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Eight Killed in Shooting at Three Parlors in Metro Atlanta; Biden Traveling Across U.S. to Promote COVID Aid Package; Biden Administration Faces Scrutiny Over Situation at Border; Growing Concern Over Safety of AstraZeneca Vaccine; Biden: Cuomo Should Step Down and Could Face Prosecution; Intel. Report: Russia Tried to Help Trump in 2020 Vote; To U.S. Officials Visiting Seoul to Revitalize Ties; Cubans Risking It All to Flee Country by Boat. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2021 - 04:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And tomorrow is the deadline for them to submit nearly 1.5 million signatures to the states county register for verification. Organizers say that they have over 2 million signatures. Once signatures are varied, a number of procedural steps will need to be taken to line up an election date, meaning there is still a ways to go for the governor. Thank you for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, eight people killed in three Atlanta area massage parlors and police are working under the assumption they are connected. The latest on what we know.

Plus, President Biden tells would be migrants, don't come to America, as the White House faces scrutiny for a surge at the U.S. southern border.

And questions and criticism abound as more European countries suspend the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite regulators saying the benefits outweigh the risks.

We are following new details now on breaking news here in Atlanta, Georgia. Eight people are dead, and one suspect is in custody after shootings at three metro area massage parlors. An official tells CNN law enforcement are now working with the theory that all three are connected.

Four people were killed in one shooting north of Atlanta in Cherokee County and four others in two separate shootings inside the city. We've learned that four of the victims are of Korean ethnicity. The suspect in the Cherokee County shooting, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long was taken into custody about 150 miles south of Atlanta just hours after the killings.

Atlanta police say video evidence suggests Long is likely also the suspect in the other two shootings. The FBI is assisting local law enforcement as they investigate. CNN's Ryan Young reports now from the scene of one of the shootings.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Just a devastating case here in Atlanta. Right now police are investigating three different shooting scenes. And if you look behind me you can see the work the detectives are still doing. Police have taken into custody Robert Long. They say he's 21-years-old. He's from an area known as Woodstock just outside of Atlanta.

There were two different shooting scenes here where three women were shot in one location and one woman was shot across the street. The total number of victims are eight and police right now are working with the theory that all of these cases are connected. But they don't know what the motive is just yet, at least they are not sharing it. They do believe though that video surveillance is what helped police sort give the identity and the information about that car early on in this case. And it was a Georgia state trooper who was able to stop the car that the suspect was riding in. This case is developing as police continue to notify family members about the deaths.


CHURCH: And as Ryan reported there, we still do not have a motive, but there's been reaction to the deadly shootings, including from the chairwoman of the Democratic party of Georgia.

House Democrat Nikema Williams says: This attack sadly follows the unacceptable pattern of violence against Asian-Americans that that is skyrocketed throughout this pandemic. An attack on our Asian-American neighbors is an attack on us all and will not go ignored or unanswered.

And the New York Police Department has been monitoring the situation in Atlanta. In a tweet it's counterterrorism bureau says while there is, quote, no known nexus to New York City it still plans to send assets to Asian communities across the city out of an abundance of caution.

Well U.S. President Joe Biden is in the midst of a cross-country tour promoting his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package to the American public and it's happening while he faces increasing scrutiny over his administration's handling of the recent influx of migrant children at the southern border. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is following both stories.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden is taking his sales pitch to Pennsylvania. JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Is there anything else we can be doing?

COLLINS: At a small business in the city of Chester, Biden kicked off his coronavirus relief bill road show designed to build support for the nearly $2 trillion package that no Republicans voted for.

BIDEN: And you really made it work. And I think you should be aware more help is on the way for real.

COLLINS (voice-over): Biden and his top aides will appear in multiple battleground states this week, as they try to convince Americans that further spending and possible tax increases are necessary next steps to rebuilding.

BIDEN: We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them.

COLLINS (voice-over): One place Biden doesn't plan to visit, for now, the U.S. southern border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any plans to travel to the southern border, sir?

BIDEN (voice-over): I'm not at the moment.

COLLINS (voice-over): The president is facing new scrutiny as thousands of migrant children are stuck in Border Patrol facilities while his administration scrambles to find room for them.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We are building the capacity to address the needs of those children when they arrive. But we are also, and critically, sending an important message that now is not the time to come to the border.

COLLINS (voice-over): Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas says the U.S. is now on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years.

Top immigration officials blame smugglers for taking advantage of Biden's pledge to reverse Trump's anti-immigrant policies.

ROBERTA JACOBSON, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: They are exploiting people's hope and desperation.

COLLINS (voice-over): But even Mexico's leader said Biden is viewed as the, quote, migrant president.

JACOBSON: It's not the way we would put it. It is a more humane system. But it is not open borders.

COLLINS (voice-over): Republicans are flocking to the border to blame Biden for the recent surge, but he's also coming under fire from members of his own party. REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D-TX): It has to be a strong message, because, with all due respect, the administration's message is not coming through. That's the reality of it.


CHURCH: And that was CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

In an interview with ABC President Biden discouraged migrants from traveling to the U.S. and he pushed back against criticism that he's too nice when it comes to immigration. Take a listen.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Was it a mistake not to anticipate this surge?

BIDEN: Well, first of all, there was a surge the last two years in '19 and '20, there was a surge as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This one might be worse.

BIDEN: No, well it could be, but here is the deal. We're sending back people -- first of all, the idea that Joe Biden said come because I heard the other day that they're coming because they know I'm a nice guy and --

STEPHANOPOULOS: They're saying this.

BIDEN: Yes, well, here is the deal, they're not.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have to say quite clearly don't come?

BIDEN: Yes. I can say quite clearly don't come and what we are in the process of getting set up, don't leave your town or city or community.


CHURCH: Well now to growing concerns in Europe over AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, another four countries went against the advice of the European Medicines Agency by temporarily halting use of that vaccine. That's after reports of blood clots in a very small number of people who got the vaccine. EU regulators argue the benefits of being vaccinated against the coronavirus outweigh the yet to be proven risks. Results of an emergency review are expected Thursday.

So let's bring in CNN's Cyril Vanier. He joins us live from London. And Cyril, the tragedy of all of this is that people are at risk of dying from COVID-19 while this investigation is under way for 37 blood clots in the midst of 17 million shots to people. It's extraordinary.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, without question, Rosemary. All the people who have not received shots over the last few days because their countries have suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations, of those, there is a percentage that could get COVID, of those there is a percentage that could be hospitalized, of those there is a percentage that might require intensive care treatment. And of those there is a percentage that will statistically speaking die of COVID. So that as you say is the tragedy of suspending vaccinations.

Now of course the calculation made by European countries is that they took this as a precautionary measure because they were getting troubling data from some vaccine recipients who had had adverse health events, there were multiple deaths that were reported, and they wanted these investigated by the European Medicines Agency and they did not want to be accused of ignoring potentially troubling information.

But look, I think we have started to see a pivot in this story yesterday. The beginning of yesterday we saw more countries join the group that were pausing AstraZeneca. Then in the middle of the day unexpectedly the health European watchdog, the EMA, gave a preliminary assessment of all of this. And their preliminary assessment is in line with what they have said that the benefits of vaccinating far outweigh the risks, and that there is no known connection between the vaccines and potentially fatal blood clots. So they continue to recommend the vaccine.

Their definitive assessment will come on Thursday but already it seems a number of powerful European countries are expecting that it will be positive. Yesterday France and Italy, which have both suspended the vaccine, said they stand ready, and they are poised to resume AstraZeneca vaccinations if the EMA recommendation comes back positive, as they expect it will, they said.

CHURCH: All right. Let's hope they can move forward and do that quickly. Cyril Vanier bringing us the latest from London. Many thanks.

Well President Joe Biden says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign and could even be prosecuted if sexual harassment claims against him are proven.


Cuomo is facing allegations of misconduct from multiple women. He has so far resisted calls to step down. New York's Attorney General is investigating the claims. Mr. Biden told ABC News if the allegations are proven, there will be major consequences.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about Governor Cuomo of New York. I know you've said you want the investigation to continue. If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?

BIDEN: Yes, I think he probably will end up being prosecuted, too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But how about right now? You've said you want the investigation to continue, you saw Chuck Schumer, Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, a majority of the Democratic delegation don't believe he can be an effective governor right now. Can he serve effectively?

BIDEN: Well that's a judgment for them make about whether he can be effective. Here is my position, and it's been my position since I wrote the Violence Against Women Act. A woman should be presumed to telling the truth and should not be scapegoated and become victimized by her coming forward, number one. But there should be an investigation to determine whether what she says is true. That's what's going on now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you've been very clear if the investigation confirms the claims, he's gone.

BIDEN: That's what I think happens. And, by the way, it may very well be there could be a criminal prosecution that is attached to it, I just don't know. But let the investigation -- and I'm not -- I don't know what it is, but I start with the presumption it takes a lot of courage for a woman to come forward, some are not -- anyway, it takes a lot of courage to come forward so the presumption is it should be taken seriously, and it should be investigated and that's what's under way now.


CHURCH: Governor Cuomo previously issued a statement apologizing if his behavior made anyone uncomfortable, but he denies any wrongdoing.

Well next here on "CNN NEWSROOM," new details on Russia's influence in last year's U.S. presidential election. What the Kremlin did to try to help Donald Trump stay in the White House.



CHURCH: It turns out China was not the biggest threat to U.S. election security as Donald Trump had long claimed. A new report from the U.S. intelligence community finds Russia was the main culprit with a not so secret campaign to get Trump reelected. CNN's Alex Marquardt has the details.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This report from the office of the director of national intelligence is the most comprehensive report that we've seen so far about the 2020 election from the U.S. intelligence community. And it details the extent of Russia's major influence campaign to try to hurt Joe Biden's campaign and help Donald Trump's.

The report goes farther than what we've heard before from the U.S. intelligence community, clearly stating that people close to then President Trump and the administration were being targeted by Russia intelligence at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was one of the report's key findings.

We assessed that Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden's candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.

Now that is generally the main goal of these influence operations to divide Americans, to pit voters against one another. But Russia went farther according to this report saying --

A key element of Moscow's strategy this election cycle was to use its proxies linked to Russian intelligence to push, influence narratives including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden to U.S. media organizations, U.S. officials and prominent U.S. individuals, including some close to President Trump and his administration.

Now, they don't name the Americans who were targeted and who are close to Trump, but they do name Andriy Derkach. A familiar name for many, a Ukrainian lawmaker who was in contact with President Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. And Vladimir Putin, according to this report, had purview over the activities of Andriy Derkach.

Now this report goes on to talk about Iran's multipronged covert influence campaign to hurt Donald Trump and to sow division. Probably they say, approved by Iran's supreme leader.

Very interestingly, China who Trump and his allies had said were working to get Joe Biden elected, didn't deploy any influence efforts in the election according to this report. China didn't feel that it was worth risking the U.S./China relationship to get caught meddling in the election.

This report from ODNI also makes clear that on the technical side of voting, foreign actors did not impact the actual votes. They write, we have no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 elections including voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results. The foreign operations, in particular those from Russia and China, according to the U.S. intelligence community, were all about influence operations.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Two top U.S. officials arrived in South Korea just hours ago for talks that looked to revitalize ties. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be meeting with their counterparts in Seoul. This as U.S. intelligence has assessed that North Korea may be preparing to carry out its first weapons test since President Joe Biden took office.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Seoul. She joins us now live. Good to see you, Paula. So the threat posed by North Korea will no doubt dominate discussions. What's expected to come out of these meetings and of course this overall trip?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, there's a couple reasons for this trip, one of the first ones is the fact that President Joe Biden said all along that he wanted to reengage with allies, especially those allies that he felt that the former president and the Trump administration had neglected.


So certainly going to Tokyo, going to Seoul first up for their first trips is significant. They will be talking about North Korea, we know that. Clearly the issue is prevalent here. We've heard from some U.S. officials speaking to our Barbara Starr that U.S. intelligence does assess that they are currently preparing for some kind of a weapons test in North Korea.

That doesn't come as a surprise to be honest to many people because quite often a new U.S. administration is welcomed with a weapons test or missile test. In fact, some would even question why it hasn't come already, they're surprised we haven't really seen much in the way of weapons tests since March of last year. Of course, COVID and the pandemic has a lot to answer for when it comes to that and is probably one of the prevailing reasons why we haven't seen that. But they will be discussing North Korea.

And also, they will be discussing, no doubt, China. The fact that this first trip is into northeast Asia and is just ahead of a trip to Alaska meeting with Chinese officials is significant as well -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Paula Hancocks joining us live from the South Korean capital. Many thanks.

Cubans are fleeing their homeland once again trying to make it by boat to the United States. For some it is the only way out since they can no longer get a U.S. visa or even an international flight. And COVID- 19 is making the perilous journey even more urgent. CNN's Patrick Oppmann has an exclusive report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wondering offshore is that --

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the tiny boat carrying Cuban migrants approaches the coast of Florida, a police helicopter infrared camera captures the moment when things go terribly wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Air one, they just had a wave take him out. The boat just flipped over.

OPPMANN (voice-over): All eight people, who were aboard this boat for more than 16 days in February, survived.

The Coast Guard told CNN they're seeing an increasing number of Cubans trying to make the dangerous and illegal journey to the U.S. Some are stopped on rickety boats known as "rusticos." Some found on deserted islands where the Coast Guard airdrops supplies before rescuing them.

Others are not so lucky. In the town in Caibarien in Cuba, Beatriz keeps vigil for her daughter and two young grandchildren who are missing after the smuggler's boat they took mysteriously sunk this month. The toys and shoes the children left behind sit neatly in their room.

Their mom hoped to reunite with her husband in Florida, Beatriz tells us.

"My daughter is a good mother," Beatriz says. "She wouldn't have done this if it wasn't safe. If everything wasn't OK. She wouldn't have put them through this. Her children are everything to her."

Just down the street, Dayami says her husband, Pepe, was on the same boat, trying to go to the U.S. to better provide for his family. She says she doesn't know what to tell his teenage daughter.

"She says nothing happened to her father," Dayami says, "that her father has to be alive somewhere. But where? We can't take it anymore. We are desperate."

Cuba has been hit hard by the impacts of the coronavirus and increased U.S. sanctions under the Trump administration. Tough economic conditions in the past led to waves of Cubans fleeing the island by boat. It's nearly impossible to leave Cuba legally these days.

COVID and still unexplained health incidents among U.S. diplomats here caused the U.S. to stop issuing visas at the embassy in Havana. A State Department report says, as of November, there were more than 78,000 Cubans on a waiting list for immigrant visas.

OPPMANN: Cubans are unable to receive visas at the U.S. embassy here, and the pandemic has shut down most international flights to and from this island. For many Cubans desperate to leave, now the dangerous journey by boat is their only option.

OPPMANN (voice-over): Beatriz prays for a miracle for her daughter and grandchildren.

"That they find them. That they don't stop looking," she says, "Whatever the news is, that we know what happened. It's more upsetting to not know."

But just days after our interview, Cuban officials announced that the search for the missing boat has ended. And like too many other Cubans, Beatriz's family is now lost at sea.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Caibarien, Cuba.


CHURCH: We are following developments after the deadly shootings at three massage parlors here in metro Atlanta. We will have an update next.