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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Book: Top Generals Feared Trump Would Attempt Coup After Election; COVID Cases Rising Among Unvaccinated, Driven By Delta Variant; Head of Security at Haiti's Presidential Residence in Custody; Germany's Merkel Makes Probably Her Last Official U.S. Visit. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 15, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We have reports from Haiti, London, Los Angeles, Kabul and the White House, as only EARLY START can. I'm Christine Romans.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Polo Sandoval. Good morning.

Thank you for having me for round two. As Laura Jarrett enjoys the days off.

It is Thursday, July 15th, 5:00 a.m. in New York.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, how close did the U.S. come to having its democracy overthrown earlier this year? That's right, closer than we ever knew, according to a new book from Washington -- two "Washington Post" reporters.

Excerpts obtained by CNN show a parade of terrifying moments between the insurrection and inauguration. Many of them center on Joint Chiefs Chairman, Mark Milley, the top officer in the U.S. military.

SANDOVAL: We saw parallels between Trump's rhetoric and Adolf Hitler's rise to power, according to the book. This is Reichstag moment, Milley told aides, shaking at the time the gospel of the fuhrer, according to that excerpt. The most chilling implication, real fears among top U.S. officers that Donald Trump would try to use the armed forces to stage a coup and what the military might have to do to stop it.

Here's CNN's Jamie Gangel with more.


JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Polo, we're getting a look at just unhinged the final days of the Trump administration were. The top U.S. military officer, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, was so shaken by Trump's attitude, the big lie after the election, that he might possibly attempt a coup or take other dangerous or illegal action that Milley and other top officials planned informally what they would do to stop such a possible coup attempt. This is according to excerpts.

In the excerpt, General Milley speaks to top officers, and lawmakers, about just how worried he is about the possible threat of a coup. And he's quoted as saying, they may try, but they're not going to f-ing succeed. You can't do this without the military, you can't do this without the CIA and the FBI. We are the guys with the guns.

He was really afraid after January 6th that there might be another attack. And this section of the book is, as he's preparing for Joe Biden's inauguration. And the city's on lockdown, but the day before, he's really concerned about another attack by violent Trump supporters.

And they write, quote, Milley says: Here's the deal, guys, these guys are Nazis. They're Boogaloo Boys. They're Proud Boys. These are the same people we fought in World War II. Everyone in this room, whether you're a cop, whether you're a soldier,

we're going to stop these guys to make sure we have a peaceful transfer of power. We're going to put a ring of steel around this city and the Nazis aren't getting in.

We covered that day. We know that Washington was on lockdown, but again, hearing this from General Milley, the top military officer, is stunning -- Christine and polo.


ROMANS: Just stunning indeed.

All right. Jamie Gangel, thank you for that.

Turning now to coronavirus where it is a race between the vaccine and the variants. Case counts are rising, driven by the delta variant. It is more infectious. Patients are younger and almost all unvaccinated, which is why a teenage pop star with a monster social media following was an ideal messenger.


OLIVIA RODRIGO, SINGER: Hey, I'm Olivia Rodrigo. And today, I'm at the White House meeting with President Biden and Dr. Fauci, because it's so important that we all get vaccinated. It doesn't matter if you're young and healthy, getting the vaccine is about protecting yourself, your friends and your family. Let's get vaccinated.


SANDOVAL: Yeah, will younger people listen, though? Only a quarter of kids ages 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated. That's less than any other eligible age group. In Mississippi, only a third of the population has been vaccinated. State health officers there saying that seven children are in a Mississippi ICU with COVID, including two children currently on a ventilator.


DR. ALAN JONES, ASSOCIATE VICE CHANCELLOR FOR CLINICAL AFFAIRS, UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI MEDICAL CENTER: It appears as though this particular variant, the delta variant, while being more infectious is also causing more children to be symptomatic, and whether that is that it causes a little more severe illness than other variants, or that it is just more prevalent, so we're seeing more symptomatic cases. We're not sure. But it's probably multifactorial and related to all of those things.



ROMANS: All the COVID patients in Los Angeles County hospitals are unvaccinated. Families suffering preventable tragedies here.

Here's one woman who lost her unvaccinated husband.


AMY TERSTEEG, LOST UNVACCINATED HUSBAND TO COVID: I think Rob thought he was invincible. I think a lot of men think that if nothing else has taken them down nothing can. Because of my role at the hospital, I know that he would have -- he never said I'm never going to get vaccinated. It just wasn't ever the right time. And I didn't ever push him.


SANDOVAL: And then there's also the new research that shows the delta variant may be spreading faster because it makes more copies of itself inside our bodies more quickly. Chinese scientists found delta viral loads more than 1,200 times higher than earlier strains.

ROMANS: A group of Tennessee physicians on the front lines of the COVID crisis is now calling on the Justice Department to investigate their Governor Bill Lee. They want to know why the state's top vaccine official, a respected pediatrician, was fired this week, after sending a memo noting that teens can get vaccinated without parental permission. That's the law in Tennessee.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the name of partisan politics, he's acting to suppress vital life-saving public health guidance, firing our state's top vaccine employee, just for doing her job.


SANDOVAL: The Tennessee Department of Health is currently halting all adolescent vaccine outreach, even for non-COVID illnesses. One top medical official says that could result in preventable outbreaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. ALEX JAHANGIR, CHAIRMAN, THE DAVIDSON COUNTY BOARD OF HEALTH IN TENNESSEE: The best way to save millions of Tennesseans is to encourage vaccinations to make it easy and not buy into any rhetoric that vaccinations are problematic or there's anything bad about them. I think the politicization of vaccinations can truly have a really negative impact on Tennesseans and people around the U.S.


SANDOVAL: And currently, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security telling CNN that they are investigating a dog muzzle that was sent to that now-fired official who encouraged vaccinations for teenagers. But it's worth noting that new data now showing at least 17 million children all around the world missed routine vaccinations because of the pandemic.

ROMANS: Wow, Tennessee, that's just an amazing story. We all should be encouraging vaccinations. Tennessee moving in the wrong direction.

All right. The first payments of expanded tax credit have hit family's bank accounts. It's guaranteed income for the end of the year for low income families. Eligible parents could get as much as $3,600 for a child 6 or under, and $3,000 for older children. Parents will receive monthly direct deposits from the government instead of a lump sum at tax time. The IRS said Wednesday, more than 35 million families have already been sent their payments.

This is critical for addressing income equality in this country and child poverty. Experts say the credit could cut child poverty in half. Most families don't have to do anything to get the payments. The IRS already has their tax information on file. Families who haven't filed their returns need to register to get the money.

Expanded credit is temporary. President Biden's American families plan will continue until 2025. Biden and Democrats are pushing to make that credit permanent.

SANDOVAL: Now to the latest on the pandemic's silent killer, drug overdose deaths. More than 90,000 people suffered fatal overdoses last year, an all-time high. That's 30 percent spike, according to the CDC, which reflects a deadly proliferation of fentanyl and opioid crisis and more than 900,000 people have died from overdoses in the U.S. since 1999. Sobering.

ROMANS: Yeah, the pandemic was really, really troubling for so many people.

All right. A scathing watchdog report said the FBI botched the sexual abuse investigation against disgraced U.S. gymnastics, Dr. Larry Nassar. The Justice Department inspector general says FBI agents failed to promptly interview victims which delayed the investigation, allowing Nassar to abuse more victims. The report also says FBI agents made false statements and failed to properly document complaints.

Rachael Denhollander was the first victim to publicly accuse Nassar.


RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER, FIRST PERSON TO PUBLICLY ACCUSE NASSER: I don't know what accountability is going to be for these bad actors. Sovereign immunity laws mean that law enforcement can't be held responsibility to the dozens of little girls who are molested after they knew exactly what was going on. So, you know, the accountability is not accompanying the answers, and that's the problem that we deal with continually with law enforcement. There is no accountability for bad actors.


ROMANS: The attorney for more than 150 of Nassar's victims is urging the attorney general to criminally charge the agents involved.

SANDOVAL: Still ahead this morning on EARLY START, the head of security at the Haiti's presidential palace facing scrutiny in the murder investigation of that country's president.


Why he was just taken into custody.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

The head of security at Haiti's presidential residence is in police custody this morning. Earlier on Wednesday, Dimitri Herard failed to appear at a court hearing ordered by the Port-au-Prince prosecutor. And the order to detain Herard came from above.

CNN's Matt Rivers spoke to that associate and reports from Port-au- Prince.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Polo, the leaders of three different government agencies all tasked with protecting the president and/or the place where is he spends his time in Haiti all turned down voluntary invitations for questioning by the prosecutor's office leading the investigation into this assassination.


One of those three men, Dimitri Herard. He is the leader of a unit tasked with protecting the presidential residence. And we were able to speak with a close friend of his who says that Herard is innocent, and that any suspicions surrounding him are simply politically motivated.

Here's a little bit of our conversation.

The president gets killed on Dimitri's watch. Why shouldn't he be a suspect?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not saying he should be a suspect, but the main thing is that he should be questioned as a potential suspect yet, but the chain of command does not stop at Dimitri. The chain of command, it goes much higher than him. He has bosses and those bosses have bosses. I don't see any of them being fired or being questioned, or for that matter being detained. He's the only person right now that's being detained.

RIVERS: So, it's unclear exactly where the prosecutor's office goes from here. After all, three of those men declined to be questioned. But what is clear is that this investigation into the assassination of Haiti's president is far from over -- Christine, Polo.


SANDOVAL: Yes, the investigation has a long way to go, Matt, you'll be there every step of the way.

Now, the Cuban government, they're temporarily lifting restrictions on travelers bringing medicine, food and hygiene products into the country. Custom duties are also being waived for now. The announcement coming after days of violent island-wide protests were triggered in part by chronic shortages throughout the island and stores. Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has called protesters vandals and criminals but also he also concedes that the government does need to do more to improve conditions in some of the island's poor neighborhoods.

ROMANS: All right. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel taking a bow in Washington. Why she and President Biden have a lot to discuss in her official trip to the White House.



ROMANS: Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the American leg of her farewell tour. She'll meet with President Biden later today. What key issues are on the agenda for the two?

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine and Polo, when the German chancellor does come to the White House today, this could be her last visit to Washington as a foreign counterpart to a U.S. president. President Biden is going to be the fourth president, of course, that she's sat down in over a decade that she has been in power. But she is not running for office again meaning this will likely be her last official visit.

And so, of course, there are those moments where you have seen and talking about it, the White House is reflecting on it but this is a working visit. They are going to get down to business where she starts down with the vice president at the Naval Observatory. She is then going to come here to the White House. And there are several issues that are going to be at hand. One is that Russian gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2. We know that's the company that President Biden waived sanctions on the company and the CEO behind it earlier this year, citing national security reasons but there have been many concerns about it, especially in Ukraine and what it means for them.

And the White House says it will be something that President Biden brings up with Merkel when they are meeting here at the White House today. They said they don't expect any resolution there, but they think the fact that he waived those sanctions will give them some, quote, diplomatic space to talk about that.

And, of course, they have differences on China. That emerged at the G20 summit earlier this year where President Biden was talking about putting America back on the world stage. But still noting there are serious differences in the way that the United States sees China and the way several countries in Europe see China.

And so, those are going to be topics that come up. The Afghanistan withdrawals could certainly be another one. We will actually get to ask questions of them when they do hold a joint press conference later on the day after she makes her visit which could be the last official one to the White House.


ROMANS: All right. Kaitlan, thank you for that.

SANDOVAL: Yeah, a lot of topics of conversation there at the White House.

A lot of topics of conversation next week as well as President Joe Biden will be joining our own Don Lemon for an exclusive CNN presidential town hall. You can catch it live, Wednesday, 8:00 p.m., only here on CNN.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: The west is baking, worsening a dangerous wildfire situation across several states. Red flag warnings in effect through tonight in parts of the Northwest. A Native American tribe in Washington state and the area for at least 14,000 years says fires threatened their land, threatened their livelihood. There are already evacuations.

The fast-moving Red Apple Fire in Washington state forcing authorities to evacuate 1,500 homes.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: Every part of our state is under attack. Every person in some way is under attack, from the combined effects of climate change, that is tonight and today, ravaging our state. We have to recognize this.


ROMANS: In California, Butte County is facing a new wildfire, after remember being devastated by the Camp Fire in 2018. That was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. Officials say the Dixie Fire has grown to more than 2,000 acres, zero containment.

SANDOVAL: One of the largest medical centers in the country says it will not administer a controversial Alzheimer's drug. The Cleveland Clinic says individual physicians can prescribe the $56,000 a year drug from manufacturer Biogen, but patients would have to go elsewhere to actually receive it.

Now, the FDA created a stir when it approved the drug just last month against recommendations from some of its own advisers. Mt. Sinai here in New York City also decided not to administer the drug.

ROMANS: All right. Certain lines of two popular sunscreens, Neutrogena and Aveeno, recalled this morning. Johnson & Johnson advising customers to throw away bottles you've already purchased. Company officials say the chemical benzene which could cause cancer was detected in some batches.

For specific affected products, you can go to

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: All right. Good morning, everyone. This is Thursday. And it's EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

SANDOVAL: And I'm Polo Sandoval in for Laura Jarrett. About 5:29 here in New York.

ROMANS: All right. A Saturday night massacre in reverse. That's how an explosive new book documents the first time.