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CNN This Morning

U.S. Cities Blanketed with Smoke from Canadian Wildfires; Meadows Testifies Before Grand Jury in Special Counsel Probe; Mike Pence Announces Bid for Presidency; 1,400+ Evacuated after Dam Collapse in Ukraine. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to take your time to think it through.




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's "A Small Light," about the woman who hid Anne Frank's family from the Nazis.

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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Time to grab my coffee. Good morning, everyone. It is 6 a.m. Eastern. We are so happy to have Phil back.

How you doing?


HARLOW: It's a big day. Do you want to tell them why?

MATTINGLY: Preschool graduation.


MATTINGLY: Preschool graduation. You know, you're a couple of days behind me. I already had my preschool and a kindergarten graduation. So I'm glad --

HARLOW: I need to have a couple more kids to catch up with where you're at.

MATTINGLY: I mean, let's hang out for a little bit first. We can come back to that.

HARLOW: Phil is right. I've got to take off a little bit early today, because my son is graduating from preschool. MATTINGLY: Congratulations.

HARLOW: Got Sara Sidner coming to sit by your side. But we've got a few hours before that happens. And a lot of news. So let's get started for "Five Things to Know" for this Wednesday, June 7.

New York and Detroit are now in the top three on the list for the world's worst air pollution right now as smoke from a Canadian wildfire makes skies hazy in the Midwest and right here along the East Coast. You're looking at live pictures of a very smokey sunrise here in New York City.

MATTINGLY: And a big development in the federal investigation into former President Trump. His last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, testified before a federal grand jury. We don't know if he was asked about the attempts to overturn the 2020 election or about classified documents or both, or anything else, for that matter. But we'll keep you posted on that.

Meanwhile, Trump's former vice president, Mike Pence, he's officially in the race. He released a video moments ago, announcing he'll take on his old boss in that race for the White House. And he's not the only Republican throwing his hat in the ring today.

HARLOW: That's right.

A high school graduation, though, tragically, becomes the scene of a mass shooting in Virginia. A gunman opened fire as hundreds of people stood outside the ceremony, some in their caps and gowns, killing two people and wounding five more.

MATTINGLY: And breaking overnight, the pope is in the hospital, set to undergo abdominal surgery. The Vatican says he'll stay hospitalized for several days. What we're learning about his condition.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: So I went on a run. I'm in this run club Tuesday nights. And it was so hard to breathe. The air was so thick and full of smoke.

MATTINGLY: I have so many questions about your run club on Tuesday nights. But yes, it is kind of surreal when you walk outside.

HARLOW: It is surreal. And the way just that the sun looked with all the haze over it. This is the morning view, folks. This is what you're looking at. Look at New York City. All up and down the East Coast and the Midwest, feeling the effect of the Canadian wildfire and the smoke pouring down, blanketing American cities across the Northeast and the Midwest. New York City right there.

Tens of millions of you and tens of millions of Americans from Minnesota down to North Carolina this morning, they're really at risk of breathing what is unhealthy air.

Earlier this morning, New York City had the worst air quality of any major city in the world. It beat out Delhi, India, a city that is notorious for severe, toxic smog.

Detroit also in the top five.

This is what it looked like at the Yankees game last night. You can see the reddish-brown sky over the stadium there. And here's the Statue of Liberty, shrouded in a thick haze.

We've got team coverage this morning. Let's start off with meteorologist Derek van Dam, tracking all of it. Also, we've got our national correspondent, Athena Jones, here in Manhattan with a mask, given how bad it is outside.

Athena, the mayor is telling people stay inside as much as they can. Is that right?


That's right. It's because of the air quality reaching what officials called a very unhealthy level overnight. As you mentioned, I'm wearing a mask to protect myself, and you can just get a look at the city. That's actually our building there among those buildings behind us. You can still see the haze this morning.

And as you mentioned this smoke from more than 100 wildfires in Canada isn't just affecting New York City. You mentioned Detroit. It's also stretching across large parts of the Northeast, all the way down to Raleigh, North Carolina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can smell it and feel it.

JONES (voice-over): People in New York City masking up again, not because of COVID but due to harmful smoke wafting into the city. Right now, New York City is among the top five most air-polluted cities in the world.

At one point, the air quality index soared past 200 Tuesday night, according to New York City Mayor Eric Adams. That's a very unhealthy level.

The poor air quality is caused by more than 150 active wildfires burning in Canada, the smoke from those fires creating a haze for millions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It should be super crowded. Everybody should be trying to get the good air. But it's not crowded. That tells you something, right?

JONES (voice-over): More than 40 million people across the Northeast, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic are under air quality alerts, affecting areas around Boston, shrouding Pittsburgh in smoke, while leaving Hartford, Connecticut, under dense haze, and smoke lingering over New Jersey.

[06:05:15] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see the haze over the stadium.

JONES (voice-over): The ominous skies clouded the start of the game at Yankee Stadium. But the haze did not stop all New Yorkers from venturing outside on Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not just going to just stay in the house because of the air quality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a little hazy. But they say, you know, you shouldn't do strenuous activity. But I feel like I can go for a run right now. You know? I know I shouldn't, maybe.

JONES (voice-over): Sports and family medicine physician Tyler Wheeler warns, even if you can't see the smoke, it can still cause harm.

DR. TYLER WHEELER, SPORTS AND FAMILY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: The particle sizes are really very small, which allows them to penetrate deeply into the lung tissue. So, what the smoke generally does to the lungs, the thought is that it increases inflammation into the lungs.

JONES (voice-over): At least ten school districts in central New York have canceled outdoor activities due to poor air quality, which is not expected to improve in the coming days as a cold front will likely push more smoke South and East into the U.S.

WHEELER: Children who are at higher risk of lung conditions, it certainly will be appropriate to minimize their exposure to the outdoor air.


JONES (on camera): Now, safety is an issue, because wildfire smoke contains particulate matter. This is among the tiniest and most dangerous of pollutants. This is the kind of stuff you can breathe deeply into your lungs. It can get into the bloodstream, and it's linked to health problems like asthma, heart disease, respiratory illnesses.

We're going to be watching out for a press conference from New York City Mayor Eric Adams a few hours from now to get an update on what they expect and how long they expect this situation to last.


JONES: Poppy.

HARLOW: Athena, thank you -- thank you for the reporting. And please keep us posted as we hear more from the mayor.

MATTINGLY: And you've seen the sky lines in New York. Here's a look at the hazy sky lines in Philadelphia; in Baltimore; Charlotte, North Carolina, all across this part of the country.

Derek van Dam is with us now. And Derek, how much longer will this smoke, this smog fill the skies in cities across the U.S.? DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Phil, I think we've got several

more hours, if not another day, of seeing more scenes just like this playing out in the National Mall.

Looks like to me a dystopian climate change movie, playing out in real time. Definitely the finger -- fingerprints of climate change written all over this story.

And we could see this wall of smoke literally traveling across Lake Erie yesterday as it kind of coalesced in that area, eventually drifting South and impacting the major metropolitans of the East Coast, some of the most populated areas.

You can see the unhealthy and very unhealthy red and magenta-colored dots. This is a forecast for the near-surface smoke. And you can see yet another plume starting to develop late tonight. That will drift South from Buffalo and impact the nation's capital.

New York, not only the air quality but also the visibility. Now, keep in mind, this is important perspective. We are well under way within our burn season within Canada. But you can see in 2023, we have already reached what the five past top seasons in terms of acres burned in Canada so far. And we haven't even gotten into the heart of the season just yet in Canada.

Back to you.

MATTINGLY: That's wild. Derek van Dam, thanks so much for your reporting.

HARLOW: Former Trump White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has testified now, we've learned, before a federal grand jury. This is part of the special counsel, Jack Smith's, ongoing probe.

What's not clear this morning is whether Meadows gave testimony regarding former President Trump's handling of classified documents or his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election or both.

Trump tried to block Meadows' testimony, but a judge rejected his claims of executive privilege.

Let's learn a lot more about this with our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez. He joins us now.

OK, let's begin with Meadows. Obviously, a critical witness. Because who knows more than the man who's always around the man in the White House? We don't know if Jack Smith wanted to know about the classified documents or trying to overturn the election or both, right?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. We don't know, Poppy. Good morning, by the way.

HARLOW: Good morning.

PEREZ: The -- the fact is that, you know, based on what we've seen with other witnesses, prosecutors typically bring in witnesses and ask them about both matters. So that's what we expect would have happened here.

Because as you pointed out, Mark Meadows is arguably the biggest witness in both of these investigations. He was there when the former president was formulating his effort to try to stay in office, despite losing the election. He was involved in trying to tell members of Congress that there was this plan.

You saw some of his text messages from the January 6 Committee investigation, where he outlined the plan they ended up taking, which was to try to get states to send alternate electors and try to make sure that the former president could remain in office.

We also know that, obviously, he played a key role in the fact that prosecutors have this recording of Trump at Bedminster. This is something that -- that we know his biographers, people who were working on his biography, recorded as the former president was waving a document and acknowledged it, acknowledged the fact that he believed it was still classified.


Again, that undercuts the former president's claim that he declassified everything.

So, you know, for the -- both of these investigations, Mark Meadows is witness No. 1.

MATTINGLY: You know, Evan, one of the things -- I think you're very keenly aware of this. In Washington, there has long been kind of a parlor game going on about whether or not he might be Cooperating.


MATTINGLY: Whether or not -- how -- what's his involvement here? Obviously, we now have the news of the testimony. One of the questions, though, I've always had is does he, does Mark Meadows actually have any of his own possible legal exposure at this time?

PEREZ: Absolutely, Phil. I mean, the fact is that he was very, very central to the effort to try to pressure state officials, again, to try to overturn their own election results.

We know that he was on the phone with officials in Georgia. And that's one reason why he was subpoenaed in the state of Georgia to testify in their state investigation. He showed up and pleaded the Fifth.

Now we have a statement from his lawyer, which I think will probably make the hairs on the necks of Trump team stand, frankly, because I think it's very ominous. He doesn't confirm that Meadows testified to the grand jury, but he says this.

He says, "Mark Meadows has testified before" -- I'm sorry. "Mark Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so."

And again, if you're the Trump team, those are the words that you've suspected, we know that they've long suspected, and it doesn't sound pretty -- it doesn't sound very good to them.

HARLOW: Right. There's also a witness in the documents probe in Florida today. So this week we learned about another grand jury in Jack Smith's probe, not in the nation's capital but in Florida. And do we know who will speak to the grand jury today? I guess we don't know who?

PEREZ: We know it's somebody very close to the former president, who's been working with him down in Florida. And we know that this is -- it appears to be a very recent development.

We know that, according to "The New York Times," there have been a number of Secret Service witnesses who have been brought there. We don't know exactly why, after months of using a grand jury or grand juries in Washington, they've decided to use a grand jury in Florida. There are a number of reasons they could do that.

But we do expect that witness to make an appearance in the coming hours -- Poppy and Phil.

HARLOW: OK. You're going to have a lot on your plate today, Evan.

PEREZ: Absolutely.

MATTINGLY: It's like every day for him at this point.

HARLOW: Every day.

PEREZ: All week.

MATTINGLY: For, like, seven years.

PEREZ: All week.

HARLOW: All year.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, buddy.

All right. Also new this morning, former Vice President Mike Pence has officially announced he is running for president. Just moments ago, the former vice president released a new campaign video, declaring he's jumping into that very crowded Republican field.


MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over): We can turn this country around. But different times call for different leadership. Today our party and our country need a leader that will appeal, as Lincoln said, to the better angels of our nature.

I have long believed to whom much is given, much will be required. My family and I have been blessed beyond measure with opportunities to serve this nation. And it would be easy to stay on the sidelines. But that's not how I was raised.

PENCE: That's why today, before God and my family, I'm announcing I'm running for president of the United States.


MATTINGLY: CNN's Kyung Lah joins us now from Ankeny, Iowa. Beautiful Ankeny, Iowa.

The former vice president is set to make his first official campaign stop there in just a few hours. What are we expecting?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we're expecting to hear, the campaign says, is really a layout of how the vice president -- the former vice president views is the path forward for the Republican Party.

He lays out a conservative vision. We saw it in that launch video. But notably, he is recalling the days of Reagan and not naming the president he served with, Donald Trump.


PENCE (voice-over): We can turn this country around. But different times call for different leadership.

LAH (voice-over): Breaking out on his own, former Vice President Mike Pence.

PENCE: Before God and my family, I'm announcing I'm running for president of the United States.

LAH (voice-over): In that declaration, Pence sets up an historic battle with Donald Trump. Former running mates on the Republican ticket are now running against each other, something the American voter has rarely ever witnessed.

PENCE: I'm deeply humbled as your vice president.

LAH (voice-over): And this challenge comes from a lieutenant who served Trump with visible loyalty. Until January 6.

The insurrectionists, fueled by Trump's election lies, called for Pence's execution --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!

LAH (voice-over): -- for presiding over the ceremonial certification of the election. It began their political divorce.


PENCE: President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. LAH (voice-over): In his campaign, Pence will tout the conservative

ideals of Ronald Reagan; his decades of experience as a member of Congress, Indiana governor and vice president; as well as Trump-era policies without Trump.

Pence's former boss, the clear frontrunner in polls, said ahead of Pence's announcement, good luck.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via phone): We had a very strong, nice relationship until the very end. I wish he would have put the votes back to the legislatures and legislators also.

LAH (voice-over): Trump is a pacesetter for the entire Republican field, which continues to grow. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum expects to announce today.

GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R-ND): Anger, yelling, in fighting, that's not going to cut it anymore. Let's get things done.

LAH (voice-over): And former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who jumped into the race yesterday.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going in there to take out Donald Trump. But here's why: I want to win. And I don't want him to win.


LAH (ON CAMERA): a very big first day lies ahead for the former vice president. After this kickoff rally here in Ankeny, Iowa, he will be spending the evening at a CNN town hall -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Kyung Lah, thanks so much for your reporting, as always.

And, as Kyung mentioned, tonight, one of the best in the business, Dana Bash, will moderate a CNN Republican presidential town hall with former Vice President Mike Pence. You can watch it here and only here tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern.

And next Monday, Anderson Cooper will host a town hall with Chris Christie. That will air at 8 p.m. Eastern.

HARLOW: Yes. And Chris Christie will join Jake Tapper live on "The Lead" today, 4 p.m. Eastern. That will be a great conversation. So we've got clearly a lot ahead.

But also new this morning, all eyes on Pope Francis. He is back in the hospital this morning, undergoing surgery. We'll have the latest on his condition and what the Vatican is saying about his health.

PEREZ: And happening now, Prince Harry is back in court for his historic battle with British tabloids accused of hacking his phone. We'll take you live to London ahead.


MATTINGLY: Just moments ago, we learned that the Vatican says Pope Francis will undergo abdominal surgery today. He is expected to remains in the hospital for, quote, "several days" to recover.

Now, it comes after he had a scheduled checkup at the same hospital in Rome Tuesday.

The 86-year-old pontiff has faced a series of health issues in recent years. He's been using a cane and a wheelchair due to a persistent knee problem.

Well, the pop has also been keeping a busy schedule. He's expected to visit Portugal and Mongolia in August.

HARLOW: Sending all good thoughts to him.

And this morning, water levels are getting extremely low for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Remember, we talked a lot about this yesterday and the concern, because that power plant, of course, relies on water emptying from the collapsed dam in Ukraine.

The breach forced mass evacuations and sparked fears of widespread environmental devastation in the Kherson region. And officials say more than 1,400 people have been evacuated from their homes. Some residents desperately trying to save their belongings from water levels near the ceiling.

Ukraine and Russia accusing each other of blowing up this dam as U.S. and Western officials say they are seeing signs of Ukraine's highly- anticipated counteroffensive beginning.

Our Fred Pleitgen joins us live in Kherson, Ukraine, with more. A lot to get to. What can you tell us about? I mean, we see the water behind you, the boats. They're trying to evacuate people, obviously.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they have been trying to evacuate people, Poppy, and they have been evacuating people throughout the entire night here in Kherson.

You can see, if we look over there, there's a bunch of boats that are getting ready. Crews actually getting ready to head out right now.

And the authorities here are saying that's been going on nonstop, because the water levels have been rising so fast that a lot of people were not able to get out of their houses after that catastrophic break of that dam that is so important here in this region. Here's what we're learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Masses of water gushing from the gaping hole in the destroyed Nova Kakhovka dam in Russian-controlled territory here in South Ukraine. Massive flooding quickly inundating villages on both shores of the

mighty Dnipro River, impacting areas controlled by Ukrainians and by the Russians.

PLEITGEN: As you can see, there's a massive rescue effort going on here. The local authorities are using boats and also heavy trucks to get as many people out of the zone as they can.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Sixty-five-year-old Nadyesha Chernoshova (ph) was stranded in her home with her cat Sonya (ph) for hours, fearing for her life.

"Now I'm not scared," she says. "But there, it was scary."

"Why?" I ask.

"Because of the water. The water came, and you don't know from where it comes and where it will go."

The authorities here say they've evacuated hundreds of people throughout the day, at times under Russian fire, the head of Kherson's military administration tells me.

"We have the water," he says. "Mines, mines are floating to here, and this district is constantly being shelled. Two policemen were injured while evacuating people."

Kyiv blames Moscow for allegedly blowing up the dam, an angry Ukrainian president saying the Russians are trying to derail Ukraine's current battlefield gains.

"It was mined by the Russian occupiers," he says, "and they blew it up. This, once again, demonstrates the cynicism with which Russia treats the people whose land it has captured."

The destruction of the dam comes as Ukrainian forces have been making gains on the battlefield, what some believe may be the early stages of Kyiv's long-awaited counteroffensive, even though the Ukrainians haven't confirmed that.

Russia's army denies blowing up the dam, instead, blaming the Ukrainians.

"Aiming to prevent the offensive operations by the Russian army on the section of the front line, the Kyiv regime committed an act of sabotage, or rather, terrorist act," the defense minister said.

While the floodwaters are affecting ever more areas around Kherson, upstream, the levels are critically low, around the Zaporizhzhia power plant, the biggest in all of Europe, which relies on a pond connected to the river for cooling.

The international Atomic Energy Agency says so far there's no danger, but that could change.

RAFAEL GROSSI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: It is therefore vital that this cooling pond, this cooling pond remains intact. Nothing must be done to potentially undermine its integrity.



PLEITGEN (on camera): So, Poppy, as you can see, there are very difficult, a very dangerous situation on so many levels right now for this region.

One of the things that I think people at home need to -- need to understand is that these rescue operation that's we're seeing here on the ground, they're happening under almost constant shelling. So it's a very dangerous thing for a lot of these rescuers and of course, a lot of the people who are stranded, as well.

And just a couple of minutes ago, Poppy, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he came out, and he said because of the situation, 100,000 people around this area are now without drinking water -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow. Hundreds of thousands without drinking water in the middle of the shelling.

MATTINGLY: In a war zone.

HARLOW: In the middle of a war zone. Fred, thank you. We're so glad you're there. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, it's a move that caught the golf world off-guard. Now players and families of 9/11 victims are reacting to the PGA partnering with Saudi-backed Liv Golf.

HARLOW: And a gunman opened fire as hundreds of people stood outside a graduation ceremony in Richmond, Virginia. Two people were killed. We have the latest on that ahead.


HARLOW: Welcome back.