Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Nearly 1,000 Flights Cancelled as Ice Storm Hits U.S.; 2 More Memphis Police Out, 3 Fire Personnel Fired Over Response; NY Prosecutors Revive Hush-Money Case; Biden Says U.S. Will Not Provide Fighter Jets to Ukraine; Cindy Williams Dead at 75; Murdaugh Defense Floats 'Two Shooters' Theory in Court. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2023 - 06:00   ET




All right. Thanks for joining me this morning. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING begins right now.


PENNY MARSHALL, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I'm going to break your cranium with my ulna. You got that?

CINDY WILLIAMS, ACTOR: We are quick to flare, aren't we?


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Is it your -- is that why you played that song?

LEMON: Schlemiel, schlimazel. Hasenpfeffer Incorporated. (SINGING) We're going to do it.

HARLOW: He walked on the set this morning playing this song.

LEMON: I loved --


HARLOW: I'm going to get you a Bluetooth speaker.

LEMON: -- "Laverne and Shirley." It was "Happy Days," "Laverne and Shirley," and then later it was "Joanie Loves Chachi" or something like that. Man.

HARLOW: I'm just like, it's a no for me.

LEMON: You're guys are like, what are you talking about?

Laverne DeFazio, Shirley Feeney.

Good morning, everybody. We're talking about someone we love.


LEMON: Hollywood has lost another star. We're talking about actress Cindy Williams, who played Shirley on "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley." She has died. More on her life in a moment.

But first, two more Memphis Police officers taken off the streets, including the one who said that he wanted to stomp Tyre Nichols. Three EMTs fired. Coming up, what they did on the night of that deadly beating.

HARLOW: And a dangerous ice storm spreading misery across multiple states right now. Forty million Americans enter winter weather alerts. Travel nightmares already beginning this morning. You've got treacherous icy roads and nearly a thousand flights cancelled. We'll give you the latest forecast.

COLLINS: Also this morning, right now, America's top diplomat is walking a diplomatic tightrope. He is meeting with Palestinian leaders as violence and tensions are escalating with Israel. Can Secretary of State Antony Blinken bring down the temperature in an unexpected part of his visit?

LEMON: All of that in the hours to come. But we're going to begin with this.

Brutal winter storm, unleashing ice and bitter old all across Texas and the South. Here's a live look. There's Arkansas there, where the governor has declared a state of emergency. This is the interstate near Fayetteville.

Dallas now waking up to another round of ice and freezing rain. It has been a treacherous mess around the city, with overturned trucks and car wrecks.

Hundreds of flights already cancelled. Around 38 million Americans across a stretch of 1,500 miles from Texas to West Virginia under winter weather alerts right now.

Ed Lavandera is live for us in Dallas with more. Good morning, Ed. How's it looking?


Here in Dallas, the worst has not started coming down yet, but that is what this area of North Texas is bracing for as that sleet and precipitation expected to start falling more intensely in the coming hours.

That means roadways like this are going to become a treacherous nightmare, as you mentioned.

Already we're seeing the effects of this winter storm. Nearly a thousand flights cancelled. We presume that that will continue to worsen throughout the day. And these winter advisories and winter warnings stretching from as far South as San Antonio, all the way up into Oklahoma and Arkansas, as well.

School districts already cancelling classes. They were cancelling them yesterday before any rain had really started falling here in this area.

So transportation officials, emergency officials urging people across the region that, if you have no business on the roadways today, to please stay off the roadways. Because you might see the traffic moving rather quickly right now. But in the coming -- in the coming hours, Don, this is going to change dramatically.

LEMON: Yes. Careful there. Texas doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to the power grid and infrastructure. Ed Lavandera, following the story for us. We'll check back. Thank you, Ed.

COLLINS: All right. We're going to take you from Texas to the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta. Chad Myers is there.

Chad, which areas are we expecting to be the hardest hit today?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's one round after another, Kaitlan. It's hard to say that. Because this is all going to come on, starting in Texas and then moving on up toward the Ohio Valley.

This is where we are right now. This is only the first wave of three. So yes, we are seeing some ice now, almost to Nashville, and that could really slow things down this morning.

But Greenwood, Arkansas, a third of an inch of ice on all of the trees and all of the branches. And we go from Louisville all the way down to Memphis and even into Dallas.

The orange areas on Google Maps showing you the slowdowns, and this is what I-35 North of Dallas looks like on the way up to Denton. Ruts in the road. You never like to drive in those ruts, because you don't want to get out of those ruts, because as soon as you do, you're on the ice.

Here are your winter weather advisories and also your warnings. There will be significant snow and ice coming in. This is just the first round. Temperatures are in the 20s, and it will begin to rain as the afternoon goes on.


Twenty degrees, 25 degrees, and rain is no fun. And that's what we're getting here for the next couple of days. One to two rounds more of this -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Not only is it not fun, it's dangerous. So those drivers in Denton better be careful.

MYERS: Absolutely. COLLINS: Chad Myers, thank you for that. We'll stay with you for updates.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, two more Memphis Police officers are on leave and subject to an internal investigation after the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.

A total of seven officers have now been relieved of their duties. So far, only five, though, face those second-degree murder charges.

The city's Fire Department also fired two EMTs and a lieutenant following their investigation.

Ryan Young is live in Memphis for us this morning with more.

What's interesting to me, too, Ryan, is that we only know the identity and the race of one of those additional two police officers, and I wonder why that is?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, still so many questions here. Last week the city basically told us they're going to be working through this investigation, going through that video like so many of us have done, watching each particular point.

You can see the city made moves yesterday to get rid of some of those officers they feel like didn't help when they saw danger happening right in front of their face.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get on the ground, now! Right now!

YOUNG (voice-over): New fallout from a video that has shaken the country. Three members of the Memphis Fire Department and two more police officers have been relieved from duty following the deadly police beating of Tyre Nichols.

Memphis Police said Monday that those two officers are still subjects of an internal investigation.

This makes seven officers total fired in connection with this case. The five initial officers all of whom are black were ultimately fired on January 20th after being placed on leave and then indicted last week on second-degree murder and other charges.

In a release, the Memphis Fire Department said the two EMTs and a fire lieutenant failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Nichols after he was pepper-sprayed.

One of the latest police officers to be fired is wearing this body camera. He's identified by Memphis Police as officer Preston Hemphill.

Hemphill, who is white, can be seeing firing his taser at Nichols, following the initial traffic stop January 7. After Nichols takes off running, with other officers chasing him, Hemphill is heard on his body cam.


He is also a member of the now disbanded SCORPION unit. He is seen here receiving a certificate for skill training from the Memphis Crisis Intervention Team.

Hemphill has not been charged. His lawyer says his client never went to the second scene, where the beating occurred, and that he's cooperating with the investigation.

Attorneys for the Nichols family released a statement saying in part, "The news Monday from Memphis officials that officer Preston Hemphill was relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing. Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre's death just now coming to light?"

Memphis Police have not released the name of the seventh officer.

Meanwhile, according to a spokesperson for the Shelby County D.A.'s Office, all officers and first responders who were at the scene of the Nichols arrest are being looked at for possible charges.


STEVEN MULROY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR SHELBY COUNTY, TN: We were extraordinarily quick. Within less than three weeks, we went from the incident to filing charges against the five officers who were primarily responsible for the death of Tyre Nichols and who were on that scene.

Now, as to everybody else, it's going to take some time as we do that investigation. But I assure you the investigation is ongoing.


YOUNG: Yes, Poppy, we know this investigation is moving quickly. We've seen it for ourselves.

We also know this afternoon there are plans to be another family news conference where Ben Crump and some others will be talking about other cases involving this SCORPION team.

This entire city still remains watching this, very focused on how this investigation moves forward. And as you know, people are digging into the background of this entire SCORPION unit that's been disbanded to see what else they can unearth about what's happened to other people who live in Memphis -- Poppy.

HARLOW: So many questions remain on that front. Ryan, thank you very much for the reporting.

Next hour, Don will be joined to speak one-on-one with Tyre Nichols's brother, Jamal, he'll be here next hour. COLLINS: Also this morning, there's a new development in one of the

many ongoing investigations into former President Trump that he's facing.

This morning, we are learning that the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has started presenting its case to a grand jury about Trump's role in hush-money payments to the former adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential race. That's according to "The New York Times."

Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, as you remember, pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges related to those payments that Cohen had facilitated when he was working for then-candidate Trump.

This does signal, though, that the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, is nearing a decision, potentially, about whether or not to charge Trump.


We should note here, a word of caution: a conviction is not a sure thing, because a case would mainly hinge on showing that Trump and his company falsified records to hide that payout from voters, which could be, you know, a low-level felony charge.

Still, the developments do add to Trump's mounting legal woes we have been talking about. This is what Bragg told on when he was on CNN MORNING -- CNN THIS MORNING just last month.


HARLOW: Is that correct that you are looking to jump start that criminal inquiry?

ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, so first, I want to take issue with the word "jump start." As I said --

HARLOW: It's the "Times" word, not ours.

BRAGG: I know. I understand.

You know, we have been continuously working with rigor throughout the year. And you're going to be maybe displeased with the answer, because I'm not going to -- we have not confirmed or denied. As you said, that's "The Times" reporting.

Look, we're working on a number of pieces and perspectives with this. Like I said, this is one chapter, an important chapter. But there are a lot of, you know, tentacles, if you will. We're following the facts where they go.

LEMON: You said in -- to "The New York Times" and also in other interviews, I've heard you saying that this was -- this was just a chapter, and people shouldn't read ahead in the book.

I'm wondering what that means. Is that -- because that sort of looks like people are saying -- like you're saying to people, stay tuned. There's something on the horizon?

BRAGG: So, you know, what I'm saying is let's pause for the moment as we are. This was, as I think -- it's very consequential, the work that went into this, how ably the people of the city of New York were represented.

But as I said back in April, there's other work going on, and we're continuing that. It wasn't paused. We've been doing it.


LEMON: So that was interesting, because that December -- that interview was December 7. You asked him directly about Stormy Daniels, and then he kept saying this is a chapter in the investigation into Trump. Don't look forward in the -- in the playbook or in the workbook.

And so now it feels like this is sort of the next thing to come when it comes to the Trump investigation. Maybe he was hinting, in some way, that this was the next thing.

COLLINS: Good question. Since this is like now what has materialized.

It's so interesting, because this was once a dead end, basically.


COLLINS: They thought this was not going to happen.

HARLOW: That's right.

COLLINS: And it's so interesting when he's talking about, you know, reading ahead in the book. Because actually, his office has reached out to a publisher for one of the senior prosecutors who was in the office that was unhappy that Alvin Bragg said the broader case against Trump, which was less focused on just the hush-money payments, more focused on the broader business practices.

They weren't sure how strong that case would be, and so they actually dropped it. The prosecutors were unhappy. One of them is writing a book. And his office is actually kind of concerned that it could affect this investigation now.

LEMON: Well, the interesting part of it is the key player in all of this is the person who testified in front of Congress.

HARLOW: Michael Cohen.

LEMON: And that is Michael Cohen, whose -- this case is partly based on his testimony --

HARLOW: About the payments.

LEMON: -- about the hush-money payments.

HARLOW: That could be a problem for them. LEMON: Where did that come from? Listen, if I was building a criminal case or a civil case with Michael Cohen as a key witness, I might have some issues. Does he have credibility issues? Yes.

But everything that he has said has come to fruition.

HARLOW: Well, we'll see the -- yes.

LEMON: But we're not building a criminal case here. We're building a journalistic case. And I think Michael Cohen should be heard, because again, this is -- he helped to build this case against Donald Trump.

HARLOW: I was -- the reporting from "The Times" -- is it yesterday -- the first witness before this grand jury was David Pecker, a name pretty well-known; former publisher of the "National Enquirer." Questions about payments, et cetera.

But you were covering the Trump White House during all of this. Any thoughts as you reflect now to see where we are here?

COLLINS: You look back at some of those moments, it's just wow. But remember, this was when they were on air talking about these payments happening and saying, Oh, yes, actually, the payments did happen. And it was on-air that it was admitted, after Trump had denied it and said, 'You'll have to ask my attorney, Michael Cohen."


LEMON: Crazy.

HARLOW: Stay tuned, like you said.

LEMON: Stay tuned. The next chapter. More to come on that.

Meantime, happening now, the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is meeting behind closed doors with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. The two men are hoping to defuse a rapidly- escalating crisis between the Israelis and Palestinians after some of the bloodiest incidents in recent years.

Blinken spoke with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem yesterday. We're going to get a live report next hour. Now this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will the United States provide F-16s to Ukraine?



COLLINS: A clear answer there from President Biden, flatly saying no to sending American fighter jets, those F-16s, to Ukraine.

This comes after renewed pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for jets. He says they need them to fight the Russian aggression.

Biden has consistently said planes are not on the table for the United States to stand, but there are understandably some questions about whether or not that will stand.

The U.S. has provided more and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine, despite at first pushing back on many of the requests that you saw from President Zelenskyy.

Last week, for example, Biden announced that he would send 31 of the M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, despite top U.S. officials previously saying the heavy-duty vehicles were a poor fit for the country's military, not necessary.

A key White House official, John Kirby, told me that it's going to be a while before those tanks actually make it to Ukraine.



JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The Leopard tanks will probably get there from the Germans and from the -- our European allies and partners will get there in relatively short order, probably in time to help them in the spring and summer. The American tanks, the Abrams, will take a little bit more time. It will take many months before they can get on the ground.


COLLINS: Last month, the United States announced it was sending Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system. That was after months of rejecting requests to send the advanced air defense system, in part because of the steep logistical and training challenges with deploying it's.

That's the same logic that we heard for not sending the tanks before the U.S. quickly did that reversal.

Other sophisticated weaponry that the U.S. has ultimately sent to the Ukrainians after they requested it includes the Stinger antiaircraft missiles that have been so key; Howitzers; Switchblade drones; the HIMARS rocket launchers with precision rounds.

As the war in Ukraine is approaching its one-year mark -- hard to believe that -- President Zelenskyy says there is no time for continued reflections. He's calling for a timely implementation of strong decisions by his country's allies.

HARLOW: We have very sad news to share this morning, as we mentioned at the top of the show. Actress Cindy Williams, best known for the beloved sitcom "Laverne and Shirley," she has died at the age of 75. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Schlemiel, Schlimazel. Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!

MARSHALL: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Schlemiel, Schlimazel. Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!


HARLOW: It was her quirky Shirley Feeney character on "Happy Days" that the -- and the spinoff that made her a household name in America.


WILLIAMS: You said it. This is eternal. Eternity. Over and over and over again. On and on, without ceasing, without stopping, over and over, eternal, ad infinitum, infinity. This means til death do you part, the end.

MARSHALL: Do you mean forever?


HARLOW: Her credits span 60 years, including movies like "American Graffiti." Seen here with a very young Ron Howard. And "The Conversation" with Gene Hackman.

Williams died after a short illness. That's according to her family. And she is survived by her two adult children.

LEMON: Aww. And she was part of the -- I think that's the golden age of television.

HARLOW: Yes. I do, too.

LEMON: The '70s and '80s.

HARLOW: Into -- and I watched it even, you know, into the '90s.

LEMON: It was a family dynasty. Garry Marshall was her brother [SIC[, who was the creator of "Laverne and Shirley" and the creator of "Happy Days." And then that was a spin-off of "Happy Days." And there were others to come.

But that was amazing television, when there were only three channels, and everybody gathered around to watch "Laverne and Shirley."

HARLOW: As we were saying, so young.

LEMON: Seventy-five years old. Seventy-five. Going to miss her.

HARLOW: OK. This is -- this actually happened, this next story we're going to tease. Ahead, two monkeys are missing from the Dallas Zoo. What's so newsworthy, police say it appears that they were taken.

LEMON: Plus, Alex Murdaugh's defense team is floating a theory about the murders of his wife and son.

HARLOW: Sorry, guys.



LEMON: So this morning, two Emperor Tamarind monkeys are missing from the Dallas Zoo, and zoo keepers believe someone stole them. That's because they found the enclosure intentionally cut open. They told police those monkeys generally stay close to home.

But after a search of the ground, zoo keepers could not locate them.

It's the fourth time this month that the zoo's animals and enclosures may have been tampered with. Earlier this month, a Clouded Leopard escaped after the fence was intentionally cut. She was found unharmed hours later.

The zoo also found an intentional cut in the Langur Monkey habitat, and last week an endangered vulture was found dead under suspicious circumstances.

The zoo has added more cameras, security patrols, and overnight staff. Also offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone responsible for those incidents. Wow.

HARLOW: Four times --

LEMON: Four times.

HARLOW: -- in a month?

LEMON: It's just -- yes, someone -- I don't know. I'm going to say, it sounds like an inside job, but who knows?

HARLOW: We need to look at a lot of security footage.

LEMON: We don't know. Yes.

HARLOW: All right. So let's turn to the double murder trial of former lawyer, Alex Murdaugh. He is accused, as you know, of killing his wife and his son.

Well, during cross-examination yesterday in court of a special agent, Murdaugh's defense attorney floated the theory that two shooters could have committed the murders.

Our Randi Kaye is live in Walterboro, South Carolina.

I was surprised, seeing this line of questioning, but I think the answer that Harpootlian finally got to was interesting. Tell us more.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it sure was, Poppy. This agent basically said, You know what? Just because two weapons were used doesn't mean that there had to be two shooters, that one person could have handled both of those weapons.

And of course, the prosecution is saying that person is Alex Murdaugh. We also got a look inside his gun room at the home, and we got a look at a second interview that he gave investigators just days after the murder. They seemed to be trying to test his consistency in the details. Here's a look.




MURDAUGH: I mean, she was a wonderful girl, and a wonderful wife, and she was a great mother.

KAYE (voice-over): An emotional Alex Murdaugh in his second interview with investigators following the murders of his wife and son. First, he cries about his wife, Maggie Murdaugh. Then at one point, he says this about his youngest son Paul.

MURDAUGH: It's just so bad. I did him so bad.

KAYE (voice-over): The interview with SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, took place on June 10, 2021, three days after the murders.

Investigators asked Alex to walk them through what he did that day. Alex said he left work early; and he and Paul went target shooting on their hunting property.

MURDAUGH: You mean what gun?


MURDAUGH: A .22 --


MURDAUGH: -- magnum.

KAYE (voice-over): That .22 magnum he says they used is not one of the weapons used in the murders. Maggie was shot with a rifle, and Paul was killed with a shotgun.

Alex also told investigators he wasn't at the kennels earlier in the night.

MURDAUGH: I know that Maggie went to the kennels. I don't know exactly where Paul went, but he left the house, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you do once Maggie and Paul left?

MURDAUGH: I stayed in the house.

KAYE (voice-over): Keep in mind, Alex Murdaugh is heard on a recording on his son Paul's home at 8:45 p.m., and that was recorded at the kennels.

He told investigators twice now in separate interviews he didn't go to the kennels until he found their bodies.


Earlier. his defense attorney floated the idea that two guns could mean two shooters.

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Is it a possibility that there are two shooters, based on the data you collected?

MELINDA WORLEY, SLED AGENT: It just indicated there was movement to me.

KAYE (voice-over): But prosecutors were quick to point out one person could have used two guns.

Another witness for the state, special agent Jeffrey Croft, testified about this video. For the first time, it shows investigators the day after the murders, searching parts of the Murdaugh home, including this gun room. Outside, they found spent shell casings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's two right there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've been here a little while. Could be .300s.

KAYE (voice-over): Later, Special Agent Croft walked the jury through a series of missed calls and text messages to Paul Murdaugh's phone the night of the murders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell the jury the times starting at the bottom that he's trying to call Paul Murdaugh without an answer?

JEFF CROFT, SENIOR SPECIAL AGENT, SLED: At 9:29 p.m., there's a one- second outgoing call. At 9:42 p.m., there's a one-second outgoing call. And at 9:57 p.m., there's a four-second outgoing call.

KAYE (voice-over): When the caller, a friend, couldn't reach Paul, the special agent said he texted Maggie Murdaugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what does he say?

CROFT: "Tell Paul to call me."

KAYE (voice-over): Neither Paul or Maggie ever responded.


KAYE: So this morning, Poppy, the question, of course, is were Paul and Maggie already dead when that friend was trying to reach them by phone?

We know from the prosecution that Paul's phone stopped any type of activity at 8:49 p.m. Maggie's phone stopped all activity at 8:54 p.m. that night, so it does seem that they were dead when all that phone activity did stop, Poppy.

HARLOW: Randi Kaye, thank you very much for the reporting. We'll see this trial resume in just a few hours.

Well, ahead, why Priscilla Presley is questioning the validity of her late daughter Lisa Marie's will.

COLLINS: Also, there's new data this morning revealing just how much learning kids globally lost out on, all because of the pandemic. We'll give you the numbers.