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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Has Travis McMichael Helped Or Hurt His Defense By Taking The Stand?; Oklahoma Versus The Pentagon Over Military Vaccine Mandate; Hundreds Of Migrants Arriving In Iraq On Flight From Belarus. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 19, 2021 - 05:30   ET




LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good Friday morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour -- time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

House Democrats plan to vote on the president's nearly $2 trillion Build Back Better plan today. They were delayed by an 8-hour-plus speech by minority leader Kevin McCarthy that ended actually just moments ago.

An important estimate from the Congressional Budget Office says the bill would add to the deficit by $367 billion over 10 years, but that does not include revenue from tougher IRS tax enforcement.

JARRETT: Some health experts warning the U.S. could be in the early stages of a winter wave of COVID. Cases are up 14 percent over the last week and we are approaching 100,000 new cases a day. Here we go again. The Midwest, especially Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are already in the throes of this wave.

ROMANS: Memphis police releasing video surveillance photos of two suspects in the shooting death of rapper Young Dolph. The images show two armed people getting out of a white Mercedes Benz and firing their weapons into a cookie shop where Dolph was shopping.

JARRETT: Deforestation in the Amazon escalating by an alarming 33 percent this year. A Brazilian research agency says satellite imagery was used to compare the forest to images from 2020. Environmentalists blame the policies of Brazil's far-right leader, President Bolsonaro.

ROMANS: The FCC approving the number 988 for texting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new 3-digit dialing code will expand access to the critical 24/7 national hotline. The 988 number will go live for both calls and texts in July.

JARRETT: The first pardons of the Biden presidency, turkeys. President Biden will meet Peanut Butter and Jelly at the national Thanksgiving turkey ceremony. Not to worry, though. Both birds will be spared and get to live out their days at a research center at Purdue University in Indiana.

All right. We are chock full of legal news this morning, which is good for me and Christine, who puts up with me.

The defense wrapping up its case in the trial of three white men charged in the killing of jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Plus, day four of deliberations in the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin. And also today, the jury will be handed the conspiracy case against a group of white supremacists accused of organizing that deadly 2-day rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

ROMANS: And against that backdrop, an Oklahoma man has been given a reprieve hours before his execution. And two people were cleared in the murder of Malcolm X 56 years after his assassination.

A lot going on in the legal world. It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in Julius Kim, former assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Good morning.

JARRETT: Julius, it's so nice to have you back on EARLY START.

Let's start here in Georgia. Travis McMichael took the stand in his own defense -- always a risky move. But the prosecution I think extracted several interesting admissions, like this one, during cross- examination. Watch this.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: You have moved on in the road. You've aimed this shotgun at Mr. Arbery.


DUNIKOSKI: Mr. Arbery goes to the passenger side of the truck --


DUNIKOSKI: -- OK? Your dad is still yelling at him because we can hear him go "Stop, goddammit, stop," right?


DUNIKOSKI: You could have easily just stepped back to your pickup truck and watched him keep going, right?

MCMICHAEL: I could have, yes, but I was -- I still didn't know what he would or could have done right there where I couldn't see him.


JARRETT: Now, I've heard some lawyers suggest in a case like this that one of three defendants basically had to take the stand. Of course, you never have to take the stand. You always have a right not to. But they had to because they're making this claim of self-defense. And so, they have to explain for this jury if they want the jury to buy their story.

Do you think that was the right call?

JULIUS KIM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER MILWAUKEE COUNTY ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY (via Skype): You know, I think it was. It's always a gamble to put a defendant on the stand, as you well know.

But I agree that in a self-defense case someone's got to take the stand to explain what was going on through at least one of their minds at the time this incident occurred. And between the three of them, I think attorneys get together and figure out which one might be the best person to articulate that and to demonstrate the fear. And in this case, the attorneys decided that Travis McMichael was best suited to do that.


But as we saw from that blistering cross-examination by Ms. Dunikoski, there were some points that were made by the state, clearly, and it was a risk. And I think that in the end, the gamble might not have paid off.

ROMANS: Yes. She clearly drove home the point that they had the trucks, they had the gun, they were --

JARRETT: Cased him.

ROMANS: -- they were the -- they were the people chasing toward him. They were the aggressors. She made that point pretty vividly.

In your state, Wisconsin, the jury is still deliberating over Kyle Rittenhouse. Next week is a short week with the holidays.

What do you make of the fact that there hasn't been a verdict yet or do we make anything of that at this point? And why is the judge letting a juror take the instructions home? That seems unusual. I'm not an attorney, Laura Jarrett, but that seems unusual to me.

JARRETT: It never happens.

KIM: Yes. First, it is absolutely unusual to have a jury take -- a juror take the jury instructions home with them. I've been practicing criminal law and doing trials for almost 25 years and I've never seen it happen before. I've never even seen a juror request to take the jury instructions home with them. And I'm not sure that a high-profile homicide case is the time to try some orthodox things.

So, I'm concerned about that and the possibility of appeal because that was done over the defense objection.

As to the fact that we don't have a verdict yet -- well, I mean, ladies, your guess is as good as mine as to what's going to happen in this case.

It seemed like the first day was more an organizing day. They got the jury instructions. They didn't ask for any exhibits at that time. And then the second day was video day, but they didn't get the videos until later in the afternoon. And so, yesterday was probably the more -- the first full day of actual deliberations.

I was -- I thought it was interesting that they cut out a little early yesterday. They cut out around 4:00 p.m. And so, that means that maybe someone had to get out of there early, or maybe they were just kind of done for the day. That could suggest to me that there's some tension there.

So, I anticipate that there's going to be a verdict before the Thanksgiving holiday, for sure, but your guess is as good as mine.

JARRETT: I mean, it seems to me that if somebody wants to take the jury instructions home there is some hang-up here. You don't take the instructions home for fun, right? She's clearly hung up on something. But we'll see how it plays out next week or in the weeks to come.

Another story here. About three hours before he was set to be executed -- really, down to the wire -- the governor of Oklahoma commutes the death sentence of Julius Jones. The case has attracted a ton of attention. There was a great documentary about it, bringing more attention and light to the case.

Julius, can his -- can his sentence get challenged now? Can he get a new trial even though the governor has commuted it to life without the possibility of parole? Can he try to fight that?

KIM: Yes. I think the sentence is pretty much set right now because it was reduced, quite frankly, from the death penalty to life without the possibility of parole.

But what's open now is his ability to challenge the conviction itself. And if he successfully challenges his conviction -- well, that can have a domino effect to ultimately, potentially undo his conviction. And with the -- with the advances in DNA evidence and DNA technology you never know what can happen in this case. But at least he's alive to continue the fight.


ROMANS: Yes, and his family saying last night, right, that they have homework to do.


ROMANS: They're very thrilled but they have more homework to do.

Julius Kim, so nice to see you this morning. Thank you very much.

JARRETT: Thank you.

KIM: Thank you -- my pleasure. ROMANS: All right, there may be a new lead in the search for Jimmy Hoffa. According to "The New York Times," a deathbed statement by a former mob boss, Frank Coppola, last year has the FBI looking for Hoffa's remains in an old landfill site in Jersey City, New Jersey. The site is currently beneath the Pulaski Skyway.

The tip for "The New York Times" report comes from bestselling author and investigative journalist Dan Moldea.

Hoffa was the head of the Teamsters union when he vanished in 1975.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: Breaking moments ago, another major set of health restrictions now underway as COVID spreads across Europe.

CNN's Jim Bittermann is live for us in Paris this morning. Jim, France not locking down, at least for now, but other places seem headed that way.

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Laura. In fact, in Germany and Austria, there's great concern about the rising number of COVID patients. The two similarities between those two countries is that they are among the top countries in Europe in terms of the unvaccinated people.

So, Austria now has announced that there will be a nationwide lockdown for 20 days and that unvaccinated people will continue in the lockdown after that. They also are mandating vaccinations as of the first of February.

And in Germany, the health minister said this morning that, in fact, the situation is critical. They're basically completely concerned about the rising number of cases, Laura.

JARRETT: All right, Jim Bittermann. Thank you so much -- appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right.

Back here, a face-off between Oklahoma and the Pentagon. The commander of Oklahoma's National Guard refusing to enforce the military's vaccine mandate, saying he answers to the governor, who is against it.

CNN's Oren Liebermann live at the Pentagon with details. Oren, what's going on here?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Christine, there are a number of Republican-led states that have challenged President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate, but it is Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt who is going after the military part of that vaccine mandate coming from Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin. He has instructed the head of the Oklahoma National Guard, Brig. Gen.

Thomas Mancino, not to enforce the vaccine mandate even though the deadline for the Guard is still about six months away.

Brigadier Gen. Mancino has said he will follow the state guidelines -- which is to say the governor -- as long as his troops aren't called up by the federal government. As long as they're not federalized. He says the moment they're federalized, he does have to enforce the vaccine mandate.

But here's where this becomes a dispute between the state and the Pentagon. The Pentagon says look, even when they're not federalized, they are still required to meet federal military requirements, and that includes the medical requirement for, soon, vaccine mandates, and they still have to do it. What's murky here is where this goes next because the military won't say what step Austin will take now to enforce that or who he'll take it against.


A Defense official did say a couple of days ago in a background call that this will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, meaning it could be the soldiers who decide not to get vaccinated who will face consequences for this and not their commanders who refuse to enforce the vaccine mandate. Right now, it's a wait-and-see game of who will take a step.

Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin didn't address this when he held a pressor earlier this week, so we'll see what statement he says. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby says it's clear that the Pentagon has the right to enforce this vaccine mandate.

Meanwhile, Christine, at the same time, the army has said soldiers who choose not to get vaccinated will not be eligible for reenlistment or promotion, and that includes guardsmen.

ROMANS: Yes, that's remarkable, putting your -- actually putting your career on the line because of a vaccine.

All right. Oren Liebermann, thank you so much for that at the Pentagon.

JARRETT: Also this morning, hundreds of migrants have now been cleared out from the Belarus-Poland border and are being flown back to Iraq -- caught in the standoff between Belarus and the European Union, along with hundreds of Afghan and Syrian migrants. Today, the Iraqi government repatriated 100 -- sorry, 431 of its citizens.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh joins us live from Istanbul. Jomana, what more can you tell us?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Laura, this is the first repatriation flight organized by the Iraqi government. As you mentioned, more than 400 people on this flight. Iraqi officials are saying there are going to be more flights in the coming days for these voluntary returns for whoever wants to come back. The Iraqi government accuses smugglers and traffickers of exploiting

their citizens. But they also accuse the government of Belarus of using migrants and refugees essentially as political pawns in this standoff with the E.U.

We heard from the foreign minister of Belarus in that exclusive interview with CNN yesterday saying that this was not an orchestrated crisis.

But whatever this is -- whatever officials are saying, it is these people who are caught in the midst of this crisis who are paying the price -- these migrants and refugees, many of them Iraqi Kurds.

And we've spoken to so many of them who say that they had to leave the country because of the economic situation -- this feeling that they have no future in the country. And to secure a future for their children, they had to leave through this new route via Belarus that they thought would get them to Europe. They spent their life savings -- thousands of dollars -- to try and get there and they have come back with absolutely nothing.

Take a listen to what some of those returnees told CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The reason for my return is I traveled to the Lithuania border earlier and they had only two options -- either to die in a slow death or return. I chose to return.

This is a temporary passport. The Belarusian army took my passport away so to be forced not to return to Belarus.

I will return this summer through Turkey. I don't have any business here in Iraq. I don't have a job and no salary. What should I do? I spent $12,000, sold my car, and I will try to leave even if it takes me 20 times.


KARADSHEH: So many more heartbreaking stories that we heard from people in Irbil airport. Some people arriving there -- they didn't have enough money -- families -- to take a taxi to leave the airport even.

But Iraqis, Laura, are considered to be some of the luckier ones here because their government is evacuating them. It is bringing back whoever wants to come back. You've got thousands of others currently stranded in Belarus, including Syrians and Afghans, and no one really knows what is going to happen to them right now.

JARRETT: Yes. The politics of this is one thing, but this is truly a humanitarian story -- humanitarian crisis.

Jomana, thank you for your reporting.

ROMANS: All right, let's close out the week in business and get a check on global markets. Looking at Asia, they closed mixed here. Europe has opened slightly lower. And on Wall Street, stock index futures are unconvincingly mixed here.

It was a mixed day Thursday. The Dow dragged down by disappointing earnings from Cisco. But the S&P and the Nasdaq, record highs because, folks, you're spending money. You're buying stuff and strong retail earnings are showing it.

Macy's and Kohl's both reported solid sales ahead of the holiday season. Macy's stock rose 21 percent after it said same-store sales rose 35 percent from last year.

CVS also up nearly three percent after announcing it would close 900 stores over the next three years while remodeling other locations to focus on healthcare services.

Despite what you may have heard, there was no great migration during the pandemic. New figures from the Census Bureau show that U.S. migration actually has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 70 years. It contradicts the popular idea that Americans were relocating more than ever during the pandemic. So, fewer people were moving, but people who did move -- they went further. There was an uptick in longer distance moves from state to state.

JARRETT: All right.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown has been accused by his former live-in chef of using a fake vaccination card to avoid the NFL's COVID-19 protocols.


Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy, what happened?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura, we're trying to stay on top of this one. The NFL tells CNN that it is aware of the allegations and is reviewing the matter.

Now, according to the "Tampa Bay Times," Antonio Brown's former at- home chef, Steven Ruiz, says that in July Brown's girlfriend asked via text if he could obtain fake Johnson & Johnson vaccination cards and that Brown would pay him $500 for it. Well, Ruiz reportedly told the "Times" he was not able to get the fake cards but weeks after the initial request, Ruiz claims Brown showed him that he had already obtained cards.

Brown's attorney denied the allegation, saying the Buccaneers' star did get his shots, and telling CNN in a statement, "Antonio appreciates the severity of the pandemic, which is why he got the vaccine, and supports everyone for whom it is advisable to get the vaccine."

Now, the "Times" says Ruiz only spoke to them after he alleged that he and Brown were unable to settle a $10,000 debt that Brown owed him.

The Buccaneers also released a statement saying that they had received completed vaccination cards from every player during the off-season. Brown missed a game in September after a positive test.

Let's go to the field where the Patriots are continuing an incredible rebuilt. They steamrolled the Falcons last night in a rematch of Super Bowl LI.

Mac Jones not playing like a rookie quarterback anymore. An almost perfect 14 and 15 in the first half, including that 19-hard touchdown strike to Nelson Agholor.

And not that the defense needed any help. They terrorized Atlanta all night long -- four sacks, four interceptions off three different quarterbacks -- that's incredible -- including this one, Kyle Van Noy. It goes for a touchdown.

Twenty-five-nothing is the final. New England wins their fifth straight. They've allowed just 13 points over the past three games, the best stretch ever under the vaunted Bill Belichick.

All right. In the NBA, Steph Curry is continuing an unbelievable run. Last night he brings the Warriors with them. Golden State starting the fourth, down by 13 to the Cavs, but Steph scores 20 of his 40 points to pull off a blowout win.

He has nine 3-pointers again, giving him 10 such games since April. No other NBA player has 10 in their careers. It's early, but Steph's on pace to absolutely smash his own record for most 3-pointers in a season.

One hundred four-89 is the final. Warriors improving to an NBA best record 13-2.

And as if there were ever a question, Angels' two-way all-star Shohei Ohtani capping off his historic season as the unanimous American League MVP. The 27-year-old is the second Japanese player to win the award, joining the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.

He's the only player in Major League history with at least 45 homers, 25 stolen bases, five triples in a season, and that's just at the plate. "Showtime" also went 9-2 on the mound with 156 strikeouts.

Tokyo Tower back in Japan lighting up in Angels' colors to celebrate.

Over in the National League, Phillies star Bryce Harper won his second MVP.

I spent a lot of time in Japan where baseball is a passion.


WIRE: They see Shohei as a unicorn. It's just -- he's an unearthly creature so to speak.

JARRETT: Very cool.

All right, Coy, have a nice weekend. Thank you.

WIRE: Thanks.

JARRETT: All right, now to this. A group of cryptocurrency investors losing a bid to win one of only 13 original copies of the U.S. Constitution. The group, called ConstitutionDAO came together in just under a week crowdsourcing the money it needed from more than 17,000 investors using a cryptocurrency called ether. I wonder how Christine Romans feels about this?

Sotheby's says it sold for $43.2 million to an unknown buyer. ConstitutionDAO says contributors will be refunded, minus transaction fees.

ROMANS: Oh, minus transaction fees. So, they didn't win out and they pay anyway.

All right, a 9-year-old girl earning high praise this morning for fending off her mother's attacker during a brazen robbery. Surveillance video shows the moment a man ran up to Danielle Mobley, tossed her to the ground, and tried to snatch her purse. That's when Mobley's daughter Journee ran toward the suspect and repeatedly hit him.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you do to the guy?

JOURNEE: I hit him. I chased him.

DANIELLE MOBLEY, JOURNEE'S MOM: And I figured he would take off. I wasn't expecting her to take off after him.




ROMANS: Police tracked down Mobley's stolen belongings and arrested Demetrius Jackson, who is facing charges.

I think you're not supposed to go after the attacker.


ROMANS: She is such a brave little girl. I'm glad that all worked out.

JARRETT: Yes. We're not condoning the violence. We're not condoning vigilantism. But --

ROMANS: Call 911.


All right. Finally, have you seen the eclipse this morning? Go ahead and take a look at the longest partial lunar eclipse in centuries. Go ahead, we'll wait. The 6-hour event is visible to all of North America, as well as parts of South America and Russia.


Now, technically, it is not a total lunar eclipse but it is about as close as you can get with 97 percent of the moon covered at one point.

ROMANS: Let's go look at the moon right now, shall we?

JARRETT: I already looked.

ROMANS: All right, we're out. Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" is next.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman on this new day.

And Congress just pulled an all-nighter, or at least some members of Congress did. Kevin McCarthy's epic speech.