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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Flight Data Suggests China Eastern Plane Intentionally Crashed; U.S. Intel: North Korea Preps for Missile Test as Biden Travels to Asia; DHS: Not Seeing Significant Decrease in Migrants at Mexico Border; U.S. Markets Close Higher as Investors Attempt a Comeback; JPMorgan Warns California's $6 Gas Could Spread Nationwide; NBA Working to Free Griner from Russian Prison. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 18, 2022 - 04:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. China's deadliest air disaster in decades may have been deliberate. A new "Wall Street Journal" report says the black box recovered from the China Eastern crash back in March suggests someone in the cockpit intentionally downed the plane. All 132 passengers on board were killed when the flight nosedived from 29,000 feet right into the mountains.

CNN's Steven Jiang is live in Beijing with more. And from the beginning aviation experts were looking at the trajectory of this flight saying something terribly went wrong in that cockpit.

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: That's right, Christine. You know, before this "Wall Street Journal" article was published, there had already been a lot of speculations that this airliner was crashed because of human error. Because a lot of people have said the type like the Boeing 737-800 just simply didn't fall out from the sky.

But after the article was published, we have seen the airline industry regulators, CAC, tell state media that they have basically reached out to their American counterparts at NTSB. And what the Americans told the Chinese -- according to CAC -- was they have not released information about the investigation to any media outlets. So, notice how carefully worded both sides have been. Neither the Chinese nor the Americans have directly denied the crux of the Journal story -- that is this deadly crash was caused by human inputs in the cockpit.


And analysts have also pointed out there are signs or suggestions that the authorities here have been concerned about, if not aware of the human factors involved in this crash. Because on April 6 just a few weeks after the crash, they held a nationwide meeting with the minister of civil aviation here actually urging officials to pay particular attention to pilot's state of mind. And another sign that this was unlikely caused by mechanical or technical failure, Christine, was that this aircraft type -- Boeing 737-800 continues to be operated by all Chinese airlines here including China Eastern -- that is the airline involved in this crash -- Christine. ROMANS: I mean, they're talking about the human factor. Our

investigators suggesting the pilot or someone else caused the crash.

JIANG: I think that that is the million dollar question right now. Because we know there are three pilots in the cockpit on that day including an inspector or trainee. But you know, as we are saying, there is so far no concrete evidence. They have not released any of the data recordings from the two recorders. So, that's something I think we need to wait and see -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Steven, thank you. I know you'll keep us up to speed, thanks.

JARRETT: U.S. officials say North Korea may be preparing to test a long range missile just as President Biden is set to leave for a trip to South Korea and Japan. CNN's Blake Essig is live in Tokyo on this story. Blake, good morning. What do we know about this possible weapons test and the timing of it?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the timing is interesting, Laura, perhaps an imminent weapons test could be used to distract North Korea's domestic audience from the serious COVID related health crisis unfolding. But more likely it's to send a message to President Biden that North Korea's missile program remains on schedule regardless of outside circumstances.

And to this point, the Biden administration has made it clear that he won't drop sanctions as a price to sit down with the North. Now, according to a U.S. official who spoke with CNN's Barbara Starr, North Korea appears to be preparing for a possible intercontinental ballistic missile test within the next 48 hours to 96 hours just as President Biden is set to visit South Korea and Japan on his first trip to Asia as president. Biden leaves for South Korea on Thursday, will be here in Tokyo on Sunday.

The suggestion of a possible weapons test comes from the U.S. official familiar with the latest intelligence assessment and is based on satellite observations of a launch site near Pyongyang. Although South Korean officials don't believe a nuclear test will take place while Biden's in South Korea. There is a chance North Korea conducts its 7th ever nuclear weapons test -- the first in about five years now. And that's because for months now South Korea has warned -- based on satellite imagery -- that the north has been working to restore several tunnels at its main nuclear test site Punggye. This is the same underground test facility that the DPRK previously claimed to have destroyed back in 2018 after North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un declared the country's nuclear arsenal complete. The next time a weapons test does take place, Laura, it will be North Korea's 16th weapons test so far this year.

JARRETT: All right, Blake, thank you for that reporting.

ROMANS: All right, Congress holding its first public hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years. Trying to explain what has so far been unexplainable. The hearing a top Naval intelligence official confirming the authenticity of video showing close encounters between Navy pilots and what they are calling UAPs, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Both lawmakers and Pentagon officials say the topic goes way beyond conspiracy theories and tinfoil hats and must be investigated.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This hearing and oversight work has a simple idea at its core. Unidentified aerial phenomena are a potential national security threat and they need to be treated that way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The department is fully committed to the principle of openness and accountability to the American people. However, we are also mindful of our obligation to protect sensitive sources and methods. Our goal is to strike that delicate balance.


ROMANS: The Pentagon revealing close to 400 reports of possible encounters with UAPs, a big increase from the 144 tracked in a intelligence report released last year.

JARRETT: OK folks, brace yourself for $6 a gallon gas. Christine is about to break your summer, just ahead.

ROMANS: Yes, a cruel summer, cruel summer. And what President Biden's border chief now says after a firsthand look at the situation there.



ROMANS: All right, welcome back. The Department of Homeland Security has not seen a significant decrease in migrants coming to the U.S./Mexico border despite attempts to stem the flow. That assessment from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas who just visit the Texas to get a firsthand look at the crisis. With Trump era border restrictions known as Title 42 set to expire next week, Secretary says his agency is preparing for record high numbers.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We're seeing about a seven day average of over 7,500 people. So, we have not seen a significant decrease in the flows. But we are working very closely with our partners to the south, with Mexico, in anticipation of a potential surge in a post-Title 42 environment.


ROMANS: A federal judge is expected to rule this week on whether the Biden administration can lift the Title 42 health policy that border officials have used hundreds of thousands of times to expel migrants.

JARRETT: Let's bring in Jasmine Aguilera on all of this. She's a staff writer reporting on the border for "TIME." Jasmine, it's so nice to have you on "EARLY START," appreciate it. You been doing such great reporting. Are there any new steps you expect to see from the Biden administration following the secretary's visit to the border, or was this more about showing, look, we're on top of things?

JASMINE AGUILERA, STAFF WRITER, TIME: Well, thank you for having me.


I expect that this is likely be just -- will likely be one of just a few steps that the Biden administration can take at this moment. Its hands are fairly tied right now because of the court restraining order that was issued by a district judge in Louisiana that has pretty much prevented the Title 42 policy from ending according to the DHS plan. So, this may be only a tour. This was probably only a tour of the plan to end Title 42. Whatever preparations have so far have been able to take place, right.

ROMANS: So, Biden is basically in a holding pattern, the administration until we hear that decision on Title 42.

AGUILERA: Right, right. Yes, so it is doing what it can in the meantime, but its hands are fairly tied because of the court order.

JARRETT: And the judge there basically just said you can't end it early, but we're waiting to see a decision on whether they can end it more permanently as they want to do.

You also have been writing about just sort of how broken this immigration system is. And part of the reason it is so fractured is that you have federal judges in all different districts with a series of different rulings. It is so, there's sort of a lack of a uniform system here.

AGUILERA: Right, right. Basically, because Congress has failed to act meaningfully on immigration reform since the 1990s. The executive branch through every presidential administration since then has been working more aggressively issuing executive actions to address whatever migration flows come into the U.S. at that time. Which opens the door to litigation. And that has created really an avalanche of rulings that can sometimes lead to contradictory policy at the U.S./Mexico border.

ROMANS: There's so much human cry at what's happening at the border. But I think you make a very good point, Jasmine, this is the purview of Congress. This is the purview of Congress. The courts and the Biden administration are reacting to a lack of as you say meaningful immigration policy, meaningful immigration reform on the Congressional level, you know, in modern times. That's simply just the way it stands.

AGUILERA: Right, right, and this is just the latest example.

Yes, Jasmine Aguilera, "TIMES," staff writer, thank you.

AGUILERA: Appreciate it, thank you.

JARRETT: All right, get this, federal investigators say they have found a 1,700-foot long drug smuggling tunnel connecting a warehouse in San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico. Six people have been charged with conspiracy to distribute nearly 1,800 pounds of cocaine. Now the tunnel is 4-foot wide and 61 feet deep. It has a ventilation system -- they did this right -- reinforced walls, electricity, and its own rail system. Authorities also seized 3.5 pounds of heroin and 164 pounds of methamphetamine. Its own ventilation system.

ROMANS: That is something.

All right, this morning after Pennsylvania's primary and TV's Dr. Oz still doesn't know if he's won.

JARRETT: And next, $6 a gallon gas, we're already seeing it in some places and it's not just the United States.



JARRETT: 52 minutes back now and more drama in the courtroom as actors Amber Heard faced more questions from Johnny Depp's attorneys during her final day of testimony in this defamation trial. After testifying that drugs and alcohol would turn her ex-husband into a violent monster, Heard was pressed about her own drug use and her arrest for domestic assault with a previous partner.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amber Heard allegedly struck her ex-girlfriend, Tasya van Ree, at the airport in 2009. Did I read that right?

AMBER HEARD, ACTRESS: Yes, this is another example of the smear campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, Mr. Depp is not the only domestic partner you've assaulted Izzy, Ms. Heard?

HEARD: I never assaulted Mr. Depp or anyone else that I've been romantically linked to ever.


JARRETT: You'll recall this is all happening in a courtroom in Virginia because Depp claims that he was defamed by Heard's op-ed in 2018 in which she called herself a domestic abuse survivor. Heard has filed a counterclaim. The trial resumes this morning.

ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN business this which is morning. Taking a look at markets around the world. Asian shares have closed, and they have closed mixed, although Tokyo had more than 1 percent pop.

European shares have opened just slightly lower. I would call that not really a convincing move. Same for futures -- U.S. stock index futures down a little bit. But it was a strong day for stocks yesterday led by beaten down tech

and banking. Citigroup led the surge after Berkshire Hathaway disclosed a big stake. Semiconductor and travel stocks rallied on strong consumer demand. And look at this, signs of easing supply chain problems. And new data shows, guys, a still resilient American consumer navigating through inflation. Retail sales strong. A dimming for now worries about a recession.

Speaking of inflation, for the first time the average gas price in California soaring to $6 a gallon yesterday. And then this brand new warning from JPMorgan, the rest of the country will see that before the end of the summer.


The analyst's report titled "Cruel Summer." Cruel indeed. Gas up nearly 50 cents in just one month. Today's national average $4.57. So, some perspective here. Canada already seeing gas prices well above $6 a gallon. Look at these numbers that we crunched. Earlier this month when the U.S. average was $4.33. The average in Canada was $6.13, in the U.K., it was $7.68. And in Norway, $9.23 per gallon. Why is it so different? Well, the U.S. energy industry is heavily subsidized with all kinds of tax breaks so Americans actually pay a little less than a lot of the rest of the world.

JARRETT: $9.23 is no joke.

ROMANS: I know but still, I mean look, American drivers are like I don't care what people pay in Norway, they are so concerned about the speed of the hike. 50 cents in a month, that's a lot and that is real money especially if you are a small business owner. Especially if you're, you know, shipping things using diesel, right. If you are a trucking industry, that's where we've been watching for some concerns about what it means for small business.

JARRETT: It's all about what you're used to.

ROMANS: Exactly.

JARRETT: All right, now to this. The NBA says that it is working behind the scenes to free WNBA star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison. Andy Scholes has more. Hard to believe she has been behind bars since February.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, quite a long time at this point, war. And NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, you know, the league didn't want to speak publicly about Griner's case early on after listening to experts in and out of the government. But in an interview with ESPN last night, Silver said they've been working side by side with the WNBA to help free Griner.


ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: The league, and by that both the WNBA and it's brother league, the NBA, we have a huge responsibility to Brittney Griner, as one of our players. We've been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, you know, at every level of government and also through the private sector as well. So, our number one priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia.


SCHOLES: Griner was arrested on drug charges at a Moscow airport in February and has been in a Russian jail ever since. The State Department has since declared her wrongfully detained and said yesterday that it's still pushing for regular contact with the WNBA star. Griner's pretrial detention has been extended in Russia until at least June 18th.

The eastern conference finals tipping off last night with game one between the Heat and Celtics. Boston missing two key players, Marcus Smart out with an injured foot and Al Horford was put in a health and safety protocol. This game is a tale of two halves. Jayson Tatum, great first half to finish with the Celtics leading by 8, but the Heat came out on a mission in that second half. Jimmy Butler leading Miami on a 22-2 run to start the third quarter. Butler scoring 41 points without making one three-pointer. Miami would take game one 118-107. Game two tomorrow night in Miami.

The Western conference finals, meanwhile, start tonight with Steph Curry and the Warriors hosting Luke Doncic and the Mavs. You can watch that tonight at 9:00 Eastern on our sister channel TNT.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The second pick will be made by the Oklahoma City Thunder. And that means that the first pick in the 2022 NBA draft goes to the Orlando Magic.


SCHOLES: The Orlando Magic, coach Jamahl Mosley celebrating his team's first lottery win in 18 years. Mosley wasn't even supposed to be on stage but told the operations chief Jeff Weltman that he was feeling lucky. And so, he flew to Chicago and that hunch really paying off for them.

The Thunder getting the second pick. Their first top pick since -- top four pick since 2009. The Rockets, Kings and Pistons rounding out the top five. Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero are considered to be the best prospects in this year's class. But it's not clear yet who will go number one on June 23.

And finally in baseball, the Astros just destroying the Red Sox last night. They tied a major league record hitting five home runs in the second inning. They did it all off Nathan Eovaldi. But get this, one fan sitting on top of the green monster caught two of those home runs. The first one off a bounce, the second one in the air. Guys, the chances of catching one home run at a game is so slim and that guy caught two in the same inning. Incredible.

JARRETT: Only thing that would make it better is if he had a baby in one hand and that ball in the other. I know how you roll, Andy. You love those.

ROMANS: Those are great.

SCHOLES: Oh, yes, it probably would have helped him too if a Red Sox was hitting the home runs and not the visiting Astros.

ROMANS: I have no comment on that. All right, thanks, nice to see you, Andy.

JARRETT: Thanks, Andy.

ROMANS: Thank you so much.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

JARRETT: I'm Laura Jarrett. "NEW DAY" starts for you right now.