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U.S. Launches Counterstrike for Drone Attack on U.S. Troops in Syria; Lawmakers Grill TikTok CEO Over China Ties; Trump Hush-Money Probe Goes Quiet After Chaotic Week; Trump Attorney to Testify Before Grand Jury Today; French Protests Erupt Into Violence Over Retirement Policy; Michigan School Shooter's Parents Will Stand Trial. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired March 24, 2023 - 06:00   ET


JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: In the overnight hours into tomorrow morning. So we're going to be talking about this throughout the entire day.


Could see a lot of rainfall, as well. Could see up to four inches of rain across some areas.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Jennifer Gray, thank you so much. Nice to see you. Have a great weekend.

And thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. Have a great weekend, everybody. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It is.


HARLOW: What is it?

LEMON: Life comes at you fast. It's Friday.

HARLOW: Friday! Friday. I'm happy. I'm going on vacation for a week. So I'm OK with it. Sorry. See you in a week.

Good morning.

LEMON: You're going. Kaitlan's gone.

HARLOW: She'll be back Monday.

Welcome to CNN THIS MORNING. We're glad you're with us on this Friday. Kaitlan is off. Let's get started with five things to know for this Friday, March 24.

Overnight, significant breaking news. The U.S. launching strikes in Syria after an American contractor was killed in a drone attack there. Five other U.S. service members wounded.

The Pentagon suspects it was an Iranian-affiliated drone.

LEMON: We'll get to that developing news soon. A top attorney, though, for Donald Trump set to testify today before a grand jury in the classified documents investigation.

"The New York Times" reports that Evan Corcoran is not intending to plead the Fifth.

Utah banning kids under 18 from using social media unless they get their parents' permission. It is the first state to enact this type of law.

HARLOW: Also today, the United States and Canada announcing a deal to turn away asylum seekers at their border, President Biden set to address it during his trip to Ottawa.

LEMON: And look at this. Kansas State, FAU, Gonzaga, and UConn all advancing in the men's March Madness tournament. The rest of the Elite Eight gets decided tonight. But you know what? Right now, CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

POPPY: We do begin with this really, really serious news breaking overnight. It is a U.S. military strike, striking back after a drone attack killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. service members in Syria.

The Pentagon says an Iranian-made drone hit a base in Northeastern Syria. President Biden responded with airstrikes. This video appears to show the flaming aftermath.

U.S. officials say the precision strikes targeted groups in Syria affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard. These are ambulances racing to the scene. You can see what appears to be a burning building off to the side of the road.

We have to remember. The United States still has about 900 troops on the ground in Syria, helping in the fight against ISIS. Just yesterday, their commander testified to Congress, just before this, about how Iran has been using proxy militias to attack American soldiers with drones and rockets.

And our national security reporter Natasha Bertrand joins us now at the Pentagon.

Natasha, exactly what he was warning about in that congressional testimony appears to be what happened.


Look, U.S. officials had been anticipating something like this, because the Iranians have they've seen an uptick in the number of Iranian attacks against coalition forces in Syria.

And Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that he took this action. He authorized this action, this strike against this Iranian target, at the direction of President Biden, in an effort to protect American personnel.


BERTRAND (voice-over): President Joe Biden ordering a U.S. airstrike in Eastern Syria Thursday after us intelligence assessed that an Iranian-origin road killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. service members and another U.S. contractor.

Biden authorized the straight, quote, "against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement. The Department of Defense said it, quote, "took the proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties."

The U.S. military maintains approximately 900 U.S. troops in Syria, some of which are there as part of a coalition to defeat ISIS. But those forces are often under attack by Iranian proxies.

GEN. MICHAEL E. KURILLA, CENTCOM COMMANDER: Iran's vast and deeply- resourced proxy forces, spread instability throughout the region and threaten our regional partners.

BERTRAND (voice-over): The commander of U.S. Central Command said in a statement following the strike, quote, "We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks."

Testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday, Kurilla said that Iranian proxies have carried out attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East 78 times since the beginning of 2021.

KURILLA: So what Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies. That's that's either UAVs or rockets to be able to attack our forces in either Iraq or Syria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are these considered acts of war? Iran.

KURILLA: They are being done by the Iranian proxies is what I would tell you, Congressman.


BERTRAND (voice-over): The Biden administration has carried out multiple airstrikes against militias affiliated with Iran following previous attacks on U.S. facilities in the region.

Biden's first known military action was a strike in February, 2021 after rocket attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.


BERTRAND (on camera): So this is not the first time again. The President Biden has ordered these airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria.

But it is the first time in a while, anyway, that we have seen an American killed. And that is why, really, the U.S. responded in the way that it did. Not only was an American killed, but five U.S. service members, as well as another U.S. contractor, were injured.

LEMON: Natasha, last Thursday, the head of Central Command warned Congress about Iran's arsenal of drones and missiles. What exactly are they capable of?

BERTRAND: Yes, so Commander Kurilla, he did caution Congress, saying that the "Iran really possesses right now the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East."

And, of course, tensions between the U.S. and Iran have only risen in recent months as Iran has gotten closer to Russia, and that military defense partnership has grown.

Here's what Kurilla told Congress last week.


KURILLA: Today, Iran is exponentially more capable than they were just five years ago. Today, Iran possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East. Thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles, many capable of striking anywhere in the Middle East.

Iran also maintains the largest and most capable UAV force in the region.


BERTRAND: So as long as Iran keeps attacking U.S. military personnel in Syria, expect to see the Biden administration taking what it calls proportional responses -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Natasha Bertrand, thank you very much.

And straight ahead, I need to tell you that the White House's John Kirby is going to fill us in on the latest developments.

HARLOW: Meantime, lawmakers on Capitol Hill just grilled the CEO of TikTok yesterday.


REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): TikTok, sir. Veils us all. And the Chinese Communist Party is able to use this as a tool to manipulate America as a whole.

Your platform should be banned. I expect today you'll say anything to avoid this outcome.


HARLOW: That was Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the CEO of TikTok. Shou Zi Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee for hours yesterday; tried to ease those concerns from lawmakers in both parties over the company's ties to China. He stressed their ongoing efforts to protect user data.


SHOU ZI CHEW, CEO, TIKTOK: ByteDance is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government.

There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform, and we know we have a responsibility to protect them.

The bottom line is this. American data, stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel. We call this initiative Project Texas.


HARLOW: But his defense largely fell on deaf ears.


CHEW: I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data. They have never asked us. We have not provided.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know what?

CHEW: I've asked that question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I find that actually preposterous.

REP. JAY OBERNOLTE (R-CA): I don't believe that it is technically possible to accomplish what TikTok says it will accomplish through Project Texas.


HARLOW: So let's bring in CNN media analyst and access media reporter Sara Fischer.

Sara, oh, my gosh, what a hearing. But -- but walk us through what we need to know, despite the fireworks. It just seems like he couldn't convince anyone that the billions that TikTok has spent on trying to store the data here makes it any safer.

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Yes, well, the biggest problem, Poppy, is that this is a bipartisan onslaught against him. Typically when we had these big tech hearings, you have Republicans saying censorship. You have Democrats talking about misinformation.

But this time he couldn't win. He couldn't curry favor with either side.

And the biggest concern that lawmakers had was that TikTok poses a national security threat, because the data from U.S. users could be potentially accessed by the Chinese government, due to their laws there. He tried to push back by saying that we've been working with the government, with the Committee on Foreign U.S. Investment, to try to make sure that's not going to happen.

But the problem is, no one believed him. And so what you witnessed yesterday was a complete trust fall.

LEMON: TikTok has, though, Sara, been taking some action, at least trying to protect user data, they say, like this Project Texas. That's here in the United States. Similarly, Project Clover in the E.U.

Do you think lawmakers are buying that or no?

FISCHER: No, no, no, Don. I was talking to a lot of sources on Capitol Hill, and they're saying Project Texas is not going to be enough to allay our concerns.

They support the White House and saying that, if TikTok's owners do not sell their stake, that the app should be banned.

Now what Project Texas is, is it's named after the state where Oracle, a U.S. software company is based. TikTok is working with Oracle to secure U.S. data to make sure that it's stored on service here and also giving Oracle oversight into its algorithms and content moderation to ensure that there's no sort of meddling in what people in America see.


But it became very obvious to me and others, Don, that that is not going to be enough to allay the concerns of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

HARLOW: But play this out for us. It's easy to have a headline, you know, saying we should ban you, et cetera. But play it out.

The courts would likely decide this. Not the influencers, not the politicians, as you write in your great piece this morning. And by the way, if they try to force the sale, China can block it.

FISCHER: Correct. So let's play this out, Poppy. Let's say Congress passes something to empower the White House to block or to ban TikTok. Well, likely TikTok is going to countersue, and it's going to go to a court.

And we saw that play out, by the way, two years ago when the Trump administration tried to ban TikTok through an executive order, the courts blocked it.

Another scenario would be, let's say that it gets banned here in the United States and that, instead, TikTok says, You know what? We want to avert that. Let's try to sell to a U.S. company.

Well, China has already indicated that they don't want to allow TikTok to sell. Why? Because they've passed their own laws that would protect their tech from being exported. So ByteDance is caught between a rock and a hard spot. You know, they

want to sell us that they could stay in the U.S., but at the same time their -- you know TikTok's Chinese connection is going to make it very hard for them to sell.

If I had to guess how this plays out, Poppy, I think we're just going to be in limbo for a long, long time.

But one thing I'm watching, I've asked folks on Capitol Hill, would you be comfortable with TikTok IPO-ing on the U.S. market? That way, it's not having to look for a big sale partner when it's worth, what, $50 billion. Like, who's going to be able to afford that, besides maybe Oracle, with the financing partner.

And it doesn't seem like that's going to allay their concerns either.

LEMON: I hate to put you on the spot here, because you answered partially what I was going to ask, is the Biden administration does want a sale.

So if you -- you say this is going to play out for a long, long time, do you have any idea, like, what is next when it comes? Because users are, like, am I going to have this platform? Am I not? What's going on?

FISCHER: It's going to be on your phone. Don't worry about it. I think what comes next is if we get to -- I think TikTok's going to try to work out a sale deal. They're going to get pressure back from China.

If there is a threat to ban, I think that TikTok will ask for sort of a, you know, immediate injunction to stop a court from banning it while they work it out in court.

And I think it would be tough for a court overall to approve a ban. So I think for now, users can breathe easy, but we'll see this -- where this goes.

LEMON: All right, Sara. Thank you, Sara.

Now I'm going to talk to Abby Phillip, who did a special --

HARLOW: Last night last.

LEMON: -- last night on the network, and we'll see what she has to say.

Thank you, Sara. Appreciate it.

We're going to turn now to new developments in the investigations, plural, into Donald Trump, starting with the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case.

The ex-president's main defense lawyer is scheduled to testify today before a federal grand jury without attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors will ask about his communications with Trump ahead of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago last summer. Now, he was also ordered to turn over his notes from that time.

Evan Corcoran's appearance is a potential make-or-break moment for the special counsel's investigation into the handling of those classified documents. And possible obstruction of justice when the federal government tried to get those documents back.

HARLOW: OK, so that's one. As Don said, plural investigations. That's the classified documents case.

We're also very closely tracking developments in that hush-money investigation here in New York. The district attorney's office is firing back this morning at House Republicans, who sent a letter to the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, demanding information about testimony in this ongoing case, which could end in criminal charges against former President Trump.

Bragg's office called those requests unlawful, saying the information was confidential under state law.

Now, the grand jury in that case did meet yesterday, but not on that case at all.

There's a lot that is confusing here. CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid joins us now. Good morning.


HARLOW: Where are we?

REID: We're really seeing pressure building on the district attorney here in Manhattan and on former President Trump. Let's start in Manhattan.

Everyone asking me what's going to happen. Will they indict him, won't they? We don't know.

All we know at this point is that the grand jury will be back on Monday to hear more evidence in the Trump case. They could at that time hear from a witness. We know from our reporting that they're considered whether they need to bring another witness back in to rebut the testimony that they had heard on Monday from Rob Costello.

And I talked to Costello yesterday, and I asked him, what happened in that grand jury room? What -- what did you do? And he still described his testimony. He said, Look, this was contentious at times.

And one of the reasons it was contentious is because he handed over hundreds of documents related to his one-time representation of Cohen. But he says he was only asked about six of them. And he and the prosecutor sparred at times about that.

And at one point, he turned to the grand jury and said, Hey, guys, you need to get your hands on all of these documents. And he tells me that five or six of the jurors nodded in agreement. Now he has not heard from the district attorney's office since that

appearance. And I asked him, well, who could they potentially bring in to rebut your testimony? And he said, there's nobody. It's impossible.


But he also notes that Michael Cohen would not be the right person to come in and rebut this testimony.

That's Manhattan. Right?


REID: Wait and see what happens Monday.

LEMON: Can I ask you something? Before you get to the other thing.

REID: Yes.

LEMON: Could the -- "we," meaning as journalists who are covering this, could we be focusing in on the wrong thing? Could this be about inflating his -- you know, his assets or whatever? And then, you know, downplaying it when it comes to taxes? Could it be about something else other than the thing.

REID: So it's a great question. I always say we can't assess the strength of this case, because we don't know all the evidence, right?

We put together pieces of reporting, based on what what witnesses who have gone before the grand jury have told us and our sources across this investigation.

It's certainly possible once you start turning over rocks, you never know what you'll uncover, right? They have looked into this issue of potential bank fraud or tax fraud. And he had -- the former president has not been charged. Though his organization and one of the executives were charged in that.

So we'll see. And it's not even clear that they're going to move forward with a vote on an indictment. We know right now they are regrouping. They're trying to assess how they're going to move forward.

HARLOW: It's a great point, because that was -- that was what they were looking at the first time around, under Cy Vance, and then walked away from it.

LEMON: But we don't -- but we don't know what's happening behind closed doors right now.

So now, the other thing. Let's get to these classified documents.

REID: There are many things.

LEMON: Let's get to these classified documents, because you have the corporate -- the Corcoran testimony. It's expected today. And then we learned that another one of his attorneys, Timothy Parlatore, right?

REID: Parlatore, yes.

LEMON: Parlatore testified yesterday to the grand jury -- three months ago. So what does that mean? How significant is that?

REID: Yes, this is interesting, because Tim oversaw additional searches.

So after the search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago back in August, they searched additional locations. They did another search of Mar-a- Lago. They searched his Bedminster property and office, a storage space. Tim was the one running that show.

So we've learned that he went before the grand jury, and he had to testify about how did you choose the locations who searched them, because they did hire investigators to help with that search?

He was also, we've learned, pressed on whether there was a shell game where you're moving things from Mar-a-Lago to a storage space. And he also had to hand over reports that he had compiled about these searches.

I actually did an exclusive interview with Tim about a month ago. I think it's his only TV interview. Let's take a listen to how he described the interactions with DOJ.


TIMOTHY PARLATORE, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: We conducted a search back in December, which is where we found these documents, and we turned them over immediately. These were not turned over last week. Although, you know, the DOJ leaked it last week. This was turned over back in December.

And so we have gone through. We've tried to work with the DOJ. We've tried to do searches of all the relevant places. And anytime we found anything, we've immediately turned it over.


REID: So the searches that we know about concluded in December. That's when he also did his testimony. That interview was in February.

But he has insisted that there was no shell game, that this was just the product of very disorganized exit from the White House.

LEMON: All right.

HARLOW: You're going to be busy. Hope you get somewhat of a weekend. Paula Reid, thank you very much.

LEMON: Thank you, Paula. Appreciate it.

The retirement revolt continues in France. Protests at airports, a town hall, schools and oil refineries. Wow. Live in Paris for you next.



LEMON: Authorities in France bracing for another day of national fury. More than one million people took to the streets Thursday over legislation raising the retirement age to 64. And some of the protests are getting really violent.

Clashes erupted between demonstrators and police, who say around 1,000 people damaged property and set fires. At least 80 people were arrested across France on Thursday, and more than 100 officers were injured.

CNN's Sam Kiley, live for us in Paris this morning. Sam, hello to you. How are these protests impacting daily life across Paris and, really, across France?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Don, here in Paris, there's more than 10,000 tons of garbage that has been uncollected now for many weeks. That's because the refuse collectors are on strike, as there are many other sectors of society on strike or on partial strikes.

Transport has been affected. High schools have seen strikes. The oil industry has suffered strikes.

And this is part of the union's effort to try to force a U-turn on President Macron. But he is saying this president is not for turning, Don.

LEMON: Sam Kiley will be following. Sam, thank you very much. We appreciate that.

A major legal move in Michigan as school shooter's parents ordered to stand trial. We're going to go behind the effort to hold them accountable for their son's actions.

HARLOW: And colorectal cancer is on the rise among young adults. We will explain this disturbing trend. What you need to know, ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Well, a potentially precedent-setting case. A Michigan appeals court has ruled a high school shooter -- school shooter's -- parents should stand trial for involuntary manslaughter.

A three-judge panel ruled that James and Jennifer Crumbley ignored their son, Ethan's, mental health issues and other warning signs and provided him with the gun that he used in the school shootings.

Ethan killed four students at his high school in 2021.

CNN's Jean Casarez joins us now.

This is enormous, because it is about not the teen's actions. It's about what the parents didn't do. It's truly precedent-setting, because what the court is saying, the appellate court is saying you the parents, you can be tried for homicide.

Because one of the elements is that you, the parents, are the ones that caused that mass shooting. Your son has already pleaded guilty, but a jury can determine that you caused the mass shooting.

And it all depends on foreseeability. And the judges go into that into -- in their opinion, saying that it was foreseeable that this would happen.

Of course, it will be up to a jury in the end, but they based it on the facts. We want to show everybody some of the facts that the judges relied upon.

Ethan change -- Ethan Crumbley had had mental issues. and he knew it. And he was sending texts to his mother about that. It's just paranoias. She didn't respond.

So the justices quote, "About one week later, Ethan Crumbley sent additional text messages to Jennifer," his mother, "this time reflecting his belief that a demon was in the house, that it was throwing objects inside the house." He then says, "Can you at least text back?" And she didn't. She didn't respond to him.

And then the court went on to say, talking about the journal, because Ethan Crumbley had a journal. Now the parents did not know about the journal, which could be important for the defense. Right?

But it's coming into the trial, and the justices wrote, "Every one of the 21 pages of written material had reference to plans to commit a school shooting. Ethan Crumbley, wrote, 'I will cause the biggest school shooting in Michigan's history, and I will kill everyone I see. The first victim has to be a pretty girl with a future so she can suffer like me.'"

LEMON: Oh, my gosh. But they didn't know about the parents didn't know about the journal.

CASAREZ: They didn't know about --

LEMON: They knew about his mental health issues.

CASAREZ: They did know it, and then they got him an early Christmas present.

LEMON: Oh, boy.

HARLOW: It was a gun.

CASAREZ: A gun. And several weeks later, this happened.

LEMON: I wonder what this does for, you know, parents around the country.

CASAREZ: It's precedent-setting, because I listened to.