Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Energy Cost Relief: Prices Fall for Heating, Cooling & Fueling Up; Mark Meadows Now Ending Cooperation with January 6 Committee; Biden Warns Putin of Severe Consequences If Russia Invades Ukraine. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 08, 2021 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It is Wednesday, December 8th. It is 5:00 a.m. in New York. Thanks so much for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Laura Jarrett.


Welcome to our viewers from the United States and around the world.

We begin this morning with an important relief for American consumers. Energy costs are falling now. First, remember, there had been worries home heating bills could double in some cases this winter, but those concerns are melting away here.

A couple of reasons. Warm temperatures and forecasts for warmer weather, and rising production is sending natural gas prices lower, now down about 40 percent from their October peak.

At the same time, your other gas bill, the one at the pump, is also stabilizing. After a relentless crime, recent drops in crude oil prices, they're translating now at the pump. The average per gallon is at a seven-week low, $3.34 per gallon, down about a nickel in just the past few weeks.

Cooling energy costs if they last offer critical relief for household budgets. We're going to get another read on inflation later this week, but in terms of just that real feel indicator of driving your car or heating your home, a little bit of relief here.

JARRETT: Do we know why gas prices have dropped? Is there -- I imagine it's not a simple answer.

ROMANS: You're right.

JARRETT: Is there a main driver here?

ROMANS: It's a big global oil market, and it crashed last year when we stopped driving and our factories shutdown. Now as we're revving back up, those prices went up. Now we're starting to adjust a little bit here. Supply is starting to catch up a little bit better with demand. We'll watch this pretty closely here, but I think the peak for the year might be in terms of gas prices. JARRETT: All right. That is certainly good news for the consumers.

All right. Turning now to the Capitol riot investigation, and this CNN exclusive reporting here. The January 6 Committee has subpoenaed the phone and text records of more than 100 people including former Trump associates and officials like former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Phone providers have already handed over some of what's known as the meta data. It's not the actual contents, but it includes the date, the time, the length of the messages. Meadows himself has already provided reams of documents to the committee.

ROMANS: Last Tuesday, his lawyer sent a letter telling the committee Meadows has decided to stop cooperating. Committee members say if he doesn't show up for a scheduled deposition, they will move for contempt referral to the Justice Department.


REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): It's ridiculous that he is now having refusing to answer questions about it. He needs to come in. If he defies the law, then I don't think we have a lot of choice but to refer this to the house to refer to the Department of Justice.

REP. PETER AGUILAR (D-CA): We will evaluate whether, after he shows up or doesn't show up, what the next steps are. But clearly as the Chairman and Vice Chair Cheney indicated, we're prepared to hold him in contempt if he doesn't show.


ROMANS: We get more now from CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Laura, Christine, it's no doubt a setback for the committee that Mark Meadows is now no longer planning to appears for his deposition on Wednesday. The committee thought they made progress in their negotiations with Meadows and his attorney for him to come forward and provide information about what he knew about the January 6 riots. He had already supplied them with thousands of documents, and they were hoping that this information would help them to glean more information.

But Meadows has had second thoughts. In the letter to the committee, he expressed reservations about what may or may not be covered under the executive privilege as part of that interview. He suggested, perhaps, that he may invoke his 5th Amendment privilege. He expressed concern about the fact the committee had requested phone records for not only him, but for others that are connected to this investigation.

Now, the committee is obviously frustrated by the fact that they've run into roadblocks with not just Mark Meadows, but Jeffrey Clark, Steve Bannon and others. But they have also expressed some optimism that even though there is this small group that's been resistant, that they are still getting cooperation with a lot of other individuals.

Listen to what Adam Schiff told me last night.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We have interviewed in excess of 250 people. These are the outliers. Now, these outliers still have very important information, so I don't want to minimize the fact that we should hear from them. We're going to do everything we can. But nonetheless, the fact that we are moving with expedition to hold them accountable is already bearing results with others.


NOBLES: There is, of course, a time line that this committee is working under. And they did receive the news that the criminal prosecution, the trial of Steve Bannon won't take place until July 18th.

Now, that does not leave them much time if they hope to wrap this investigation up before the midterm elections. And there is a belief here on Capitol Hill that they do need to get it done before the midterms because if Republicans were to take back control of the House, it's likely that this committee's investigation would come to an end -- Laura and Christine.


JARRETT: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill, thank you for laying all of that out.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. He's also the host of the podcast, "That Said with Michael Zeldin".

Michael, good morning.

So, help me out here. What is Meadows up to? We report last week that he is cooperating. The exact contours of that were never clear.

Now, all of a sudden, after providing like 6,000 pages of documents voluntarily, he says, no, I'm actually not going to cooperate, after we also learned that the house has subpoenaed all of their phone records. What do you think is going on?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that he's really falling back on his original position, which is Trump asserted executive privilege. I don't want to defy Trump. So I'm going to stand silent until the executive privilege claim is litigated in the courts. And we know now that December should be the date when the court of appeals rules on that executive privilege claim.

JARRETT: And we'll see whether he complies after that or whether he still tries to fight it and tries to say, actually, my position vis-a- vis is different because Bannon was a former White House aide. I was actually there on January 6.

Let's put that aside for a second. The committee says they still have questions for Meadows. His attorney, George Terwilliger, a very well- known defense attorney, has said, I would like to answer written questions, or my client would like to. I'm sure that's true. You can imagine a host of reasons why it would be easier to have lawyer- answered questions.

Why would the committee ever go for that, though?

ZELDIN: They shouldn't. And if we've learned anything from the Mueller investigation is you don't let people like Meadows or Trump answer in written form because, as you said, the lawyers write the answers. They are very obscure sort of non-transparent answers. And you don't get any value from it.

So I don't think the committee is going to fall for Terwilliger's office.

JARRETT: Where do you see this going? Just taking a step back, we're almost a year out from January 6 now. I just wonder do you feel like the committee is making enough progress for the American people to really get down to the bottom of what happened that day?

The highest level person that seems to be cooperating right now is Marc Short, somebody obviously intimately, you know, can speak to where Pence was on that day, the pressure that he was under. Do you see enough progress really being made or all the delay tactics working?

ZELDIN: Well, yes and no. These types of investigations require a link analysis where you put together the various parts of it in sort of a spider web of information. And from that, you can distill what happened.

So what they're getting here, especially with the metadata from those phone records, they're learning who spoke to who and when? They don't know the content, but they know the communication pattern. And from that you can really distill down to the essence of what's going on here, and then hopefully at some point when this executive privilege falls by the wayside, then these individuals will come in and fill in the missing parts.

So I think, Laura, they are getting what they need to get at this early stage and then hopefully in a little bit more time they'll get to the heart of the matter.

JARRETT: Yeah, for folks at home the metadata is critically important. As you said, it can show sort of the temporal links, who was talking to who regularly, and then they can be more targeted perhaps in their requests for more information.

Michael, thank you for all being here to make sense of it all.

ZELDIN: My pleasure.

JARRETT: Appreciate it.

ZELDIN: My pleasure. Thank you. ROMANS: Breaking overnight, police say they have arrested a man who

set a Christmas tree outside the Fox News studios in Manhattan on fire. You can see from the video a fully decorated tree going up in flames. The fire broke out just after midnight.

Firefighters were able to put out that blaze. No injuries reported, and you know, no word at this hour on a motive. We'll bring you more details as we get them.

JARRETT: Very scary. Glad everyone is okay.

All right. Still ahead for you, President Biden warning Vladimir Putin things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now.

More to come on this pivotal call between the two world leaders next.



JARRETT: Welcome back.

A highly anticipated call in the White House Situation Room, President Biden warning Russian President Vladimir Putin that if he invades Ukraine, the consequence would be severe. This video conference lasting two full hours.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Mr. Biden looked Putin in the eye and said the things U.S. did not do in 2014 when Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine, quote, we are prepared to do now.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We still do not believe that President Putin has made a decision. What President Biden did today was layout very clearly the consequence if he chooses to move. He also laid out an alternative path and ultimately we will see in the days ahead through actions, not through words, what course of action Russia chooses to take.


JARRETT: Sullivan says that the president made the cost of an invasion clear to Putin. He warned the U.S. would provide additional military equipment to Ukraine and NATO allies in the area, as well as impose a range of painful economic sanction.


ROMANS: All right. Let's put this all in perspective with David Sanger, CNN political and national security analyst.

Thank you for joining us bright and early this morning.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. ROMANS: You know, the president making clear that should Russia invade Ukraine, the response would be greater than it was in 2014. Of course, after the annexation of Crimea.

Do you think the call was enough to hold off Putin from invading Ukraine? Do we have any sense of what his motive is here, Putin's motive is here for massing those troops near the border?

SANGER: Good morning to both of you. It's a great question, because the troops could be there to invade, or the troops could be there to get Joe Biden's attention to say that Putin will no longer tolerate Ukraine's very strong drift to the West.

This is, of course, being a recurring issue throughout the post Cold War era because Putin has always believed, as many Russians do, that Ukraine is rightly a part of Russia and never should have been independent. So there are a couple of possibilities here. One is that when the ground freezes and the tanks actually could roll between Russia and Ukraine over that marshy border, that he'll do that.

The second option which might be a little more likely is that they are there both to get our attention and to give the cover for an effort to destabilize the Ukrainian government with this information.

JARRETT: David, in a matter of 24 hours, the president confronted two of, let's call it two of the more complicated relationships we have, both Russia and China, after announcing this diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

What do you make of the president's clear push here against autocracies?

SANGER: So, in the one hand, the president said early in his time in office as far back in March, that the struggle of our time would be autocracy versus democracy and that the test was whether democracies could deliver. And this was in a time when, of course, it looked like some of the autocracies were doing better on COVID than the democracies were. That shifted now a good deal.

I think the bigger question implicit in your observation, your accurate observation that we are once again at odds with our two biggest geopolitical adversaries fits into this Washington debate about whether we're slipping back into Cold War, or Cold War-like behavior, even though the era is quite different. And I think the events of the past couple of days would make you think that we're going to spend the next few years really focused on dealing with these two adversaries.

ROMANS: Yeah, incredibly important situation with both of those, both of those adversaries. And a president who has got a lot of foreign policy chops, and now he's going to be able to -- try to show the world he can use them in this situation.

SANGER: A lot of chops and a lot of troubles.

ROMANS: Yeah, exactly. David Sanger, nice to see you. Thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thanks, David.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

ROMANS: In just a few hours, closing arguments will begin in the trial of former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett.

And in New York, more horrific details in this ongoing trial of Ghislaine Maxwell. What one survivor says Maxwell did to her when she was 14 years old.



ROMANS: In just a few hours closing arguments begin in the trial of former "Empire" star Jussie Smollett.

The actor took the stand in his own defense this week, pushing back hard on the prosecution's theory that he paid two brothers to stage a hate crime against him, and then lied to police about it.

Jury deliberations are expected to start later today.

CNN's Sara Sidner has more on the story from Chicago.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, fireworks in the courtroom as Jussie Smollett took the stand for a second day. He has maintained his innocence throughout, but he is charged with six counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly perpetrating a fake hate crime against himself, blaming it on Trump supporters, and then lying to police about it. He says he is innocent of all charges, but prosecutors trying to poke holes in his testimony on several different levels.

And today, they looked at a particular piece of testimony and video, the video of him in the news. The prosecutor asked him if he had taken that noose off and put it back on when police came to his door. Smollett said he had done that, but taken off the noose and put it back on, not to show the crime was particularly egregious that someone tried to lynch him, but he said he was doing it because he wanted to make sure that he was preserving evidence as he was told by a colleague to do.

The prosecution saying, well, if that is the case, then why did you say this to ABC "Good Morning America"?

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: So, when the police came, I kept the clothes on. I kept the rope --

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: So you had the rope on the entire time?

SMOLLETT: It wasn't like wrapped around, but yeah, it was around, because I wanted them to see. I wanted them to see what this was.

SIDNER: Smollett acknowledged what he said during that interview, but did not acknowledge the inconsistencies with what he testified to during the trial. And then there is the issue of the Osundairo brothers, one of whom was Smollett's trainer. They testified that, indeed, they were hired by Smollett in order to carry out this fake attack on him.


Smollett responded to what they had said on the stand, calling the two of them liars -- Christine, Laura.


JARRETT: Sarah Sidner in Chicago, thank you.

I New York, more disturbing testimony at Ghislaine Maxwell's sex trafficking trial. A familiar pattern is emerging here. Young women lured into giving massages to this wealthy financier, only soon to be caught up in a web of abuse.

A third accuser now testifying Tuesday that when she was 14, Maxwell inspected her body, giving her approval for Jeffrey Epstein and his friends.

We get more on this trial from CNN's Kara Scannell.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: A woman testified that when she was 14 years old, Ghislaine Maxwell touched her naked breasts, her hips, and her buttocks just before she gave Jeffrey Epstein a massage. She alleged that Maxwell told her she had a great body for Epstein and his friends.

The alleged victim who testified using only her first name Carolyn is the third accuser to appear at the trial. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Carolyn testified that she was introduced to Epstein and Maxwell by Virginia Roberts, another young woman who told her she could be paid hundreds of dollars in cash for giving Epstein massages.

Carolyn testified beginning when she was 14, and until she was 18 years old, she gave Epstein over 100 massages. Seeing him two to three times a week, each time she was paid at least $300 in $100 bills.

In details and at times emotional testimony, Carolyn said that initially she wore her underwear during the massages but ultimately took the clothing off. The massages she said included sexual activity every single time. Sometimes she testified they turned into group sex involving a mix of Epstein, his friends, or other women.

She also said she told Maxwell and Epstein her true age because they wanted her to travel to Epstein's Caribbean island, and she said her mother would never let her leave the country. In addition to cash, Carolyn also received gifts, yes, lingerie from Victoria's Secret and concert tickets.

Epstein asked her to bring friends her age or younger but she told him she didn't hang out with younger people. She did bring three friends around her age and was paid $600 for those massages. She said the massages stopped when she was about 18 years old, after the birth of her son when Epstein asked again if she had any younger friends. He said I became too old, she testified.

Carolyn said she was called by Maxwell and others to set up some of these appointments to give Epstein a massage, but she acknowledged she initiated some of them on her own. She was young and $300 was a lot of money. She said that she used that money to buy drugs to block out her experiences during the massages.

Prosecutors said they expect to rest their case this week -- Christine, Laura.


ROMANS: Kara, thank you so much for that.

All right, good news for American workers. Come the New Year, you could be in for a raise.