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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Hundreds of Flights Cancelled Before Christmas Amid Omicron Surge; CDC Cuts Health Worker Isolation to 7 Days After Positive Test; Jury Convicts Minnesota Ex-Officer Who Fired Her Gun Instead of Taser; Trump Asks SCOTUS to Consider Executive Privilege Over 1/6 Docs. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 24, 2021 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It is Friday, December 24th, 5:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Merry Christmas Eve, everyone. Thanks for getting an EARLY START on this holiday for 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.

ROMANS: All right. Breaking overnight, a lump of coal for holiday travelers, hundreds of flights canceled just before Christmas Eve. The reason, omicron.

United and Delta lighting up most of the cancellation boards. United saying: The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation.

REID: Alaska Airlines canceled some flights as well. There's been disagreement in the industry on how to handle this new pandemic surge as air travel rebounds to pre-pandemic levels.

CNN's Pete Muntean has the latest from Reagan National Airport.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Paula, things are getting busier by the moment here at Reagan National Airport. In fact, some of the numbers we have seen are already higher than where they were back in 2019 before the pandemic. The TSA screened 2.08 million people at airports across the country on Wednesday. That number actually higher than the same day back in 2019, 1.84 screened back then two years ago.

Just a bit of context here, though. That same Wednesday two years ago, that was Christmas day itself when passenger loads are low, but even still we have seen numbers at or near 2 million per day for 2 million per day for a week straight.

Passengers tell us they feel pretty confident about traveling right now, but we have seen long lines at airports across the country to get tested for coronavirus. This one at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, there was a line for testing either earth because of international travel requirements or holiday gatherings. Airlines insist traveling is safe now, so safe they are asking the CDC to shorten the required isolation period for somebody who gets coronavirus who is already fully vaccinated.

The recommendation right now is ten days. Airlines want it to be shortened to five days because they say it will allow them to keep more airline workers on the job and avoid operational problems like we saw this fall -- Christine, Paula.


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

A disagreement is emerging in the airline industry how to respond to breakthrough COVID cases. As Pete just said, the airline's top lobbying group wants shorter vaccination time for vaccinated airline workers who test positive from the ten days currently down to five. This plea from Delta Airlines to the CDC earlier this week, warning, quote, with the rapid spread of the omicron variant, it may significantly impact our work force and operations.

The flight union wants the CDC to keep the isolation period as it is. It calls ten days a prudent middle ground. The union says the decision should be based on science, not staffing and should be made by public health officials, not airlines.

REID: With all the discussion about isolation times, a big change from the Centers for Disease Control. Health care workers who test positive for COVID no longer need to isolate for ten days. Under the updated guidance, the CDC says they can return to work after seven days if they test negative and have no symptoms. And the agency says that isolation time can be cut further if there are staffing shortages.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I welcome it. It's been a long time coming. And my guess is that the CDC has been watching closely what's going on in the United Kingdom. London has seen a 125 percent increase in sick days for health care workers in the city of London over the last week.

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It was made out of necessity. The most important thing right now is to preserve the integrity of our health care system. We cannot have our hospitals be at such over capacity simply because we don't have enough doctors, nurses and other workers. I think this is the right move for that reason.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: It is a step in the right direction. I think it's long coming. There's no reason that people are fully vaccinated need a ten-day isolation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) REID: New real world analysis from the UK reinforcing data from the last few days hospitalization is lower with the omicron variant compared to delta. Because omicron is so much more contagious, they are still concerned the new surge could lead too big, big numbers of people being hospitalized.


HILLARY HAWKINGS, NURSE MANAGER, EMERGENCY DEPT., DARTHMOUTH HITCHCOCK MEDICAL CENTER: This surge has been the most acutely ill patients that we've ever seen. They are young. They're unvaccinated. They have -- we can't allow the visitors in.


The ones that can speak that aren't requiring ventilators tell us they wish they got vaccinated. Unfortunately most of these patients are gasping for breath and can't actually talk to us. We are exhausted and I'm not sure how long this is going to keep up.


REID: New York City adjusting plans for New Year's Eve in Times Square. Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing a scaled-back celebration with a maximum of 15,000 people allowed in and masks required for all. Normally, about four times that number are packed into Times Square on New Year's Eve.

ROMANS: More good news on new COVID treatments. For the second time in a week, the FDA green lighting a pill to fight the virus. For this to make a dent in the pandemic, testing capacity and turnaround time will need to improve.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has more.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Paula, on Thursday the FDA authorized a second antiviral pill to treat COVID- 19. The first was from Pfizer. Now this one from Merck.

Now, it's important to point out something about both Merck's and Pfizer's antiviral pill. They were taken early, within five days of the on set of symptoms. So you have to know that you have the symptoms. You have to get tested for COVID.

Call the doctor. Get the doctor to call in the prescription. That can take time especially as we've seen. There have been issues with testing. Let's take a look at a comparison between Pfizer's antiviral and Merck's antiviral. For Pfizer's antiviral, there was an 88 percent reduction in risk for hospitalization or death and it was authorized for people ages 12 and up.

For Merck there was a 30 percent reduction in risk. And this is important, the FDA said to use it only when there are no alternatives available. The concern is about side effects. So Merck's pill is only for adults because there are concerns about side effects for children. Also it is not recommended for pregnant women.

We should see supplies of these drugs ramping up in the coming weeks. But remember, a vaccine is better. It's better to prevent COVID-19 than to get it and treat it because these pills don't work 100 percent -- Christine, Paula.


REID: A former Minnesota police officer is facing years in prison convicted of killing a young man at a traffic stop.




KATIE BRYANT, DAUNTE WRIGHT'S MOTHER: We are grateful as we were able to have accountability. Burr like but like everybody has been saying, you know, we still don't have Daunte home. And this is just a step forward in the bigger issue with policing and hopefully there has to be no more Dauntes.


REID: Daunte Wright's mother grateful for accountability but grieving her loss. The former Minnesota police officer convicted of killing her son convicted of manslaughter. Kimberly Potter pulled Wright over for a hanging air freshener and expired tags. A stop, while she was training another officer, that quickly went off the rails.

ROMANS: Remember, video footage like this has played a crucial role in a number of high profile cases. The prosecution of Derek Chauvin, Kyle Rittenhouse and killers of Ahmaud Arbery. For Kim Potter, guidelines recommend a sentence roughly between 6 to 8 1/2 years in prison.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus is on the ground in Minneapolis.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We the jury on the charge of manslaughter in the first degree find the defendant guilty.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kimberly Potter guilty on both counts of manslaughter tonight in Minnesota.

Daunte Wright's parents relieved by the verdict.

REPORTER: How do you feel?

BROADDUS: While Potter's husband could be heard yelling, "I love you, Kim" after her bail was revoked as she was escorted from the court in handcuffs. Potter said she intended to deploy her Taser during a traffic stop in

April, but fired her gun instead, killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright, almost instantly.

KIM POTTER, FORMER OFFICER: I shot him! Oh, my god!

BROADDUS: Shortly after the verdict, crowds outside the courthouse chanted Wright's name. While the state pushed to reassure Potter's police family.

KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: When a member of your profession is held accountable, it does not diminish you. In fact, it shows, it shows the whole world that those of you who enforce the law are also willing to live by it.

BROADDUS: The jury took nearly 27 hours to deliberate whether Potter's actions were criminal. Over eight days in Minneapolis, jurors heard from 33 witnesses, including tearful testimony from Potter herself.

POTTER: I didn't want to shoot anybody.

BROADDUS: The defense aimed to prove she was protecting her fellow officers during a risky traffic stop.

EARL GRAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She didn't cause this and she had a right to use deadly force.

BROADDUS: In closing arguments, they faulted Wright for not cooperating with law enforcement.

GRAY: She says, Taser, Taser, Taser, and he said, okay. Stop, I give up. No, no, Daunte Wright caused his own death unfortunately.

BROADDUS: The state pushed back.

ERIN ELDRIDGE, MINNESOTA ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Carrying a badge and a gun is not a license to kill.

BROADDUS: The state asked jurors not to focus on potter's intention, but on the consequence of her actions.

ELDRIDGE: This was a colossal screw up, a blunder of epic proportions. It was irreversible and it was fatal.

BROADDUS: Wright's family reacting to the news outside court.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I only have one thing to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES: We love you, Daunte!


BROADDUS (on camera): And when the verdict was read on Thursday, we learned members of the jury found Potter guilty on that second degree manslaughter charge Tuesday morning. That was the same day members of the jury asked the court what steps they should take if they were unable to reach a consensus. So it appears they were hung up on that first degree manslaughter charge. And now we know the outcome. Potter found guilty on both counts of manslaughter -- Christine and Paula.

REID: The Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons has spared Governor Greg Abbott some potential political trouble by withdrawing a clemency recommendation for the late George Floyd. Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis officer's knee on his neck and Floyd and two other names were scrubbed from the clemency list over what it called procedural errors. At first the board recommended a full posthumous pardon for a 2004 drug conviction.


The board says it will resubmit the procedures.

ROMANS: In Los Angeles, a 14-year-old girl was shot and killed in a department store dressing room when a police officer fired at a man suspected in an attack. Now, officials say they will release body cam video on Monday that captured the officer's response to the apparent assault at a Burlington coat factory. Now, the suspect was gunned down and the woman he was attacking was injured when police opened fire. Police say the girl who was in a connecting dressing room was hit when bullets pierced the wall.

REID: The district attorney in Jefferson County, Colorado, is preparing to ask a judge to shorten the sentence of the truck driver in the fatal 2019 crash to 20 to 30 years. The original sentence of 110 years for Rogel Aguilera-Mederos sparked a national outcry after the cause of the crash was determined to be brake failure. The governor's office is also reviewing the driver's request for clemency.

But a brother of one of the four victims said Aguilera-Mederos should serve time.


DUANE BAILEY, BROTHER KILLED BY TRUCK DRIVER WHO WAS SENTENCED TO 110 YEARS: We thought that he should stay out of it honestly until the court proceedings has been done. Accident reconstruction that day showed his truck went directly between two semis. I'm not going to say what his intent was. It is pretty obvious to me he saved his life without regard to people there.


ROMANS: The sentencing earlier this month, the district judge said he was bound by the state's mandatory minimum sentence laws. A hearing is set for Monday.

REID: And bogus claims have real consequence. Why two Georgia election workers are suing Rudy Giuliani and a TV channel for amplifying phony claims of voter fraud.



ROMANS: Two Georgia election workers accuse former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and one America news of destroying their reputations and prompting Trump supporters to constantly harass them. In a new lawsuit, Ruby Freeman and Shea Moss say the pro-Trump media voices spread lies during the 2016 vote count. The suit says both women are afraid to live normal lives.

OAN and Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment. Both already face multi-billion dollar destination suits from Dominion Voting Systems.

And, Paula, on a legal standpoint this is fascinating. These are private citizens all around the country really, but these two specifically calling out OAN and Giuliani it's almost like their civic duty to be elections. And they're being demeaned or defamed or say they are being demeaned or defamed for being that important part of democracy.

REID: That's right, being accused of being part of a conspiracy, being accused of no properly executing their jobs. You can't say these things. There is no evidence to support this.

But not only is their reputation at stake, these are people who fear for their lives. They have been harassed. People have shown up to their homes. Absolutely this defamation case is one of several working its way through the courts stemming from false claims that were made in the wake of the election.

As you noted, hopefully it does not deter good people from wanting to be involved in the democratic process.

ROMANS: Yeah, that would have a chilling effect. That's not what we want.

REID: And former President Trump is asking the Supreme Court to keep documents away from the January 6 committee. They believe the information will help it go behind the scenes of the days of the riot. Lower courts have ruled the documents don't belong to Trump personally, but to the office of the presidency.

And, of course, President Biden has not been willing to defend executive privilege for these documents.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Paula, they are trying to decide how to proceed. Trump's legal team is asking for two things. First, they want the justices to take up this case. They are arguing this case raises novel issues of executive privilege, mostly, how much weight a former president has to assert that privilege.

But more importantly and more pressing for the former president, his lawyers are also asking the justices to keep any turnover of the documents on hold while they decide whether to take up the full case. And they've been successful so far in blocking hundreds of documents from being handed over to the committee, despite losing at both courts below.

And these records really would be key for the committee to find out what Trump was doing on and leading up to January 6th. These records include handwritten notes from his then chief of staff Mark Meadows, drafts of speeches, visitor and call logs from the White House. All of it Trump wants kept secret.

The current President Joe Biden has said he will not block the documents, and so far the two courts below said he gets to make the decision, not Trump. So we'll see if the Supreme Court takes up the case. And if they block those documents in the meantime, but the court could move quickly here. They don't have to. These documents, they will remain blocked from the committee until the Supreme Court acts.

The justices aren't scheduled to conference until that first week of January. That's when they could decide whether or not to take up this case. But the justices likely won't wait too long. They'll be aware this case is time sensitive, and the committee, of course, is looking to ramp up this investigation in the next few months, and these documents are definitely key -- Paula and Christine.


ROMANS: All right, Jessica.

Paula, you've been covering the January 6th committee extensively. This question of executive privilege is something the Supreme Court has never really resolved, right?

REID: Well, certainly not the question that they've been posed here, which is what protections do a former president have to a congressional request when the current president does not want to assert executive privilege. That is a novel constitutional question.

It's unclear, though, if the court will take it up. Look, it is possible that these documents are covered by executive privilege, but historically the Supreme Court has said this particular privilege, it's not absolute. And here, President Biden has repeatedly said he's not going to assert privilege here, citing the extraordinary circumstances of January 6th.

But, look, if they do take this up depending on the outcome, there could be enormous implications for the investigation. Several people according to the chief of staff who are relying on this idea of protecting themselves via executive privilege.


ROMANS: Certainly an unprecedented territory again.

What's in store for the holiday weekend forecast? That plus Audi saves the day for a game show contestant who lost on a technicality. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REID: Santa will deliver chestnut roasting heat to some and a rare white Christmas to others. You may remember that June heat wave in the Pacific Northwest with temperatures topping 110 degrees. Now, Oregon is under a state of emergency for severe winter weather.

Here is meteorologist Karen Maginnis.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Holiday travelers, be aware for the West Coast because the snow is coming down, even for Seattle and Portland. For Portland, it's been since 2008 that we've seen this kind of snowfall. And the rainfall right around San Francisco, but also for Los Angeles to San Diego, we may see some record-breaking rainfall here.

Interior west, the snow is going to be very significant. Then the flip side to all of that it looks like it's flip-flop weather in Texas and the deep south where temperatures are running 20 to 30 degrees above where they should be for this time of year. We've got low 80s, Dallas, El Paso, Lubbock, Houston. Chicago has not seen measurable snowfall. Yeah, a few flakes here and there, but that's about it. Normal is 34. It's going to be 50s for Friday.

Into the Northeast, New York City, a little bit wet there, but for Boston, could see an icy mixture by Christmas Day. Have a great Christmas, everyone. Thanks, you guys.

ROMANS: Thank you. And you, too.

Most superheroes won't do more in a day than Devon Johnson did December 9. The 11-year-old saved a classmate from choking on a water bottle cap. Later the same day, he helped a woman escape a house fire.

Devon was named an honorary police officer, honorary deputy and given a heroism award for his good deeds, all in one day. Man with a big future.

EARLY START continues right now.