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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Travel Expected to Be Near Pre-Pandemic Normal This Thanksgiving; Jury Finds Rally Organizers Liable, But Deadlocks on Key Charges; Sixth Victim Dies After Car Crashed into Waukesha Christmas Parade. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 24, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is Wednesday, November 24th, 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Christine Romans.

PAULA REID, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Paula Reid, in for Laura Jarrett.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We have reports this morning from Ukraine, Maryland, Wisconsin, Kenya, and Virginia.

ROMANS: And today might feel more normal than any day since coronavirus changed history. Last Thanksgiving there was no vaccine, and the U.S. government asked people to just stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Gatherings of family and friends probably helped fuel a subsequent COVID surge in this country.

This year, Americans are hitting the roads and the skies with travel expected to be way up from last year to near pre-pandemic levels. And gas prices are the highest they've been, though, in years.

On Tuesday, President Biden announced the release of U.S. strategic oil reserves in a joint effort to ease gas prices along with China, India, Japan, South Korea and Great Britain.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While our combined actions will not solve the problem of high gas prices overnight, it will make a difference. It will take time, but before long you should see the price of gas drop where you fill up your tank. And in the longer term, we will reduce our reliance on oil as we shift to clean energy.


ROMANS: Truly a unique holiday this is. Vax-giving than Thanksgiving. It is one of the busiest travel days of the year. The crowds this year will remind you of pre-pandemic times. AAA estimates air travel will be up 80 percent over last year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a holiday, it happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just to get early, I'm taking an international flight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's almost back to what it was before the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's good to feel normal again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People feel really safe about leaving and are excited to reconnect with friends and family.


REID: And for the second COVID Thanksgiving, coronavirus cases are climbing again, especially in cold weather states. Nearly 60 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, but about 82 million people, more than a third of those eligible, have yet to receive even their first dose.

So, how to enjoy a safe and happy holiday?

Health reporter Jacqueline Howard has some suggestions.


JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Many families are super excited to get together for Thanksgiving this year. I know mine is.

But, you know, one of the most important questions to ask before your turkey dinner is, are you vaccinated? If you or others are not vaccinated, then you'll want to wear a mask and take some extra precautions. But if everyone is fully vaccinated, it's okay to ditch the masks.

Here's Dr. Anthony Fauci with our colleague Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, if you are vaccinated and you're going to a holiday setting where everybody is vaccinated, it's okay to be there without a mask?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: Absolutely, absolutely. That's what I'm going to do with my family.

HOWARD: So, you see, knowing someone's vaccine status is key here. And that Axios Ipsos poll finds 40 percent of people planning to gather for the holiday will be around unvaccinated guests. And an additional 17 percent say they don't know whether people around them will be vaccinated or not, so that's why asking that question is key.

And then another question to consider asking, whether someone has been tested, or testing yourself. That could help some people feel more comfortable. And you know, there are some over the counter rapid COVID tests you can buy at your local pharmacy or online to test yourself or others. And then here are two more questions to consider. One, ask to crack open a window to get air circulating in a room when

there are lots of people. That can help reduce the spread of virus in the air, especially if someone happens to be infectious. And then number two, ask whether you'll be around someone who is immunocompromised or at increased risk of severe COVID. That's helpful in deciding what additional safety measures you should take.

But overall, let's have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving this year. I'm wishing you all a wonderful holiday -- Christine and Paula.


ROMANS: Jacqueline Howard, thank you so much for that. No politics, no elbows on the table. Now, COVID status is something else we have to talk about. Religion, politics, all those things that cause people to have fights, now COVID status or vaccination status.

REID: Not much left, animals, the weather.

ROMANS: Exactly, all right, babies. Let's talk about kids and dogs.

All right. Right after Thanksgiving comes Black Friday, of course, and Americans can expect to find price hikes on their holiday gift list.


Dollar Tree will soon be dollar-and-a-quarter tree. The company says it will raise prices to a dollar 25 on most of its products by early next year. The change is a sign of the pressure that low cost retailers face in this period of rising inflation. You can also expect to pay more for food brands next year.

That's right. Inflation is coming to breakfast, folks. CNN has learned General Mills notified customers it's raising prices in mid-January on hundreds of items, household names like Cheerios, Yoplait, Fruit Roll- Ups, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury. They could rise as much as 25 percent.

Grocery prices have spiked sharply during the pandemic. Prices in October were more than 5 percent higher than the same time last year. This is because of higher costs for commodities, labor, shipping.

And while gas prices appear to be leveling off this week, it is still TBD whether government intervention will really bring prices down long term.

CNN reports that President Biden has been privately advised that tapping the strategic reserve won't do much to relieve the current price spike. He is not the first president to try, folks. Presidents have both parties have used reserve to deal with everything from supply disruptions in the Middle East to hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Look at those quantities there, Paula. This president is using 50 billion -- 50 million, sorry, 50 million barrels coming off line. That's the largest we've seen, and also getting other countries to do it at the same time, just trying to get some supply back in the market to at least stall those rising prices.

REID: I hope it makes a difference. People are feeling it at the tank.

Unite the Right united a jury, but not on all charges. What it means for the organizers of the deadly white nationalist rally.



REID: A very steep price for white nationalists who organized one of the ugliest days in recent U.S. history. But the most serious claims are still unresolved.

CNN's Brian Todd reports from Charlottesville.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Paula, this verdict constitutes nothing short of a devastating financial blow to some of America's most notorious white nationalists. Now, while the jury was not able to reach a verdict on two key federal claims of conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence, they still found the defendants, the white supremacists, liable for four other claims and assessed more than $26 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Now, for the rally organizers, they found them liable for conspiracy and for racial religious or ethnic harassment or violence, and those damages totaled about $12.5 million for the organizers. For James Fields, the man who rammed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring several others, they found him liable for inflicting emotional distress and for assault or battery, and the damage assessment against fields totaled about $13.5 million. Here is what some of the attorneys connected to the case had to say after the verdict.

ROBERTA KAPLAN, PLAINTIFF'S ATTORNEY: I think this verdict today is a message that this country does not tolerate violence based on racial and religious hatred in any form. And that no one will ever bring violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, ever again because they now know what will happen if they do.

TODD: Two attorneys for white nationalists told us after the verdict they're going to thereby to get the damages assessed to their clients reduced. This and other similar lawsuits have already succeeded in financially crippling several white nationalists, but this may not be over for them just yet. Regarding those two federal claims that the jury was not able to reach a verdict on, those claims of conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence, the plaintiffs' attorneys have told us they are going to try to bring those cases again -- Christine and Paula.


ROMANS: All right. Brian, thank you so much for that. It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in CNN

senior legal analyst Elie Honig, former federal prosecutor.

So nice to see you this morning.


ROMANS: Twenty-six million dollars, that is a big pay out and the jury didn't reach a consensus on the two of those federal claims. What's next for the white nationalist movement? Can they get after that money? Can they get all that money?

HONIG: So, in this case first of all, both sides are going to want a redo to some extent the defendants. White nationalists are going to appeal and get the damages knocked down.

Some of the punitive damage claims are way, way more than the compensatory damages. Meaning the actual physical damage, and there has to be some alignment between them. So, watch for an appeal. As Brian just said, the plaintiffs here are going to look to re-pursue their federal civil rights claims.

But bigger picture, this will be a real financial hit for the white nationalist movement. It tells them that if you, look, speech is protected. Hate speech, even is protected under the First Amendment. But violent hate speech is not. And if you cross that line into action and to violence, you can be held financially responsible.

REID: So pivoting to Ahmaud Arbery, interestingly, one of the defense attorneys for William Roddie Bryan, the man who filmed teh encounter that led to Arbery's death, he doubled down on comments that he made about Black pastors in the courtroom.

Let's take a listen to what he said with Chris Cuomo.


KEVIN GOUGH, DEFENSE ATTORNE FOR WILLIAM "RODDIE" BRYAN: Chris, let me put it to you this way.


GOUGH: If every time a police officer is killed we're going to allow the police department to stack the courtroom with uniformed police officers, I think you'd agree that that would be inappropriate. Would you not?

CUOMO: I don't know that it would be inappropriate, but I know it's not an analogy. Having Black pastors there to support the family, I don't think is going to have a chilling effect on a jury. Nor should it.

GOUGH: I don't think of pastors in terms of black and white. And let's be clear. If you were in that courtroom sitting in my chair representing Roddie Bryant, you'd be doing exactly the same thing.


CUOMO: No, I wouldn't.


REID: Well, first of all, certainly been in courtroom, especially in the penalty phase, where a police officer died, and they do stack the courtroom with police, that is not a great analogy.

But what do you make of this?

HONIG: I don't know why he's so fixated on this. I don't know what audience he's playing to, where he thinks it gets him. If he's worried about the Black pastors, he's the one drawing all the attention. He's the one making a fuss complaining to the judge. I don't know that anyone would have even noticed.

The bigger point here is what we want our jury to do, the jury deliberating right now, is to almost literally get into a box, right, that deliberation room, put aside all the distractions, all the politics, all the emotions swirling about this, whatever games the lawyers are trying to play, if they're trying to plant a seed through the media or elsewhere and just decide this case on the facts that they got at trial and the law, I hope the jury can do that. I hope they can shut out all these distractions.

But this lawyer is not covering himself in glory the way he's handling this.

ROMANS: They certainly have a lot of -- the jury has a lot of important work to do here. We'll see if they want to get this done today, if they want -- they'll have to go out through the holiday weekend or take a break. What's the process there?

HONIG: Jurors are human beings and they respond to the same human incentives we do. There is the phenomenon known as the Friday verdict. Today is Wednesday, but it's sort of the ultimate Friday because tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The judge said if you don't have a verdict, to come back Friday.

ROMANS: OK, let's talk about the January 6 Committee. So, it's focus on right-wing extremist groups like Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. What's the significance of this?

HONIG: Well, on a sense, it's a good move by the committee. It tells us they're subpoenaing the right people. They're looking to people really behind this.

But at certain point, you have to ask, what's the end game here? Look, are they really going to get testimony from the Oath Keepers, from the Proud Boys? Are these boys going to show up in Congress and testify truthfully?

I think that's very doubtful. So, the committee has picked some fights, has issued subpoenas to some high-profile targets. These guys, also your Steve Bannons, your Michael Flynns, your Stephen Millers on down the line. But eventually, what's the committee going to do to enforce these subpoenas if when and they're divided? Are they going to do what they did with Bannon, hold him in contempt with other people?

And then, will the Justice Department charge other people beyond Steve Bannon or will that be it?

REID: It will be interesting to see. Thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

HONIG: Great to see you.

ROMANS: Happy Thanksgiving if we don't see you.

HONIG: Thanks.

REID: And the newest victim from that car attack on the Christmas parade just 8 years old. The suspect was in court. This time his bail should keep him there.



REID: Victims in the deadly attack on a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, now range from 81 to just eight. Jackson Sparks is the 6th person to die after an SUV plowed through a crowded parade route. It is the latest blow to a community heading into the holiday with heavy hearts.

ROMANS: The driver described by one police officer as displaying no emotion. They attempted to slow him down. Police officers actually banging on the hood of the car trying to get his attention as he was creeping slowly at the beginning of the parade, and then he raced off.

CNN's Omar Jimenez was in court when suspect Darrell Brooks made his first appearance. Omar has more now this morning for us from Waukesha.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Good morning, Paula.

The Waukesha County court set bail at $5 million. Which the court commissioner said was an extraordinarily high amount, but also said in this case it was warranted after prosecutors went through a lengthy criminal history that spanned from Nevada to Georgia and here in Wisconsin. This comes, of course, as we learn of a sixth death from the Christmas parade, this time of a child, 8-year-old boy. While more than 60 are still recovering, either physically or emotionally.

Some are improving as we learned. A firefighter's son marching with his band during the parade is out of the ICU, but still with pay long road of recovery after having undergone surgery to repair a broken femur while currently being monitored for other complications. It's the reality for the over 60, as I mentioned, who still have a long way to go. Meanwhile, Darrell Brooks, the 39-year-old suspect, made his initial

court appearance on Tuesday in a packed courtroom. And as the court emphasized, the unprecedented nature of what happened.

KEVIN COSTELLO, COURT COMMISSIONER: The nature of this offense is shocking. Actually, the detail I was not expecting here today, two detectives, not lay people, detectives, not only tried to stop this, but rendered an opinion that this was an intentional act. I have not seen anything like this in my very long career. I don't respond well to what is common sense within our community, our society. So, based on that bails, the smallish bail you were out on didn't do very well.

JIMENEZ: Brooks rarely looked up during his initial court appearance and was oftentimes seen swaying back and forth. He currently faces five counts of first degree intentional homicide with prosecutors promising a sixth. He would get six consecutive life sentences if convicted -- Christine, Paula.


ROMANS: All right. Omar for us in Wisconsin.


All right. For weeks the U.S. has raised concern about Moscow's activity on the border with Ukraine. Now, Kiev is racing to upgrade its defenses.

CNN had rare access. Fred Pleitgen is live in Kiev for us next.


ROMANS: Good Wednesday morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

REID: And I'm Paula Reid. It's 29 minutes past the hour.

ROMANS: All right, what a difference a year can make. It is the second pandemic thanksgiving, but Americans are not locked down. They're not waiting for vaccines. Nearly 53 million people will be traveling this --