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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Travis McMichael Takes Stand, Describes Moment He Shot Ahmaud Arbery; Jurors Begin Day 3 of Deliberations in Rittenhouse Homicide Trial; Today: Bannon Back in Court on Contempt of Congress Charges; Biden Hosts Leaders of Canada, Mexico at White House Summit Today. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, November 18th, 5:00 a.m. exactly here in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to have you back, Christine.

I'm Laura Jarrett. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. We have reports this morning from Georgia, Paris, Wisconsin, Hong Kong and Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: But we begin this morning with an important gut check on the U.S. economy. Inflation fears have been dominating the headlines. It's the downside of the COVID reopening.

But a broader look at the economy shows a remarkable recovery. America's factories are humming. Consumers are shopping. And paychecks are fatter.

Let's connect the dots. First manufacturing. Industrial output is racing ahead at a nearly two-year high, back above pre-pandemic levels. Factory output would be even stronger if not for supply chain hiccoughs.

Corporate profits enviable. The biggest publicly traded companies have fatter margins today than before the pandemic. Big companies are managing well through supply chain woes passing costs onto their consumers.

The Dow was up 17 percent this year. That is a remarkable performance. The Nasdaq 23.5 percent. The S&P 500 up nearly 25 percent since the market crashed in 2020. Stock averages have doubled in some cases.

Still, a big challenge for companies, the great worker resignation. Workers have the upper hand. They are quitting their jobs in record numbers for better jobs and better pay. A record 4.4 million last month jumping ship for a better job, and this has been months of that trend.

After decades of sluggish wage growth, paychecks are getting fatter, especially for low wage workers. Wage growth nearly 5 percent. And it shows in American savings. Americans have an excess $2.3 trillion in savings since the crisis began.

Look at this. JPMorgan Chase says its median checking account balance, 50 percent higher this summer compared to the summer of 2019. And we have learned that the summer, well, the job creation wasn't as bad as feared. 626,000 jobs added June to September the government initially reported. Overall 5.8 million jobs added back this year.

So why don't opinion polls reflect this in the economy? Two things, COVID exhaustion from the American public and higher prices at the grocery and at the gas station. Grocery store and gas station.

Those are real-feel economic indicators every week that are dragging down people's opinions about an overall strong economy.

JARRETT: Well, speaking of gas, as prices at the pump soar, President Biden is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil and gas companies are illegally driving up costs. In a letter to the FTC, Mr. Biden writes this: The unexplained gap between the price of unfinished gasoline and the average price at the pump is well above the pre-pandemic average.

ROMANS: Gas prices have had a negative impact -- effect on Americans' view of the recovery. While the president notes oil and gas companies are seeing profits of higher energy prices. Not likely to affect gas prices right away, but it could shed light on how companies set gas prices.

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade lobby group, is calling the investigation, quote, a distraction.

JARRETT: Now to an unexpected twist in the trial of three white men accused in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. The gunman Travis McMichael took the stand in his own defense. He described the moment he pulled the trigger, killing Arbery, a young black man, who his father Gregory McMichael had just seen running down a street.


TRAVIS MCMICHAEL, DEFENDANT: He grabs the shotgun and I believe I was struck on that first instance that we made contact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were you thinking at that moment?

MCMICHAEL: I was thinking of my son. It sounds weird, but it was the first thing that hit me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you do?

MCMICHAEL: I shot him.


JARRETT: McMichael and his two codefendants are facing felony murder and other charges. Today prosecutors will cross-examine Travis McMichael on his claim of self-defense.

CNN's Ryan Young is on the ground for us in Brunswick, Georgia.



Day nine inside the courtroom was pretty explosive. Everyone got a surprise. Travis McMichael took the stand saying, he wanted to tell his own story of what happened on that fateful day. He went through describing not only the training that he received in the coast guard, but what led up to the moments where the shots were fired that changed his community.


In fact, take a listen to some of his testimony.

MCMICHAEL: He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was -- it was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would have got the shotgun from me, then it was a life or death situation. And I'm going to have to stop him from doing this.

YOUNG: And, Laura, today should be another big day because the prosecution obviously will get another chance to go at Travis McMichael about his story.

And some of the details, they may want to go back and forth with him about. But outside the court, this will take center stage as well. Because so many pastors from around the country are headed here to Brunswick. They plan to stand out in front of the court and do a prayer vigil. There will also be a march tomorrow.

So as this all happens, there will be extra attention, not only inside the court, but outside as well -- Laura.


ROMANS: That's fascinating. The second time in two weeks, Laura, we've seen a defendant take the stand in a closely watched trial. What stood out to you? To me, this idea that prosecutors say these three men were chasing down Ahmaud Arbery, and he's turning it around that he was being attacked.

JARRETT: Yeah, it's interesting. In both of these cases, both the Rittenhouse trial and the case of the McMichaels and Roddie Bryan, it's all about who can claim self-defense, right? That's the key issue in both of these cases. But I think in the Travis McMichael case, his claim is far, far weaker. You heard him there in his testimony say that he remembers Arbery grabbing the gun.

But when he's cross-examined later today, watch the prosecution bring up what he said to police. I want to say he did, but I honestly cannot remember. That is fatal to his defense. I think you're going to see the prosecution hammer him on that today.

ROMANS: All right. Let's go to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where it is day three watch of the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial. The jury spent day two revisiting evidence. They watched a video that triggered a second motion for mistrial from the defense.

More now from CNN's Sara Sidner. She is in Kenosha, Wisconsin.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Laura and Christine, during day two of jury deliberation of the Kyle Rittenhouse double homicide trial, the jurors asked to review evidence. What they wanted in particular were several videos, very pertinent videos to this case that show in one case the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum.

And there is one video that has become a point of contention with the defense. The defense saying that this drone video that was brought in by a civilian to the prosecution came in weighed too late. They didn't have a good chance to review it. The prosecution said, look, it came to us five days into the trial. It was a high-resolution version of video that had already been put into evidence. But what had been put into evidence was low resolution video.

Here is why the defense says this is a problem, and they're going to ask for a mistrial because of it.

COREY CHIRAFISI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: We would have done this case in a little bit different manner if that was the situation. We didn't have the quality of evidence that the state had until the case had been closed. I'm going to be asking the court for a mistrial. But --

JAMES KRAUS, KENOSHA COUNTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Your client lied about this on the stand is the state's position. There seems to be evidence to support the position that he lied on the stand about raising the gun. He was confronted with the exhibit. He denied it. The jury wants to see these exhibits.

SIDNER: The jury is going through each and every thing. They have a lot to go through. Clearly paying close attention, but right now there is already a filing for a mistrial in this case. The defense saying there was prosecutorial overreach. Now they're saying they're going to file again for a mistrial, this time about that drone video -- Christine.


JARRETT: Meanwhile, the jury continues to deliberate. And obviously wants to see all this video. They specifically asked to see it. Sarah, thank you for that report.

Still ahead for you, Steve Bannon set to face a judge again this morning. What's next for the form Trump aide and what it all means for everyone else facing subpoenas from Congress.



JARRETT: Welcome back. Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is set to go before a judge again

today to face criminal contempt of Congress charges. This case could have wide implications for others who are still refusing to cooperate with the January 6 committee.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live in Washington for us this morning.

Kaitlan, good morning.

So, is Bannon expected to plead not guilty today, I assume?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN REPORTER, CRIME AND JUSTICE: Yeah, we do have a not guilty plea submitted into the court docket for Steve Bannon. What that does is it is kicking off his criminal proceedings in court.

We already saw him in court once. This is the first time he's going before the federal district judge who is going to oversee his case the whole way to trial if he does eventually go to trial.

So, right now, he's entered this plea of not guilty. And they're probably in court today. It's not a huge day for him in court. It just really is a check-in with the judge where they're going to talk some schedule setting. They're going to talk when could a trial potentially be, when could the trial be over. Every time there is an appearance like this, it does give the house a little bit more leverage, a little bit more information and a little bit of a platform for them to say, you know, we're stepping forward as we're trying to get witnesses to talk to us.

We already know that the House is looking to talk to lots and lots of people, including Bannon and others that they had subpoenaed. There were 200 witnesses that they have already spoken to. Everybody ranging from experts and scholars to even people who were in the White House on January 6. And they have issued 35 subpoenas including that one to Bannon that they made a criminal referral on when he didn't show up.


But there are big names aside from Bannon who they are still trying to get to. That's why they made this sort of criminal referral. People like chief of staff Mark Meadows who are saying right now they're not talking unless there is more signal out of court that members of Trump administration could talk.

Here's what we heard yesterday or recently from Jamie Raskin, he's a member of the committee and he gave a little insight into the thinking of what the members are thinking right now as they are subpoenaing people.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): You can't stay home and sit on your couch and, you know, talk to people about the 5th Amendment or executive privilege, but not show up. You have a legal duty to show up. Now, once you show up, you begin to answer questions.


POLANTZ: So, even with every single step forward we have, you hear Raskin there talking about what they are hoping this signals. We still don't know how much the committee has learned that we already don't know out there from public reporting.

ROMANS: Kaitlan, yesterday, one of the most memorable faces really of the riot at the Capitol, the QAnon shaman, he's going to serve some serious prison time. Tell us more.

POLANTZ: That's right. This is a man named Jacob Chansley, essentially the most recognizable image from the capitol riot aside from those pictures of the capitol with smoke coming out of it.

I mean, this is a guy, he was shirtless. He wore these Viking horns inside the capitol. He had a bull horn where he was directing rioters. He left a menacing note for Mike Pence at the dais. He is getting 41 months in prison for his guilty plea to a felony obstruction charge for obstructing Congress.

Now, he's nonviolent and so this sort of prison sentence, that's more than three years. That's quite significant for any of the rioters. We have known in this case from the very beginning Chansley was the person that the Justice Department really wanted to use as an example of how harsh this prosecution could be. They wanted to indict him first. Now he's one of the first people who is being sentenced for one of these obstruction cases.

And even though the judge in this case really did buy Chansley's statements in court yesterday that he was remorseful, he was disavowing what he did on January 6th, he still did receive quite a significant sentence. And that could serve as a benchmark going forward as many other rioters are still pleading guilty and will be sentenced ultimately.

JARRETT: Yeah, it would be really interesting to watch what happens to some of the others. There are still people that they still have not found.

ROMANS: We're in the very early innings of all this, right? There are hundreds of people. All right, nice to see you, Kaitlan.

JARRETT: Thanks, Katelyn.

POLANTZ: Thank you.

ROMANS: There is growing concern for a Chinese tennis star missing since she accused a communist party official of assault.



ROMANS: Three amigos together again at the White House. President Biden will host the leaders of Canada and Mexico today, reviving the three amigos shunned by his predecessor. CNN's Daniella Diaz is live in Capitol.

Daniella, the president's infrastructure agenda is sure to be front and center. Tell us why.

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Christine, as Biden has been working this week to promote his landmark infrastructure bill that he signed earlier this week, another separate bill is probably going to come up in these discussions that he has with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Lopez Obrador when they meet later today for the first time since 2016 that these three representatives of these three countries meet after former President Donald Trump shutdown this so-called three amigos conference that has happened previously.

Some of the sticking points that are expected to come up, Christine, of course, include the proposed electric vehicle tax credits that are included in this Build Back Better Act, this bill that Democratic leaders are still negotiating in Congress because it would favor these tax credits would favor U.S. manufacturers, causing concerns about protectionist policies. Trudeau and Mexican officials have voiced concerns about these proposed tax credits. Also expected to be discussed in these meetings later today is the Line 5 oil pipeline which the state of Michigan wants to shutdown as well as Mexico's overhaul of its electricity industry.

But, look, these discussions are not just going to be about sticking points or disagreements. There will be an announcement later today that on COVID vaccine donations, actually. Earlier this year the United States, quote, lent millions of vaccine doses to the neighboring countries, to Mexico and Canada. And today, they will return them by donating millions of vaccines to countries in the western hemisphere.

But bottom line here is this is the first meeting we will see of these three leaders since 2016. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of these discussions considering this hasn't happened in almost more than four years.

JARRETT: Yeah, powerful next door neighbors, an awful lot of business at hand.

Danielle Diaz, nice to see you. Thank you.

JARRETT: Well, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is approving new guidance upon who should receive Holy Communion. This after much internal debate about whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights like President Biden should be eligible. These new guidelines don't directly prohibit Biden and others from receiving the sacrament, but they don't prevent individual bishops from denying them either. The president says Pope Francis gave him the go ahead when they met in Italy last month. He says the pontiff told him he was, quote, a good Catholic and should continue to receive communion.

[05:25:01] ROMANS: All right. Is there life on another planet? The new CNN film "The Hunt for Plan B" follows a team of female-led scientists spearheading the search. The hunt for planet B premiers Saturday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, on CNN.


JARRETT: Good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans this Thursday morning.

It's just about 30 minutes past the hour.

Time for our top stories to keep an eye on today, beginning with two highly charged court cases.