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CNN This Morning

Memphis on Edge Ahead of Video Release Showing Police Beating; National Archives May Ask Ex-Presidents VPs to Check Documents; Teacher's Lawyer: School Ignored Warnings about Armed Child; Russia Fires Missiles at Ukraine Hours after Tank Announcement; Line of Storms Bring Tornadoes to Parts of Country; Opening Statements Delivered in Alex Murdaugh Murder Trial. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 26, 2023 - 06:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's Archibald's Village Bakery, just steps from the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Grab a cup of gourmet coffee while you're at it. Have I made you hungry? I hope so.


Thanks for joining us this morning. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


CHIEF CERELYN DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: This incident was heinous, reckless, and inhumane and in the vein of transparency, when the video is released in the coming days, you will see this for yourselves. I expect you to feel outrage in the disregard of basic human rights as our police officers have taken an oath to do the opposite of what transpired on the video.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're so glad that you could join us. I'm live here in Memphis. Poppy is in New York. Kaitlan is on assignment today.

And any day now the police body cam showing the severe beating that led to Tyre Nichols' death will be made public. A frustrated community bracing for what's on that tape, something the police chief calls heinous. We're live here on the ground for you.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, look again. The National Archives now weighing whether to ask former presidents and vice presidents to check for any classified documents. What four presidents told CNN.

Plus this.


DIANE TOSCANO, ATTORNEY: The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying -- and I quote -- "Well, he has little pockets." This is outrageous. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: More questions this morning about the 6-year-old who shot this -- shot his teacher. How much warning did school officials really have, and who's out of a job now?

We're going to begin right here in Memphis, Tennessee. Will today be the day? That is the question. Will the nation finally see body cam video of the police beating of Tyre Nichols? And could there be criminal charges for the officers involved?

This morning, the city is on edge. A warning now: the photo we're about to show you is Tyree in the hospital before he died. Here it is.

Tyre's parents say that this is what police did to their son. The family has already watched the body cam footage. Their attorney says it shows officers beating Tyre nonstop for three minutes like a, quote, "human pinata" after a traffic stop.

The family is demanding murder charges. Here's what their attorney told Erin Burnett just last night.


ANTONIO ROMANUCCI, ATTORNEY FOR TYRE NICHOLS FAMILY: Well, the family wants nothing but the absolute most charge that they -- that they can bring. And what they want are murder charges. There's no doubt. They want to see that. That, I can relate to you: The family is quite clear that they want to see murder charges brought against these officers. And I would support those charges if they can be brought.


LEMON: That was the family's attorney, Anthony [SIC] Romanucci, there.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has been following this closely. Shimon, good morning to you. Any day now is what we can say now about that body cam footage. And everybody is bracing for it.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: People here in this city are bracing for it, but people nationally, law enforcement across the country, bracing for what's to come.

We've been given every indication, from the family, law enforcement officials, the police chief releasing this statement last night. Notably, she's not appeared before cameras. She's not taken any questions from the media.

But everyone is preparing the country for what they're about to see in this video, and how horrific it is, the beating of this man by these police officers. We see his injuries there in that photo. That is what everyone is doing right now, just preparing the country. Because they are concerned about how the country is going to react to seeing this video. And we can feel that here, Don.

LEMON: Well, listen, and just listening to officials here, people who have seen the videotape. It is horrendous, according to some of the folks who have seen it. The -- also, the big question is, obviously, the videotape. But charges, when will charges come? Will the officers turn themselves in?

PROKUPECZ: The family expects charges. Ben Crump, one of their attorneys, said that he believes some of the officers may actually face murder charges. And when you're talking about the allegations here of how Tyre Nichols was on the ground. Ben Crump says he was handcuffed --

LEMON: Three minutes.

PROKUPECZ: -- for most -- for most of this. And how they beat him, according to the family, according to the police.

This is what the family wants. They expect murder charges. Ben Crump said that he expects murder charges. There may be some other charges. When that will happen, that's the big question.

There are two things right now that we're waiting for, is whether or not the D.A. is going to charge these officers, and the release of this video. And like you said, this could come at any point. Some of this could happen today and tomorrow. We're certainly getting indications from officials that they want this done by the end of the week.


LEMON: And we have to show -- We have the five officers' pictures up on the screen. Five officers have been fired from the police force.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. That --

LEMON: And then there are two -- also, two members of the fire department.

PROKUPECZ: Right. And we should note that by the police department, in moving so quickly to fire these officers, that is remarkable, that they did move so quickly. And that is something that we should certainly take note of because of just how serious and how horrendous the actions of these officers were.

LEMON: All right. We're going to be here for you, in Memphis. Our Shimon Prokupecz has been following this story.

Poppy, certainly a lot to consider. And the city and, of course, the country --


LEMON: -- bracing for what is in that video, what they're going to see once it is released.

HARLOW: I'm so glad you're there, Don. Because it could be, you know, released at any moment. And hearing from that police chief, saying what you will see will anger everyone and be outrageous. We will see. Thank you very much. We'll get back to you very, very soon.

Meantime, this headline out of Washington. The National Archives is considering sending a request to former presidents and former vice presidents: check your files for classified documents. And if you've already checked, look again.

This comes, of course, after the document discoveries at the homes of President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. Our Paula Reid live for CNN this morning in Washington.

Good morning. So what is the National Archives asking here?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, they're thinking about asking former presidents and vice presidents to look through their records to make sure they don't have additional classified materials.

We reached out to representatives for four former presidents who all say they don't have any classified material, and they don't have any plans to go look for any.

So it will be really interesting to see, if the Archives does this, the response that they get.

But Poppy, this is getting closer to what people on both sides of the aisle have begun to call for, which is just some sort of amnesty period to allow people to go through their records and make sure there are no documents that should be in the possession of the government.

HARLOW: You also have some really interesting new reporting with your team about what the Justice Department was prepared to do, that they were ready to issue a warrant if they needed to, if the Biden team didn't agree to that extensive search of his home in Wilmington, Delaware. But did it get anywhere close to that?

REID: So Poppy, obviously, the search of the home of a sitting president is unprecedented. And we've learned that this came about as the result of high-stakes talks between the Justice Department and Biden attorneys.

Look, the White House has been clear: they wanted to be cooperative here. They even wanted the search to happen.

But we're told that the Justice Department was also prepared to get a search warrant if they did not get consent. Now, they never had to raise that possibility, because they were able to eventually come to an agreement.

The Justice Department was allowed to search the house. They had access to the entire premises.

Poppy, as you know, the Justice Department, they're under a lot of pressure to make sure that they treat this case the same way that they have treated the Trump probe, while the facts are very different. We heard the attorney general really emphasize earlier this week how everyone is going to be treated equally. HARLOW: And doesn't this point to some of the frustration at DOJ about

how the Biden handled this between the beginning of November, November 2, when those first documents were discovered, and then it was, what, six weeks later that more came forward?

REID: Yes. And in those six weeks, they knew -- they were on notice that the Justice Department was reviewing this case. And we've heard that some officials were frustrated that, even once the Biden team knew that the Justice Department was reviewing the original documents found in the office, they went to search the president's Wilmington home and didn't tell the Justice Department until after they found classified materials.

Look, it wasn't a requirement that they had to disclose this search, but there was some frustration inside the Justice Department.

There was also frustration about the messaging here, the fact that when the story broke and the White House confirmed it, they only confirmed the discovery of documents in the office.

HARLOW: Right.

REID: And failed to mention those found in Wilmington. Now Poppy, additional searches could be conducted as this investigation continues.

HARLOW: Paula Reid, thank you.

Let's go back to Don.

LEMON: Poppy, more fallout in Newport News, Virginia, weeks after a 6- year-old allegedly shot a teacher. The assistant principal of Richneck Elementary resigned, and the school board voted to sever ties with its superintendent on Wednesday.

This after the lawyer for the teacher, Abby Zwerner, alleged that the school was warned three times that the child had a gun but failed to act.

Straight now to CNN's Brian Todd. He's live for us in Newport News. Brian, good morning to you there. Some stunning allegations here.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Stunning allegations, Don, that have led not only to the resignation of the assistant principal here, as you just mentioned, but have also led to fallout at the very highest levels of the Newport News school system.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I move that we approve the separation agreement and severance with the superintendent.

TODD (voice-over): The Newport News school superintendent voted out after board members at a special meeting voted to approve a separation agreement with Superintendent George Parker and appointed an interim superintendent. LISA SURLES-LAW, CHAIRPERSON, NEWPORT NEWS SCHOOL BOARD: Effective

February 1st, 2023, Dr. Parker will be relieved of his duties as superintendent.


TODD (voice-over): All of this three weeks after a 6-year-old student shot and wounded his first-grade teacher.

TOSCANO: This should have never happened. It was preventable. And thank God Abby is alive.

TODD (voice-over): The attorney for that teacher, Abby Zwerner, says she will file a lawsuit against the Newport News School District.

TOSCANO: Had the school administrators have acted in the interest of their teachers and their students, Abby would not have sustained a gunshot wound to the chest, a bullet that remains dangerously inside her body.

TODD (voice-over): Attorney Diane Toscano alleging a dramatic time line of warnings on the day of the shooting.

The first coming around 11:15 a.m., when Zwerner warned an administrator the 6-year-old threatened to beat up another student.

TOSCANO: They didn't call security. They didn't remove the student from the classroom.

TODD (voice-over): Later, at 12:30, another teacher searched the boy's backpack, suspecting he had brought the gun to school and put it in his pocket before recess.

TOSCANO: The administrator downplayed the report from the teacher and the possibility of a gun, saying -- and I quote -- "Well, he has little pockets." This is outrageous.

TODD (voice-over): Around 1 p.m., a third teacher told administrators a distressed student confessed to seeing the gun at recess.

TOSCANO: Did administrators call the police? No. Did administers lock down the school? No.

TODD (voice-over): Diane Toscano says another teacher was then denied permission to search the child.

TOSCANO: He was told to wait the situation out, because the school day was almost over.

TODD (voice-over): CNN reached out to the school district. which declined to comment.

Parents like Mark Garcia Sr. have been calling for change.

MARK GARCIA SR., PARENT: Different principal, different administration. TODD (voice-over): Thomas Britton's son is in the same class as the alleged shooter but wasn't in school that day. His response to the allegations?

THOMAS BRITTON, PARENT: I told my wife after we saw it -- I'll leave the expletives out. But I can't believe someone could be so blase or callous with the safety. Like what is their job?


TODD: James Ellenson (ph), the attorney for the family of the alleged shooter, responded to these latest allegation and to the planned lawsuit with an email to CNN saying that the family continues to pray for Abby Zwerner.

That attorney had earlier told me that the gun that the child had accessed had been secured with a trigger lock and kept on the top shelf of the mother's closet -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Brian Todd in Newport News. Brian, thank you very much for that.

Straight ahead, we're going to speak with one of the parents from the school, whose child was there the day of the shooting. What her child texted her as everything unfolded -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Don, meantime, Facebook's parent company, Meta, says it will reactivate former President Trump's accounts on Facebook and Instagram. That announcement follows Twitter's decision, by Elon Musk, to do the same back in November.

And it comes about two years after Trump's Facebook and Instagram accounts were suspended in the wake of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Here's what Meta said defending the move. Quote, "The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying, the good, the bad, and the ugly so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box. But that does not mean there are no limits to what people can say on our platform."

Remember, former President Trump did not wait long to weigh in on his own social media platform, Truth Social. He criticized Facebook for deplatforming him in the first place. He said such a thing should never happen again to a sitting president or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution.

It's not clear when, or even if, Trump will start using his Meta accounts, once they're back online. His exclusivity deal with Truth Social runs until June.

And don't go far. We are going to continue this discussion and assess some of the fine print with our Donie O'Sullivan and Sara Fischer, ahead -- Don.

LEMON: In the meantime, this morning around 20 missiles were flown over Ukraine's capital. All were destroyed. That is according to officials there.

However, a 55-year-old man was killed by falling missile fragments. This as President Biden is unleashing an iron fist in Ukraine's fight against Russia. The president announcing Wednesday the U.S. is sending 31 advanced tanks to Ukraine.

The move prompted Germany to send its own tanks, and strengthens NATO after initial reluctance caused a damaged rift among Western allies.

CNN's Sam Kylie live for us now in Kyiv with more.

Sam, hello to you. You're in the neighborhood where the missile debris killed a man. What are you seeing on the ground?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, for obvious reasons, because you don't want to help -- we're not allowed to help the Russians with their targeting, we can't show the place of impact.

But I can say that it's obvious that a significant energy-generating facility was targeted unsuccessfully, because this missile, according to the local authorities, was brought down.

But remember, these are cruise missiles, sometimes with a payload of explosives of 400 kilograms, well over 500 pounds. So there's significant lumps of explosive landing even if they are knocked out of the air or put off their targeting.


Now, all of the aircraft -- missiles, rather -- that were sent against Kyiv City were destroyed. In the wider area, there have also been attacks. And of course, down in Odessa and elsewhere in the country, they've also experienced yet another wave of these missile attacks targeting the energy infrastructure.

Ukraine, Don, has gotten used to these attacks, because they are almost routine. But they are very specifically targeting civilian infrastructure -- Don.

LEMON: Listen, NATO, Sam, now is more unified than ever after this tank agreement. I'm sure that's not sitting well with Putin?

KILEY: No. I think he's got to be very careful of the unintended consequences of the sort of threats and invasion that he conducted. He did hope to create a rift within NATO lately over the deployment of tanks from NATO countries to Ukraine, but they've reacted with unity.

There's going to be close to 100 coming over the next few months. The Abrams tanks, 30 of them from the United States will be slower than many incoming. The British Challenger tanks could be here in a matter of weeks. There are about 80 Leopards from various countries, including Germany that will also be coming.

And this is because the defense minister here, Mr. Reznikov, has said they want to be able to use these very advanced weapons as an iron fist to try and punch through Russian defensive lines in a counter offensive that they are hoping to conduct.

They're also, of course, going to be defending against a planned -- what they believe to be a planned Russian offensive come the spring, Don.

LEMON: Sam Kiley in Ukraine for us. Sam, thank you very much for that -- Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, Don. We'll get back to you in just a minute.

Meantime, though, we have to talk about some severe weather. That storm that brought heavy snow to New England is moving out, but you've still got lingering snow showers and rain that will continue in the Northeast and the Midwest.

Today, meantime, another line of storms brought a lot of damage to the South through those tornados leaving tens of thousands without power.

Let's go to Chad Myers, our meteorologist in the Weather Center. What are you seeing?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Finally -- finally -- things are calming down. We have the snow across parts of New England, still some lake effect snow and even snow in some of the bigger cities -- Indianapolis, Chicago -- making some slick spots this morning.

But the same storm that made all the tornados across the Gulf Coast now pulling away as a snow event for Northern New England and also upstate New York.

We'll kind of hope that this thing winds down. I don't see anything that big on the horizon. Still have winter storm warnings in effect, and that's probably going to go until around noon.

The big stripe of snow all the way from the Ozarks on up into about Detroit. And some of these spots here in the Ozarks, still 95,000 people without power -- customers without power. And this is going to linger for the day as they finally try to get these trees back up and the power lines back up, as well.

Taking a look at the temperatures for this morning, nice and mild, but some spots don't warm up at all. Temperatures actually going down through the day, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Chad Myers, thank you very much.

MYERS: Sure.

HARLOW: Well, the first witnesses are set to testify today in the Alex Murdaugh trial. We're breaking down the opening statements from the prosecution and the defense.

And another day, another George Santos mystery. Why the recently sworn-in congressman is deflecting questions now about some key funding for his campaign.






HARLOW: Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING. Hours from now. the first witness is expected to take the stand in the trial of Alex Murdaugh. The disbarred attorney from a prominent South Carolina family is accused of murdering his wife and his youngest son in 2021.

In opening statements yesterday, the prosecution and defense previewed their case in graphic detail. Watch.


CREIGHTON WATERS, PROSECUTOR: Picked up that 300 Blackout rifle, and opened fire on his wife, Maggie, just feet away near some sheds that used to be a hangar. Pow pow, two shots, abdomen and the leg, and took her down.

The defendant, Alex Murdaugh over there, told anyone who would listen that he was never at those kennels. But the evidence is also going to show, from these things that every one of us -- most of us carry around in our pocket, that he was there.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: His head exploded. You would be covered in blood from head to foot.

They didn't find any blood on him. Sledge (ph) testing indicated 12 different places on his shirt and pants. No human blood detected. Period.

There's no eyewitness. There's no forensics tying him to the murder. When I say "forensics," fingerprints, blood, whatever, tying him to shooting anybody that night.

He didn't do it. He didn't kill, butcher, his son and wife. And you need to put from your mind any suggestion that he did.


HARLOW: Well, joining us now, Sara Azari, criminal defense attorney and host of "Death by Fame," which airs Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern on I.D., and it's available to stream at Discovery+, our parent company.

And Dave Aronberg, who is state attorney in Palm Beach County, Florida. Good morning, you guys.

Wow. I mean, this trial has captured the nation's attention, and we're just getting started here. Dave, let me begin with you, because you've got the time line

question. You've got the prosecution laying out a detailed time line that's based on phone video. It's based on phone activity. And they say that, despite denials, that shows that Murdaugh was with his wife and his son around the same time that they were murdered.

How significant is that time line?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: It's the key to the prosecution's case, Poppy. Because they can show that Alex Murdaugh was there at the kennel between three and five minutes --

HARLOW: The dog kennel.

ARONBERG: The dog kennel, where the murders occurred. Three to five minutes before the murders.


And what's really important is that he denies he was ever at the kennel. Why would you deny that you were there, unless you were the killer?

And you know how we know this? Not just phone data, but it's also a Snapchat video that Paul Murdaugh took, which had the voice of his mother and the voice of his father. So it's going to be tough for him to say, No, that's not me.

HARLOW: But, the bar is always high. In a murder case, it is beyond a reasonable doubt for the prosecution. You're a criminal defense attorney, so motive is the question.

Defense is showing they're going to show amicable emails between husband and wife; that they had a good sort of relationship and marriage. Where's the motive? That's the question, right?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Right. Where's the motive, and especially, where's the motive that you would kill your son? I understand. You know, I've had a lot of killed wives, right? But -- but killing your son is really difficult to convince a jury, that based on the pressures, the financial pressures, that you had to basically out your son.

But Poppy, there's so much reasonable doubt that you can tell exists from these opening statements. They really don't have forensics. I mean, he says, Ladies and gentlemen, you know, pay attention to the forensics.


AZARI: But he destroyed the -- the blood spatter, the T-shirt, Murdaugh's T-shirt. The ballistics are not conclusive, because the shell casings from these guns just trace back to a type of gun. Not the murder --

(CROSSTALK) HARLOW: Not specifically the family fun that the prosecution directed (ph).

AZARI: Exactly.

HARLOW: Given your -- all your extensive work in defense, I think it's really interesting that the defense attorney wants to actually take the jury to the crime scene. And if a judge allows it -- it's up to the judge in this case -- what is the point of physically being there?

AZARI: Well, I think, look, that's always a very interesting field trip. Right? You know, it's interesting because, for many reasons. You could see sort of the proximity of the kennel to where he was saying he fell asleep.

You can even maybe see if your phone picks up GPS, because apparently, at Moselle, there is no phone service. And they're saying, you know, he was there, because his phone wasn't picking up the Google -- you know, Google GPS.

HARLOW: Dave, one of the interesting things -- well, opening statements are crucial. Right? And what we saw there in these opening statements was also nine members of Alex Murdaugh's family sitting behind him, including his surviving son, Buster.

How key is that? Because the jury is not just listening to the words. They're looking at who's there. They're looking at facial expressions. They're looking at all of that.

ARONBERG: Yes, I was surprised to see that, and it was important. Because the defense is basing their whole case, I think, on a lack of motive.

He was a loving father. He had no intent to kill someone who he loves so much. And here's proof. He's got nine members of his family who have his back.

And you see the words the defense used. They said he was butchered and executed. Those are words normally used by prosecution to story tell, but here it's used by the defense, because they want to say, how would this man do such a heinous act?

HARLOW: You're talking about a death penalty potential here if convicted in this state.

ARONBERG: Yes. Well, they -- but you know, this case is -- is a murder case that is so gruesome and high-profile. But you know, in the end, it's going to be a circumstantial case. And a lot of murder cases are circumstantial cases.

And so what the defense is trying to do is to say, Look, lack of motive, lack of blood. And it's going to be debated whether there was a blood spatter. That's to come.

But in the end, if you piece all the pieces of the puzzle together, you see there's only one person who had the means, motive and opportunity to do this awful act. And that's Alex Murdaugh.

HARLOW: Said like a prosecutor. Final word, Counselor?

AZARI: Not beyond a reasonable doubt.

HARLOW: There's that. Thank you both.

AZARI: Thank you.

HARLOW: We'll have you back as we continue to watch all of this. Again, Sara's show, people should tune in: "Death by Fame" on Discovery I.D.

Meantime, George Santos facing scrutiny after claiming he personally lent his campaign $700,000. But new FEC filings suggest that money may have come from somewhere else. But where?