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CNN International: Trump Looms Large Over Republican Politics in Iowa; U.S. Lawmakers Demand Answers on Recent Derailments; Amanpour Speaks to Siamak Namazi, Iran's Longest-Held American Prisoner; Xi Jinping Receives Unprecedented Third Presidential Term. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 04:30   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Bianca Nobilo.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Max Foster. If you're just joining, us let us bring you up to date with our top stories this hour.

California faces more flood risk after back-to-back snowstorms. Governor Gavin Newsom requested a presidential emergency declaration as an atmospheric river event begins moving across the state.

The "New York Times" reports the Manhattan district attorney is signaling their nearly end of its investigation into Donald Trump's hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. Trump denied the alleged affair with Daniels and claims that he had no knowledge of the payoff.

NOBILO: The U.S. is nearly a year out from the presidential primaries, but in some corners the 2024 election is already a hot topic of conversation. This could be one of the corners.

FOSTER: Absolutely. Florida's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis visits Iowa in the coming hours. He's seen as former President Donald Trump's biggest rival for the Republican nomination. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more from Iowa where Trump still looms large over Republican politics.



JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (through translation): In Iowa, breakfast is served with a hearty side of politics.

KIM SCHMETT, WESTSIDE CONSERVATIVE CLUB: Welcome to the Westside conservatives.

ZELENY (voice-over): In less than a year, these Republicans will help start the 2024 presidential contest yet talk has already turned to the end of the campaign revolving around one question above all. SCHMETT: We like him. The question is, can he win?

ZELENY (voice-over): He of course, is Donald Trump, who remains at the center of the conversation at a regular gathering of loyal conservatives that Kim Schmett presides over.

SCHMETT: Right now, he's closer to getting that majority probably in the party than anyone else. But it didn't work last time and we're concerned about that.

ZELENY (voice-over): A clear sense of Trump fatigue has sat in among many Republicans, but not Terry Pearce. He still proudly wears his Make America Great Again hat and believes to his core the former president can win again.

TERRY PEARCE, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I think Donald Trump is the only one that can lead us back to where we were in 2020.

ZELENY (voice-over): Others are more blunt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a Trump supporter, and if he's not on the ballot, I'm going to write him in.

ZELENY (voice-over): The Republican field is slowly taking shape. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis visits Iowa for the first time on Friday. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is on a three-day tour here this week. And Trump comes Monday.

KELLEY KOCH, CHAIR, DALLAS COUNTY REPUBLICAN PARTY: He's going to have to sell himself.

ZELENY (voice-over): Kelley Koch is driving around Dallas County, the fastest growing in Iowa, where she leaves the Republican Party. She admires Trump but as bracing for rising attacks among GOP rivals.

KOCH: We don't want too strong candidates to shred each other, you know, and duke it out in the boxing ring and see the best man standing. So hopefully, grace, dignity, poise, smarts, calculation, because in the end, we're all wanting to support the nominee.

ZELENY (voice-over): David Oman, a Des Moines businessman said Republicans need a fresh start.

(ZELENY: Should the party move on from Trump?

DAVID OMAN, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I'm not sure he needs a third nomination. Now Trump's message is getting a little stale, a little old. Looking backwards more than forwards.

ZELENY (voice-over): Bob Vander Plaats is president of the influential Christian group, The Family Leader. He, too, believes it's time to turn a page.

BOB VANDER PLAATS, PRESIDENT, THE FAMILY LEADER: There is an appetite for somebody other than Trump.

ZELENY: Is that Trump fatigue?

PLAATS: I think part of it is. I think there's a little bit of an exhaustion. I think there's also some people saying I'm looking for the next generation of leaders.

ZELENY (voice-over): But a field too large and unwieldy, he said, will only benefit Trump.

PLAATS: If Trump wins in Iowa, I don't see anybody stopping him after that.

ZELENY (voice-over): Republicans like Mary Ann Hanusa are listening and sizing up all of the contenders. Mindful the Iowa caucuses have a long history of humbling front runners and elevating alternatives.

MARY ANN HANUSA (R), FORMER IOWA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: So, it's not a two man race at all. I think it'll be a wide-open field, not necessarily in terms of 15, 16 people running but I think open in terms of that everybody's got a chance at it.

ZELENY: There is an appetite to move on from former President Trump among some Republican voters, others are steadfast in their support of him. But all eyes are on Iowa today when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis makes his first trip ever to the state. Republican caucus goers are interested in sizing him up.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Nevada, Iowa.


FOSTER: Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is taking on Social Security and Medicare in her bid for the White House. It's a risky move. Those two entitlement programs are critical to most older Americans and politicians really mention them to avoid alienating senior voters.


NOBILO: But not Haley. She says that younger people who are now entering the workforce need to adjust their expectations about when they will retire or the benefits that they may receive. Here's how she explained it at a campaign stop in Iowa on Wednesday.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Social security is going to go bankrupt in ten years. We need to fix it. How do we fix it? You focus on the new generation. You focus on what's next. So, the first thing you do, is you change the retirement age of the young people coming up so that we can try to have some sort of system for them. The second thing is, you go and you limit the benefits for wealthy people.


NOBILO: Haley declined to recommend a specific new retirement age but said that it should reflect that most Americans are living longer. And she also stressed that people who are now retired or near retirement would not be affected by this plan.

FOSTER: A very sensitive topic, isn't it, in an election.

A spokesperson for Mitch McConnell says the U.S. Senate Republican leader will stay in the hospital for a few more days. He is being treated for a concussion after he tripped and fell at a Washington hotel on Wednesday night.

NOBILO: The 81-year-old McConnell is the Senate's longest serving Republican leader in history. He was first elected in 1984 and has served seven terms in the Senate.

Another Norfolk Southern train derailed on Thursday, this time in Calhoun County, Alabama. Officials say that 37 cars went off the tracks but that the train was not carrying hazardous materials and there are no reports of injuries.

FOSTER: The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. I mean, why are we hearing about so many of these derailments suddenly? Is that were hearing more about them?

NOBILO: We were discussing this yesterday, and our producer was explaining about, you know, the state of American infrastructure in general but also the fact that we've had a pandemic where perhaps certain checks weren't carried out. We didn't know. And other factors as well which can affect the efficacy of parts of the infrastructure, even things like climate change.

FOSTER: Yes. The Alabama crash is the latest in a string of train crashes across the U.S. and lawmakers want answers from the company at the center of it all. And on Thursday in Washington, D.C., a Senate committee asked pointed questions of the CEO of Norfolk Southern.

NOBILO: It was the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio in February on the third with toxic chemicals on board. Lawmakers want to know what the long term environmental and health damage will be for those who are impacted Norfolk Southern said that it will make sure that the problem gets solved.


ALAN SHAW, NORFOLK SOUTHERN CEO: I am determined to make this right. Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. You have my personal commitment. Norfolk Southern will get the job done. We will be in the community for as long as it takes.


NOBILO: The disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh is appealing his murder conviction for killing his wife and son. One of his attorneys said that it was the next step in the legal process to fight for Alex's constitutional right to a fair trial.

FOSTER: Last week a judge in South Carolina sentenced Murdaugh to life in prison for the shooting death of his wife Maggie and son Paul. Prosecutors argue that he killed them to distract and delay investigations into his alleged financial crimes.

Fox Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch is dismissing blockbuster revelations from the Dominion Voting System lawsuit as noise. Court filings have show that Fox News hosts privately ridiculed voter fraud claims from Donald Trump and his supporters. Yet they reported them as facts on air.


LACHLAN MURDOCH, FOX CORPORATION CEO: A news organization, uh, has an obligation and it is an obligation, uh, to report news, uh, fulsomely, fulsomely and without fear of favor, and that is what Fox News has always done and that's what Fox News will always do. And I think a lot of the noise that you hear about this case is still actually not about the law and it's not about, uh, journalism and really about the politics -- politics, right?


NOBILO: Court filings show even Lachlan Murdoch's father Rupert, rejected claims that Dominion rigged its voting machines so to that Biden would win. The Fox Corporation chairman says that some of the network's top hosts, quote, went too far.

China's president is securing his grip on power with an unprecedented third term. We are live in Beijing with a look at the challenges facing Xi Jinping over his next five years in office.

FOSTER: Plus, an Iranian American held for years in detention in Iran begs for U.S. help securing his release. We'll show you parts of our exclusive conversation after the break.



FOSTER: The 51-year-old Siamak Namazi is a businessman with dual U.S. Iranian citizenship. Back in 2015 he was arrested by Iranian authorities whilst visiting the country. Namazi remains in Iranian custody today. Longer than any other American currently in detention.

Namazi is currently held, along with two other U.S. citizens, in a notorious Evin prison outside Tehran. He spoke with phone with CNN's Christiane Amanpour from inside Evin's the high walls -- seen here during a controlled media tour. Namazi asked the U.S. officials to ramp up efforts to secure his release and explained why he was willing to take such a dangerous step.


SIAMAK NAMAZI, PRISONER, EVIN PRISON: The very fact that I've chosen to take this risk and appear on CNN from Evin Prison, it should just tell you how dire my situation has become by this point. I've been a hostage for seven and a half years now. That's six times the duration of the hostage crisis. I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued and deals fall apart where I get left abandoned. Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So, this is a desperate measure.


NOBILO: CNN reached out to the Iranian and U.S. governments for comment. Tehran has not replied but the U.S. gave us the following response.

Iran's unjust imprisonment and exploitation of U.S. citizens for use as political leverage is outrageous, inhumane, and contrary to international norms. The United States will always stand up for the rights of our citizens wrongfully detained overseas, including Siamak Namazi.

FOSTER: Now the statement goes on.

Senior officials from both the White House and the State Department meet and consult regularly with the Namazi family, and will continue to do so until this unacceptable detention ends and Siamak is reunited with his family.


NOBILO: China's National Peoples Congress has handed Xi Jinping an unprecedented third term as president, this makes him longest serving head of Communist China since its founding in 1949.

FOSTER: The unanimous vote was a formality. China's NPC is a highly choreographed event meant to demonstrate the legitimacy and unity of the country's political elite.

NOBILO: CNN's Steven Jiang is live for us in Beijing. Steven, this vote was a formality. We knew Xi Jinping was going to continue. He's obviously had the rules changed back in 2018 to be able to continue beyond two terms. But what did the other votes and appointments of key roles tell us about the government and about the Communist Party?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, this much is clear, right? Despite this massive sandstorm going on here with almost zero visibility, that is with this, quote, unquote, vote on Friday, Xi Jinping has now completed this transition that really began last October at the ruling Communist Party's National Congress. Where he got that precedent breaking third term as the party boss.

Because obviously in this system, as you mentioned, that's where his real power comes from. But this quote, unquote event on Friday is still very symbolically significant because now he's been given a third term in all of his most important titles. Even though the presidency is largely ceremonial, he's now basically able to further cement his iron grip over the party, the state and the entire nation. Allowing him to drive forward this agenda of reasserting the Communist Party's dominance of every aspect of Chinese life.

Not just politics and military affairs, but also the economic, social and cultural affairs. That has major global implications. Because obviously he does run the world's second largest economy at a time when tensions are rising between China and the U.S.

That's something he actually touched on himself just a few days ago telling delegates that the U.S.-led West has been trying to contain and suppress China in a comprehensive way and vowing to fight back. So, tensions are really unlikely to subside anytime soon.

But the one potential pitfall of having so much concentrated power in one man's hands of course is he may find himself in a situation where he has no one else to blame when things go wrong as we saw last November when protests erupted nationwide against his draconian zero- COVID policy -- Bianca, Max.

NOBILO: Steven Jiang in Beijing, thank you.

One of the many fascinating aspects of what we've seen at these meetings and during these votes is a lot of politicians are having to step done because of the retirement age in China. Which I think it is around 65 for ministerial roles and 68 for top officials. Obviously Xi Jinping turning 70 this year. So, it doesn't apply to him, he continues.

FOSTER: A unanimous vote as well, all of those delegates. It's incredible.

Nearby North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is again showing off his daughter at a high-profile military event.

NOBILO: According to state media the child recently appeared next to her father at a live fire artillery exercise. The girl is believed to be Kim's second child and estimated to be about 10 years old. She first appeared by Kim's side last November. And Western observers believe the recent public appearances of Kim and his daughter are meant to show that the Kim family's dynasty backed up by the North Korean military will indeed continue after he's gone.

FOSTER: Very long-term succession planning.

Rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians flared again late on Thursday, this time in downtown Tel Aviv's entertainment district.

NOBILO: A 23-year-old Palestinian man was fatally shot by police after he opened fire on pedestrians wounding three Israelis. Hamas has claimed responsibility. At the same time, this growing unrest among Israelis over a radical proposal to weaken the nation's judiciary. This is the tenth week of large street protests. Thursday were billed as a day of disruption and blocked major roads in Tel Aviv.

FOSTER: The protest delayed but didn't prevent U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin from making a brief visit to Tel Aviv on Thursday. During a press conference Austin took a jab at the proposed changes to Israel's legal system saying an independent judiciary is vital to a strong democracy.

Still ahead, Tiger Woods in the rough with his ex-girlfriend, why she's suing to get out of a non-disclosure agreement with the superstar golfer.



NOBILO: Hayden Buckley started the player's championship ranked 107. Looking for his first PGA title and now he's got a shot that thousands of other golfers have only dreamed of. The 27-year-old sang a hole-in- one on the 17th hole at the TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

FOSTER: Is that a good one?

NOBILO: Yes, it is a good one. I have been there. My stepmom is there right now.

FOSTER: Buckley's luck didn't last long though as six dropped shots, including two double bogeys left him tied for 38th by the end of the day. Do you think that he will be happy with that anyway? No, he's not going to.

NOBILO: No. I mean, that's why it's so psychologically tempestuous.

FOSTER: Yes, unforgivable -- unforgiving.

Tiger woods ex-girlfriend is taking the golfer to court. Erica Herman has filed a lawsuit to nullify their non-disclosure agreement which was signed in 2017. The couple dated for six years. A separate suit against a trust owned by Woods contain some major bombshells.

NOBILO: It claims that the trust broke an oral agreement for Herman to live in Woods' Florida home. It also says that she was locked out of the residence after being told to pack her suitcases for a short vacation. Herman claims that $40,000 of her cash was misappropriated and she says that actual damages based on the property's rental value are in excess of $30 million.

FOSTER: Now a little while ago Buckingham Palace announced that there's a new Duke of Edinburgh.

Britain's King Charles has passed down on the title to the youngest of the siblings. Prince Edward was previously known as the Earl of Wessex and Forfar.

FOSTER: The palace said Edward received the new title on his 59th birthday. He will hold it for the rest of his life. The dukedom was created for the late Prince Philip in 1947 when he married the future Queen who was Princess Elizabeth at the time.


And it was because he wasn't to be given a prince title. So, on the Duke of Edinburg is a really senior title in the U.K. and a real honor actually for Charles to give it to Edward. Something the Queen promised I think back in the day.

NOBILO: And it seems there's a category of most premature twins.

FOSTER: And a pair of Canadian siblings now 1-year-old are the new Guinness world record holders. Adiah, the girl and Adrial, the boy were born 21 weeks and five days into their mother's pregnancy. Their birth weight was measured in ounces not pounds. Between the two, they barely exceeded a pound and a half.

NOBILO: Their parents were told that their twins would have zero chance of survival. They refused to accept that prognosis and on Saturday the twins celebrated their first birthday.

FOSTER: It's unbelievable, isn't it, what the hospitals can do.

Before we go, there are millions of asteroids in the solar system but scientists have their eyes on one. The newly discovered space rock called 2023 DW has a very small chance of colliding with the earth on Valentine's Day in 2046. Is this real? That's according to NASA and the European Space Agency. Who have added it to their respective risk lists.

NOBILO: So, here's what we know, the asteroid is the size of an Olympic swimming pool, at about 150 feet in diameter. It was discovered almost two weeks ago by an observatory in Chile, but NASA says there's out no reason to panic.

FOSTER: Are you panicking?

NOBILO: Well, as you know I probably have a propensity towards panic more so than you. But there are ways that they talk about maybe to disrupt asteroids -- I don't know if it'll even work -- like using a massive aircraft to basically interfere with the asteroid's gravity and like pull it off course or kinetic impact. Detonations even.

FOSTER: They need to get working on that.

NOBILO: Yes, they do need to get working on it just to put our minds at rest.

FOSTER: Yes, let us know NASA. Thanks for joining us here on CNN newsroom. I'm Max Foster.

NOBILO: And I'm Bianca Nobilo. "EARLY START" is up next right here on CNN. Have a great weekend everyone.