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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Top Pence Aide Cooperating With House January 6 Committee; South Africa COVID Positivity Jumps 24 Percent Since Omicron First Seen; Justice Department Closes Investigation Of Emmett Till's Murder. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 07, 2021 - 05:30   ET



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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans. Just about 30 minutes past the hour -- time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

It's one of the most critical calls of Biden's presidency so far -- a video meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin today. The two leaders will discuss the Russian forces amassed at Ukraine's border. The White House says the U.S. will respond to any Russian invasion of Ukraine with sanctions and if needed, additional troops in Europe.

Three missionaries kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released. The group of 16 Americans and one Canadian were abducted after visiting an orphanage. A source says a young American child and the child's mother were among the three freed on Sunday. Two others were released last month. The remaining 12 victims are still being held.

JARRETT: Medina Spirit, winner of this year's Kentucky Derby, has died. The horse collapsed Monday just as he was finishing a routine workout at the Santa Anita racetrack. Trainer Bob Baffert says the 3- year-old champion suffered a heart attack.

ROMANS: The man who police claim helped the Michigan school shooter's parents before they were arrested spent two hours on Monday talking to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. A search warrant was also executed at his home. Sixty-five-year-old Andrzej Sikora insists he did not knowingly help James and Jennifer Crumbley evade law enforcement.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The complaint we filed today alleges that Texas has violated section two by creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color, or membership in a language minority group.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JARRETT: Attorney General Merrick Garland announcing the Justice Department is suing the state of Texas. This new lawsuit alleges that a plan for redrawing congressional districts devised by Republican lawmakers violates the Voting Rights Act.

ROMANS: Sources say the House January 6 Committee is getting significant cooperation now from a former top aide to Mike Pence. CNN was first to report that Marc Short, who was Vice President Pence's chief of staff, was subpoenaed by the committee a few weeks ago. Short, a key witness to the events of January sixth, being at Pence's side during that attack on the Capitol. Short was also aware of how Trump pressed his V.P. to overturn the results of the presidential election even though, of course, Pence could not.

JARRETT: All right. Joining us now to unpack all of this with three questions in three minutes, let's bring in CNN political analyst Seung Min Kim, a White House reporter for "The Washington Post." Seung, so nice to see you this morning.

So --


JARRETT: So, Marc Short -- this is significant. This is one of the closest aides to the former vice president. He's at Pence's side during the insurrection as they are racing all over the halls trying to stay safe.

What do you expect he might actually say to the committee? How frank and forthcoming do you think he'll be?

KIM: Well, he is certainly a valuable witness or person that the January 6 commission has called, and he's valuable in a -- in a number of ways. As you mentioned, he was literally by the vice president's die when the insurrection was unfolding.

But he was in the room in a series of critical meetings leading up to the insurrection. I'm talking about a January fourth meeting with President Trump and Vice President Pence, and conservative attorney John Eastman, who wrote that infamous memo. And he has seen -- kind of been there at these key moments throughout.

And I think you've seen in recent interviews that he has the ability to be kind of frank and candid. And I'm thinking about the -- I'm thinking about the recent interview that he had with David Axelrod in his podcast where he acknowledged some of the rhetoric coming from President Trump calling these insurrectionists patriots, and Marc Short saying that's wrong.

So I think he -- so I think the January 6 commission believes that he could be a valuable resource in their investigation.

ROMANS: Meantime, Congress has an awful lot of work to do and the calendar is so cruel, Seung, this December. Senators McConnell and Schumer are doing everything they can to make

sure the United States doesn't default on its debt December 15th. Any chance they make this work?

KIM: There's certainly a lot of pressure right now to make it work among Senate leaders. And what's been really interesting is to watch that coordination between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the minority leader.

You know, McConnell and Senate Republicans did come and provide the votes that were needed back in October when we went through this standoff before. McConnell said that was the last time that he would do so. But you're seeing a different tone coming from McConnell now. Both sides say the talks between the two leaders are productive. They are confident -- at least McConnell is -- that the country will not default, according to comments he gave recently.

But at the same time, the leaders have yet to kind of disclose that way forward and the deadline that the Treasury Department has set out is next week. So -- and it's not just Mitch McConnell who has to be on board. He has to get nine other Republicans on board with this plan and can he do that is yet to be seen.


JARRETT: I also want to ask you Seung about Devin Nunes leaving the House at the end of the month to become the CEO of this new Trump media and technology group. The group has come under some scrutiny by the SEC, as far as we understand. But put that aside for just a moment because I want to talk to you about the politics of this.

He was a significant player for the Republicans and obviously, a huge ally of the former president. But what does it tell you that he has given up this House seat -- this coveted House seat in California?

KIM: Right. Well, we've been hearing a lot lately over the last several weeks and several months about House Democrats who are retiring, so it's really remarkable to see a House Republican retire when all signs show that Republicans are almost certain to take the majority next year.

And Devin Nunes was actually in line for a very powerful position -- the House Ways and Means Committee. That is the person who oversees tax policy -- a key role for -- a key role for the Republican Party in any configuration. But the fact that he has chosen to be -- to stay in Trump's orbit really kind of completes the transformation that Devin Nunes has undergone over the last several years.

He used to be the Republican who kind of called out the fringes of his party back -- not so long ago -- you know, five, seven years ago. But he has -- ever since the start of the Trump administration when he was in that key role as the House committee -- House Intel Committee chair, he really has turned into a Trump ally at all costs.

JARRETT: Yes, five to seven years ago seems like --


JARRETT: -- a lifetime. Those were dog years.

Thank you so much -- appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right, more on the former president's media ambitions and already, new scrutiny from the feds. Regulators investigating the shell company behind the former president's return to Wall Street.

In October, Trump announced a new social media venture he claims will quote "stand up to the tyranny of big tech." It plans to go public through a merger with Digital World, a special-purpose acquisition company -- a SPAC. What is a SPAC? It's a so-called blank check company created to trade publicly before merging with an existing company.

Now, the Trump SPAC deal facing scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission. In a filing, Digital World said it received a request for all communications between it and the Trump Media & Technology Group.

Wall Street's self-regulator, called FINRA, is also looking into trading patterns prior to the deal's announcement. This comes after reports say Trump began discussing a merger with Digital World long before it went public, which SPACs are not supposed to do.

Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeting her support of the two investigations, noting that "Nobody is above the law."

JARRETT: To COVID now, and new COVID cases among children in the United States reaching 133,000 last week. That's about 2,000 more than the week before and still extremely high, according to the American Academy of Pediatricians.

Known cases of the Omicron variant still a small percentage of the total, but it's spreading.

In the U.S., cases identified in Mississippi and Texas, bringing the total number of states to 19 now. Worldwide, Omicron has been found in five new countries, including Russia and Thailand, for a total of 47. In South Africa, positivity rates of new cases of COVID has jumped by 24 percent in the two weeks since the new variant was first detected there.

Let's bring in CNN Larry Madowo live in Johannesburg for us. Larry, I have to assume this jump in the positive test rate has South African officials worried. So what's the plan to address it?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are quite worried because you mentioned that jump in positivity rates. Two weeks ago, the positivity rate here in South Africa was 2.3 percent. Right now, it is 26.4 percent in the tests over the last 24 hours. And to get into the statistical with you, just for a second, that means it's an increase of 1,048 percent in just two weeks.

Cases are surging across this country in all the provinces and one of the immediate impacts of that is this -- travel bans, so there are very few flights leaving the country. And so everybody's scrambling to get on the few flights available even though in most of the places they're coming to the U.S. and the U.K. and most of Europe they have to quarantine and all of that.

But officials are encouraging people to try and get vaccinated even though there is still hesitancy about that. There are people who either for cultural reasons or because of consumed misinformation and conspiracy theories, a lot of it actually from American right-wing political commentators, they're reluctant to get vaccinated.

And President Cyril Ramaphosa saying listen, we have enough vaccines, but the reasons to get vaccinated are compelling and that is the only way to stay protected.

But people sometimes are taking some confidence in the fact that preliminary data seems to indicate that the Omicron variant might be more transmissible but less severe. So they think they will survive it if comes down to it. Not exactly what authorities are hoping here for but it's the best they can do.

One thing they're considering, vaccine mandates, making it mandatory for people to get vaccinated. And some South African countries are already doing so.


But in the wider public, a huge deal of concern, anger, outrage about these travel bans.

One member of the South African Tourism Board said it's time for Africa to stop depending on the West.


THEBE IKALAFENG, NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SOUTH AFRICA TOURISM BOARD: If Africa is going to rise, Africa is going to have to look to Africa and to Africans. This is a reminder of the selfishness of the West when it comes to issues like vaccine -- sharing their vaccines or sharing their knowledge. So it's a reminder for Africa to thrive again. Africa must look to itself and not -- and we need to get over this need to get validation from the rest of the world.


MADOWO: This Omicron variant was only discovered because South African scientists were on top of this. And so, leaders here say the world should be applauding South African scientists and not putting in travel bans which will be devastating for the South African economy and for these South African nations that now cannot travel to most of the parts of the West.

JARRETT: All right, Larry. Thank you for that update.

ROMANS: All right. France taking new steps in its response to the latest wave of COVID there. The prime minister says France will mandate masks in primary schools immediately and will close all French nightclubs, starting Friday, for four weeks.

Vaccinations for children age five through 12 not currently available in France but will be on December 20th. In the past 24 hours, more than 6,200 new cases were reported among children age six to 10 years old.

Private-sector employees who work in New York City will not have to be vaccinated. That's according to Mayor Bill de Blasio. This mandate begins December 27th and applies to 184,000 businesses.

It also has provisions for children. Starting December 14th, kids age five to 11 must show proof of at least one vaccine dose for indoor dining, entertainment, and performance venues. By December 27th, everyone 12 and up must do the same.

JARRETT: Now to this cold case.

The Justice Department has officially closed its investigation into the killing of Emmett Till. Till, you'll remember, a 14-year-old Black teen from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi back in 1955 when he was tortured and murdered after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store.

Now, in 2017, a historian said she confessed her original story about Till was a lie. But DOJ now says it can't prove that the woman actually recanted to that professor and lied to authorities, leaving Till's family disappointed but resolute.


REV. WHEELER PARKER JR., EMMETT TILL'S COUSIN: Whatever we do we can't bring him back, but we can carry on and let America know. We need to know the truth and that's what we look for. Through his death we can see how far we've come and how much work we still have to do.

OLLIE GORDON, EMMETT TILL'S COUSIN: Even though we don't feel that we got justice, we still must move forward so that these particular hate crimes will not continue to be done and no justice is found. With that, let's move forward. Let's look at the future and let's figure out how we can continue to make a change.


JARRETT: The FBI spoke to Carolyn Bryant Donham repeatedly as part of this investigation that she denies every lying about her accusation against Till.

And Christine, the sad truth about this is that anyone who could actually be held culpable -- actually prosecuted for this has long since died. The statute of limitations has long since run. Even if the FBI and investigators could prove that she lied the statute of limitations has run on this case. And so, the family is just left sort of with this unresolved haunting case.

We were all taught about this case in school and yet, it's just -- it's never faded from view and is one of the most --

ROMANS: What a painful --

JARRETT: -- grizzly cases from that era.

ROMANS: A painful, painful moment in American history and to not have all the facts still is just sad.

JARRETT: Yes. We'll be right back.



ROMANS: All right. You expect the weather to be bad in Buffalo in December, but the conditions during last night's Bills-Patriots game blew away the game plans.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So, Bill Belichick looked at the weather and said you know, we are not even going to try to throw the ball -- not going to do it. The wind gusts in Buffalo were up to 50 miles per hour last night. The feels- like temperature was in the 20s. The snow was blowing sideways. And throwing and kicking the ball an adventure.

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who was born and raised in Jacksonville, attempting only three passes all night, completing two of them. The Patriots ran the ball 46 times. Under two minutes to go, Bills at fourth and 14 in the red zone.

Belichick dialed up the blitz and Josh Allen's pass knocked down. Belichick showing some emotion there on the sidelines -- hands up, big smile, hugs his son.

Patriots win 14-10 -- the first time since 1974 a team won while attempting three passes or less. The Patriots have now won seven in a row and are the one-seed in the AFC.


BILL BELICHICK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HEAD COACH: We played kind of the way we felt like we needed to play to win. And in the end, we scored enough points being tough, being disciplined, being resilient, and dealing with a really good football team and conditions that were somewhat challenging.


SCHOLES: Somewhat challenging. All right, the Heisman Trophy finalists were revealed last night with four players in the running for college football's most prestigious award. They are Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett, Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. All four are going to be in New York City for Saturday's ceremony where the winner will be revealed.

Young is the overwhelming favorite to win. The sophomore throwing for 43 touchdowns and just four interceptions while guiding the top-ranked Crimson Tide to the College Football Playoffs.


All right, to the NBA. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo back in the lineup against the Cavs after missing a pair of games with a calf injury. And on his 27th birthday, guess what? He scored 27 points, leading Milwaukee to a 112-104 win. That's the 10th win in 11 games for the defending NBA champs.

And it's never a good idea to anger Steph Curry. In the first quarter, Gary Harris steals it from Curry and lays it in. Well, Curry then gets the ball and he's going to cross over Harris and get to half-court and then bank it in at the buzzer. Curry's reaction after doing that, pretty great. He scored 31 as the Warriors won 126-95 to improve to a league-best 20-4 on the season.

And Christine, back to "MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL." Props to the Bills' mafia for braving those conditions out there. I mean, because -- I mean, it was wild. I'm sure a lot of them bundled up and made it through the game, and they are kind of used to it there.

And look at this shot. I wonder how warm is a Darth Vader costume in those conditions?

JARRETT: They don't look cold at all.

ROMANS: Oh my gosh.

SCHOLES: A Darth Vader costume, warm or cold there? I don't know.

JARRETT: I think the plastic helps insulate.

ROMANS: I spent some years in Chicago and I will tell you I have been in some cold games at Soldier Field. That is -- those are brave, brave fans in that kind of weather.

JARRETT: Thanks, Andy.

ROMANS: Nice to see you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

JARRETT: All right.

Hawaii's governor declaring a state of emergency due to heavy rains and possible catastrophic flooding there. The National Weather Service expects 10 to 15 inches of rain from a storm system, with as much as 25 inches possible in some areas.

Here is meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine and Laura, good morning, guys.

Yes, the big story across the Hawaiian Islands, of course, has been the incredible run of weather we've seen here in recent days. And just the 48-hour totals kind of show you what we're talking about here. And some areas exceeding a foot of rainfall and as much as two feet possible in a few isolated locations.

And initially, it was the eastern periphery of the islands, but the most population-dense area, of course, Oahu and Honolulu, now kind of underneath the radar here as far as the significant amount of rain that is in store. Flash flood warnings in place across Oahu, meaning flooding is imminent or occurring across Honolulu.

And points to the west of this region kind of seeing the brunt of what this system -- a very slow-moving system has to offer in this area. And again, you could see an additional round of heavy rainfall -- maybe another six to eight inches in a few spots.

And what's impressive about all of this is that the Hawaiian Islands have been in large part across a significant drought, much like the western United States dealing with excessive drought. That's been the case across this region as well. But a lot of this comes in and brings with it some benefits. But, of course, flooding here and the amount of it seen in a short time period is where it's going to be concerning -- guys.


ROMANS: All right, Pedram. Thank you so much for that.

Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning. Looking at markets around the world, you can see Asian shares rebounded. Europe has opened higher -- strongly higher, actually, in Paris and Frankfurt. And on Wall Street, stock index futures look like they're going to have a strong morning here.

Wall Street rebounded to start the week. The Dow rose yesterday 1.9 percent. That's enough to erase last week's losses. The broader S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also both gained one percent.

Remember last week, those wild swings after the Omicron variant was identified. The theory/hope/speculation right now on Wall Street is the variant proves to be mild. However, inflation still a worry. Wall Street gets a fresh read on consumer price inflation on Friday.

Ford Motor Company delaying its return-to-office date until March because of new coronavirus concerns. Assembly line workers returned in May of 2020. Office workers getting ready to head back next month. But this new variant has shifted the company's plan. The delayed return- to-work affects roughly 30,000 employees.

Ford, by the way, is mandating vaccines for most of its 32,000 salaried U.S. employees. Those workers have until December eighth to be fully vaccinated.

OMG, here's BZFD. BuzzFeed, the digital media brand known for its lists, its quizzes, its articles began trading Monday on Nasdaq as a public company under the ticker symbol BZFD. It opened at $10.99 a share, jumped 40 percent, and then closed at $9.62.

Despite all the bells and whistles there is still uncertainty, of course, after some investors pulled out. BuzzFeed raised just $16 million going public.

JARRETT: Finally, for you this morning, Stephen Colbert has some thoughts on New York City's expanding its vaccine mandate to include children. Here are your late-night laughs.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": That's not the only new rule for the city. With shots now available for kids, all children between the ages of five and 11 will need proof of at least one shot before entering restaurants, theaters, and gyms.

That's great. We have got to make it safe for our 6-year-olds to hit leg press. Come on, Madison. You think Zuma from Paw Patrol gives up in 350 lbs. Goals are dreams, standards are accountability. Now, squat, my man, squat.



ROMANS: That was good for a laugh.

JARRETT: I, for one, am glad that children need to get vaccinated. It's protecting them, it's protecting us.

ROMANS: I know. I know. All my little cost centers have been shot twice.

JARRETT: Cost centers.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: You still love them.

ROMANS: I do. I do.

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