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WSJ Reporter Appeals Detention in Moscow Court; Man Facing Charges for Shooting Black Teen Who Went to Wrong House; GOP to Block Dems' Attempts to Replace Feinstein on Judiciary; Feds Charge 2 Men with Operating NYC Station for Chinese Government. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2023 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. We are glad you're with us.


HARLOW: A big news morning.

LEMON: It is a very big news morning, because we're going to go live to Moscow.


LEMON: We're going to go live all over the country, as a matter of fact. We have a lot going on. But international news is going to be our big topic today.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Kaitlan is off. So let's get started this morning with five things to know for this Tuesday, April the 18th, 2023.

Happening right now, as Don was saying, "The Wall Street Journal's" reporter, Evan Gershkovich, is inside of a courtroom in Moscow. You see him there. That is images of him behind plexiglass, preparing to appeal his arrest in Russia.

The U.S. maintains he is being wrongfully detained on espionage charges.

LEMON: Also, prosecutors in Kansas City charging an 84-year-old man with assault for shooting Ralph Yarl. Ralph Yarl is a 16-year-old who says that he was shot twice after he mistakenly knocked on the man's door.

And in just hours Dominion's long-awaited defamation trial against FOX News begins in Delaware. A judge expected to seat a jury before opening statements.

HARLOW: A prison next to Disney World? Governor Ron DeSantis floating that idea in his latest attack on Disney.

And softer buns, gooier cheese, more special sauce. McDonald's --

LEMON: Hungry.

HARLOW: Me, too. I'm starving. Tweaking its signature burgers.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

So as we said, let's pull up, if we could, these images, because this is striking and so important to see. This is a journalist, an American journalist.

LEMON: Also for CNN.

HARLOW: Yes, this is Evan Gershkovich. He is 32 years old. He is behind Plexiglass in a courtroom in Moscow, appealing his detention on espionage charges.

Obviously, the United States saying he has been wrongfully detained. The U.S. and he and his family and "The Wall Street Journal" all vehemently denying these charges.

Let's get straight to Matthew Chance live in London with more.

Just to see him is so important, and the question becomes now what happens in that courtroom?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's incredible, isn't it? Because remember, I think this is the first time we've caught a glimpse of Evan Gershkovich since he was detained by the Russian authorities at the end of March.

He's since, of course, been accused of espionage, an allegation that he's denied in his various court appearances. And, of course, which his paper that he works for, "The Wall Street Journal," have also vehemently denied as well.

But you can see him standing there, his arms folded, wearing that plaid shirt, wearing jeans, smiling at the photographers and the journalists that have been allowed in for a short period to catch a glimpse of him and take their photographs.

He didn't say anything, as far as I'm aware, before the reporters were asked by the court to leave. They've now been asked to leave and are outside.

The U.S. ambassador is there. Expecting some remarks from her shortly, as well.

In terms of what this hearing is about, this isn't to appeal his arrest or the charges against him. This is to decide whether it's the right thing that he should be continued to be held in that top security prison in the center of Moscow, the Lefortovo jail.

His lawyers arguing he should be, you know, put in house arrest or some other kind of facility. And so the authorities are going to decide that.

But I have to say, given that these charges of espionage against him, whether -- whether they're valid or not, the fact that these are serious charges, it is highly unlikely that the court is going to, for instance, allow Gershkovich to go into house arrest.

But we'll see. It will be about an hour, we expect, is what we're being told by the court. About an hour before we know what the court decides on this appeal regarding Evan Gershkovich's detention.

LEMON: Yes. Matthew, at first, it wasn't -- we weren't sure if he was going to appear live there or via video link.

But again, as you pointed out, this is a city court, the Moscow city court. They could have uphold Mr.. Gershkovich's continued pretrial detention. They could order him moved to another jail. They could allow a house arrest, as you said, or grant him bail, which is unlikely in this case.

But this is a pre-trial detention hearing until May 29, and then beyond that, Russian authorities can extend he looks fairly healthy, although we're just looking at him, obviously can't examine him physically. With his arms there folded. A little nervous, you know, walking around and you know a smile at one point. Possibly people he knew as a journalist.

But what do we know about where he's being hailed -- held and the conditions under which he's being held?

CHANCE: Well, it's interesting, because it's only yesterday that U.S. diplomats have been granted consular access to Evan Gershkovich, which is an extraordinary long time, since the end of March that they weren't allowed to see him.


And so we got the first sort of consular visit yesterday. The U.S. ambassador, Lynne Tracy, saying that he appeared to be healthy and looked strong after -- after that meeting.

You can -- You can see that for yourself. He seems to be in -- in pretty -- pretty good spirits, given -- given his circumstances.

He is being held in one of Russia's most notorious pretrial detention centers, one of its most notorious prisons. It's called Lefortovo. It's several hundred years old. It's apparently been renovated within the past few years, but it does have this notorious reputation for being the place where Russian dissidents, Russian political prisoners, some of the most serious criminals in the country, are processed before they stand trial and are sent to various penal colony elsewhere in the country.

But it is an ordeal, doubtlessly, that Evan Gershkovich has to look forward to in the months ahead.

HARLOW: Matthew Chance, thank you very much. Of course, we'll keep a very, very close eye on what happens to him in court today and what they decide in terms of where he will be head -- held until his trial.

LEMON: Yes, and that should happen in just moments, and we'll continue to follow that.

Meantime, here in the United States, a white homeowner now facing charges for shooting a black teenager who rang his doorbell. Kansas City police say he opened fire on 16-year-old Ralph Yarl through his glass front door.

Yarl says that he went to the wrong house by mistake when he was trying to pick up his younger brothers, and the homeowner started shooting almost immediately after he answered the door.

The teenager managed to run away after being shot twice, including once in the head. The family's attorney, Ben Crump, says it's inexplicable that the homeowner wasn't arrested the night of the shooting.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR RALPH YARL'S FAMILY: We can only imagine if the roles were reversed, and you had a black man shoot a 16-year- old white child for simply ringing his doorbell. And the police took him in for questioning and let him come home and sleep in his bed at night. How much outrage with there be in America.


LEMON: Yarl's family says he's a harmless, sweet and shy kid, and honor roll student and marching band leader who plays multiple instruments in the local youth orchestra.

The White House says President Biden personally called the teen.

The shooting has sparked outrage and protests in the community. The suspect's house has been targeted with eggs and graffiti.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov live now at the scene. Lucy, good morning to you.

The suspect told police he was scared for his life.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Don. Good morning.

According to court documents, the homeowner told police he was, quote, "scared for his life" of the 16-year-old's size. He is 84 years old. He told police that he had just laid down to bed when he heard the doorbell ring. He apparently grabbed his 32-caliber revolver, went to the front door to check on who it was.

He said -- He described seeing a stranger who was approximately six feet tall. He thought it was someone who was trying to break into his home, and so he shot twice.

He told police that he thought, again, someone was trying to break in. He called 911, and police say he was visibly disturbed and repeatedly expressed concern for the victim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The defendant, Andrew D. Lester, is charged with the Class A felony, assault in the first degree. Defendant is charged with armed criminal action.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Two felony counts filed after a black teenager is shot and seriously wounded in Kansas City, Missouri.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you there was a racial component to the case.

KAFANOV (voice-over): It was on April 13th when 16-year-old Ralph Yarl intended to pick up his younger siblings and rang the doorbell at 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace, one block difference with major consequences.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It still even today is complete shock that anybody would do that.

KAFANOV (voice-over): According to a probable cause statement, Lester told investigators he was scared to death by Yarl's size and his inability to defend himself at age 84.

He also told investigators he was in bed when he heard his doorbell ring and grabbed a handgun before answering the door. He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house and shot twice through an exterior storm door within a few seconds of opening the main door, a police detective writes in the court document.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that you open the door and then shoot the person on the other side. And it's a kid.

KAFANOV (voice-over): In an interview with a detective on Friday, Yarl said he pressed the doorbell and waited. "He stated the male inside took a long time but finally opened the door holding a firearm. He stated he was immediately shot in the head and fell to the ground."

Yarl was shot twice, with bullets striking him in the left forehead and right arm, according to the probable cause statement.

FAITH SPOONMOORE, YARL'S AUNT: My nephew is alive. He's healing. It is not the story that that individual intended for us to tell.


KAFANOV (voice-over): Yarl was released from the hospital and is recovering at home. A GoFundMe page set up by his aunt had already exceeded $2.5 million goal.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice for Ralph!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice for Ralph! KAFANOV (voice-over): Anger and cries for justice have spread in the community, and the prosecutor says his office is looking forward to obtaining a just result.

If convicted on the assault charge, Lester could spend the rest of his life in prison, the prosecutor says.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We understand how frustrating this has been. But I can assure you that the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work.


KAFANOV: And although this teenager's incredibly lucky to have survived the shooting, relatives say that, understandably, life is going to look a lot different now. The physical recovery is just one aspect. There's also the emotional and mental trauma -- guys.

LEMON: Lucy Kafanov, thank you.

HARLOW: Just a reminder: he was going to pick up his siblings.


HARLOW: And rang the doorbell and waited.

LEMON: Doorbell. Yes.

HARLOW: So it's a very similar case in New York, we were just talking about, when you juxtapose what just happened there. This is what happened in upstate New York.

A homeowner has been charged with murder for shooting and killing a young woman who pulled into his driveway. The sheriff says 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was in a car with her friends when they drove up the wrong driveway. They were looking for their other friend's house. The homeowner opened fire.


JEFFREY MURPHY, WASHINGTON COUNTY SHERIFF: It's a very rural area with dirt roads. It's easy to get lost. They drove up this driveway for a very short time, realized their mistake and were leaving when Mr. Monahan came out and fired two shots.


HARLOW: That homeowner he's referring to is this man, Kevin Monahan. He's been charged with second-degree murder.

Let's' talk about all of this, both these cases, with our legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson.

Joey, just to go over it, let's start with the case of Ralph Yarl, who's trying to recover after being shot by that homeowner in Kansas City. Two felony counts against him, assault in the first degree. That could carry life in prison if convicted and armed criminal action. And then you have the murder charge in New York.

If their defenses would be Stand Your Ground do those hold in those states?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So good morning, Poppy. Good morning, Don.

So talking about the Yarl case first, we certainly know and understand that different jurisdictions have different applicable laws. So let's talk about your Yarl on the Stand Your Ground.

Stand Your Ground, to be clear, is not a license to kill anyone.

HARLOW: Right.

JACKSON: It's not a license to shoot on sight. It gives you the ability, Poppy, the ability, in the event you feel that you're an immediate fear of death or serious physical -- physical injury, to protect yourself without retreating. That's what it is. There's no duty to retreat. Meaning you don't have to gain safe harbor. You can Stand Your Ground, stay there without retreating, and protect yourself.

The critical issue in the Yarl case is what were you protecting yourself from?

HARLOW: Right.

JACKSON: Were you, as a homeowner, because someone rang your doorbell, in immediate fear of death or serious physical injury without more? And so Stand Your Ground, there are limitations with respect to how you can successfully defend yourself.

Then you pivot to the New York case. There are a number of problems with it. No. 1, no Stand Your Ground. You have the ability -- you need to retreat if you can retreat safely.

And No. 2, the indication from at least a press conference was that they're driving away. So what gives you the justification to shoot and kill someone, or shoot at someone, whether you kill them or not, in the event that you have no immediacy of fear or danger as to your personal preservation?

And those are the issues, when you talk about guns and responsible ownership. You can kill someone if you're in danger of your own death. You can't kill someone and say, I was simply standing my ground. That's life. That's what the law allows me to do. It does not.

LEMON: The -- Joey, correct me if I'm wrong. The cases, I mean, they may see seem similar on the surface, but they're really not they they both happened on property.

One faced the person in person, right, and is saying, well, he -- I thought he was big and I was afraid. The other one was just indiscriminately shooting at a car; didn't know exactly who was in the car.

So I'm wondering about the racial element here, because I'm not sure if the New York case, the Salem case of the person even actually saw the race or ethnicity of the person.

So you have a 16-year-old black teenager, right, who was shot by an 84-year-old white man. The white man is saying, I thought he was big or whatever. I was afraid for my life.

And then you have someone shooting at a car.

Then you have, the prosecutor saying that he -- "I can tell you that there is a racial component to this case." So what do you think here? Racial component to this case, not both of them.

JACKSON: So Don. I think it's a great point that you raise, because whenever you assess cases, they all turn on their facts. And you have to determine what facts exist in which case. Are they similar? Are they different?


Let's talk about Yarl. When you have someone knocking on your door, clearly that person being an African-American, right, a boy, not a man. A teenager knocking on your door. You see that person. They engage in no other activity other than ringing or knocking, not suggesting any threatening things or anything else. Why are you shooting them? What is the rationale?

Well, the rationale, according to the prosecutor -- and he has the evidence, Don. He knows what the information is. They've done or at least began an investigation. He said there was a racial component.

That means to me that what the homeowner did was predicated, motivated, driven by race. That's a problem.

Now let's pivot. And again, of course, that state has Stand Your Ground. In New York, where you do not, now you're looking at someone driving up the driveway. We'll have to determine, did the homeowner see anything? What specifically did they say? Were they threatened in any way? Did they see the occupants of the car? Were the occupants driving away, as has been noted? Did the occupants of the car represent any danger or threat?

And so all that has to be assessed. I mean, from at this point, and we know that they were not African-Americans who were driving that car. But the basis and purpose is to be, why are you shooting? What is the justification?

And if there is none, guess what? It's a crime.

LEMON: Yes. Joey Jackson. Thank you, sir. I wish I could see you under better circumstances.

JACKSON: Always.

LEMON: We appreciate you joining us here this morning here.

So we're going to speak with Ralph Yarl's aunt, Faith Spoonmore, on how the family is holding up. His latest, the latest on his condition and their demand for justice. That's later on in the show this morning.

HARLOW: Yes, it's important to hear from them, from the family. Can you imagine if that was your relative?

LEMON: I can't even -- I can't imagine what the family is going through. I can't imagine what this young man is going through. Especially just going through a door.

Remember just a couple years ago when we did a story, a very similar story. A black boy was -- I think it was lost and he wanted directions, and he went to the front porch.


LEMON: And then a white man shot him, was convicted of shooting at him, as well. I think is still in jail.


LEMON: But it happens more often than we think. And then we know the studies show that black boys are seen as bigger and more threatening, even when they're the same size as young white boys.

So there's a lot to break down with this -- this story. And something needs to be done, not only about the perception of the innocence and the non-innocence, or the guilt, of young black boys and men; but also with guns.


LEMON: And mental health.

HARLOW: Yes, all of it.

LEMON: All of it.

HARLOW: Also an update on how he's doing in the hospital.

LEMON: Right.

HARLOW: Because he has big dreams. Going -- you know, going to West Africa, going to -- to college. He's great at playing the bass clarinet.

LEMON: He'll get there.

HARLOW: So we'll hear a lot more about him --

LEMON: Let's hope. HARLOW: -- him the person, as well, coming up in that interview Don's going to do.

Meantime, this morning, one of the biggest media trials in the history of this country. That's right. It's about to begin today at 9 a.m. Eastern. The court will reconvene to finalize jury selection in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting against FOX News.

The high-stakes trial was initially set to begin yesterday. It was abruptly delayed for a day. "The Wall Street Journal" reported that FOX is pushing for a last-minute settlement. The paper is part, of course, of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, which includes FOX News.

Dominion will no longer try to prove that it lost $600 million in contracts and profits because of FOX News's election coverage. But it is still seeking $1.6 billion in damages.

So much more.

LEMON: Talk about trial of the century.

HARLOW: Totally trial of the century.

Meantime, Republican lawmakers scrambling to block Democrats' efforts to replace senator Dianne Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee. What moves they will make next.

LEMON: And the FBI arresting two men for running a secret Chinese government police operation right here in New York City to intimidate dissidents. How Beijing is responding. That's straight ahead.

HARLOW: What a story.



HARLOW: All right. Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING. Republicans on Capitol Hill vowing to block Democrats attempts' to replace, temporarily, Dianne Feinstein, Senator Dianne Feinstein, on the Judiciary Committee.

At least 12 Biden administration judicial nominees, right, federal judges are on hold. They can't be confirmed, because she's not seated on the committee right now.

She's 89 years old. She's been away from Capitol Hill for seven weeks, recovering from shingles. And Democrats need her vote to get those nominations through, so they are in talks to temporarily replace her on the committee.

But Democratic chairman of that committee, Dick Durbin, asked yesterday. They need 10 Republicans to agree to let her be replaced.

Our congressional correspondent, Lauren Fox, is on Capitol Hill. What I found astounding yesterday, Lauren -- it started yesterday afternoon -- was Republican after Republican lining up, from Joni Ernst, to Mitt Romney, John Thune, saying, No way are we going to help Democrats with this.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, they came out so quickly and with such a united front against this idea that had been floated last week by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, that he was going to come back from recess this week and ask the Senate for unanimous consent to try and temporarily replace her on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And like you noted, even Republicans who sometimes cross political lines to vote with Democrats as a courtesy, like Mitt Romney, said absolutely not. We are not going to do this.

Here is a member of GOP leadership, Senator John Cornyn.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): Never, not once, have we allowed temporary substitutes on committees and now is not the time to start.

Republicans are not going to break this precedent in order to bail out Senator Schumer or the Biden administration's most controversial nominees.


FOX: The question now, if there is no precedent for a temporary replacement on the Senate Judiciary Committee, would there be more pressure now from Senate Democrats to get Senator Feinstein to retire, to step aside permanently? Does that change the dynamic here?

And I think that's still really an open question, Poppy, but you might hear from more Democrats in upcoming days, arguing that they can only wait so long for Senator Feinstein to return.

HARLOW: And just to be clear, if she were to retire. than they would have an easier time replacing her on that committee than a temporary ask?

FOX: It's the same process, but there is more precedent for it than a temporary replacement.

HARLOW: OK. OK, I'm talking about the debt ceiling. Kevin McCarthy was all over Wall Street yesterday, right, down at the New York Stock Exchange. And he is saying, here's -- here's our plan.


We're going to get the debt ceiling fixed, but we're going to need concessions, too.

Is there a belief he can get it done?

FOX: Well, today, the hard work really starts. He's going to meet with his conference and try to convince members to get behind this plan to try and force the White House to the negotiating table.

This is a huge gamble for the speaker, because if he cannot unite his conference around the planet, if he puts this on the floor, which is the hope, in upcoming weeks, and they can't pass it, all of a sudden, the White House can point to Republicans and say, Look, you didn't really have a plan at all. Just raise the debt ceiling without any spending cuts, and let's move on.

So a huge gamble. We're going to learn more today when Republicans huddle to learn more details about this plan.

HARLOW: They did raise it three times during the Trump administration. Lauren Fox, thanks very much.

LEMON: A fascinating story coming out of New York, where the feds have arrested two men, accusing them of running a secret police station for the Chinese government.

The FBI says the men set up a covert station in this building. It is in Chinatown. And that they used it as a home -- a home base to track down and intimidate Chinese dissidents.

But that's just one of three cases the Justice Department announced yesterday involving the Chinese government.

CNN's senior legal affairs analyst (sic), Paula Reid, is live in Washington for us this morning.

Good morning to you, Paula. How did the government come to make these arrests?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, this is something straight out of a spy novel.

And the Justice Department says these cases are evidence of China's expanded efforts of espionage here on U.S. soil.

In this first case, the one you just mentioned, two men, both U.S. citizens, have been charged with operating this secret police station in New York's Chinatown, where they were allegedly identifying, tracking and harassing dissidents.

Now in another case, they charged dozens of officials connected to China's national security operations with harassing dissidents, in many cases using social media.

They would make profiles that appeared to be American citizens. They would weigh in on anything from foreign policy to George Floyd. But in some cases, they were issuing death threats to dissuade people from attending pro-democracy protests.

And in another case, CNN has learned that a Zoom executive has been charged with interfering with calls by dissidents, including one meeting talking about commemorating the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

Now, that executive was previously charged. But these new cases add nine other individuals to the list of those facing charges.

LEMON: Paula Reid in Washington with the latest on this story. Paula, thank you very much.

We'll be right back.