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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

CDC: Drug Overdose Deaths Top 100,000 In One Year For First Time; Chinese Tennis Star Goes Missing After Accusing Official of Sexual Assault; COVID-19 Resurgence In Europe Ahead Of Holidays. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 18, 2021 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is 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.

The man who shot and killed Georgia jogger Ahmaud Arbery testifying he acted in self-defense. The prosecution will cross-examine today.

And day three of jury deliberations in the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial in Kenosha. Jurors spent day two reviewing drone footage that prompted a call for a mistrial by the defense.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Relief could be on the way for rising gas prices. U.S. oil prices fell sharply Wednesday to their lowest level since October seventh. The sell-off coming after a government report showed oil inventories at a key hub in Cushing, Oklahoma rose for the first time in weeks.

ROMANS: Closing arguments are expected today in the civil trial for white nationalists who planned that deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Fourteen people and 10 white supremacist organizations are accused of conspiring to commit violence. The jury could begin deliberations as early as Friday.

JARRETT: Death row inmate Julius Jones is scheduled to be executed today at 5:00 p.m. eastern unless Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt grants him clemency. Jones has been on death row for nearly 20 years for the 1999 murder of Paul Howell. Jones maintains he is innocent and the Oklahoma Parole Board recommended that the governor commute his sentence to life in prison.

ROMANS: Police in Memphis say the popular rapper Young Dolph was killed in a drive-by shooting Wednesday. Reports say the 36-year-old was buying cookies at a bakery when someone drove up and shot him. Police, so far, have no suspects or a motive for that killing.

JARRETT: The longest partial lunar eclipse in almost 600 years -- yes, 600 years -- happens tonight and early Friday across the entire country. The total cycle will last about three hours and 28 minutes. And unlike a solar eclipse, you will not need special glasses to view it. It starts a little after 2:00 a.m. eastern Friday morning, just in time for our alarm clocks. ROMANS: Yes, exactly.

All right. America's drug epidemic now deadlier than it has ever been. New federal data shows more than 100,000 people died of overdoses in one year. Experts tell CNN the pandemic and an explosion in opioid use are the main culprits. Officials are hoping new strategies could make next year less deadly.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has more.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Laura and Christine, this has been an issue long before the pandemic but it is clear that the problem has never been worse. And I want to -- I want to break it down a little bit for you.

First of all, the numbers that you see on the screen reflect a one- year period, as you mentioned, between April of 2020 and April of 2021, right in the middle of this pandemic. More than 100,000 people have died of drug overdoses. And to give you an idea, that's a significant increase compared to the year before.

But I think it's also worth just digging a little bit deeper and understanding the problem. Most of this is from opioids and most of this is specifically from a type of opioid known as fentanyl.

ANNE MILGRAM, ADMINISTRATOR, DEA: This year alone, DEA has seized enough fentanyl to provide every member of the United States population with a lethal dose, and we are still seizing more fentanyl each and every day.

GUPTA (on camera): I can tell you as part of our reporting we've seen that fentanyl is often used to cut other drugs as well -- non-opioids, such as methamphetamine, psychostimulants, cocaine even.

For some time, the strategy was mostly to try and decrease the number of prescription drugs because people often started taking opioids as a prescription. But we know now the problem is far more -- far more has to do with fentanyl actually being brought into the country or being illicitly produced, and then, again, used to cut other drugs.

Different strategies, such as using buprenorphine, which is a medication that can actually treat addiction, but also medications like Narcan. To try and make Narcan more available would give people -- even families who are often the first responders an option -- a possibility of potentially saving someone's life -- reversing an overdose.

So, there's too much of it. It's causing a problem. It's leading to all these deaths. And strategies, Laura and Christine, need to be implemented as quickly as possible.


JARRETT: Sanjay, thank you. As we talk about all of these stressors this morning, nearly two dozen school districts across the country are extending their Thanksgiving breaks to allow for mental health days for students and staff. Public schools in at least six states -- Missouri, Kansas, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Maryland -- have all built wellness days into their school calendars this year.

One district superintendent says the extra couple of days will hopefully give everyone more time for themselves and their families.

ROMANS: Where is Peng Shuai? The 35-year-old Chinese tennis star has been missing since she accused a former top Communist Party leader of sexual assault on November second. This morning there is growing concern for her safety.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us live from Hong Kong. Kristie, there is a new e-mail allegedly sent by Peng, but women's tennis officials -- they don't really believe it's from her. Bring us up to speed here.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that's why calls are growing for verifiable evidence that this Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai, is safe because of what happened on Wednesday.

You have CGTN -- this is the English language Chinese state-run media outlet -- posting a screencap of an e-mail on Twitter allegedly from Peng Shuai. In it, she says everything is fine. She goes on to backtrack -- to recant her earlier sexual allegations against a very powerful man -- the former vice premier of China, Zhang Gaoli.

A number of organizations have stepped forward saying they don't believe this is her, casting serious doubt on the veracity of this purported e-mail, from the WTA, as well as from human rights organizations.

I want you to look at this statement. It's from CHRD (Chinese Human Rights Defenders), and they said this.

That "Peng Shuai's latest statement released through state media should not be taken at face value. The Chinese government has a long history of arbitrarily detaining people involved in controversial cases, controlling their ability to speak freely, and making them give forced statements. Until Peng Shuai is free, the burden of proof should be on the Chinese government to prove she is not detained."

Now, Christine, earlier today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave their daily press briefing. Peng Shuai's case was raised. Their statement, "We decline to comment" because, in their words, "it is not a diplomatic issue."

Peng Shuai is a national icon. She is a sporting hero in China. She brought home two victories in doubles tennis for women at Wimbledon, as well as the French Open.

And it was on November second, just a couple of weeks ago, when she accused Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him. She made that accusation in a post on Chinese social media. It was immediately taken down and she has not been seen or heard publicly since then.

There is a lot of concern about her and her safety and also concern about the general safety of athletes, especially now because the Beijing Olympic Games is less than three months away. Listen to this.


CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: It takes it right to the front burner of speaking out, athletes' rights, how you're treating women, how you're treating athletes in general and human beings in general. And so, 2 1/2 months before the Beijing Olympics, this is a nightmare for China.


STOUT: A lot is at stake here for China, the Olympic host. But you have all the eyes on the world locked on the fate of this woman, Peng Shuai.

Back to you, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, and just the different -- United States, the MeToo movement -- it opened the floodgates there. She makes -- she makes this post and then goes silent -- you know, disappears. It's a different kind of censorship.

STOUT: It's chilling.

ROMANS: All right, Kristie Lu Stout. Thank you so much for that.

JARRETT: Well, after more than half a century, two men convicted in the assassination of Malcolm X are about to be exonerated. Malcolm X, one of the most prominent leaders of the civil rights movements, was assassinated as he began a speech in 1965 in New York. Three men were convicted of murder the next year and sentenced to life in prison, but two always maintained their innocence.

ROMANS: The Manhattan district attorney's office will move today to throw out the convictions of Muhammad A. Aziz, who was released from prison in 1985; and Khalil Islam, who died in 2009.

A nearly two-year investigation found the prosecutors in the original case withheld evidence from the jury that pointed to other suspects.

JARRETT: Joining a notorious group, Republican Congressman Paul Gosar officially censured and stripped of his two committee assignments. It is the first time a sitting House member has been censured in more than 10 years.

It happened because he posted a bizarre, revenge-fantasy, anime video appearing to show him killing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Biden. But, Gosar and the GOP are not backing down.


REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): I voluntarily took the cartoon down, not because it was, itself, a threat but because some thought it was. If I must join Alexander Hamilton, the first person attempted to be censored by this House, so be it.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Under the Pelosi president, all the members that I have mentioned earlier will need the approval of a majority to keep those positions in the future.


ROMANS: Gosar comparing himself to Alexander Hamilton.

Just over an hour after being censured, Gosar retweeted a tweet praising him that included the offending video. Republicans Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Liz Cheney of Wyoming voted with the Democrats.


REP. ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): What's so hard about saying that this is wrong? This is not about me. This is not about Rep. Gosar. But this is about what we are willing to accept.


ROMANS: Gosar has a history of offensive behavior. His own family has raised public concerns about his conduct.

JARRETT: Stop focusing on the past. That is the blunt advice to the former president from an unlikely source, Fox News boss, Rupert Murdoch.


At his publishing company's annual stockholders' meeting, Murdoch said this.

"The current American political debate is profound. It is crucial that conservatives play an active, forceful role in that debate, but that will not happen if President Trump stays focused on the past. The past is the past, and the country is now in a contest to define the future."

ROMANS: Trump has spent a full year claiming he won an election he lost, and he's had plenty of help. But in the words of CNN's Brian Stelter, "Fox isn't so much pro-Trump anymore as it is anti-Biden -- exactly where Murdoch wants it to be."

On CNN last night, comedian Bill Maher sounded an alarm.


BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": But what he is doing now is behind the scenes. He has spent all his time since he lost putting people in place who will find the votes. That's what is so disturbing is because next time that happens, I think they are going to find the votes.

He is purging the Republican Party of people like that -- people who -- I mean, I think only 10 Republicans voted for his impeachment. Two of them are already gone because they see that they cannot win an election. He will primary them. He will destroy their reputations.


ROMANS: To reiterate, folks, none of the president's voter fraud claims have any merit.

JARRETT: But that does not stop him from making them.

ROMANS: No, it doesn't.

JARRETT: Now to this. A 20-year-old man who raped four teenagers in New York State will not see the inside of a jail cell. Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy, instead, sentenced Christopher Belter to eight years' probation. He said it would be like a sword hanging over his head. He also said, quote, "Jail time would be inappropriate."

A lawyer for one of the victims calls it a case of unequal justice.


STEVE COHEN, ATTORNEY: He is privileged. He comes from money. He is white. He's being sentenced as an adult, appropriately. And for an adult to get away with these crimes without doing jail time is unjust.


JARRETT: Belter's victims, by the way -- three 16-year-olds and one 15-year-old -- were all assaulted at his home.

ROMANS: No words there.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: Just in time for the holidays, a resurgence of coronavirus in Europe. And now, health restrictions that marked the worst of the pandemic are being put back in place.

Let's bring in CNN's Cyril Vanier live in Paris. And Cyril, the new COVID surge has been exacerbated, really here, by some stalled vaccination efforts. It's also -- it's colder weather. People are moving back indoors.

What's happening here?

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Right. All of these things coming together to create a surge of infections in many European countries. As you say, colder weather driving people indoors where they have more chance to infect one another.

Waning immunity from those people who got the vaccine early in the year -- thing about it. People who got vaccinated between February and May -- their six months are up now that we know immunity is only really guaranteed for six months. And also, the fact that people went back to living life as normal. So, some of the social distancing rules, et cetera -- well, they've been a lot more lax in their implementation of them recently.

The headline this morning, Christine, Germany. With its 65,000 cases, infections have been multiplied by six -- get that -- by six since the beginning of the month. It's dramatic, according to the outgoing chancellor, Angela Merkel. And even that official number vastly underrepresents what is likely the real number, according to the chiefs -- the country's chief health officer.

So, what are countries doing about it? Well, several countries are putting restrictions on the unvaccinated, first and foremost. In multiple federal states in Germany, there is what's been described as a kind of lockdown on the unvaccinated. They can't go to pubs, bars, restaurants, and other public venues.

And in Austria, the neighboring country, there is an actual stay-at- home order on the unvaccinated.

Countries that have a higher vaccination rate -- let's say France, let's say Ireland -- are still putting in place new measures. They're just giving themselves a bit more time before they get to really the harsher measures.

Listen to this Dublin pub owner in Ireland after an 8:00 p.m. curfew was imposed earlier this week.


RAY BYRNE, DUBLIN PUB OWNER, THE BRAZEN HEAD: So, there's huge anxiety and it was a real struggle for people to get through the long lockdown. And to be fair, the government's (INAUDIBLE) were really exemplary and I don't know of any business in Ireland that went bust due to COVID.

So, I think it's just a matter of biting the bullet. And I would have confidence that between the E.U.'s support and the E.U. direction and the Irish government, I think the support would have to be there to keep business going because tourism and pubs are a very important part of our economy and our identity in Ireland.


VANIER: And just 10 days after the U.S. reopened its doors to European travelers, the CDC is looking at this surge in cases in multiple European countries and adding several of them to its level- four travel list where it discourages Americans from going to those countries. Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Iceland have been added recently to that list, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes. No question, we are not out of this. We are still in a pandemic heading into winter. We still need to do a better job with vaccinations and boosters, really, around the world.

Cyril Vanier, thank you so much for that from Paris this morning -- Laura.

JARRETT: Well, speaking of travel, just when you thought it was safe to go to grandma's house for Thanksgiving, a major storm system could derail your plans next week.

Here's our meteorologist Derek Van Dam.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Good morning, Christine and Laura.

We are getting closer and closer to the busiest travel week of the year, and if you have the option, I would recommend leaving this weekend because look at what the weather pattern has in store.


High pressure means we will have no problems on the roads or at the airports. But I think things are going to change as we edge into Monday and Tuesday, getting closer to Thanksgiving Day.

Look at this cold blast of air that's going to settle in from Canada for the first parts of next week, and this is going to initiate that change in our weather patterns as well. In fact, some of our computer models picking up on a rain and wind event for Monday, one of the busier travel days, from New York to Boston, as well as D.C. Behind it, cold enough air mass bringing in the chance of snow for some of the higher elevations of northern New England.

And then we monitor the potential of a storm system on Thanksgiving Day across the nation's midsection.

Here's Monday's forecast. A storm system moves through the east coast. Temperatures in the 50s. And then cooling off by Tuesday with wind along the eastern seaboard.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right, that's your weather. Here's your business this morning. Let's look at markets around the world.

Asian markets closed lower. Europe has opened, I would say, narrowly mixed here. And on Wall Street, stock index futures are leaning a little bit higher after a down day Wednesday.

Still, the headline was strong retail earnings. A strong earnings season has boosted corporate profits.

Target said it avoided supply chain snags and posted strong sales. The stock, though, fell almost five percent because the CEO warned it was going to absorb rising costs instead of passing them on to you, the consumer.

Lowe's also posted strong sales. Americans are investing in home projects. Macy's and Kohl's report their results later today.

Disney cruises will soon require all passengers to be vaccinated against COVID starting January 13th. That includes everyone over the age of five. Children under five must show proof of a negative COVID test before departure. Passengers can complete the testing requirements online.

JARRETT: The NFL is stepping up its COVID-19 protocols ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Coy Wire has more in this morning's Bleacher Report. All right, Coy, what's the plan?


You know, the NFL is aware that COVID-19 cases could potentially rise, as you've been talking about here recently, into this holiday season, and they're going to do everything they can to help keep players even more healthy and safe this holiday season.

The league sent in a memo to all 32 teams yesterday stating that all players, coaches, and anyone in direct contact with players has to submit COVID-19 tests November 29th and December first, regardless of vaccination status. All players and staff, vaccinated or not, will be required to wear masks inside club facilities between November 25th and December first.

The league is also encouraging teams to offer drive-thru testing for any friends and family members who are going to maybe be visiting over the holiday season here.

The NFL is making the moves after consulting with their health and safety experts. The league saw a COVID spike in the latest round of testing -- 81 players and staff testing positive. That's the most we've seen this season.

Let's go to the hard courts. Giannis and the defending champion Bucks hosting the Lebron-less Lakers. And the reigning finals MVP attacking the rim like no one else can. Giannis with a season-high 47 points on 18 for 23 shooting.

He had plenty of help from his buddy Khris Middleton, too. He had missed the last eight games due to COVID. But he hit two big threes in the fourth, helping the Bucks pull away. Look at this -- facial.

A 109-102 win, snapping a two-game losing skid.

The Lakers -- they say they could have LeBron back here on Friday when they play in Boston. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns are hotter than one. Ten straight wins after making the Mavericks' heads spin. The defending Western Conference champs orchestrating a big fourth-quarter rally.

Look at this right here. Chris Paul falling out of bounds but still finding a way to get it to (INAUDIBLE) for the rim-rattler. Yes, sir.

And how about this? Devin Booker with a huge three from the edge of the logo. Twenty-four points for him on the night.

Bye-bye Mavs. They were without Luka Doncic, though. They fall 105-98.

Phoenix is now 11-3 on the season, just a game behind the Warriors in the west.

Finally, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford had a rough Monday night against the 49ers. He threw two interceptions. It was a blowout loss

But it's his wife who is apologizing. Mrs. Kelly Stafford reportedly threw a soft pretzel at a fan who had apparently been talking trash in the stands. Another fan saw the incident and called her out on Instagram.

Kelly's reply, which was discovered and published by TMZ, began by admitting that she was, quote, "an idiot" for behaving that way. She reportedly says she tried to apologize but, quote, "In the end, I knew it was wrong."


ROMANS: The fan was trash-talking her?

WIRE: (INAUDIBLE) you're going to love this.

JARRETT: No, trash-talking him because he wasn't playing well.


JARRETT: You've got to keep up with sports, Christine.

ROMANS: As a former player of what?

JARRETT: I mean, at least it was a soft pretzel. I don't know. I think maybe just don't throw anything. You're going to get caught.

WIRE: I mean, you are wasting a perfectly good pretzel. But at the same time, as a player, like that's my woman. She just tossed a pretzel at people for me? Don't do it again, but I love you.


JARRETT: Thank you, Coy.

ROMANS: Thanks, Coy.

Thanks for joining us this Thursday morning. I'm Christine Romans. JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.


BRIANN KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman.

On this new day, the man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery testifying that he believed he was in a life-or-death situation even though he was the one with the gun. What else his surprising testimony revealed.