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Abortion Ban Head to Governor's Desk; Trump's Lawyers Seek DOJ Meeting; Drone Attacks in Belgorod; Chief Justice Roberts Speaks about Ethics Questions; Gabby Petito's Family Has Hearing in Lawsuit. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 09:30   ET





Here's a look at a few of the top stories we're following for you this morning.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is set to kick off his Republican presidential primary campaign tonight. A spokesperson for the governor tells CNN, DeSantis will make the official announcement tonight in a conversation on Twitter with its owner Elon Musk.

Typhoon Mawar is lashing Guam with torrential rain and devastating winds. The National Weather Service says it could be the strongest typhoon to hit the U.S. territory in more than 20 years, posing a triple threat of category four hurricane equivalent winds, exceptional storm surge and torrential rainfall. According to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Mawar still has winds of 140 miles per hour with gusts up to 165 miles per hour.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: South Carolina lawmakers have now approved a six-week abortion ban. And the bill is headed to the governor's desk to sign. He's expected to sign it, as he has tweeted overnight, quote/unquote, as soon as possible.

The state senate voted Tuesday to pass this ban, but this has been a long, drawn-out fight that we've been following with a bipartisan group of women state senators standing up to stop this from happening. That effort officially failed yesterday.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher, she's following this for us.

So, Dianne, what happens now?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Kate, after the governor signs this into law, expect lawsuits. According to Planned Parenthood - in fact, even before the governor himself commented, they said once this is signed into law, they will see South Carolina in court. That is particularly germane to South Carolina because they actually had a six-week ban in place in law before and the state supreme court struck it down. According to those five women senators on the floor of the senate last night, language that was tweaked by the house members they believe opens the state back up to the same issues they had when the supreme court struck the bill down originally.

Now, this new ban -- this new abortion ban bans abortions essentially after six weeks, before many people know that they're even pregnant. It does include some exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies, in some cases the health or the life of the patient, as well as exceptions up to 12 weeks for rape and incest victims, but they have reporting requirements for doctors to local authorities, which opponents say could discourage those victims from actually coming forward.

It also includes a slew of differences from the current law, including adding penalties for doctors up to felony charges, fines, jail time and opening them up to civil suits if they knowingly violate the law.

Now, look, lawmakers said that they -- those five women said they fought as hard as they could and said that they are now going to strategize at this point, Kate, on what their next steps could be.

BOLDUAN: All right, Dianne, thank you so much for the update. We'll see what happens now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a new move this morning from Donald Trump's legal team and perhaps a sign that they think the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago documents is close to a conclusion.


Trump's lawyers, they are requesting a meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland. They are asking to discuss what they call, quote, unfair treatment by the special counsel, Jack Smith.

CNN's Kara Scannell, step into the interview chamber here, is with us now.

Kara, what exactly are they asking for, why, and what signs are there, like, there's other stuff happening today that indicates that, you know, there's movement here.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is a request from Trump's legal team to meet with the Attorney General Merrick Garland, right? And they are saying in their letter they want to discuss the unfair treatment of former President Trump.

Now, what's interesting is they don't say which investigation they want to discuss because the special counsel is looking at both the handling of the classified documents and the election interference and whether there was any, and they're also asking for this meeting with Garland, but not Jack Smith, the special counsel. And that is, when you do see attorneys want to go in and kind of give maybe their last pitch of why their client shouldn't be charged, they usually meet with someone who's on the team, not going straight to the attorney general. So, real interesting question if Garland takes this meeting or if they make an appeal to Jack Smith himself.

You know, because there are signs that this investigation is potentially winding down, particularly the Mar-a-Lago one. I mean, in that case, the National Archives is set to turn over documents today which suggest that Trump and his team knew the process for declassification. That has been one of his defenses this whole time, that, you know, he declassified the documents when he left office. But there is a process and that's what these documents may show.

You know, and, also, they have interviewed so many people around this. Remember the search of Mar-a-Lago was last August, ten months ago. Jack Smith has been in place for quite a while. And they've even interviewed some members of Trump's legal team who were involved in responding to the subpoena that kind of kicks off part of this investigation, particularly the part where they're looking at obstruction.

BERMAN: All right, Kara Scannell, great to see you. Thank you so much for this. A lot of signs that we don't know what's going to happen but stuff does seem to be happening.

Thanks so much for being here.


SIDNER: Police in Portugal are focused on a marshy reservoir miles from where Madeleine McCann was last seen 16 years ago. What led authorities to the site in a live report straight ahead.



BOLDUAN: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now been referred to police over new claims that he may have broken Covid lockdown rules. "The Times of London" is reporting that there is new evidence Johnson was visited privately by friends during the pandemic. The former prime minister was already fined last year, you'll remember, for breaking Covid rules in 2020. That was just one of the scandals that eventually led to his resignation. Johnson's office now calls this new referral, quote, bizarre and unacceptable.

So, some much needed relief is on the way for flood victims in northern Italy. The Italian government has approved an emergency package of more than $2.2 billion to help the flood ravaged region. More than 36,000 people were evacuated and at least 14 people died in the floods since that flooding began last week. About 23,000 people are still homeless and some cities remain flooded.

Searches in connection with the disappearance of British toddler Madeleine McCann resumed today in Portugal. This is now 16 years after she vanished. A police source in Germany told CNN Portugal that pictures of the reservoir where they are searching were found on the computer of Christian Brueckner. He's a man who was named as an official suspect in the case last year. Yesterday's search efforts were canceled due to heavy rain and wind.


BERMAN: So, overnight, drone strikes inside Russia's Belgorod region injured nine people. Again, that's over the border. Russia is here. Ukraine's here. The strikes, up there in Belgorod. That's according to the governor of the region who said the attack damaged cars, homes and administrative buildings. Power has still not been fully restored.

The drone strikes came one day after a rare ground assault by anti- Putin Russian fighters. One official told CNN that Ukraine was given a heads up about the raid but maintained that Ukraine was not involved. Russia's defense minister said they will respond, quote, harshly to any assaults that they describe as, quote, terrorist attacks.

Let's go to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, who is in Kyiv.

All of a sudden, Fred, a lot of activity happening in this Belgorod region where I know you spent a great deal of time, particularly in the beginning of the Russian invasion. What's going on?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, first of all, you're absolutely right, there is a lot of activity that's happening. You had that cross-border raid, as you put it, by those anti-Putin Russians, which is absolutely correct. And, you know, it's pretty humiliating, actually, for the Russian military because it took them more than 24 hours to actually come to terms with that situation. It was late yesterday that the Russian defense ministry came out and claimed they had pushed all the attackers back into Ukrainian territory, also claim that they had liquidated, as they put it, 70 of them, which seems to mean had killed, captured or wounded 70 of them.

The groups themselves, those anti-Putin Russians, this deny that that happened. They say that their fighters got back. They said some of them might actually still be inside Russia. They weren't very willing to say exactly.

But, in general, this is not a good look for the Russian military. And, you know, you're absolutely right, at the beginning of the war I spent a lot of time in that area. It's a key area for the Russians. It's right on the border with Ukraine. It's a highly militarized area. They have a lot of military bases there.

And for this group of armed Russians to come over into Russian territory and be able to go there for that amount of time is certainly something that is very difficult to stomach for a lot of people. There's still a lot of people in that region who are not able to go back to their houses because there are still sweeps going on.


And there are certainly a lot of people who are asking how something like this could happen. That ranges from the governor of that region, who said he has a lot of questions for the Russian military, to also Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the private military para (ph) company Wagner, which, of course, has been fighting in Bakhmut, who said, look, what's to stop them from going to Moscow next time? So certainly, something that is pretty embarrassing it seems for the Russian military where a lot of Russian haves a lot of questions.

And one of the things I think that you said, John, is also absolutely key as well, the Ukrainians now, a source telling us, that they had a heads up but they continue to say that they had nothing to do with this. That these are groups of anti-Putin Russians that fight with the Ukrainian armed forces here inside Ukraine. But when they do things in Russia, they do that independently, John.

BERMAN: Yes, they are Russians.

Frederik Pleitgen, enormous powers of concentration with the bells in Kyiv ringing behind you. Something I think actually defiant about hearing those bells in that beautiful city.

Great to see you. Thanks, Fred.


SIDNER: Still ahead, a pair of hearings today in the civil trial between the families of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. What Petito's parents claim Laundrie's parents knew but kept hidden after Gabby disappeared.

Also, can artificial intelligence read your mind? Let's hope not. The research that could have major implications for people with certain disabilities.



SIDNER: After a string of ethics controversies, Chief Justice John Roberts is trying to reassure Americans that the Supreme Court is committed to following the highest standards of conduct. He spoke at a D.C. event last night.


CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: And on a final issue of concern inside the court, I want to assure people that I am committed to making certain that we as a court adhere to the highest standards of conduct. We are continuing to look at things we can do to give practical effect to that commitment. And I am confident there are ways to do that, that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government under the constitution's separation of powers.


SIDNER: Now, there are some in Congress pressuring the court to adopt a formal code of ethics.

CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue is joining us now.

You heard some words there that might give us an idea that they are going to do something different.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. At the very least he is making clear that he has heard the criticism here about ethics.

And, of course, it all comes, remember, as Clarence Thomas - it was revealed that he took the lavish trips and engaged in real estate deals with the GOP donor and never disclosed it on his financial disclosure forms. And Congress is getting involved here. Democrats particularly are saying, look, you have to come up with this ethics code. And if you don't, we will.

And so there, that was Roberts last night. He was receiving this medal. And he made those comments. And there was a little news there because he clearly says something is going to change. And we weren't sure that it was going to.

But then he also pushes back at Congress. In a way he kind of politely says, back off. We're going to handle this ourselves. Those are the tenets of separation of powers. So, it was a very interesting statement that he made in that speech last night.

And of course it comes, as you know, new polling that shows that 41 percent of people are the only ones who approves of what the court's doing. That's 59 percent that disapproves. And the justices themselves, this is their busy season, behind the scenes. They are working to finish up this term.

And, Sara, they have monumental cases, affirmative action, voting rights, religious liberty. So, right now, the spotlight is on this Supreme Court in more ways than one.

SIDNER: It truly is. And that is actually remarkable to look at the approval ratings. You don't always see that with the Supreme Court. You always see that with things like Congress and the president.

DE VOGUE: Right.

SIDNER: Thank you so much, Ariane de Vogue, for that reporting for us from Washington.


BOLDUAN: Today, two hearings are set to get underway in the civil trial between the families of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie. The legal battle comes nearly two years after Petito's killing and then Laundrie's disappearance and his subsequent death. Gabby Petito's parents are now suing for emotional distress claiming the parents of Brian Laundrie knew he had murdered Gabby.

CNN's Jean Casarez is following this for us. She joins me now.

So, Jean, what is going to happen today? JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is all about the letter.

There was a letter that was found in the backpack of Brian Laundrie when his remains were found. And that letter was from his mother. And the letter, according to the plaintiff's attorney, because he saw it at the FBI, says things that are just scathing in regard to their knowledge of what was going on.

BOLDUAN: The parents' knowledge of -

CASAREZ: Yes, the parents' knowledge.


CASAREZ: And so Gabby Petito's family, they want that letter. They want to see it. And this hearing is all about that they're trying to say, no, this is - this letter is not relevant. You don't deserve to see it. We don't want to turn it over. And then, ultimately, they would want it in evidence in the trial.

We want to show some people -- everybody what some of the contents are according to the hearings that we've heard so far. One thing is, in the letter says, quote, I'm bringing a shovel to help bury a body. That's one of the things. And then, at the last hearing, we heard something else that came out about baking a cake. That they were baking a cake. She would do that, his mother, with a shiv in it. And then on the outside of the letter it said, burn after reading.

Now, here's the other side of this. Roberta Laundrie, in an affidavit, said, this has nothing to do with Gabby missing. There's -- the letter's not dated. I wrote this long before Gabby went missing. Brian and I were having a difficult relationship. We had enjoyed some books together that had some of these phrases in them, and I was trying to repair the relationship.


And Gabby even had a book called "Burn After Writing." And we used to joke about that and that's why it's on the outside of the letter. So this hearing today is going to be a big argument about that because they are alleging you, the parents, you knew what Brian had done, you knew that he murdered our daughter, you wouldn't call us, you wouldn't return our calls, you wouldn't return our texts, you blocked us on Facebook when we were desperate for answers and that is outrageous behavior under Florida law.

BOLDUAN: Wow, it is really amazing what is alleged in this - to be in this letter and what it means in this -- in this civil lawsuit.


BOLDUAN: We'll see what happened today.

Thank you, Jean.

CASAREZ: Thank you.


BERMAN: She read her poetry at the inauguration, but now her work restricted in a Florida school. So, how far will these measures go?

Target is taking some LGBTQ products off the shelves, it says, to protect its employees. Why do they need this protection?