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CNN International: Eye Of Typhoon Mawar Passes Just North Of Guam; Wagner Chief Says Russian Defense Forces "Not Ready To Resist" Anti-Putin Fighters Inside Russia; Senior U.S. General Ordered Twitter Announcement Of Drone Strike; Search Near Portuguese Reservoir Resumes For Second Day; Trump Hush Money Trial To Start March 25, 2024; Why Is Ron DeSantis Launching His Campaign On Twitter?; Tragedy Strikes Country's First Litter Of Cubs In 70 Years. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 08:00   ET



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Then anti-Putin Russians aligned with the Ukrainian military claiming responsibility for attacking Russia's Belgorod regions -- region. We'll have new details about the attackers

And Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will end months of speculation in just a few hours. He's set to announce he is running for president in a conversation with Elon Musk during a live Twitter event.

Typhoon Mawar is roaring over Guam. It's described as a storm that'll be remembered for decades. The eye of the storm has just passed north of the U.S. territory, but its eye wall, the strongest part of the typhoon, is lashing the island with ferocious winds, torrential rain and a treacherous storm surge as well. Most of the island is in the dark.

On Tuesday, the governor ordered the evacuation of low lying coastal areas. CNN's Anna Coren joins us live from Hong Kong. What information are you getting there, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Max, the good news is that Typhoon Mawar is now moving away from Guam. Landfall didn't happen as expected, however, it passed over the northern tip of the U.S. territory, located in the western Pacific Ocean, home to about 150,000 people.

As you say, the eye wall of the typhoon is hitting Guam. This is when the most intense winds and rain hit. The U.S. National Weather Service Guam reports maximum sustained winds of 140 miles an hour. That's about 225 kilometers an hour, packing obviously, you know, quite a punch.

And they said that the weather service building was being hammered and that the doors and windows were rumbling and vibrating. They could hear the howling winds outside and things breaking.

As you say, there was a virtual blackout across the island as most of the power grids went out. Only about 1,000 of the 52,000 customers had power. The Guam Memorial Hospital it's operating currently with generators.

Mawar is no longer classified as super typhoon, Max, but that's not to say that it isn't causing significant damage, but it will be some time before we know the full extent of the destruction. The weather service held a press conference just a short time ago reporting that there will be a few more hours of heavy rains and strong winds, probably through to about midnight local time before conditions will start to ease.

There was much talk earlier in the day of a risk of a triple threat. Torrential rain, you know, destructive winds, and a storm surge that could pose a major risk to life and property. Everyone on the island, including the U.S. military station there have been told to stay indoors and to ride this out.

The weather service, you know, finished the press conference telling folks that this will no doubt be a scary night, but it will all be over very soon, Max.

FOSTER: OK, Anna, thank you very much indeed for that. We'll have more as we get the details as it passes.

Now, two days after a daring assault on Russia's Belgorod region, the Wagner chief is blaming Moscow for its inability to stop the cross border attacks. Yevgeny Prigozhin says Russian forces are not ready to defend their own territory from the group of anti-Putin Russians which claims it crossed the border from Ukraine and carried out the strikes.

It comes as the Belgorod region in western Russia faces an ongoing threat. The governor says nine people were injured in drone strikes. Overnight, Prigozhin also claims his mercenaries will leave the eastern Ukrainian front line on Thursday.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins me now live from Kyiv. What do you make of the latest comments then from Prigozhin?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Max. Well, I think there's really two folds to all this to these comments. On the one hand, of course, we know that there has been an ongoing feud between Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner private military company and the heads of the Russian Defense Ministry, not just the defense minister himself, Sergei Shoigu, but of course, also the top general, Valery Gerasimov as well.

So certainly, those two sides have been going at one another. But if you look at the comments that he made about that border region and the Russian military apparently not being capable of protecting that region, it is actually not only Yevgeny Prigozhin who is saying that on the Russian side.

In fact, there were some angry citizens on the ground there near the Belgorod region who had to leave their houses and leave the area because of that incursion that happened from those anti-Putin Russians who said -- who demanded, actually, that the Kremlin give them weapons to defend themselves. And also the governor of that region, of the Belgorod region, he came out and he said that, look, he also has a lot of questions for the Russian military after that incursion was able to happen. And I think a lot of this, Max, is because that incursion, quite frankly, for the Russian security forces was pretty humiliating.

Those anti-Putin Russians, those two groups of Russian fighters, they came across the border and faced very little resistance, it seemed. And it took the Russian security forces, including the military, more than 24 hours until they claimed that they had come to terms with the situation.


Of course, yesterday, the spokesman for the Russian military coming out and saying that the final of the attackers had been pushed out of Russian territory and that some 70 had been liquidated with. By the way, these Russian groups that conducted all this, they say that that is not true.

We do have some some new information as well now, Max, and that we have learned from a source inside Ukrainian Defense Intelligence that the Ukrainians did have prior knowledge, that this raid was going to happen. Of course, we know that the Ukrainians are saying they have nothing to do with this, they are not responsible for this. But it certainly does appear that they had prior knowledge.

And the Russian Defense Ministry is now coming out and saying that they will respond harshly to this, calling it a terror attack. But it certainly does seem that there are a lot of people on the ground there in the Belgorod region and also, in general, in Russia who are questioning how something like that could have happened. Max?

FOSTER: CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, thank you.

To CNN exclusive now about the U.S. drone strike in Syria this month that may have killed a civilian by mistake. We're learning that the senior general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Erik Kurilla, ordered his command to tweet that an al-Qaeda leader was targeted in the strike, despite not having confirmation of who had actually been killed. That's according to multiple defense officials. The Pentagon says a review is ongoing.


BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: They are investigating the allegations of civilian casualties. So, you know, I think our record speaks for itself in terms of how seriously we take these. Very few countries around the world do that. The secretary has complete confidence that we will continue to abide by the policies that we put into place.


FOSTER: Natasha Bertrand is at the Pentagon. I mean, what do you understand happened here while we wait for the results of our investigation?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Max. So, obviously, there are questions now about whether this strike that happened on May 3 that was carried out by CENTCOM forces actually killed a civilian instead of the senior al-Qaeda leader that Central Command had originally said was targeted. And we are learning now that that original tweet that was posted on May 3 by Central Command was actually ordered to be posted directly by the Central Command Commander, General Erik Kurilla.

Now, this raises a lot of questions, obviously, about why this tweet was posted and why this information was made public, when, in fact, defense officials tell us they still did not know for a fact. They did not have a confirmation just yet that they had actually successfully targeted a senior al-Qaeda leader rather than someone else, or even a civilian.

And defense officials acknowledged to us that at the moment when General Kurilla actually ordered that announcement to be made, defense officials were wary because they still expected it to take a few days in the least to be able to confirm the identity of who that U.S. airstrike actually killed.

So we're learning now that the Pentagon only opened an investigation into whether or not this was a civilian casualty after questions were raised by The Washington Post and after the Post presented the Pentagon with information suggesting that this casualty may have actually been a civilian.

And it took about 12 days before the Pentagon actually officially opened a review into whether the civilian casualty resulted from this airstrike. We are told, according to one defense official directly familiar with the situation, that Erik Kurilla, the commander of Central Command, was urged by his subordinates to not make that announcement about the senior al-Qaeda leader being targeted until they had more confirmation that that was actually the case.

Now, two other defense officials said that that is not true, and they pushed back on that, saying that they did not hear any consternation voice by any of his subordinates. But look, the bottom line, Max, is that Central Command pushed to have this announcement made to the public that a senior al-Qaeda leader was targeted before they actually had all of the facts to back that up. Max?

FOSTER: OK. Natasha, thank you.

Police have resumed a search at a reservoir in Portugal for the second day as they look for possible evidence that would link a German suspect to the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The British toddler vanished 16 years ago whilst on holiday with her family on the Algarve coast.

CNN's Scott McLean is here. Scott, can you tell us about the search today, because this is the second day, right?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So after yesterday, authorities said that they had actually found some material that they were going to have examined by some experts. Whether this is significant at all, that's another question.

But the investigation -- part of the reason that they're there in the first place is that they had found images on the computer of this crime suspect named Christian Brueckner, a convicted sex offender in Germany. Apparently, he had gone to this area. He had been frequently spent time there. He called it his paradise.

We're talking about a pretty vast area, though. And so our colleagues at CNN Portugal say that police insist that they are searching a defined part of this reservoir area. It's not just sort of a wild goose chase looking anywhere.


The search method that they've been using, at least from what we saw in some of the video yesterday, is interesting sort of prodding the ground with poles, looking for anything under the ground. They've also had the benefit of ground penetrating radar. We don't really know a conclusion to draw from any of this, though.

Yesterday, we saw police focusing mostly on the shoreline. Today, we've seen some people on the shoreline, but it seems like the search has moved sort of further from the water into some of the more dense brush. In fact, we've seen them moving in some pretty heavy brush cutting equipment to try to get through, to try to blaze a trail in that area.

What's also interesting to note here is that this area has been searched already in 2008. Not the land, but the water. It wasn't done by police, though. This was actually a private effort by a Portuguese lawyer who said that he was tipped off by, quote unquote, underworld sources to search this area.

We know that it lasted at least seven days. They didn't come up with anything significant. They also didn't do an exhaustive search. This is a massive body of water that we're talking about. They focused on areas where they thought they might be able to find something. Obviously, they didn't have any luck.

They also said that visibility was zero, and perhaps that's why we haven't seen divers, to our knowledge at least, get in the water this time around. We understand that they are on site, they're on standby, but they haven't been used just yet.

One other thing to point out is that, obviously, since the outset of Madeleine McCann's disappearance way back in 2007, her parents had been tireless advocates for her to keep her image in the public eye to make sure if anyone's seen her, anyone has any tips that they might come forward.

They have yet to comment on this search. We've reached out to them. We haven't heard back. They also haven't updated their website either, which they do fairly regularly.

FOSTER: Yes. OK, Scott, thank you.

The U.S. is moving closer to potentially defaulting on its debt for the first time ever. And with a looming deadline now less than eight days way, there's still no deal between President Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. That uncertainty is creating market jitters at home and overseas.

You can see here, these are the latest U.S. numbers ahead of the open. They're, actually, they're down slightly, but they're not too bad.

A judge in New York has set a date for Donald Trump's criminal trial related to hush money payments, and it could complicate the former president's run for the White House. The trial is set to begin in March of 2024, in the heart of the Republican presidential primary campaign season. As of now, polls show that Mr. Trump is the front runner in that race. He's pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is in Washington with more on that. How is it going to affect things then, do you think?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, this will put the Donald Trump trial, the first trial that he would face a former president of the United States. It would put it right in the heart of the Republican Party's efforts to select their nominee for the presidency in 2024.

So the way the calendar looks right now is that people will start going to the polls at the beginning of 2024 to vote in primaries and caucuses to select a nominee for the Republican Party. Trump is obviously the front runner for the Republicans right now.

And Super Tuesday, the day where many, many states are making their selections is at the beginning of March. March 25, right now, is the date on the calendar for Donald Trump to go to trial in New York to fight these charges, dozens of charges related to a hush money scheme in the 2016 election and his business records.

And so that really does mean that he's going to have to take time out not just to appear in court to face this trial as a criminal defendant, but he also is going to need to take time out during the campaign season very likely to prepare for this trial. Possibly consider whether he may want to testify in his own behalf. That takes time to prepare for some sort of testimony like that if he wanted to do it.

And he also will need at that period of time to be consulting with his lawyers who will be arranging for his defense and preparing for trial. It is a laborious process to go to trial. And so it will be something that really does make days for Donald Trump where he cannot be on the stage speaking to his supporters from morning to night because he will have things to do related to this court case.

FOSTER: Katelyn Polantz in Washington, thank you so much for that.

And speaking of the 2024 presidential race, we are expecting a pretty unconventional announcement from Florida's governor in the coming hours. We'll have details on that after the break.



FOSTER: Why is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announcing his run for the White House on Twitter? Hours from now, he and Twitter owner Elon Musk will hold an event on Twitter Spaces, the site's audio platform, and DeSantis will officially kick off his campaign, according to his spokesperson.

It'll be the first time a presidential run is announced on the platform and gives DeSantis exposure to the millions of active Twitter users, in particular, the dedicated fan base of Elon Musk. Of course, the unconventional announcement is also a clear poke at his chief rival in the Republican race, former president Donald Trump, who was a prolific tweeter before he was banned in 2021.

Musk reiterated or reinstated, rather, his account last year. But Trump has been using his own social media site, Truth Social, since then.

There's no one better to unpack this than CNN's Donie O'Sullivan joining us from New York. Donie, I mean, what do you know about what we can expect today with this announcement?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Max. I mean, I think it's going to be quite the spectacle. I guess that's the point of it. Look, Musk has been trying to lure more right-wing figures, conservative figures to the platform. We saw that Tucker Carlson, who's recently been fired from Fox News is now making his way, is going to have a show on Twitter.

And so there has been a lot of competition in this space, in the kind of right-wing, conservative space in the U.S. to try and get people to sign up to social media networks. You know, Elon Musk has tried to sell Twitter as this idea of a bastion of free speech. Of course, not always the case if last week, for instance, in recent weeks, they conceded as to censorship requests from the Turkish government.

And also, of course, we saw Musk suspend some journalists back before the holidays for tweeting about the location of his private jet. But putting all that to one side, he still claims it's a free speech platform. So for DeSantis, that's very unbrand for him, a governor who very much plays into the culture wars here in the U.S.

FOSTER: In terms of what this means for his opposition, of course, Trump was prolific on Twitter. He isn't currently using it, we don't know whether he'll use it in a campaign. But do you think this could potentially bring Trump back onto the platform because some would argue it does give DeSantis a big advantage now?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. I mean, look, this was very much Trump's terrain, right? So, we have not seen Trump tweet since he was suspended from the platform in January of 2021, right after the attack on the U.S. Capitol. As you mentioned in your intro there, he has been allowed back on the platform for the past, I guess, six months or so. But he is not tweeted because he is using his own platform Truth Social.

Look, I'm not a betting man, but if I were, you know, I think a lot of folks here in the U.S. would say that it's going to be difficult to imagine Trump resisting the urge to jump back into the Twitter space, you know, especially if Ron DeSantis is there and is trying to own it.

Trump, you know, he has his built in following there, I think of about 50 million or 60 million followers or so. And it really was his kind of megaphone for many years in terms.


FOSTER: In terms of what you were saying there about right-wing figures appearing on the platform, do you think it's becoming a right- wing space?

O'SULLIVAN: Yes. I mean, it's -- Twitter is for active users of us like yourself, Max. It's become a different place recently. You know, the algorithms have certainly changed. I know from opening my app every day, I open it less than before, I must say, you know, there is kind of a lot more junk there.

We also saw, you know, just this week the whole thing with Musk messing around with the blue check mark verification process that is kind of piling on to the -- to misinformation space we saw earlier this week. So called verified accounts that were posing as a news outlet posting a fake AI -- believed to be AI-generated image of an explosion at the Pentagon.

This week, of course, that did not actually happen. So Twitter is becoming, I would say, a bit of a messy place. He is certainly trying to, I think, lure a lot of conservative right-wing figures there. We also heard yesterday that The Daily Wire, which is a kind of big conservative online network here is moving onto Twitter as well.

And look, I would just say, finally, that, you know, I think a lot of folks are looking at this as DeSantis is trying to bypass the mainstream media -- so called mainstream media, by going directly to Twitter. But also within the kind of right-wing, conservative online space, there's a lot of competition.

Because there's, you know -- because there has been so much perceived censorship of right-wing figures in the U.S., we've seen new platforms pop up like Trump's Truth Social, like Parler, and like the video app, the video platform Rumble, which has signed exclusive deals with some pretty prominent figures here. So there's a lot of infighting and incompetent in that space. And Musk certainly seems to be dipping his toe on it.

FOSTER: OK. Donie, in New York, thank you as ever, for joining us.

O'SULLIVAN: Thanks, Max.

FOSTER: Coming up, a sad setback to the ambitious plan to bring cheetahs back to India for the first time in 70 years. We'll have more on the new cheetah cubs. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOSTER: One of four cheetah cubs born in India for the first time in 70 years, has died. The cubs were born in March after their mother was relocated from Namibia. Their births are a part of a controversial plan to reintroduce cheetahs to India.

Ivan Watson has more on that project.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A site not seen in India for more than 70 years, a litter of cheetah cubs born nearly two months ago to Siyaya. She is one of eight Namibian cheetahs brought last year to India's Kuno National Park. Hunting and habitat loss led to the extinction of cheetahs in India in 1952. But a plan decades in the making is returning these fast felines to India.

Last September, three males and five females made the long journey. The arrival of the cheetahs coincided with the birthday of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who celebrated their release into a special quarantine zone.


NARENDRA MODI, INDIAN PRIME MINISTER (voice-over): Today, the cheetah has returned to the Indian soil and I would also say that along with this cheetahs, the nature-loving consciousness of India has also been awakened with full force.

WATSON (voice-over): In February, authorities shipped a second group of 12 additional cheetahs from South Africa to India. Veterinary wildlife specialist and associate professor Adrian Tordiffe helped choose the best cats for the move.

ADRIAN TORDIFFE, VETERINARY WILDLIFE SPECIALIST: There are a few criteria that we were interested in. One, we wanted young animals, obviously, a certain sex ratio of the animals that are going. And then we also wanted to make sure, because they're going into areas where there's quite a high leopard density, we wanted animals that are really quite wild and very used to being with other large carnivores, lions, leopards, and so on.

WATSON (voice-over): For wild animals like these, a journey of up to 20 hours can induce high levels of stress. And then successful acclimatization is not guaranteed.

In recent weeks, four of the cheetahs have passed away, including one of the cubs.

TORDIFFE: In terms of the numbers, this is definitely better than expected.

WATSON (voice-over): Some experts have criticized the project from the start. RAVI CHELLAM, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: My problem is the science is inadequate. The preparations are half-baked. India just does not have the space. How do we do? Do right, go back to the drawing board, secure the habitats.

WATSON (voice-over): These big cats have a long history in India. They're mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts, and Indian royalty used them for hunting for centuries.

The Indian government now plans to introduce 50 more of these big cats over the next five years. The dream behind this high stakes project for these wild animals to once again run free in India.

Ivan Watson, CNN.


FOSTER: Amazing animals.

Thanks for joining me here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster in London.

World Sport with Amanda Davies is up next.