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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Pennsylvania Senate Republican Primary Too Close to Call; Trump Backed Mastriano Will Win PA GOP Gubernatorial Nod; Trump-Backed Rep. Ted Budd Will Win in North Carolina GOP Senate Primary; Cawthorn Concedes NC House Primary to Chuck Edwards; Retired Russian Colonel Criticizes Ukraine Invasion on State TV; Evacuations Continue at Mariupol Steel Plant. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 04:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, May 18th, it is 4:00 a.m. in New York. Welcome to this special early, EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Late night, EARLY START on board. I'm Laura Jarrett. And we begin with the results from last night's most watched primary race which has turned out to be its closest as well. The Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania still too close to call this morning. TV Dr. Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund executive Dave McCormick are neck and neck. Within tenths of a point of each other


DAVE MCCORMICK, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Unfortunately, we're not going to have resolution tonight. But we can see the path ahead, we can see victory ahead, and it is because of you. So, thank you, Pennsylvania.

MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win. And I want to thank some other individuals who are actually unbelievably close friends, made a big difference in my life, were always there at every moment. Let's start with 45, President Trump. President Trump after he endorsed me continued to lean into this race in Pennsylvania.


JARRETT: It is a key contest not just for the candidates but also for former President Trump. As you heard there from Dr. Oz, Trump pushing to consolidate his control of the Republican Party with his endorsement of Dr. Oz only to see some of that influence syphoned away by third-place Kathy Barnette. She experienced a last minute surge in the polls drawing support from some of those suspicious of Oz's ideological shifts.

And on the Democratic side on the Pennsylvania Senate race, CNN projects Lt. Gov. John Fetterman will win his party's primary with a 33 point lead over his closest competitor. Now notably Fetterman is picking up this nomination from a hospital bed. He suffered a stroke last Friday on his way to a campaign event and underwent a nearly three hour surgery yesterday to implant a defibrillator pacemaker. His wife, Gisele, stood in for him at last night's victory party and says he is eager to launch his general election campaign as soon as the doctors and she will let him.


GISELE FETTERMAN, WIFE OF JOHN FETTERMAN (D) PA SENATE CANDIDATE: He is a bionic man now, he's feeling great. The surgery was perfect and he is impatient and he is just ready to get back on the ground. But I'm not letting help just yet.


ROMANS: All right, CNN projects the Trump endorsed candidate in the Pennsylvania governor's race Doug Mastriano will win the Republican nomination with more than double the share of the next highest vote getter. In his victory speech Mastriano rejected the idea his ideas are too hard right to make him electable in November and he turned the extremist label back on to Democrats.


DOUG MASTRIANO, (R) PENNSYLVANIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I repudiate that. That is crap. That is absolutely not true. Actually, their party, which the media stands for and advocates for, the going extreme. Their the ones that sent the sick back into the homes, their policies, Democrat policies and killed so many. That's extreme. That's extreme forcing your kids to mask up. That's extreme forcing health care workers to lose their jobs for not getting a jab.


ROMANS: Mastriano then used his speech to rail against COVID restrictions and also hit issues like critical race theory and transgender athletes. Mastriano has also been a major proponent of the big lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

JARRETT: Many Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief that one of their own Madison Cawthorn lost his bid to retain his North Carolina House seat. The Trump-backed freshman grew into a major headache on Capitol Hill with a series of unforced errors that included, claiming that he had been invited to Washington orgies. Calling Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, a quote, thug. And bringing a loaded handgun to a TSA checkpoint. Last night primary opponent Chuck Edwards told supporters that Cawthorn had called him and respectfully conceded.


CHUCK EDWARDS, (R) NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Just as I expected, he presented himself in a very classy and humble way and offered his support to our campaign in absolutely anyway that we could use him and I'm extremely, extremely pleased that we're able to enter in this contest on that note. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right, on to this one, the Trump backed candidate Congressman Ted Budd is the winner of North Carolina's Republican Senate primary.


Easily defeating former governor Pat McCrory in his race for Senator Richard Burr's seat. He will face State Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley who is vying to become North Carolina's first black Senator.

JARRETT: CNN also projects Idaho Governor Brad Little will win the states gubernatorial nomination fending off a primary challenge from his own Lieut. Governor Janice McGeachin. McGeachin's opposition to COVID safety measures won the endorsement of former President Trump last fall.

ROMANS: All right, a lot to unpack here in just the last few hours. CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for the "Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich for us. The night bleeds into the morning here --


ROMANS: -- at 4:05 a.m. Eastern time.

KUCINICH: Good morning?

ROMANS: Good morning, yes. Let's start with the developing story this morning. Why is it still a tossup in Pennsylvania on the GOP side do you think?

KUCINICH: Yes, this race has been so exciting to watch just because just from, you know, a political aspect because you had OZ and McCormick really beating up on each other this entire time, throughout the entire primary and vying for first Trump's endorsement and then, you know, for the nomination.

And you had Kathy Barnette, this former political commentator, really come from behind and kind of take the air out of the -- the wind out of their sails right at the 11th hour. Now she's at a distant third. And you have these two really battling it out. I mean, McCormick, if you look at his campaign roster, it's a lot of Trump world, a lot of Trump advisers and he has everyone but President Trump who of course endorsed Dr. Oz.

So, this is going to go right down to the wire. There are some Pennsylvanians who are skeptical of Dr. Oz, someone who -- both McCormick and Oz have received criticism because they haven't lived in the state for a long amount of time even though McCormick is from Pennsylvania. But we're really going to see this go down to the wire. I think last time I looked, it was something like 0.3 percent separated the two.

JARRETT: It's interesting, you know, our political team made the point in analysis pieces morning, that there seems to be this chasm that happens when you have a Trump-backed candidate like Oz and then you have Barnette who is espousing Trump views perhaps even in a more extreme way but who is not actually backed by Trump. It actually gives space for someone like Dave McCormick to come in and siphon away some of those votes and we see what appears to have worked for him at least in some ways is Pennsylvania.

At the same time, you have Mastriano who ran as the Trumpiest of Trumpian Republicans and did quite well. What do you think that says of, you know, about things heading into November?

KUCINICH: Yes, Mastriano is the realization I think of some of the fear that mainstream Republicans had with Kathy Barnette, someone who is rather extreme, someone who is quote/unquote ultra-MAGA. Someone who has been open, if not, a cornerstone of his campaign has been the overthrow of the 2020 election. So perhaps, you know -- and this is someone that, you know, his Democratic opponent Josh Shapiro wanted to run against. So, I think there are a lot of nervousness now in the Republican Party whether Mastriano can go the distance in a state that is trending Republican, tends to be purple, but can definitely go toward the Democrat candidate if the Republican is not satisfactory for voters.

ROMANS: To North Carolina now, that GOP primary for the 11th district, was there just too much scandal for Madison Cawthorn?

KUCINICH: Yes, it really seemed not only the scandal -- the scandal was a part of it of course, but think about how many Republicans, his own party in North Carolina, were against him. I mean, Thom Tillis was not pulling any punches right there at the end and hoping that he lost.

So, the fact that he did have Trump's endorsement kind of at the end there, but just the force of the Republican -- North Carolina Republican Party aligning against their own incumbent I think really helps tip the scales for Cawthorn who as you note just had missteps ranging from accusing other Republicans of orgies. Several violations including guns at an airport, speeding tickets. Some of the photos that were leaked out. I mean, he really can have a lot of issues there. And it seems like -- I mean, even before the results were called, he was conceding to Edwards.

JARRETT: It's worth noting though, you know, Christine has the numbers here. He didn't lose by all that much. Only around 1,300 votes. So, I mean, it's worth noting that he did have -- yes, there you go.


ROMANS: And his tenure was really marked less by policy -- I mean, maybe zero policy, and 100 percent publicity and sort of Trump populism, right?

KUCINICH: And that was by design. I mean, he said openly I think on the front end of his tenure in Congress that he arranged his office more from a communications standpoint than a policy standpoint. Which is curious as someone who is going into Congress particularly as a freshman. So, he kind of went there to be out front and be this kind of MAGA warrior. And that's not what sank him. It was everything around -- it was all of the casting aspersions on fellow Republicans I think is finally what did him in, not these other scandals frankly.

ROMANS: I mean, at the end of the day constituents want you to bring home something for them that is other than headlines. You know, bring something home.

KUCINICH: Right. Well, and he had district offices that weren't even operational. So, there were some kind of very deep seeded problems really with Madison Cawthorn that went beyond some of the headlines.

JARRETT: Jackie Kucinich, thank you for getting up bright and early -- or staying up very late. Either way we appreciate it.

ROMANS: More coffee, Jackie. Thank you.

All right, just ahead, President Biden's call for unity.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In America, evil will not win, I promise you. Hate will not prevail.


ROMANS: More from his remarks in Buffalo ahead.

JARRETT: Plus, the Russian military commander who went rogue live on state TV.

ROMANS: Yes, telling the truth. Hard to do in Russia.

And why a devastating air disaster may not have been an accident.



JARRETT: Now to the war in Ukraine. Rare public criticism of Russia's military operations coming from a retired senior officer. He appeared on Russian state television saying the war in Ukraine isn't going well. Let's go live to CNN's Clare Sebastian with more on this story. Clare, what exactly did he say and what's been the reaction?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura, this is extremely rare to see on Russian television, the control of information as you know in Russia has not been this tight really in the entire 22 years that President Putin has been in power. So very unusual to see this retired colonel go on this talk show. Usually, Russian talk shows include a panel of people frankly who all agree with each other and give a sort of different point of view. He criticized not only Russia's handling of the war, but its perception of it. Saying that he urged people not to drink what he called information tranquilizers. And listen to one area where he thinks Russia is currently miscalculating.


RETIRED COL MIKHAIL KHODARENOK (through translator): Considering the European aid will come into it full effect and a million armed Ukrainian soldiers can join the fight, we need to see the reality of the new future and we need to consider that in our operational and strategic calculations. The situation for us will frankly get worse.


SEBASTIAN: And the interesting thing, Laura, is that there has not been a lot of reaction on this inside Russia. Certainly not from official parties. And that combined with the fact that this colonel has actually been quoted in the past taking a sort of alternate view of this war. He published an op-ed a couple of weeks before saying that he didn't think it would be as easy as many expected. It raises the question as to whether this was a sort of dissent or whether this was perhaps on purpose. A long time Putin critic Gary Kasparov has tweeted that he thinks it might be part of a broader Kremlin campaign to manage expectations at home. So, worth thinking about that.

JARRETT: That's worth watching. All right, Clare, thank you for your reporting.

ROMANS: Yes, and he also noted the whole world is against us, against the Russian endeavor.

All right, Ukrainian officials say evacuations are still under way for soldiers at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Newly released video shows wounded forces leaving that plant. Suzanne Malveaux is in Lviv, Ukraine tracking the latest developments. What's the latest on Mariupol and trying to get people out of there?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a great deal of concern really about what we've seen about 600 or so of the Ukrainian soldiers who have been able to leave that steel plant and the fate of those soldiers. They are at a Russian prison in Olenivka -- the town of Olenivka -- and essentially what happens to them. There are about more than 50 or so that are severely wounded. We have seen the conditions they have faced -- no water, no food, no supplies, being pounded and you know, missing limbs, I mean, in desperate need of medical care. The most severely injured supposed to be swapped and tends to be swapped with Russian prisoners of war.

But nevertheless, the process is a difficult one. We've heard from President Zelenskyy who says that the Ukrainians are involved, the military as well as intelligence to make sure that this is a process that is humanitarian, that there will be international monitors as well.

And then Russian officials say that they have an interrogation process, that they would like to speak to those who have been detained and they are trying to figure out they say whether or not there are certain crimes that were committed against the Russian friendly citizens in that region.

So, it is far from certain what the fate is of those 600 or so Russian military units that have escaped or have been evacuated. And as you have mentioned, there are still who are some -- still some inside and have yet to be released or rescued.

ROMANS: Suzanne, we know the Russian military just in this morning sending in helicopters trying to encircle and capture a key town in the Donetsk region?

MALVEAUX: Well, that's right. The Russians for weeks have been trying to break through the Ukrainian defense line here. They control about 90 percent of this region here.


And so, we have seen a dramatic escalation and artillery power, 15 strike -- this is the Donetsk area -- and the Ukrainian military now reporting that there are about 15 additional helicopters that are in that area from the Russians who have been brought in to really try to break through that line. And that would be critical for the Russians if they were able to do that, that would make Ukrainian defenses vulnerable from three different directions and enable the Russians to make head way there.

Another important note is if you look just north of Kharkiv, that is where the Russians continue on its skirmishes. These attacks in these small villages, trying to distract the Ukrainian military units to focus on that area and not on the east where they need to make some progress.

ROMANS: All right, Suzanne Malveaux in Lviv, thank you, Suzanne.

All right, 20 minutes past the hour. The Biden Cabinet Secretary in charge of the border gets a firsthand look. What he's telling CNN about his tour.

JARRETT: And the president himself taking on guns in America. What can he really do about it?



JARRETT: White supremacy is a poison. Those are the words of President Biden as he and the first lady wrapped up an emotional visit to Buffalo. The president calling on Americans to reject hate in all of its forms.


BIDEN: What happened here is and straightforward -- terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism. Violence inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people be inherently inferior to any other group. A hate that through the media and politics, the internet, has radicalized angry alienated lost and isolated individuals in to falsely believing that they will be replaced -- that's the word -- replaced by the other. By people who don't look like them. And who are therefore in a perverse ideology that they possess and being fed lesser beings.

I and all of you reject the lie. I call on all Americans to reject the lie. And I condemn those who spread the lie for power, political gain and for profit.


ROMANS: The common denominator in so many of these cases, guns. And now the White House is considering new executive actions. This year alone, there have been at least 198 mass shootings in the U.S. but Biden acknowledged his options are limited.


BIDEN: I've got to convince the Congress that we should go back to what I passed years ago. I mean, who --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you going to do that?

BIDEN: Well, I'm going to try. I'm going to try.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are your thoughts about next steps in Congress, do you think there is an opportunity or a prospect for more movement there?

BIDEN: The answer is, it's going to be very difficult. It's going to be very difficult. But I'm not going to give up trying.


ROMANS: All right, here's the backdrop. New federal stats show police recovered more than 19,000 homemade untraceable firearms, so-called ghost guns, last year. And this, a stunning -- that's a stunning tenfold increase from 2016. Also, in the past two decades, gun manufacturing has surged. The White House will also ramp up its push for the Senate to confirm the president's pick to head the ATF. Steve Dettelbach has a long record of overseeing prosecution in cases involving racially motivated violence.

JARRETT: Now to a growing clash between the Justice Department and the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. Last month DOJ asked house investigators to hand over transcripts for various witnesses. We don't know which ones, but they want them. CNN has also now learned that the panel is pushing back, Chairman Bennie Thompson believes those depositions are the property of the committee.

DOJ is declining to comment on all of this. But a source tells CNN that DOJ wants the transcripts to help with its own federal investigation. Another source of tension here? DOJ's apparent lack of movement on that contempt referral for former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows -- who you will remember refused to cooperate with the committee.

Just ahead for you, a new report suggesting someone may have deliberately crashed a Chinese jetliner full of passengers.

ROMANS: And UFO secrets exposed by the government in public.