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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

All Three Defendants Guilty Of Murder In Ahmaud Arbery's Death; Pricey Thanksgiving Costing America's Farmers; Trump Org Investigation Focused On Valuation Of Properties. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 25, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to a special Thanksgiving Day edition of EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans. Laura Jarrett has the holiday off.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We have reports from Georgia, France, Capitol Hill, Tel Aviv, the UK, and, of course, the Thanksgiving parade route in New York. We'll take you there live.

So, let's begin in Georgia. Cheers and tears in Brunswick after verdicts were handed down for three men convicted of killing an unarmed black jogger.


JUDGE: We the jury find the defendant Travis McMichael guilty.


ROMANS: The judge read out guilty 23 times, all three defendants convicted of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Their claim of self-defense rejected. Arbery's mother emotional inside the courtroom as the verdicts were read. Outside court, alongside civil rights leaders, she thanked prosecutors. She thanked supporters.

Her message: god is good. Wanda Cooper Jones spoke to CNN last night.


WANDA COOPER JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: It means a lot. It means that my prayers have been answered. Back in the early case, back in 2020, it was 74 days without an arrest. We finally was able to go through a lengthy trial and get justice for Ahmaud. A lot of these families don't get justice. My message for those families is don't give up. Keep pushing, keep fighting.


ROMANS: You have to wonder what would have happened if there had been no video of Arbery's murder. Remember, it was one of the defendants, Roddie Bryant, who recorded the killing. A criminal defense attorney who helped the other two, the McMichael

says they wanted to release parts of the video thinking it would clear them. Gregory McMichael dropped a copy off at a radio station. A host posted it online, it went viral, and instead of clearing them, it led to their conviction, and in all likelihood life in prison.

CNN's Martin Savidge was outside the court when the verdict came down. He reports from Brunswick.



I was in the crowd gathered outside the courthouse when the verdict was read. Many people were listening to what was going on inside the courtroom on their cell phones. The moment they heard the word "guilty", it was like an emotional dam burst. People shouted, people cried, people hugged one another.

It was clear guilty was the word they feared they might never hear in this case. It's understandable why, because for 74 days nobody had been arrested, despite the fact that law enforcement had from day one the video that showed the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

It was only after that video was made public that there was public outrage across the nation, and then state investigators got involved, and within 36 hours you had the first arrest in the case. Then came the charges and then came the trial. But none of that guaranteed a verdict, and that is why when they heard the words "guilty" outside of that courthouse, there was so much meaning to so many people.

MARCUS ARBERY SR., FATHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: Black killed, life don't matter. For real, all life matters. Not just black. We don't want to see nobody go through this.

I wouldn't want to see no daddy watch their kid get shot down like that. So, it's all our problem. It's all our problem. So, hey, let's keep fighting. Let's keep joining and making this place a better place for all human beings.


ARBERY: All human beings.


ARBERY: Everybody.


ARBERY: Love everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love everybody.

ARBERY: All human beings need to be treated equally.


ARBERY: We're going to conquer this. Today is a good day.

SAVIDGE: Next is, of course, going to be sentencing. We don't know the date yet. We do know the maximum that all three men now could face is life in prison without the possibility of parole.

After that comes the potential for a federal trial on federal hate crimes, and there again, the punishment could be the same. Life in prison without the prospect of parole. That trial is scheduled to begin in February right here in this same small town -- Christine.


ROMANS: Martin, thank you so much for that.

You know, even with the convictions, the family attorney says there is still a lot of work to do.


LEE MERRITT, ARBERY FAMILY ATTORNEY: I think that what we witnessed was an anomaly. It's the reason all the media and the people around the world are stopping to pause and say, oh, my God, they got justice in this case. So, that's not a good sign that people think that in a case as open and obvious, one that was recorded on a bright Sunday day, and just last year, that it was a big question mark, and there was a strong doubt that we would get justice.


And so it represents how far we have to go.


ROMANS: In a trial that featured one gripping moment after another, it was a scene after the verdicts that may have been among the most memorable.






ROMANS: A sea of black men and women cheering the white prosecutor who convinced the 12 jurors to convict. The defense tried to use race to sway the jury several times at trial, but prosecutors said they had faith in the panel despite its racial makeup, 11 white people and one black person.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LINDA DUNIKOSKI, LEAD PROSECUTOR: After we picked the jury, we looked at them and realized that we had very, very smart, very intelligent, honest jurors who were going to do their job, which is to seek the truth. And so we felt that putting up our case, it didn't matter whether they were black or white, that putting up our case that this jury would hear the truth. They'd see the evidence. And that they would do the right thing and come back with the correct verdict.

I wanted to make sure that the jury understood that the self-defense case was absolute garbage, that was not what took place, and I was doing my best in the moment to dismantle it.


ROMANS: President Biden says the convictions, quote, reflect our justice system doing its job and Vice President Kamala Harris says the verdicts send an important message the fact remains we still have work to do.

All right. Breaking overnight, two more smash-and-grab robberies in California mar the start of Thanksgiving weekend. One happened at an apple store in the bay area. Police say at least four suspects grabbed more than $20,000 worth of goods.

Another happened in the Canoga Park area of Los Angeles. Robbers there assaulted and pepper sprayed a Nordstrom security guard and made off with items including expensive purses. Similar crimes in California the last few days have communities on edge.

The state attorney general is at a loss for answers.


ROB BONTA, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: What's happening in California and across the nation, it's awful. It's unacceptable. It's unsafe for our shoppers, for our businesses, for our communities at large. And this is organized retail crime. This is not petty theft. This is not shoplifting. This is not a teenager stealing candy from the store.

This is organized. This is planned. This is premeditated. There is intent.


ROMANS: Yeah, in some cases highly organized. Robbers also hit a Louis Vuitton store and others in the Chicago area and stole more than 100,000 worth of items.

Remember, Black Friday is tomorrow, with so much inventory out of stock online, the stores could be packed. Best Buy CEO recently said the jump in thefts is traumatizing staff there.

People misbehaving in the air as well. There's been a sharp rise in assault against airline workers. Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland is directing federal prosecutors to prioritize cases involving violent passengers on commercial flights. The move comes during the peak holiday travel season. Airlines are seeing a resurgence of travel. But with fewer pilots and flight attendants than before the pandemic.

All right. The economic indicators are strong. Spending is up, income is up, jobless are down, but hanging over all of it, inflation.



ROMANS: A tale of new economies. New U.S. economic data out ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, weekly employment benefits finally falling below pre-pandemic levels. The Labor Department says last week's adjusted jobless claims, look at that, dropped to 199,000.

Folks, that's the lowest number since 1969. That means more job choices for workers and higher wages as employers struggle to fill positions, which leads to the worst of times for consumers, surging inflation by one key measure, it is at 5 percent for the year ending in October, 4.1 percent if you strip out volatile food and energy. That is the highest level since November 1990. If there is any good news, inflation leveled off between summer and fall, and it's clear that pandemic price hikes are not behind us just yet.

Inflation is taking its place at the Thanksgiving dinner table this year. By some measure, the most expensive turkey day on record. But America's farmers are not reaping the benefit of the pricey Thanksgiving. Their costs are up, and their profits are down and there's concern for what comes next.

CNN's Gabe Cohen reports.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Jim Jones finishes the sweet potato harvest on his North Carolina farm, skyrocketing costs are slicing through his profits.

Are you seeing any more money from this inflation?

JIM JONES, SWEET POTATO FARMER: No, no. We're actually paying for it.

COHEN: The price of fertilizer, fuel, and labor are way up, with no ceiling in sight.

How did your profit change this year?

JONES: I would say maybe 10 percent, 15 percent.

COHEN: What about looking ahead to next year?

JONES: Add that much more to it again.

COHEN: Inflation may be cooking up the most expensive Thanksgiving in history for families. The USDA says the average dinner cost is up 5 percent. The American Farm Bureau says it may be as much as 14 percent. Their survey shows price hikes on most products from potatoes to cranberries to turkeys which are nearing a record high. Despite those mark-ups at the market, many farmers say the price they

receive for their crop isn't going up.

So your price is staying the same?

JONES: My price is staying the same. Or a little lower.

COHEN: Why don't farmers just raise the price of their crops?

PATTY EDELBURG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FARMERS UNION: Farmers are price takers, not price makers.

COHEN: Patty Edelburg is vice president of the National Farmers Union.

Who is making the money from that inflation?

EDELBURG: Much more the middleman than anybody else.

COHEN: The USDA confirms that in many cases, processors and distributors are the ones passing along the surging costs with materials and ingredients still stuck on cargo ships and a shortage of labor and truckers driving up wages and costs.


TREY MALONE, AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: To some extent, we're also trying to pay for the uncertainty in the marketplace right now.

COHEN: Trey Malone is an agricultural economist at Michigan State University.

MALONE: So, we're in the middle of a perfect storm of unique events in agricultural production. I would say buckle up for a while longer of these higher input costs.

COHEN: Some farms are stocking up on materials in case suppliers run out. Others are waiting, hoping prices will drop.

All these costs, especially labor, are threatening Matt Alvernaz's California sweet potato farm.

MATT ALVERNAZ, SWEET POTATO FARMER: We were making $100,000 to $150,000 a year in profit. This year, we're probably going to lose $80,000 to $120,000.

COHEN: And it's only getting worse.

ALVERNAZ: We could potentially lose a quarter of a million dollars next year. We would not have enough cash to take into the following year in order to get our operating loan in order to operate for the following year.

COHEN: Farmers are used to volatility, and they're looking for ways to adapt, like downsizing or shifting to other crops.

JONES: It's going to worry you, but I ain't going to let it get me down. We'll survive somehow.

COHEN: As long as these money problems stop piling up.

JONES: We just need to get a fair price for what we're growing.

COHEN: Gabe Cohen, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: Just historic, all kinds of industries. Thank you for that, Gabe.

All right. Some health news from President Biden. A benign but potentially a precancerous lesion, what it means for the president's health.



ROMANS: In the clear, New York City prosecutors have informed a top Trump organization executive they do not intend to charge him criminally, at least for now. The investigation of the former president's business has faced a series of delays including litigation that went to the Supreme Court and a sealed legal dispute over documents. Remember, another long time Trump executive CFO Allen Weisselberg has already been indicted.

So, what does the latest decision by the Manhattan da mean?

CNN's Whitney Wild reports.


WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Christine, prosecutors have been investigating the Trump Organization's Chief Operating Officer Matthew Calamari for compensation he received as a top executive, that includes a company-funded apartment and car, and whether he paid taxes on those benefits.

The fact prosecutors have told Calamari he won't be charged at least for now suggests that prosecutors are not going to try to flip him to gain his cooperation. The latest decision also comes as prosecutors sharpen their focus on the Trump Organization and specifically how it valued certain assets such as office towers and golf courses and, moreover, whether the organization either inflated or lowered those values for certain gains like tax benefits.

Cyrus Vance, Jr., is the Manhattan district attorney, and he's in his final weeks of his term after he decided not to run for reelection. So, the time is really ticking for him to make a decision on how he is going to move forward with this case.

Former President Donald Trump has called this investigation a politically motivated witch-hunt, Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Whitney Wild, thank you so much for that. Join Fareed Zakaria for an in-depth look at growing American adversary, "China's Iron Fist: Xi Jinping and the Stakes for America". That begins Sunday night at 9:00.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Developing overnight we've learned President Biden had a benign but potentially precancerous polyp removed during his colonoscopy last week.

CNN chief medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. Elizabeth, the president just turned 79. Put this in context for us. This is why we get colonoscopies to find these lesions and treat them on the spot.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. You know, when you hear precancerous, it is so scary. It is not uncommon for these polyps to be found after age 50.

So the fact that he had one of these polyps and it was removed is a good thing. It shows the system is working. He had a colonoscopy, they found this 3-millimeter polyp, it was precancerous and they got rid of it. It's very effective to get rid of it at such an early stage.

This is why the U.S. centers for disease control says get cancer screening starting at age 45. It works, and so something that sounds super scary like a precancerous polyp really isn't so scary -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much for that. Reminder to everyone out there, put off any of your screenings during the COVID shutdowns, get up to date on your health care, please. Thanks, Elizabeth Cohen this morning.

All right. Justice can come slowly, but how about this. A Pennsylvania man sentenced to one day in prison for stealing a rare rifle 50 years ago. Seventy-eight-year-old Thomas Gavin admits he took the rifle from a museum in Philadelphia back in 1971. The rifle dates back to the American Revolution. According to the DOJ, Gavin confirms he kept it 40 years, sold it in 2018. It's worth more than $175,000.

EARLY START continues right now.


ROMANS: All right, good morning, everyone. This is EARLY START, Thanksgiving edition, exactly 30 minutes past the hour.

I'm Christine Romans. Laura has the holiday off with her family this morning. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade a muted event, this morning the holiday tradition returns to form in its 95th year.

And we have CNN's Miguel Marquez there on the route. He joins us live.

Nice to see you this morning. You know, last year was such a, you know, COVID thanksgiving. I'm calling this vax-giving this year. There will be vaccinated people there. There will be parade balloons.

What can we expect to see today, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the last two years have been brutal. If you had any desire to know if things were coming back, this is it. The turkey, the parade, the entire 2 1/2-mile route is all back.