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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

House Votes To Hold Mark Meadows In Contempt Of Congress; Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear Says Debris Is Dense, Recovery Challenging; U.K. Prime Minister's Conservative Party Rebels Against New COVID Rules. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 15, 2021 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good Wednesday morning, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Laura Jarrett. It's about 30 minutes past the hour here in New York and it's time for our top stories to keep an eye on today.

The full House of Representatives voted last night to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. Meadows stopped cooperating with the January 6 Committee investigation. Now the Justice Department will decide whether to pursue criminal charges against him. More on all of this in just a moment.

ROMANS: New data expected today on how effective vaccines are against the Omicron variant. So far, research out of South Africa points to Omicron sneaking past just two doses of vaccines but may cause milder symptoms.

JARRETT: President Biden is expected in Kentucky this morning to survey damage from those devastating tornadoes that killed dozens of people and displaced thousands. He'll take an aerial tour of Mayfield and speak to local leaders on the ground there.

ROMANS: Students in Oxford, Michigan back in class this morning after the school shooting that left four dead two weeks ago. A court hearing for the parents of the suspected shooter is being postponed until February. They are accused of giving their son access to the gun.

JARRETT: Alabama authorities are searching for a convicted kidnapper accidentally released from jail. Matthew Amos Burke pleaded guilty last year to kidnapping Elton Stephens, a prominent businessman. It's unclear what caused this mix-up.

ROMANS: Experts say a former NFL player who killed six people before shooting himself had an unusually severe brain disease linked to head injuries from repeated hits and concussions. A Boston University neuropathologist says Phillip Adams had stage two CTE in his frontal lobes, which may have contributed to his abnormal behavior. JARRETT: Well, Madam Commissioner. The NYPD will be headed up by its first female chief, Nassau County chief of detectives Keechant Sewell. She is a Queens native whose grandfather was an NYPD officer. An official announcement is expected later this morning.

ROMANS: All right, to our top story this morning.

Overnight, the House voted to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress and referred the case to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to prosecute him. Meadows has refused to sit for a deposition with the January 6 Committee after initially partially cooperating.

JARRETT: Meadows' intimate knowledge of President Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election were on display this week with all of those text messages revealed by the House committee.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): On November fourth, a member of this body wrote to Meadows "Here's an aggressive strategy." One day after the election, "why can't the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other Republican-controlled statehouses declare this is B.S. (where conflicts and election not called that night) and just send their -- just send their own electors to vote and have it go to the SCOTUS?"


ROMANS: Aggressive strategy -- wow.

JARRETT: To say the least.

ROMANS: Right.

Where does Meadows go from here? It's time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in CNN politics senior writer Zach Wolf. Morning, Zach.

JARRETT: Zach, so good to see you --

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning.

JARRETT: -- this morning.

WOLF: You, too.

JARRETT: So, help me out here. Let's take -- let's take a step back. I think back to the Russia investigation and all of the damning information that came out about all of the former president's contacts and people from his inner circle -- everything that was there. And yet, at the end of the day, it essentially went nowhere and has essentially vanished from the public consciousness.

We're now in a situation where we had the worst attack on the Capitol since 1812. We have damning text messages from a man who occupied one of the highest positions in the White House, talking about election fraud openly and secretly via text message.

How does the committee make sure that this investigation essentially stays relevant and stays with the public as something that truly matters?

WOLF: Well, if you think that somehow there are going to be charges for Donald Trump out of this or if there's going to be -- the Justice Department seems to be keeping this almost at an arm's length. So, I don't think we're going to see some sort of legal accountability, or at least not in terms of what we've seen so far.

But it is important to know what happened and to keep, I think, people's feet to the fire and to truly understand how deeply this was entrenched at the White House and how potentially involved people directly around President Trump were in essentially this effort to take over the government.


He's already been impeached for this -- President Trump -- former President Trump, so it's not like they're going to do that again. But I think it's important that we know exactly what was happening because this guy is -- all indications are he's running for president again.

JARRETT: I think part of the trouble is so much of this was done in plain sight.

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: He didn't -- he didn't secretly tell people on the mall go storm the Capitol. He told them right for everybody to hear. And so, so much of this is coming out and the text messages are revealing to show the behind-the-scenes. But so much of this we knew. We saw it for ourselves.

ROMANS: It's also important I think to just show the stark contrast between what right-wing media has been saying about the whitewashing of this whole event, right, and what really, they were having -- saying on that day. So I think that's important -- really important, too.

Let's talk about this. Dustin Stockton, an organizer of the insurrection, spoke with CNN last night about how he now feels about Donald Trump.


DUSTIN STOCKTON, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: Definitely, a sense of betrayal. It's really hard, like, to -- it's been something that I've really struggled to come to terms with because this was somebody who we sacrificed for. We invested our lives and our time. And in a lot of ways, the warning signs were there. We saw other people come forward from his inner circle. Essentially, he abandons people when the going gets tough for people.

And, you know, in some ways, it's embarrassing to think that in a lot of ways we bought into what essentially turned out to be a bluff or a con.


ROMANS: That's so revealing. You know, there's still places all over the country that are trying to give legislators the power to overturn elections, right? What happens next?

WOLF: Well, that's a good point. And we're talking about what the accountability from the January 6 Committee will be maybe not so much. There is already a lot that's happening that's going to affect the next election at the local level.

CNN has reported on this. Sara Murray and Jeremy Herb had a really fascinating story earlier about people at the local level -- Trump supporters -- people who disagree with the election outcome who are getting into very kind of niche poll-watcher type of jobs that will have control over what happens in the coming election at the very low local level. That doesn't mean they're going to change votes or anything.

But at the -- at the -- in the next election, there will be a whole different group of people in key states like Michigan, like Pennsylvania who are overseeing local elections. And that is kind of a frightening thing considering what happened in the last election where they actively tried to overthrow it.

JARRETT: Zach, I also want to ask you about this new lawsuit from the D.C. attorney general's office suing the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers over the Capitol riot, essentially using a law that was created to take down the KKK. It seems as though we've moved into the phase of trying to look for creative waves to hold these people accountable on a civil level. I mean, I think back to the trial in Charlottesville.

WOLF: Yes, and this seems very similar to that. But can we just pause and think for a second about how we're having to dip back into laws that were created for the KKK to try to hold people accountable for overthrowing the government?


WOLF: This is not a 2021 -- should not be a 2021 issue, but here we are.

ROMANS: Here we are.

All right, CNN Politics, Zach Wolf. Nice to see you this morning. Thanks, Zach,

WOLF: Thanks.

ROMANS: In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a bill that would allow the Capitol Police chief to directly call on the National Guard or the federal -- or federal law enforcement during an emergency. Both Republicans and Democrats say bureaucracy was partly to blame for a delayed federal response to that January sixth insurrection.

JARRETT: To Kentucky now, where thousands could be without power for months. This arduous task of rebuilding shattered communities is well underway after the deadliest day of December tornadoes in U.S. history.

A candlelight vigil was held last night in Mayfield, one of the hardest-hit towns in western Kentucky in a region where at least 74 people lost their lives.

ROMANS: In Bowling Green, the tornado claimed six family members on Friday night, a relative told CNN -- six family members. Parents Rachel and Stephen Brown were with their four kids and Rachel's mother when the tornado hit.

And survivors' guilt now burdens some who tried to save people after the tornado.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a mom, to know that my son is safe and I can't help save the life of that baby. I just kept on trying to breathe life into him.


JARRETT: A Kentucky candle factory survivor said a supervisor told him he would be fired if he left that place ahead of the storm, a just unconscionable claim. But a company spokesperson has denied it.


CNN's Brynn Gingras is on the ground for us in Mayfield.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Christine and Laura, the president visiting devastated areas of Kentucky. This, as search and recovery efforts continue all across this state.

Sombering news, though, coming from teams here in Mayfield where at least eight people died at that candle factory. Officials believe they have located everyone who was inside. The governor saying the debris is so dense, though, it's possible cadaver dogs just can't detect anyone else who may be buried.

We talked to one man who survived after he was crushed in what he estimates as 15 feet of rubble. Listen to how he describes the moments he was freed.

JIM DOUGLAS, TRAPPED IN CANDLE FACTORY RUBBLE: I think the guy said I see him right below this glass, and there was a door with glass in it. And he said, "James, close your eyes." So I closed my eyes and they broke the glass. And the guy who was at my feet -- he kind of grabbed the back of my shorts and a couple of guys grabbed my arm and they just yanked me out.

GINGRAS (on camera): Douglas says all those people who saved him are his heroes and says he thanks them for giving him a second chance at life.

A state investigation into the factory has been opened, and OSHA is looking into the conditions there at the Amazon facility in Illinois. Investigations could take months to complete -- Christine and Laura.


ROMANS: All right, Brynn. Thank you for being there for us.

President Biden is still planning to restart student loan payments in February, resisting pressure from some Democrats who are calling for another extension of COVID relief. Borrower balances have effectively been frozen since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. For almost two years, interest has stopped adding up on -- and collections on defaulted debt has been on hold.

The administration has made clear the more recent extension until January 31st, 2022 would be the final extension -- bottom line. Collectively, borrowers will be paying roughly $7 billion a month once the payments resume.

We'll be right back.



JARRETT: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now facing major resistance from his own party. Members of Johnson's Conservative Party voted against his new COVID health protocols to stem the spread of the Omicron variant. The policy did pass, though, thanks largely to support from the Opposition Party.

Salma Abdelaziz is live for us in London on this story. So, Salma, Johnson is already in all this hot water over all the allegations that his staff held that Christmas party last December when the country was under lockdown. Now, this.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely. This was the first real test of the prime minister's authority, his credibility, his ability to wield his own political power within his party, and I can tell you he's probably not happy with the results. Almost 100 conservative lawmakers -- his own party members -- voted against these measures.

Now, they take particular issue -- and I'm going to separate these two issues here. They take particular issue with the requirement for COVID certificates. Essentially, that you have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to go into large venues, like nightclubs. But at the very same time, you have to look at the bigger picture

here, Laura. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been seen since he took office in 2019 as a winner -- as a success story. As the person who can get stuff done, including Brexit. If his own MPs now don't see him as that winner -- now don't see him as that leader, as evidenced by the fact that dozens of them voted against these measures, that's when you start to see cracks in the system.

He's absolutely embroiled in this scandal that parties (plural) took place in Downing Street last year during lockdown.

He's taken a huge hit to his moral authority at a time when the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly through this country. It's already the dominant strain here in London. So, he just passed by the skin of his teeth. But the first question is if Omicron gets worse and Boris Johnson needs more measures put through, how is he going to win his party over?

And then, there is that larger issue of his position of power after these scandals -- and I'm going to say scandals (plural) because this is quite a scandal-prone administration -- is he still seen as that charismatic leader who can push the Conservative Party through anything -- through any issue? Who can get voters from every corner of the country to vote Conservative even if they've never voted Conservative before?

That's really the question for MPs who, right now, if they start worrying about their own political power, about their own seats in Parliament, that's when you can begin to see them turn on their prime minister. And yes, that wouldn't happen overnight. But a mutiny could mean a no-confidence vote. It could mean that Boris Johnson would fight for his political survival -- Laura.

JARRETT: All right, a lot to watch there. Salma, thank you.

Back here in the U.S., a rare meeting of the minds. The federal government now joining hands with hackers to identify vulnerabilities within their software systems. The Department of Homeland Security is launching the Bug Bounty program, offering up to $5,000 to hackers who help identify cybersecurity weaknesses. This, as cyber officials warn that hackers are exploiting a newly-revealed vulnerability in software used by some of the world's biggest tech firms.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Wednesday morning. Looking at markets around the world, Asian shares closed mixed -- Tokyo up, and Hong Kong down almost one percent. And Europe has opened mixed as well. On Wall Street, a mixed look at stock index futures.

Stocks closed lower for the second day in a row on Tuesday. Markets fell after new inflation data showed record producer prices. This is inflation in the supply chains with suppliers-charged businesses.

The Federal Reserve, whose job it is to fight inflation, wrapping up its two-day policy meeting today. The central bank is expected to wind down its bond-buying program sooner than planned. We'll be looking for hints when the Fed will start raising interest rates next year. A hint to you: refinance that mortgage if you're thinking about it.


The Labor Department launching an investigation into allegations from an Apple whistleblower. Former Apple employee Ashley Gjovik says OSHA has opened an investigation based on the complaint she filed earlier this year. Gjovik claims she was fired on September ninth in retaliation for reporting her concerns about unsafe working conditions and workplace harassment.

Apple, a famously secretive company, says it has always been committed to maintaining a positive and inclusive environment.

A pleasant surprise for those sending holiday gifts. Your packages are arriving on time. Data shows that deliveries of packages by UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service are all moving at close to 100 percent on-time performance. One expert says it could be due to three factors: the carriers' added capacity, consumers were shopping in stores, and after so much talk about supply chain issues many people ordering or shopping early.

JARRETT: Great news, for sure.

All right, now to this. Steph Curry making history at Madison Square Garden last night, setting the all-time NBA record for the most 3- pointers.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Coy.


This was not a question of if, but when Warriors superstar Steph Curry would break Hall of Famer Ray Allen's record. Curry heading into last night's game against the Knicks needing just two 3-pointers to own the top spot. And you know what? He did not waste any time making it happen.

The two-time MVP tied the record with his first shot of the night -- there it is. And he blew a kiss up to the sky. And then he got number 2,974 in this third shot of the night about 4 1/2 minutes into the game. Curry's teammates joining in on the celebration while the fans there at MSG giving him a standing ovation.

Hugs all around -- first, from dad, former NBA player Dell Curry. He gave him the game ball there. Mom was there, too.

And then there was the man who is now number two on the all-time list, Ray Allen. After the game, while Curry was being interviewed on TNT, Reggie Miller, who has the third-most 3-pointers in history -- and Allen -- they surprised him with a 2974 jersey.


STEPH CURRY, NBA ALL-TIME 3-POINT LEADER: I never wanted to call myself the greatest shooter until I got this record. So, I'm comfortable saying that now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When people say who is the greatest shooter of all

time now --

CURRY (raises hands): I got that, baby.


WIRE: All right, check out Knicks superfan Spike Lee documenting this historic moment. He got down on the ground with his camera to capture the moment from a different perspective. And here's Spike's photo. It turned out to be really cool on Steph's big night.

OK. All right -- now, meantime, professional sports are being hit hard by a surge in COVID cases. A league source tells CNN that 28 NFL players tested positive yesterday. That's in addition to 37 players testing positive on Monday. The two-day total more than doubles the number of cases in the previous two weeks.

The NHL postponing its ninth game this season because of multiple players testing positive.

And in the NBA, the Lakers canceled a scheduled practice session yesterday after it reported a positive test result. A plethora of players in the NBA will miss time as a result of being placed in the league's health and safety protocols. Thirty-one players are on the list according to CBS Sports, including Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning Finals MVP. He'll be out for tonight's game against the Pacers.

In Brooklyn, the Nets -- they were nearly forced to cancel their matchup with the Raptors. Seven players in the NBA's health and safety protocols, including superstar James Harden -- they had the league minimum eight players available for this game. Kevin Durant, questionable right before game time because of a sore ankle, but put Brooklyn on his back. K.D. playing every single minute of the second half in overtime, finishing with 34 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Brooklyn wins 131-129.

Christine, Laura, they're going to be without a big chunk of their roster due to these protocols.


WIRE: It's a 10-day period before they can return or two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour period. They're hoping to have everyone back for the big showdown on Christmas Day with the Lakers.

JARRETT: You know, you think back to those early days with the bubble, and that worked.


JARRETT: But now that they've gotten back to real life it's much harder. ROMANS: Maybe it's the COVID x factor --


ROMANS: -- for coaches. I can't imagine how difficult it is to try to plan your strategy when --

WIRE: That's right.

ROMANS: -- all this is happening.

Coy, nice to see you. Thank you.

WIRE: You, too -- thanks.

JARRETT: Thanks, Coy.

All right. Finally, this morning, an uninvited holiday guest -- Christine, close your eyes -- a venomous snake in a couple's Christmas tree. Rob and Marcela Wild just finished decorating their tree in South Africa when they spotted their cat staring at its branches. That's when they noticed a Boomslay snake, one of the most venomous in Africa, lurking among the tinsel and the ornaments. The couple called a professional snake catcher to retrieve the reptile.

ROMANS: It puts the "s" in Christmas tree. Oh, Christmas tree. Oh, I hate snake stories. L.J., thank you.

Thanks for joining us, everybody.


JARRETT: He did it just for you.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans.

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, December 15th, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

Breaking overnight, an extraordinary moment in the insurrection probe. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows held in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the January sixth attack --