earliest hours and days of President Putin's war, we provided Stingers and Javelins, other air defense systems, other armored tank vehicles, armored vehicles, precisely what the Ukrainians needed for that moment.

As the battle has moved to the east, as it's moved to the north, as it has taken on that flavor, we have provided HIMARS, longer range systems that our Ukrainian partners can use to target Russian positions on their territory. We have provided a Patriot missile system. We have provided other air defense systems that the Ukrainians have used to extraordinary effect. Even as these Iranian-produced drones continue to swarm into Ukrainian towns and cities they, the Ukrainians, have used the air defense systems that we've provided to shoot down in some cases all of these drones.

Now, even one drone, even one ballistic missile making its way through this air defense capability is one too many, and we're going to continue to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they need to defend themselves and what they need to take back the territory that's been taken from them.

BLITZER: And the U.S. is now providing the Ukrainians with Bradley fighting vehicles, which is important.

But they keep appealing, President Zelenskyy, keeps appealing for the M1 Abrams battle tanks to be delivered, and the U.S. keeps saying, no. One of the concerns about tanks, as you know, is logistics. But the U.S. did change its stance on the Patriot missile air defense system, which also requires extensive training and maintenance. Are tanks off the table entirely or just off the table for now?

PRICE: We want to provide our Ukrainian partners with what they can use and what they can use effectively on the battlefield. As we've demonstrated before, training is not an insurmountable obstacle. HIMARS requires training, the Patriot system requires training. As you mentioned before, we have provided these Bradley fighting vehicles that provide our Ukrainian partners with an asset that they can use on the ground to take on Russian positions in the near-term.

But what we don't want to do is saddle our Ukrainian partners with systems that they won't be able to use, systems that they won't be able to repair, systems that they won't be able to refurbish. Every armored vehicle that you've heard about has its own characteristics. The M1 Abrams is different from what other countries have in their possession. It's different from the Bradley fighting vehicle that we have in our possession.

We're focused on providing our Ukrainian partners with what they can put to use if not immediately in the very near-term, and what they can continue to use for the foreseeable future to see to it that the assistance we're providing has the utmost effect on the battlefield.

BLITZER: Ned Price, the spokesperson in the State Department, thanks so much for joining us. We will stay in close touch with you.

Just ahead we'll take you inside the White House playbook right now for defending the president's handling of classified documents and going on the offensive against the Republicans.



BLITZER: Tonight, we're getting a clearer picture of how the White House plans to navigate through multiple investigations of President Biden's handling of White House plans -- White House classified documents.

Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly. He's working the story for us. Phil, walk us through the latest. We're learning about the White House's strategy what they're saying publicly, for example, versus what's happening there behind the scenes.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's an important distinction between the two, Wolf. But it's worth noting this week has really underscored a shift from the White House compared to the last week, where officials acknowledged day after day they were caught off-guard, by surprise by the new developments, the new disclosures in that classified documents case that's now under investigation by a special counsel.

However, even throughout last week, they maintained President Biden's schedule, they maintained a focus on his agenda, the items that they very clearly wanted him to talk about. That has continued this week and will continue going forward in part because officials, one, believe that when this all said and done, this investigation is complete, that it will show, at least in the view of senior White House advisers, that White House lawyers and the personal lawyers of the president did the right thing.


Obviously that's to be determined by the special counsel. But they also try and point to the idea that Americans don't necessarily care about this investigation. They care more about the economy. They care more about the president's implementation of his legislative items, and that's what they want to focus on.

The other element here is one that we've seen consistently over the course of the last several days. They are not going to engage in any way, shape or form on that ongoing investigation, making very clear there's simply no answer they're going to give now that that investigation is currently under way.

A lot of questions remain. They aren't willing to engage in part because they've been informed by their lawyers that they don't believe that is a smart strategy with that investigation under way.

But I think the biggest element right now that we've seen that is different this week from last week is the attacks that they've leveled on Republicans, the Republican chairman in particular in the House who have opened their own investigations on these issues, White House officials trying to appoint to the divergence between how they are looking at President Biden and how they are looking at his predecessor and his classified issues case. They believe there's ample opportunity to make this a political fight they think they can win, not the legal battle, which is very much going on underway behind the scenes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. There's a political battle and a legal battle. Phil Mattingly at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this with our legal and political experts who are joining us. Jamie Gangel, you have some new reporting, I understand, on how the National Archives are dealing with this right now.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it won't surprise anyone to know that the Republicans in the House Oversight Committee, the chairman reached out to the Archives, asked for them to come in and give a briefing.

The Archives responded yesterday and they're very cooperative but -- emphasis on the but -- because what they said to the committee is, with the DOJ investigation going on, they have to confer with the Justice Department and the Justice Department will then have to confer with the new special counsel. So, I would say they say they would like to cooperate, but it's not going to happen any time --

BLITZER: Well, let me get Andrew McCabe to weigh in.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's exactly how they should have responded under the circumstances, right? There's a long held understanding in this town on the Hill that Congress doesn't get access to the information and the evidence involved in ongoing criminal investigations, and that's what we have here.

I mean, ongoing material in an ongoing criminal investigation is actually an exception to the Freedom of Information Act. So, the importance of holding those investigations in a sensitive place and not disturbing the work of the Justice Department is a time honored precedent and it's one DOJ should defend.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Abby, the White House officials say they're cooperating fully with the Justice Department, the special counsel, but they also have to deal now with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which is launching their own investigations.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that's going to be a huge pain in the neck for the White House. There's no question about that. I mean, I think that they recognize how this could parallel some previous past investigations, including when Republicans similarly tried to investigate Hillary Clinton focusing on the Benghazi attacks and then later on her emails.

And I think they see that this can just drag on. We're basically in an election cycle right now and there's a prospect that Republicans can try to keep this going all the way until Election Day 2024 if Biden is on the ballot, which it seems likely that he will be.

So, it doesn't surprise me at all that the White House is keeping them at arm's length. It also helps quite a lot that this is not happening in a vacuum. This is happening after all that has transpired of former President Trump and the facts of that case remain very different in some fundamental ways, including that Trump did not want to give the documents back to the government.

BLITZER: Let me let Carrie weigh in. Should we expect some tension to emerge right now between the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI, the Congress as all these various investigations into the discovery of these classified documents unfolds?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, absolutely. So, there's just some real natural tensions here that exists between what Andrew is talking about, which is the fact there is a criminal investigation being conducted by the special counsel. And so those Justice Department and those investigative prerogatives are going to weigh heavy on any decisions that are made particularly by the executive branch.

Then from the White House perspective, you have a communications and political issue that they want to weigh in on, but, really, from the legal and investigative perspective, they can't and they shouldn't. And then you have the Congressional prerogatives, which no matter what party this would have been in this type of situation, there would have been investigation from oversight committees.

And so that's exactly what we're seeing. It happens to be that we're in the midst of a new Congress, with a Republican House, and so these investigations are particularly animated, particularly enthusiastic for them to start this type of oversight.

BLITZER: And amidst to all of this, Jamie, former President Trump is now weighing in. He sent out on Truth Social, a social media site, he said he had these classified folders, he said, that were at Mar-a- Lago, which were -- he called them cool keepsakes, as far as he was concerned from four years in the White House.


What's your reaction?

GANGEL: You can't make this one up. I thought we had seen everything. So, what he said today, he's clearly obsessed with being compared to Biden because we've reported that it's very different. Biden cooperated, there appeared to be very few documents. Donald Trump is quite the other thing.

So, he went on this rant on Truth Social today, and what he pointed out was he's claiming that he didn't keep documents, he kept the folders for the documents. And, Wolf, he said that he kept hundreds of folders of the documents because they're cool. This just goes beyond -- beyond belief.

I do understand keeping -- that he wanted to keep the note that Obama sent him, and that might be a cool keepsake, but it defies belief that he kept the folders.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I'm not even sure that we should take any of this at face value. It seems like an attempt to distract from -- with the facts of his case. There's really no evidence that these were empty folders. We're talking about hundreds of documents. There were details revealed about the level of classification involved.

So, it's a weird distraction but also one that actually seems to indicate that he's basically saying, I wanted to keep things that were marked classified. That does not strike me as something that's smart to say under the circumstance.

BLITZER: He's basically suggesting, I wanted these souvenirs from my years at the White House, which obviously is a very dangerous situation.

All right, guys, standby, we're going to have a lot more coming up. Also coming up, horrifying evidence prosecutors are laying out against the Massachusetts man now charged with murdering his missing wife.



BLITZER: In Massachusetts today the husband of missing mother, Ana Walshe, was officially charged with her murder. Investigators still haven't found a body but prosecutors say the damning evidence, including Brian Walshe's gruesome internet search history is proof he killed her, he killed his wife.

CNN's Jason Carroll has our report.


LYNN BELAND, PROSECUTOR: Grant a divorce (ph) it is clear that Brian Walshe dismembered Ana Walshe and that he scattered her body.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Chilling new details revealed in court by prosecutors describing the evidence against the Massachusetts father who allegedly murdered his wife and tried to cover it up. Brian Walshe in custody since January 8th when he was charged with misleading investigators searching for his wife was in court for the arraignment Wednesday and formally charged with Ana Walshe's murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you understand what the charges Mr. Walshe?


CARROLL: The prosecution laid out some of the disturbing evidence against Walshe saying he used his son's iPad to make numerous online searches in the days before and after Ana Walshe disappeared.

BELAND: On December 27th, the defendant Googled, what's the best state to divorce for a man. At 4:55 A.M. on January 1st, he searched how long before a body starts to smell. At 4:58 A.M., how to stop a body from decomposing.

CARROLL: A not guilty plea was entered for Walshe, who said little in court, only shook his head once as more of his alleged searches came to light.

BELEND: At 5:20 A.M., he searched how to embalm a body. At 5:47 A.M., 10 ways to dispose of a dead body if you really need to. At 6:25 A.M. on the 1st, how long for someone to be missing to repair it.

CARROLL: Prosecutor say, Ana's employer, a D.C. real estate firm, was the first to report her missing when she didn't show up for work January 4th. That's when police went to the Walshes home for a well- being check.

BELAND: It was only at this time when they met with the defendant that he first reported his wife missing.

CARROLL: During the course of the investigation, police found ten trash bags from a dumpster and trash facility with items, including towels, rags, slippers, tape, gloves, cleaning agent, a COVID-19 vaccination card with Ana Walshe's name on it, a hacksaw and a hatchet. They also discovered personal items, including a portion of a necklace believed to have been worn by Ana Walshe in several photos. Tests of some of the items by the state crime lab determined the presence of DNA from both Ana and Brian Walshe.

After the arraignment, Defense Attorney Tracy Miner called out prosecutors for leaks in the case saying in a statement that read, in my experience, whereas here, the prosecution leaks so-called evidence to the press before they provide it to me, their case isn't that strong. Miner also said, it is easy to charge a crime and even easier to say a person committed that crime. It is a much more difficult thing to prove it, which we will see, if the prosecution can do.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL (on camera): Some of what was revealed in the courtroom today, Wolf, in addition to all that you heard there, the prosecution also says their investigators found blood in the car at the Walshe's home. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Jason, thank you very much, Jason Carroll reporting for us.

Let's discuss this with our Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller and CNN Legal Analyst Joey Jackson.

John, how damaging is the full picture the prosecution has painted at least today?


JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, it's seems that if you go by the prosecution's evidence, the only thing he didn't Google is what not to Google before you're going to murder and dismember your wife. I mean, he basically laid out all of the questions that you would ask going into a plan like that then allegedly made all the purchases of supplies you would need for that. And then was seen on video placing heavy garbage bags at a garbage dump by his mother's house where at the transfer station they found biological DNA matches to both he and his wife.

So, it stacks up pretty seriously. If I were Joey Jackson, I wouldn't want to be in this case.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Joey to talk about this. Joey, first of all, have you ever seen such a brazen trail of Google searches? Just how incriminating will this be in court?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, it will be extraordinarily incriminating. Remember the age that we live in. We live in a day and age of technology, which is a blessing in many ways and a curse as we look at the specific timeline there. And what's compelling is, as the prosecution laid out the specific timeline, is whether and how they were able to piece this together. These internet searches are very specific with respect to demonstrating his intent, demonstrating what he needed to know to commit the crime he's alleged to have committed.

And it doesn't end with the internet searches. It certainly just begins there. It moved forward with respect to bags being recovered not only, you know, with DNA and other items in there but with the clothing, et cetera.

And then you look to the misleading statements. You look to the home where there's blood downstairs and a knife, you look to the car where it appeared as though some tarp was laid down in the back. And so, wow, it's just compelling and remarkable.

You also, right, had asked me previously about the motivation. Prosecutors laid that out in court as well because the internet searches spoke to him not wanting to be married and what's the best state to get a divorce in.

And so, boy oh boy, this is going to be an extraordinary case to overcome. To John Miller's very good point, this certainly would not be a case, you know, that I'd want to be sitting in front of right now to have to defend.

BLITZER: That's an important point. John, Brian Walshe, as we just heard, he Google searched about divorce just days before his wife disappeared. Do you believe that speaks to possible motive?

MILLER: I believe it does speak to possible motive because he does that on the 27th, and she disappears after dinner with another couple on New Year's Eve going into the 1st.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a possible motive indeed. All right, John Miller, Joey Jackson, guys, thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this story.

And an important note to our viewers stay with CNN for more on the Ana Walshe case, AC 360 investigates what happened to Ana, that's later tonight 9:00 P.M. Eastern.

Just ahead we're following a new low in the controversy engulfing George Santos, allegations the Congressman swindled a U.S. Military veteran and his dying dog.



BLITZER: New allegations against the embattled freshman Republican Congressman George Santos. On top of documented lies he told in this biography, two veterans now say he took thousands of dollars from a fund to save a dying dog's life. CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Melanie Zanona is joining us with the latest. What are you hearing up on Capitol Hill, Melanie?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Wolf, this is one of those headlines that is almost too hard to believe. It was first report by but CNN has confirmed that it is true. So this whole saga dates back to 2016 when a homeless veteran had a dog who needed a lifesaving surgery. He told CNN that he was connected to George Santos who at the time was going by a different name, Anthony Devolder, and was believed to be running a pet charity.

And Santos did setup a GoFundMe account and raised as much as $3,000 for this lifesaving surgery, but when the veteran tried to collect the money that's when things started going south. The veteran told CNN that Santos try to make him jump through a number of hoops before he could collect the money and then eventually just stopped returning any phone calls.

The dog end up dying six months later. Santos is denying the story sort of generally. He just give a statement to our Don Lemon, I want to read you part of it, he said, I have no clue what he's talking about and the crazy part is that anyone that knows me knows I'd go to hell and back for a dog and especially a veteran.

So this is just more of the pile on effect. We also did reach out Wolf to GoFundMe. They said they had removed the post and the fund-raiser when a report was filed in late 2016 that something was off.

BLITZER: I want to turn, Melanie, while I have another pressing issue that's unfolding now. The looming debt limit deadline here in the United States, the standoff between the White House and Congressional Republicans appear to escalate today. What's the latest?

ZANONA: Yes, we are really getting a preview of the fiscal showdown to come here in Washington. So, the U.S. is going to run out of its borrowing limit as early as tomorrow and then they are going to run out of extraordinary measures to prevent a debt default by early June.

But we're already seeing Democrats and Republicans digging in. So Kevin McCarthy in his bid to become speaker, he is demanding that a debt ceiling hike be linked to spending cuts, which is hard for Democrats.

And heard a hard-line Congressman Andy Biggs dig in even further today. He tweeted, we cannot raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have carelessly spent our tax payer money and devalued our currency. They've made their bed, so they must lie in it.

But the White House is punching back. This is part of a strategy, an emerging strategy from the White House to try to take Republicans head on over this issue. Spokesman Andrew Bates for the White House said in a statement, Biggs is dead wrong to actively support the ruin of millions of Americans livelihoods, 401(k) plans and small businesses all in the name of scorched earth partisanship.


We should also point out, Wolf, Republicans did raise the debt ceiling multiple times under former President Donald Trump. They did not put any conditions on it, but now they see it as an opportunity to use their leverage, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Melanie, thank you very much. Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill.

Coming up the failed new GOP candidate accused of attacking Democratic officials appears in court. We'll have new details about his criminal past and extremism. That's next.


BLITZER: New details tonight about multiple shootings at Democratic officials' homes in New Mexico and the failed GOP candidate accused of masterminding the attacks.

CNN's Josh Campbell has the latest.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are on the record on Solomon Pena.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Solomon Pena, wearing a red jumpsuit, shackled at his wrists and ankles appearing in front of a judge for the first time since his arrest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, Mr. Pena, your attorney is going to be calling you at that podium behind you.

CAMPBELL: He gave a thumbs up to the judge in response to a question, and the court ruled the case will move to district court.

The 2020 election denier and former Republican candidate for the New Mexico state house is accused of conspiring with and paying four other men to shoot at the homes of four elected Democratic state leaders.

SAM BREGMAN, BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: There's a lot of evidence. We have the electronic communications. We have a significant amount of evidence. And we're very confident in our case moving forward.

CAMPBELL: According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Pena provided, quote, firearms and cash payments and personally participated in at least one shooting.

Additionally, the arrest warrant included images from the phone of one of the co-conspirators, photos that were sent to Pena. Those images show Pena with one of the four suspected shooters who, when arrested, had a gun that police say was used in one of the shootings.

Albuquerque's police chief tells CNN Pena's intent went beyond political intimidation.

CHIEF HAROLD MEDINA, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO POLICE: He's becoming more aggressive in his manner. He was starting to ask them to do activities which clearly put lives in danger. I think it may have started in one place. But I think it quickly ended up in another place. And it was to hurt people.

CAMPBELL: Days after his arrest, more details about Pena's criminal past and extremism are emerging. He served roughly seven years in prison for burglary and larceny.

Last year after getting crushed by almost 50 percentage points, he accused his opponent of rigging the election. One former staffer tells CNN that the 39-year-old was, quote, quite eccentric and a lack of allegiance to Donald Trump could set him off. Once calling out another Republican politician for being anti-Trump.

Evidence of Pena's devotion to Trump are prominent. Video appears to show him at three rallies in Washington, D.C. and CNN's cameras captured what appears to be pea at a Trump rally in Phoenix last summer. He would later post a tweet of himself attending.

In another post, sporting a red MAGA hoodie, Pena wrote, he stands with Trump and never conceded his own race in New Mexico. The same type of election conspiracy theory that law enforcement has warned could lead to violence.

BREGMAN: And I don't care whether it's a Republican or a Democrat- elected leader. Violence against elected leaders will not be tolerated.


CAMPBELL: And in a statement just in from Pena's attorney, he says that these charges are merely allegations, that they have not yet stood up to the rigors of the judicial process. He will aggressively defend his client.

Wolf, one question we had going into today's hearing was whether this suspect would be released on bond. The judge ruling that, for the time being, he will remain in custody -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Josh, thank you very much. Josh Campbell reporting.

Up next, outrage from parents at the Virginia school where a 6-year- old boy allegedly shot his teacher.



BLITZER: There's new fallout tonight from that very disturbing school shooting involving a 6-year-old who allegedly pulled a trigger on his own teacher.

Brian Todd is working the story for us.

Brian, give us the latest.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the school board meeting last night was packed beyond capacity with people filling overflow rooms. Apparently the opportunity to channel anger toward a school board that is now under enormous pressure was a hot ticket.


COLLEEN RENTHROPE, PARENT OF TWO STUDENTS IN NEWPORT NEWS SCHOOL DISTRICT: I send my kids to school and find myself praying to god that they will return home safely.

TODD (voice-over): Emotional, furious parents vent at school officials in Newport News, Virginia, at the first school board meeting since a 6-year-old boy shot and wounded his first grade teacher in the classroom.

KIMBERLY SLAYDON, PARENT: Don't want to have a family dinner where I talk about where my kids will hide in their school.

TODD: One woman said her daughter was in the classroom at Richneck elementary school when teacher Abby Zwerner was shot.

DESIREE YVETTE, PARENT: She's 6. She's terrified because the person that was advocating for her got hurt. She got hurt.

TODD: She blamed school officials for failing to prevent the shooting. Before the shooting, a school employee had searched the boy's backpack based on a tip but found no gun.

YVETTE: You guys should've been defending her and protecting when they said there was a possible weapon in that child's backpack, or otherwise.

TODD: Parents expressing anger that this was the third school shooting in the Newport News School District since September of 2021 with one fatality. One parent issuing a warning.

JOHN KRIKORIAN, PARENT: Enough is enough. What will it take? I pray it is not a fourth shooting, because that blood will be on your hands.

TODD: One parent said trust in Newport News School officials has been lost at all levels. Parents and teachers said in the Newport News district many students who disrespect teachers and engage in violence face no consequences, and school officials are accused of downplaying or ignoring disciplinary incidents for favorable statistics.

CINDY CONNELL, TEACHER: Ask any teacher in this school division why discipline incidents declined. And I have a feeling the response will be the same. Infraction numbers are down because incidents are not always officially reported.

TODD: Some at the meeting called for Newport News school superintendent George Parker and the entire school board to resign.

School officials say they're responding to the shooting by installing metal detectors at all elementary schools in Newport News and they're considering a rule to require students to bring only transparent backpacks to school. One security expert calls that security theater.

KENNETH TRUMP, SCHOOL SECURITY CONSULTANT: The number one way we find out about weapons in schools is not from a metal detector but a kid who tells an adult that they trust. It's about relationships.


TODD (on camera): We reached out to the school district for response for accusation that the district underreports disciplinary incident, and to ask if superintendent Gorge Parker or anyone on the school board would resign. They didn't respond -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, reporting. Brian, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.