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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Hundreds of Children Facing Bitter Cold Weather on Belarus- Poland Border; Kyle Rittenhouse's Lawyers Prepare to Make Closing Arguments; U.S. Journalist Danny Fenster's Sentence Overturned and Released from Myanmar Prison. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: It is Monday, November 15th, 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us, I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CO-ANCHOR, EARLY START: I'm Laura Jarrett, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.

ROMANS: We begin this morning on the border of Belarus and Poland where migrants are on the move, temperatures soon expected to fall below zero. There are hundreds of children, many of them babies and toddlers caught up in this crisis. You can see them there behind razor wire on the border. CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance joins us live this morning from the Belarusian side. Matthew, I have been watching your reporting for the past hour or so. People are on the move, where do they think they're going? What's happening?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, it's been really dramatic scenes here, Christine, over the course of the past what? Just 30 minutes or so, not even -- not even an hour that I think this has been happening. It's been happening in the last few minutes. That entire refugee camp that we saw these incredible images from over the past couple of days and over the past couple of weeks as it's been growing in size to more than 2,000 people.

All of a sudden, everybody in that camp, all 2,000 people as far as I can see have picked up their belongings, packed up their tents, packed up their sleeping bags, put it on their backs and have started to march here towards the Polish-Belarus border. They are desperate to leave the conditions inside that camp, temperatures are freezing, they say they're not getting sufficient food from the Belarusian authorities.

And there's been a rumor circulating, frankly, and amongst the camp, that the Polish may open up their border and allow humanitarian corridor of these people, mainly from Iraqi-Kurdistan to make their journey through -- make their journey through to Germany where the majority of them want to go. But I have to say, the Poles have been adamant that, that is not the case. They've sent text messages to our phones, anybody close to the border, we've received them ourselves, essentially saying, look, don't be fooled, that's not going to happen, we're not going to open the borders, we are going to protect our frontiers.

And that message that has been received on text is being underlined by the scene we can see here. Because you can see this razor wire, and you can see here, Jeff, if you can just look at the Polish border police that have been deployed in riot gear, and the Polish military over there as well deployed as well, also with military police, MP on their shields were deployed there with riot gear to send an absolutely clear -- Theno(ph), to send an absolute clear -- can you get Theno(ph) please?

To send an absolutely clear message that these people, no matter how much they -- how close they are -- Theno(ph), come here, Theno(ph), will you be live on CNN here?


CHANCE: Theno(ph) is the leader here of the refugees --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not the leader, I'm one of them --

CHANCE: Yes, the elder -- sorry, I was --


CHANCE: Or whatever --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, because I just speak the language --

CHANCE: What's happening? Tell us --


CHANCE: Tell us all on CNN, what is -- what is happening here? Are you being allowed through?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, actually, we got -- we had a hard life there. Eight days --

CHANCE: Yes, eight days in the camp --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and we had no protection. Yes, we had no camps to sit inside. And we're sitting here next to the fire. And some of us -- half of them, they didn't have sleeping bags.

CHANCE: Right, OK --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we had a hard life and the kids, so many of them --

CHANCE: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're coughing, they're ill --

CHANCE: They're ill --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we had -- we need -- CHANCE: OK --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hospital, we need drugs --

CHANCE: I get it. What are the Polish authorities saying? Are they going to let you through?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, that's up to them, but 1942 when the second war --

CHANCE: That's not --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They gave -- they (INAUDIBLE), we opened the door, I don't know what they do. They open for us i hope.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I expect from them to do it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the Polish people, they're nice, but the government has to think about these kids.

CHANCE: Theno(ph), thank you very much for talking to us --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks to you, guys --

CHANCE: Here on CNN, really appreciate having -- Christine, the -- one of the sort of elder people here, he's like community leader amongst these refugees, saying that he hopes the Poles will let them through. But as you can see, you know, the stance of the Polish security forces indicates they've got no intention at all of doing that, Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Matthew Chance, keep us posted if there's any movement there, can't go forward, can't go back and don't want to go back to the conditions of the last eight days.


So, you can see, we're -- quite a moment there on the border. Matthew Chance, thank you so much --

JARRETT: That's incredible, all those little babies.

ROMANS: I know.

JARRETT: All right, now to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where all eyes are on the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. Closing arguments will begin later this morning. And prosecutors will cast Rittenhouse as a dangerous vigilante who had no good reason to travel across state lines from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, illegally armed with an AR-15-style rifle. Defense lawyers backed up by their clients emotional testimony on the stand there will argue he was ambushed and he was acting in self-defense when he killed two people and injured a third during those heated protestors last Summer. ROMANS: This morning, nerves in Kenosha on edge as the trial comes to

a close. Some business owners already prepared for unrest following a verdict, boarding up their store fronts. Also 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops are standing by outside that city. It is time now for three questions in three minutes for criminal defense attorney Julie Rendelman, she's also a former prosecutor. Good morning.

JARRETT: Julie, nice to have you this morning. So, you've been on both the prosecution and defense. So, help us out here, what does the prosecution need to prove on its side, it obviously has the burden, and how are you expecting that the defense is going to close out their arguments?

JULIE RENDELMAN, FORMER NEW YORK PROSECUTOR: So, thank you for having me. So, let's start with the prosecution, in this case, they began with the theme that there was one person out there the night this all happened that distinguished himself from everyone else, and that was Rittenhouse. Despite the violence, despite the guns, despite the fires, there was one person that took the life of not just one person, but multiple people, and that was Rittenhouse.

That was their theme throughout this trial, and we expect that's going to be their theme in their summation. They're going to hammer home those areas that corroborate and support the fact that he shouldn't have been there, that he brought a deadly weapon, and that in each and every event, he was not acting in self defense, and that he made decisions that were deliberate, intentional, at least with regards to the second two victims, with regards to Mr. Rosenbaum, which is the first victim, that he acted recklessly when he engaged in the conduct that he engaged in.

Now, they have a tough burden because they have the burden of proving this case beyond a reasonable doubt. And the defense is going to dive on that. The defense is basically going to say every single thing you think about, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is on them, not on us. We don't have to disprove anything at all. And their position is going to be that every step of the way, including every single witness that was called by the prosecution, the defense is going to say each of them support us in some way, including one of the victims who clearly indicated that he had at least pointed the gun at Rittenhouse just prior to him shooting at him.

And so they're going to say the burden is on them, it's beyond a reasonable doubt, and because of that, they're going to obviously argue that you can't find him guilty of any of those counts.

ROMANS: Well, let's talk about these charges. Describe the charges that he is facing here. What will the jury have to weigh?

RENDELMAN: So, you know, the judge has made some critical decisions. You know, the top count with regards to one of the initial victims is Mr. Rosenbaum, is a reckless murder charge. That's not an intentional act, he doesn't have to have acted intentionally, he simply had to have acted recklessly with utter disregard for the life of Mr. Rosenbaum. With the other two victims, when I say that we're talking about the second incident in which one person was shot and a second person was shot and killed. The theory is intentional murder.

Which is that at the time he shot these two individuals -- I'm sorry, at the time he shot at least one of the individuals that he eventually killed, that he acted intentionally. Now, the judge is likely going to bring out lesser included charges with regards to the second two victims, and the reason he's doing that is because he was requested to do that. And so that's going to kind of create some very interesting issues.

Because that gives the prosecution a little more options in terms of what the jury can find the defendant guilty of. So, it will be interesting to see how those lesser-included charges impact what the jury's final decision is.

JARRETT: Julie, talk to us about the judge's behavior here. He's had some heated exchanges with the prosecution mostly though outside of the sight and hearing from the jury. So, will this ultimately have any impact on their verdict?

RENDELMAN: So, I think that's the great point that you make, is that, most of the incidents that happened with the judge were outside the ear-shot of the jury. So that makes a huge difference. And you know, we've talked about this before, a judge's behavior very often impacts the decision-making on the part of the jury, especially if the jury respects the judge.


So, if the judge is being -- showing animus to one side of the other, the jury can pick up on it, and that can impact them. With that said, there were certainly times, plenty of times when the prosecutor acted very inappropriately and the judge called them out on that, and that was the right thing to do, at least in those moments.

JARRETT: All right, Julie Rendelman, thank you so much.

RENDELMAN: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: All right, former Trump aide Steve Bannon is set to turn himself in to authorities today after a federal grand jury indicted him for contempt of Congress Friday. Bannon's expected claims his conversations with the former president are protected by executive privilege. He'll be facing a judge with plenty of experience on that subject dating back to the George W. Bush administration. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff; a member of the January 6th Committee says the indictment has already pushed other witnesses to cooperate now.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Without a doubt and indeed even before the Justice Department acted, it influenced other witnesses who were not going to be Steve Bannon. And now that witnesses see that if they don't cooperate, if they don't fulfill their lawful duty when subpoenaed, that they too may be prosecuted, it will have a very strong focus in effect. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Former White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham says the indictment may have an upside for Bannon and for former President Trump.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My prediction is that the former president is going to tell everybody to continue to stall. They're going to fundraise off of this. Bannon himself absolutely, I think is going to wear this as a badge of honor and martyr himself almost.


ROMANS: Now from CNN national security reporter, Zachary Cohen.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Good morning Christine and Laura. Steven Bannon is expected to turn himself in today, sources tell CNN, after he was indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress last week. A federal judge signing an arrest warrant for Bannon, but he's being given the opportunity to surrender voluntarily, which should lead to an arraignment in court. If convicted, Bannon could face up to 1 year in prison for each count of contempt.

Now, while a conviction is far from uncertain, the indictment alone is a major win for the House Select Committee investigating January 6th. They're trying to understand exactly what took place around the attack on the Capitol. Members of the committee believe Bannon's indictment will send a message to other witnesses who have resisted cooperating including Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Meadows failed to show up for his own schedule deposition last week, and the committee says it is thinking about moving to hold him in contempt as well.

Unlike Bannon, Meadows was working in the White House in the lead-up to January 6th, making the potential case against him a little different than it is for Bannon. The committee clearly has a lot of questions for Meadows including for instance whether he used a personal cellphone during that time. They will also have questions about a new memo that Meadows allegedly sent to Vice President Mike Pence in the lead-up to January 6th to try to convince him not to certify the election. That memo just now coming to light, and a new book from "ABC's" Jon Karl -- whether any of this leads to more cooperation for Meadows remains to be seen. Christine, Laura?

ROMANS: All right, Zachary Cohen, thank you so much for that. Coming up, next, exasperation and dysfunction. Current and former aides now revealing the conflict between Vice President Kamala Harris in the West Wing. What we're learning now behind the scenes.


[05:15:00] ROMANS: Ladies and gentlemen, it is infrastructure week for real this

time. Just hours from now, President Joe Biden will sign into law the trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill. Congressional lawmakers, governors, mayors from both parties will be at the ceremony. Last night, the White House announced that former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will oversee the rollout. CNN's Jasmine Wright joins us now from Washington. Jasmine, this is a big win for the White House.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, look, that's exactly right. And we know that this is a massive plan. And so, President Biden expected to put Mitch Landrieu in this position. He -- Biden has talked repeatedly about how important it is to spend the money inside of this bill responsibly. And what a massive effort that is going to take. And so we know that both the Department of Commerce and Department of Transportation are expected to hire more, all to make sure that the money gets spent and it is spent wisely.

But let's take a step back because you are right, this is a big day for the president after months and months of negotiating and a late- night voting, here he is going to have this bill on his table to sign. And really, it comes as the national conversation though is dominated by the inflation concerns, the higher gas prices, higher everyday goods for Americans. And officials hope really that this bill that the president will sign alongside both Democrats and Republicans today, they hope that it will tamp down on those inflation concerns.

But we know that, that will take a while as officials have also said that they don't expect for those lower prices to go down into well into next year, but you are exactly right, this is a major win for the president, getting -- signing into law the first part of his two- pronged economic agenda. And after this, and he will go on a sales pitch to sell it and then turn to that larger, social safety expansion net package that has not yet passed.

JARRETT: Jasmine, the White House certainly wants to trumpet this win and it is a success. But at the same time, you have some interesting reporting about what you might call some of the drama going on between the vice president's office and the West Wing. What's really going on there?

WRIGHT: Yes, look, Laura, there is no secret in Washington D.C. that there are times when the vice president's office and the West Wing do not get along. But in this presidency, two things are distinct. First of all, it is the president's age, of course, by 2024, though he says that he will run both privately and publicly, he's going to be in his early 80s.


And so, for the chance that he does not run, that kind of makes the vice president really the heir apparent kind of to this Democratic nomination. Folks think that she will run as she has before. So -- and then secondly, is her race. She is the first woman -- first woman of color, black and south Asian in this position, and really, all of her actions have really and for this past ten months and even before then have kind of been shaped by both this implicit and sometimes very overt racism and sexism. And so, with those two things in mind, folks are feeling from her orbit that this White House is not positioning her well for any potential future ambitions.

And of course, on the West Wing side, they see an office that is really deeply entrenched in dysfunction and that they feel that they don't have time necessarily to figure out because of all of the issues like we just spoke about, that the president is facing constantly. So, in this piece, we have kind of a back-and-forth, tit-for-tat of moments of flare points between these two factions as they kind of navigate the first 10 months of this presidency.

And of course, the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, she, you know, tweeted in favor of Harris really, but our story is kind of about a look back at the last 10 months and kind of the moments that we have seen from the vice president and from the president as we kind of track their relationship, not only between them, but also their offices. Laura?

JARRETT: Well, you clearly got their attention with your reporting, so keep it up, Jasmine. Thank you.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

JARRETT: All right, coming up here for us, our coverage continues along the Belarus-Poland border. The latest humanitarian conditions there, next.



JARRETT: Back now to the crisis along the border between Poland and Belarus where a humanitarian crisis is escalating. Thousands of migrants are trapped with no food or shelter as temperatures there plummet. CNN's Matthew Chance showed us what was happening on the Belarusian side earlier this morning. Let's go now to the Polish side of the border and bring in senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. Fred, Polish authorities say this standoff is being orchestrated by the Belarusian president, but what more are you learning?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are, and it's quite interesting because we've also been in touch with some people who were in that migrant camp and they sent us text messages, they also sent us a video as well. They also said that Belarusian security forces had come to them and tried to get them to attack the border. And they said they were trying to not do that, to not listen to those authorities.

But of course, It is something that is very difficult for them. The Poles for their side have said exactly the same thing. They also say that they firmly believe that Belarusian security forces are instigating some of the protesters and in many cases also exerting pressure on them, especially the young men who are amongst those protesters. There were some videos that were released over the course of the weekend by the Polish military and by the Polish border force, that they say shows a Belarusian military vehicle trying to dismantle the border fence and then using strobe lights to try and blind the Polish security forces.

They also said that the Belarusian security forces have been handing out tear gas canisters to some of the migrants in order to try and attack the Polish security forces in order to try and push through. The Poles for their side, of course, are saying and have been saying that they are going to remain firm on all this.

They are not going to open their border, in fact, we have information of course, right now, there's another standoff going off at the border-crossing, it's only about a mile from where I am right now. In fact, what we're seeing over the past 15, 20 minutes is more and more Polish security vehicles, first and foremost, police, but also some military vehicles rushing towards that border.

So, you can see that standoff is going on. Again, the Poles very much saying that they are convinced that Belarus is fueling what is going on, on their border.

JARRETT: All right, Fred, thank you for being there and staying on top of this for us.

ROMANS: All right, more breaking news this morning out of Myanmar. The military junta has just released U.S. journalist Danny Fenster who was sentenced on Friday to 11 years in a military prison. Joining us, senior international correspondent Ivan Watson, he is live in Hong Kong. We've been watching the case of this journalist with dread, quite frankly. What do we know?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know that according to the military junta itself, its spokesman has confirmed that Danny Fenster has been released and deported. No further details from that regime. Official Governor Bill Richardson -- former Governor Bill Richardson was visiting Myanmar on what he's described as a private humanitarian mission at the beginning of November, met with the general who declared himself the ruler of Myanmar after a military coup on February 1st.

And in a statement from the Richardson Center, Richardson says that -- announces that he's thrilled to announce the release of Danny Fenster, and that he'll be flying home with the former governor -- sorry, with the Richardson team via Qatar. And he goes on to thank the Qatari government for its assistance with this. Now, this is such a dramatic reversal, Christine, because just Friday, we were reporting on a combined jail sentence that this native of Detroit had received of 11 years for three different alleged crimes, and he was facing two more charges, one under a counterterrorism law that could have landed him life in prison in Myanmar.

Now Fenster had been managing editor of a local publication called "Frontier Myanmar", and he was detained back in May when he was trying to fly out of Yangon. He's been behind bars ever since, this is incredible news for him.