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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. And Russia Begin Talks Over Ukraine As Tensions Rise; Biden Confronts Challenges To Democracy At Home And Abroad; Autoshop Owner Sued After Dumping 500 Pounds Of Pennies On Ex-Employee's Driveway. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, it is Monday morning. Good Monday -- good morning, everybody. This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

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


BOB SAGET, ACTOR, "FULL HOUSE": How you doing? I'm Danny Tanner, D.J.'s dad.


JARRETT: Tributes are pouring in this morning for actor Bob Saget. The comedian best known for playing the likable father on "FULL HOUSE" has died. His body was found in an Orlando hotel room. There were no signs of foul play or drug use. Bob Saget was 65 years old.

ROMANS: A stunning court victory for Novak Djokovic. A judge in Australia ordering the government to restore the tennis star's visa and release him from immigration detention. The government warned it may still cancel his visa for a second time ahead of next week's Australian Open.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is like a family, you know? I mean, we lost a lot of lives. I see these people every day. It's hurtful.


JARRETT: One of the worst fires in New York City history. A blaze in a Bronx apartment building Sunday leaving 19 people dead, including nine children, sending another 32 people to the hospital. Officials say the fire started from a faulty space heater.

ROMANS: A cloud of pessimism hanging over talks between the U.S. and Russia this morning. The Biden administration hoping to head off a Russian invasion of Ukraine without conceding to the Kremlin's security demands. A live report from Geneva just moments away.

JARRETT: Chicago Public Schools have canceled classes for the fourth consecutive day as the district and teachers union haggle over COVID protocols. This, as the Biden administration's vaccine mandate begins today for large businesses. That mandate, though, could potentially be blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

ROMANS: All right, do you remember this iconic video from last August -- a lost infant boy handed by his father to a soldier in the chaos of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan? The child has now been reunited with his relatives in Kabul. Somehow, he was found at that airport by a 29-year-old taxi driver who took him home. The driver finally turned the baby over after seven weeks of negotiations.

JARRETT: Incredible.

Overnight, talks between the U.S. and Russia beginning in Geneva, all while Russia steps up its pressure campaign on the Ukraine bit by bit. But officials are publicly pessimistic about the prospects.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us live in Geneva with more. Alex, good morning.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Laura. That's right -- these talks are now underway, taking place here in Geneva at the U.S. Mission. The U.S. side represented by the Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; the Russians, by the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

And you're right. There has not been much optimism going into these talks. The U.S. side saying that they are going in with a sense of realism when it talks of speaking with the Russians. They have two decades of experience in talking about European security.

The Russians saying that they have been disappointed by the signals from Washington ahead of these talks. And part of the reason is that both sides want to talk about different things. Russia wants to talk about NATO enlargement and NATO's presence in the east near Russia. They want to talk about Ukraine never being allowed to join NATO.

The U.S. has firmly said they don't want to talk about Ukraine without Ukraine. They don't want to talk about Europe or NATO without those parties in the room. And so, there is a fundamental disagreement as they go into these talks over the scope of these direct talks between the U.S. and Russia.

On Sunday, our colleague Jake Tapper asked the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, what was on the table. Take a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think we're going to see any breakthroughs in the coming -- in the coming week. We're going to be able to put things on the table. The Russians will do the same. It's hard to see making actual progress as opposed to talking in an

atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine's head. So, if we're actually going to make progress we're going to have to see de- escalation -- Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.


MARQUARDT: So, Blinken there saying he does not expect to see any breakthroughs -- interestingly, allowing for the possibility that weaponry could be pulled out of Poland.

But, Laura, the U.S. side has said that there are a number of things that can be discussed in this meeting here in Geneva -- most notably, the presence of missiles in Ukraine and the rest of Europe, as well as military exercises -- the scale and scope of those exercises. But the U.S. has firmly said that anything that the U.S. does needs to be reciprocated by Russia.

This is just the first set of talks this week about ostensibly Ukraine. From here, these talks go on to Brussels and NATO, and then to the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That's on Thursday. All of this in an effort to deter Russia from invading Ukraine -- Laura and Christine.

JARRETT: All right, Alex live in Geneva for us this morning. Thank you.


ROMANS: All right, it is time for three questions in three minutes. Let's bring in CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson.

Nic, while the U.S. and Russia talk about Ukraine, the Ukrainians are making their own case to NATO. Tell us more.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Ukraine saying that it wants to be able to have that option as a sovereign state to be able to join NATO if it so desires. It rejects Russia's troop build-up. It's been concerned about Russia's efforts to destabilize them politically inside the country as well.

We've just heard from the NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as well, saying that Russia's position that NATO can't -- that, rather, Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO is a non-starter as a negotiating position. It cannot be considered as a negotiating position for the current talks that are beginning. He welcomes the fact that Russia will talk with NATO. He's going to be speaking with Ukraine as well. NATO will talk with Ukraine over the next day or so.

From the -- from NATO perspective, as well as the U.S. perspective, very clear unlikely to achieve any -- unlikely to achieve Russia's objectives in these talks this week just to set up the issues very likely.

JARRETT: Nic, let's talk about the situation in Kazakhstan. Fred Pleitgen just reports for us that there are still thousands of people detained and more than 100 people killed. So how does that situation influence the U.S.-Russia talks now?

ROBERTSON: Russia is going to be distracted to a degree. President Putin will have, certainly, a very keen eye on what's happening in Kazakhstan at the moment.

He's deployed about 2,500 Russian paratroopers there as part of a peacekeeping force. It's supposed to be for a limited period. They're supposed to have limited objectives -- secure government buildings, break up demonstrations. Their rules of engagement allow them to return fire on armed groups.

The question for Putin is how long does he want his forces to stay there when Kazakhstan's president says it's time for them to go? Will he demure and say he'd rather keep them there for longer? Is this an extension of Russia's influence among the former Soviet states? President Putin has written extensively on that topic, specifically about Ukraine, believing Ukraine is really part of -- historically, part of Russia and should be part of Russia.

So, Putin, while having -- while having troops in Kazakhstan also got this buildup on the border with Ukraine. Also, looking at joint military exercises in Belarus. This is really a potential moment of broad expansion for Russia's influence around the world.


Hey, Nic, overnight we had developments in Australia where a judge ruled that Novak Djokovic can stay -- is allowed to stay in the country and defend his Australian Open title. But, you know, the government could still remove him over his vaccination status.

Beyond sports, does this debacle have any kind of ramifications for COVID rules around the world, do you think?

ROBERTSON: Look, COVID rules around the world are incomprehensively divided, messed up. You know, if you're a United States citizen coming here to Europe and you don't have a QR code, unlike Europeans, you're going to face difficulties coming into Europe. Europeans can travel around Europe.

I've got a QR code for COVID vaccines in the U.K. It works in Switzerland, it works in France, it works in -- it works in Italy.

So these -- this sort of failure for the world to act globally and to have a comprehensive COVID vaccine passport, if you will, is going to be -- is going to be challenged by coming events. Certainly, the Novak Djokovic issue has raised the reality of that -- that it may not -- that this position may not stand the test of time internationally with travel between countries -- certainly, in Djokovic's case.

But look at the U.K. where the British government is now standing on the possible point of saying OK, we're going to do away with -- we're going to do away with a lot of, potentially, the COVID controls because we're going to live with this. So I think going into 2022, the international travel side of it's

going to be -- going to be challenged -- going to become a bigger issue as nations individually figure out OK, perhaps we're going to drop some of these restrictions.

JARRETT: Yes. There's certainly no agreement, even within the United States borders on how to handle COVID protocols, much less a global vaccine passport, but that would -- that would certainly make a difference.

Nic Robertson, CNN international diplomatic editor. Thank you, Nic.

So, speaking of COVID now, no symptoms, no test. That is the tough decision from at least two major hospital systems now forced to essentially ration tests as demand overwhelms capacity.

Just last week, the University of Washington was refusing to test asymptomatic patients, including those seeking tests for things like travel or social gatherings. A testing crush is also playing out much the same way at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

ROMANS: Yes, cities and states are not only struggling to administer tests but most do not have a cohesive plan to gather or respond to the results by -- from rapid home tests. That means the official COVID case totals are likely a vast undercount. In other words, officials are making public health decisions without a complete picture in cases. And now, hospitalizations are climbing toward a pandemic high.



DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER COMMISSIONER, U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: What's driving the pandemic right now is the fact that we're probably only diagnosing somewhere between one in five and one in 10 actual infections. And there's a lot of people walking around with mild illness or asymptomatic infections who don't know it, who are spreading it.


JARRETT: That's the former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, who says Omicron has already peaked in New York and several other major cities. That's the good news. But the concern now shifts to the middle of the country where the full impact of that variant has yet to be felt.

ROMANS: I mean, Congress is being confronted by the challenges of COVID yet again. House members return this week for the first time since COVID cases exploded in the D.C. area.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announcing she has tested positive. The New York Democrat is experiencing symptoms and recovering at home.

And there's a lot of concern about a spike in cases among lawmakers, including some Republicans and staffers who refuse to say whether they are vaccinated. There are no plans for a mask mandate in the Senate and many Republicans are refusing to wear one.

We'll be right back.



ROMANS: Saving democracy dominates President Biden's agenda this week, with voting rights on the line in the U.S. and Russian aggression escalating in Europe.

Jasmine Wright is live for us in Washington this morning. Good morning, Jasmine. Nice to see you.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Morning. Yes, that's right, Christine. Look, this is big on President Biden's week, saving democracy, as you said. Of course, it happens both abroad and here in the U.S.

In Europe, U.S. officials are about to enter into high-stakes talks with Russian officials as the U.S.'s goal is trying to avert a war and deescalate tensions as Russia pushes more troops along the Ukrainian border.

And then here at home, of course, we are marching towards Tuesday where President Biden and Vice President Harris give that key hallmark voting rights speech in Atlanta -- really, the cradle of civil rights issues. And a lot of folks are expecting President Biden to lay out exactly how he sees the path forward on trying to get some of this voting rights legislation passed.

Of course, this comes as the Senate prepares their own package trying to get something passed. They are really responding to pressure from Democrats and civil rights activists who want to see something done.

And now, former first lady Michelle Obama reemerged in the fight when she and her "When We All Vote" voting rights organization published a letter this weekend really saying that "We've got to vote like the future of our democracy depends on it." That's a quote from the letter she published.

And she said that her group, along with other coalitions like LeBron James' athletes voting rights group and other folks -- really, they're going to do a lot of things like recruit and train at least 100,000 volunteers, register more than a million voters, as well as hire lawyers to protect the vote.

So, really, a full-court press from President Biden and other Democrats as they push forward on his pledge, trying to save democracy. Trying to shore up voting rights ahead of the midterm elections -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, a big week ahead. Jasmine, nice to see you -- thanks -- Laura.

JARRETT: A greasy move from an autobody shop in Georgia. You will not believe this one.

The Labor Department is suing the owner who dumped over 500 pounds of greasy pennies onto an ex-employee's driveway. The worker had the audacity, I guess, to file a complaint with the agency, claiming he didn't receive his final paycheck of $915.00. So in response, the owner of A OK Walker Autoworks in Peachtree City dumped over 91,000 oil-covered pennies in that person's driveway.

The federal government now accuses that owner of denying overtime to staffers and failing to keep proper work records.

ROMANS: Yes, and not how you stay off the radar of federal labor investigators by dumping greasy pennies on someone's driveway.


ROMANS: I'd say classy --

JARRETT: Classy.

ROMANS: -- but a couple of the first letters don't belong in that sentence.

All right, not the day of ice fishing they imagined. Wisconsin deputies rescued at least 34 people stranded on a large chunk of ice floating off the shore of Green Bay. The Brown County sheriff says that chunk had drifted about a mile from shore. Officials were in a race against time. The ice was cracking.

But the rescue mission was a success. No injuries in less than two hours after it started on Saturday morning.

JARRETT: A Michigan woman is lucky to be alive after a car veered off the road and crashed into this restaurant in Detroit, plowing into 20- year-old Marnasia Bracey, who was waiting for her order at the counter there. She was pinned against the counter and buried under the debris but somehow survived this.


MARNASIA BRACEY, SUV PLOWED INTO RESTAURANT AND HIT HER: I heard a boom and then stuff was just falling on top of me. I'm still in shock. I can't believe that was me.

I'm beyond thankful. I'm truly blessed. I'm so happy to be here.


JARRETT: Bracey is recovering. Two people have been arrested in that case.

And in Los Angeles, a dramatic moment as police managed to save a pilot forced to make an emergency landing on railroad tracks. The police bodycam video here may be difficult to watch.


(Train crashed into plane on tracks).


JARRETT: Wow, you could hear that sound of the train. Officers pulling him, literally seconds, out before the train barrels through. No word yet on the extent of his injuries or any injuries on that train.

ROMANS: Oh, that's just terrifying.

All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this Monday morning.

Looking at markets around the world, you can see Asian shares have closed mixed, although Hong Kong posted a one percent rally. European shares have opened just modestly lower. I would call that unchanged here. And on Wall Street, stock index futures at this hour are also barely moving here.


Look, stocks closed lower Friday. That December job gains less than expected. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow ended the week just basically flat.

The U.S. added just 199,000 jobs in December. That's the weakest job growth of the year. Still, the economy added a record 6.4 million jobs for the entire year.

And the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent. That is now the lowest of the pandemic.

Wages were up 4.7 percent over the past year. The key here is inflation. In some cases, inflation is up bigger than wages.

We'll get more inflation news this week -- reports on consumer and producer inflation for December. In November, we know that consumer prices rose at the fastest rate, Laura, in 39 years. So that will be the main event this week in terms of the economy.

JARRETT: Something we know you will be on top of.

Well, the NFL playoff picture is set after a thrilling last weekend of the regular season. Andy Scholes has it all in this morning's Bleacher Report from Indianapolis, the site of tonight's college football national championship game. Hey, Andy.


So we had a wild scenario in the NFL last night. The winner between the Chargers and the Raiders would make the playoffs but because the Colts lost to the Jaguars earlier in the day, if the Chargers and Raiders tied, they'd both make it. And it was this close to actually happening. The Chargers -- they rallied from down 15 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game. They scored two touchdowns late -- the last one coming from Justin Herbert to Mike Williams as there was no time on the clock. They kicked the extra point.

So we would go to overtime and the tie was actually in play. The teams traded field goals and the Raiders had the ball in the final seconds.

And the Chargers called a time-out for some reason with 38 seconds left while the Raiders were running out the clock. And instead of taking a knee and both teams making the playoffs, the Raiders got in position and lined up for a 47-yard field goal -- and they made it. The Chargers just devastated.

Derek Carr going to the playoffs for the first time as the Raiders won that game 35-32.

And since the tie did not happen, Big Ben's career isn't over just yet. The Steelers needed a lot of help yesterday but they got it. They beat the Ravens in overtime, so Roethlisberger's going to play at least one more game. The Steelers will play at the Chiefs on Sunday.

And here's a look at the AFC Playoff matchups. The Titans getting the top seed and the bye. On Saturday, you have the Bengals hosting the Raiders, and the Bills hosting the Patriots.

Now, in the NFL, the Bucs will host the Eagles on Sunday. That will be followed by the Cowboys hosting the Niners. Then the Cardinals and Rams are going to finish off the Super Wild Card Weekend on Monday night. The Packers, the top seed in the NFC. They got the bye.

All right, to the NBA. For the first time in 941 days, Klay Thompson played in an NBA game. The Warriors star making his return for the first time since the 2019 NBA Finals after multiple serious injuries. The crowd giving Thompson a big standing ovation.

It didn't take long for the five-time All-Star to find the back of the net. Thompson scoring his first basket -- the team's first basket of the night. Then in the second quarter, he would throw down a big slam between two defenders that brought everyone to their feet.

Thompson had 17 points in his return as Golden State got the win 96- 82.

All right, meanwhile here in Indianapolis, tonight, top-ranked Alabama will face third-ranked Georgia for the national title. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has never beaten his old boss Nick Saban. And Alabama put a beatdown on Georgia in the SEC title game a month ago but the Dogs say they've learned from that game.


JORDAN DAVIS, GEORGIA DEFENSIVE LINEMAN: After the last Alabama game, we just -- it was like our wake-up call. We had -- realized that we had a lot of work to do and we haven't arrived yet. I had three shots to Alabama and haven't beaten them yet, so that's -- you know, that's speaking for myself.

As a team, winning the National Championship -- this is what we grinded for. This is what we worked for all season so, of course, it's going to be an amazing feeling.

BRYCE YOUNG, ALABAMA QUARTERBACK: We understand it's different. We have to -- we have to earn it. Anything that happened in the past we learned from it, but it's in the past. So it's on us to work day in and day out to earn the outcome that we want.


SCHOLES: Yes. So, Alabama has won three of the seven college playoffs that we've had. Georgia hasn't won since 1980, guys.

And I was talking to a lot of the fans yesterday. They think that tonight's finally going to be their night. Pretty confident despite the fact that Alabama's had their number recently over the years, losing to them seven straight times. But Georgia fans confident and hoping tonight's finally their night.

JARRETT: Hope lives eternal.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, Andy.

All right, thanks for joining us this morning -- this Monday morning. I'm Christine Romans. Have a great rest of your day.

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



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Monday, January 10th, and I am Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

And sadly, we are beginning with heartbreaking news out of Hollywood in what could be described as a stunning loss for the entertainment world and for all of us, really. Bob Saget, who played the wholesome patriarch Danny Tanner on the sitcom "FULL HOUSE" has died. The actor's family confirming his death in a statement to CNN. Saget was only 65.