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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Primaries Today in Five States Including Georgia; Biden Says U.S. Military Would Respond to Chinese Attack on Taiwan; Suspect Fled After Being Questioned Over Cyclist's Murder. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 24, 2022 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. It's Tuesday, May 24th. I'm Laura Jarrett.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans here in New York.

We begin, though, with primary day and one of the most watched races in the country this season in voters' hands today. Polls open in five states this morning. Once again former President Trump's influence in the midterm elections will be tested. In Alabama, there is a three-way GOP Senate primary to replace retiring Senator Richard Shelby. Congressman Mo Brooks is hoping to advance there without Trump's endorsement. He had it, but Trump withdrew his support after Brooks said voters should move past Trump's 2020 defeat.

In Arkansas, former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is favored to win the Republican nomination in what is a deep red state.

JARRETT: But the spotlight will be on the race for governor in Georgia today. The popular incumbent Governor Brian Kemp faces the Trump- backed challenger David Perdue in the GOP primary. Now Kemp became a target of Trump after he refused to help overturn the state's 2020 election results. That race also pitting Mike Pence against his former boss. Pence stumping for Kemp at a primary eve rally Monday. The polls indicate Kemp is headed for a rematch with Democrat Stacey Abrams in November.

Meantime, Trump-backed Republican Herschel Walker is expected to easily win his Senate primary in Georgia setting the stage for one of the most closely watched Senate races pitting the former NFL star against the current Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock.

Joining us now to break it all down, CNN political analyst and "Politico Playbook" co-author Rachael Bade.

Rachael, nice to have you this morning.

ROMANS: Hi, Rachael.

JARRETT: Let's start with Georgia. Governor Kemp's focus seems to have shifted now, or maybe it's always been really squarely focused on Stacey Abrams. He's not worried about Perdue. Perdue is lagging behind. He's lobbing a bunch of attacks from every direction. What are you most interested to watch for tonight?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think that's just a sign of the rebuke we're going to see delivered to former President Donald Trump tonight in Georgia. I mean, this is going to be the third gubernatorial endorsement that he has made that will fall through the cracks in these primaries which actually, you know, hurts his -- you know, his public image and this image that he's trying to project of being the kingmaker.

Kemp is up something like 22 points over David Perdue, and this is despite $2.5 million that former President Trump pumped into Perdue's campaign. As you guys know, President Trump raises a lot of money, but he rarely actually spends it on a candidate. And here he did to try to help Perdue. It didn't work. And this is going to be a big embarrassment for him and that is why you're seeing Kemp right now.

He doesn't even see a threat anymore, and he is very much pivoting to the general election. While he's got national media down there, while the spotlight is on him, to try to get, you know, ahead when it comes to take taking on Stacey Abrams.

JARRETT: Yes. It seems to be this latest example that an endorsement is helpful but not it's not everything if you don't have anything else to really show for it. And then we have this sort of last-minute, last-ditch effort dog whistle if you will from Perdue pouncing on Stacey Abrams' comment where she said that Georgia is the worst state in the country to live, of course she was citing health care, wages, incarceration. She tried to couch it but she knew she was going to sort of catch the ire of everyone. Listen to how Perdue responded.


DAVID PERDUE (R), CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: Hey, she ain't from here, let her go back where she came from if she doesn't like it here. The only thing she wants is to be president of the United States. She doesn't care about the people of Georgia. That's clear. And when she told black farmers you don't need to be on the farm and she told black workers in hospitality and all this, you don't need to be -- she is demeaning her own race when it comes to that. I am really over this. She should never be considered for material for governor of any state much less our state where she hates to live.


JARRETT: If his best argument is go back where she came from, seems like a problem for him.

BADE: Yes, I mean, Perdue is really flailing right there. You could just see in his comments. I mean, Stacey Abrams came to the state as a high school student. She's been there for decades. To tell her to go back, I mean, that 100 percent will bring up sort of this memory Americans have about President Trump telling four women of color in Congress to, quote, "go back to their home countries" even though they were American citizens and serving in the U.S. national legislature in Congress.


And so it's 100 percent a dog whistle, it's racist, and clearly Stacey Abrams in her comments was talking about the fact that Georgia has a very high, you know, maternal mortality rate. She was talking about problems with jobs and the lack of sort of ability for people to find a career they want to pursue and very much, you know, rise above something, say, that their parents did, go to college, get an education, and sort of better themselves in terms of employment.

And so to see those kind of comments by Perdue, frankly, it's not surprising. I mean, I reported, you know, months ago when Perdue first launched his campaign for governor to try to get this nomination. He had been telling Senate Republicans that he didn't want to run because he didn't want to sort of echo Trump's big lie and he thought that that was a disaster. And yet he sort of took it on and ran with it as a candidate, again showing the desperation here to try to turn out a certain chunk perhaps of Republican votes that he thinks that this will resonate with.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the underlying party tension here in the GOP. The former President Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, they're backing rival Republicans here. And it's getting a little ugly. What's happening here?

BADE: Yes, I mean, clearly the former vice president is seeking an opportunity to sort of bolster his image and try to flex his own muscle. He is looking at obviously challenging former President Trump if he runs again for the GOP nomination in 2024. I mean, the reality here is that the former vice president chose a race where the end game is very clear by supporting Brian Kemp.

He's going to get the headline, oh, Mike Pence's candidate beat Donald Trump's candidate David Perdue. But the reality is the polls have shown this race going this way for a really long time and you don't see Mike Pence weighing in against Trump in a lot of other contentious GOP primaries across the country. So it's a little bit of a misnomer there and -- but clearly Mike Pence, he's trying to look tough against Trump in case he runs against him in 2024.

JARRETT: Rachael, I also want to ask you about sort of the backdrop to all this, which is voter restrictions in Georgia. They passed a host of them last year. And I think there's some question about what impact they will have and whether they will actually drive more Democratic voters to the polls and actually turn out people and certainly Stacey Abrams has worked very hard on sort of overcoming all those restrictions while a lot of Democrats have said, hey, it's actually boxing out a lot of black voters. What are you hearing on that?

BADE: I think it's going to be a big test tonight to see sort of what that means. And of course this is a primary, so, you know, the people who show up to primaries are going to be the most sort of passionate and motivated folks who go, you know, out of their way to make sure that they are registered on time, or that they're going to be there before the polls close. So perhaps it's not the cleanest test of whether Georgia's new laws will restrict people.

That will come further, you know, in the general elections later this fall. But it's going to be a key test obviously about these voting restrictions that we've seen crop up not just in Georgia but all around the country. Does it really hold people back? Do people turn out? Does it get them to turn out more and sort of overcome those barriers? We're going to see tonight. It's TBD.

ROMANS: And certainly there's been a big, big push to get people to vote though, too. So it may speak also volumes about the organizing in Georgia.

All right, Rachael, nice to see you. Thank you so much, Rachael Bade.

JARRETT: Thanks.

BADE: Thank you.

ROMANS: It's primary night in America and join us live coverage tonight starting 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

President Biden wrapping up his visit to Asia with an unambiguous warning to China about invading Taiwan.

JARRETT: Plus the Justice Department now telling its federal agents if you see something, do something. Details just ahead.



ROMANS: President Biden wraps up his first trip to Asia today meeting with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia. The president repeatedly signaling to China that any moves against Taiwan would draw a response just as fierce as the world's reaction to the invasion of Ukraine.

CNN's Kevin Liptak is traveling with the president. He joins us this morning-evening there from Tokyo.

Kevin, the president says he would use force to defend Taiwan if the Chinese invaded. Is the U.S. departing from its longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity here with regards to China?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what the president says is no and that comment did kind of follow him around today. A reporter asked him if that policy of strategic ambiguity was dead and he said no. So he is trying to tamp down on this idea that he is diverting from this longstanding approach to Taiwan. But I do have to say in talking to Biden's aides today, you do not detect a great deal of consternation among them that the president went off script here.

And I think that's because the president and his team really do feel that the calculus has changed somewhat because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. And they really feel like if there is any time to send a warning to China, the timing is now. And so as the president gets ready to depart Asia and he's just boarded Air Force One and he'll be on his way home soon, you really start to see the overarching theme from this trip is that the president really does want to show that the United States is a player in this region and does want to counter China.


And so earlier today he met with this revitalized Quad Summit of Japan, India and Australia. They made a few modest announcements on COVID vaccine sharing and maritime information sharing but really the overarching theme is that the president is saying the United States is here and will be a player here in the years to come -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Kevin Liptak, thank you so much for that, Kevin. Nice to see you.

All right, joining us now, John Park, director of the Korea Project at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Good morning. Thank you so much for joining us. This is now the third time the president has said the U.S. will defend Taiwan and his aides, well, you heard what Kevin just said. You know, not much consternation. But they've had to, you know, step it back every time. What is your take?

JOHN PARK, DIRECTOR, KOREA PROJECT, HARVARD KENNEDY SCHOOL: Sure. I think we're seeing a pattern here where the president has expressed some personal opinions. This is something that we've seen in other situations as well. But I think what's important is that the president himself said that there was no change to the official policy that remains as it is. And so we will see more episodes along these lines. But this is a pattern going forward essentially of a presidential statement, some calibration of sorts. But the president himself getting back to the official platforms.

JARRETT: Meanwhile he's wrapping up his trip today, meeting with some of the U.S.'s closest allies in the region. What are you expecting from these talks?

PARK: I think overall the theme has been very consistent. This is not an idea of the U.S. pivoting to Asia as we heard the language in the past. It is really the idea of institution building. So we're seeing the language very much rooted in Indo-Pacific. We saw the meeting of the Quad, we see other countries including the 13 members here joining the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

So more of these type of gatherings and now multilateral, you know, configurations are really important, but we're going to see increasingly the bilateral within the context of these multilateral organizations.

ROMANS: So I think that you can safely say it's a more confrontational tone with China the administration is taking. But the president also says he is willing to meet with Kim Jong-un about denuclearization if in fact the North Korean leader is serious about it. Could that actually happen? PARK: Well, it is an open message in terms of what the U.S.

expectation is. And so from that perspective, it could happen. The bar is high. This isn't just going to be meeting for meeting's sake. But there will have to be commitment and deliverables related to denuclearization. The main focus, though, has been the U.S. offer of providing vaccines. There is a COVID outbreak in North Korea. It is spreading widely.

But up until now, as we've seen from President Biden and others, there hasn't been any response from the North Korean side. But in terms of North Korea and particularly President Biden's message to Kim Jong-un that he is willing to meet with Kim, if he is sincere and if he is serious about denuclearization.

ROMANS: John Park, nice to see. Thanks for getting up early with us this morning and unpacking all that. Thank you.

JARRETT: Coming up for you, police are searching for a suspect in the murder of a rising star cyclist. We have all the details on this possible deadly love triangle next.

ROMANS: Plus a new warning as cases of monkeypox are rising. The community the CDC says needs to be on the alert, ahead.



ROMANS: A new spike in COVID-19 cases among children in the U.S. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, new cases are up 72 percent from just two weeks ago. It's the sixth straight week in which COVID-19 cases have increased among children following months of declines. More than 107,000 kids tested positive for COVID last week. Still a relatively low number compared to the peak in January when one week saw more than one million new child cases.

JARRETT: Also in health news this morning, the CDC is out with new details about monkeypox. Now anyone can get the virus and spread it, but the CDC says a notable percentage of the cases in the global outbreak have been among gay and bisexual men. The CDC decided to make this announcement now ahead of Pride Month which usually kicks off around the Memorial Day weekend. The agency is also urging doctors to be on the lookout for monkeypox because it can present like other types of sexually transmitted diseases.

ROMANS: All right, a manhunt under way for a woman who police say killed a world class cyclist in a jealous rage. Authorities in Texas say Kaitlin Armstrong and Moriah Wilson both dated Colin Strickland, another star cyclist. And Wilson is dead and officials fear Armstrong has fled the country.

CNN's Randi Kaye has the details.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very quiet over here. We never had this happen before.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This woman is a fugitive. She is 34-year-old Kaitlin Mari Armstrong. U.S. Marshals say she's now on the run wanted on a first-degree murder charge in connection with the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Anna Moriah Wilson. According to an arrest affidavit, Wilson, an elite cyclist, was gunned down earlier this month at a friend's home in Austin, Texas. Shot multiple times.

BRANDON FILLA, DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL: If she thought or she knew she was going to be wanted for this, she probably had a five-day head start.

KAYE: The motive may be a jealous rage. The affidavit says both women had been in a romantic relationship with the same man, another professional cyclist named Colin Strickland. An anonymous tip to police said Armstrong had made prior statements expressing desire to kill Wilson.


On the day of her murder, the affidavit says Wilson and Strickland spent the afternoon swimming together then had dinner afterwards. Strickland told investigators he dropped Wilson off at her friend's home afterward and did not go inside. Later that night, Wilson's friend returned home to find her bleeding and unconscious in the bathroom. Per the affidavit officers found bullet casings on the floor and Wilson appeared to be suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Despite CPR efforts, she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigators zeroed in on Armstrong as a suspect after obtaining video surveillance that shows an SUV similar to Armstrong's near the home where Wilson was staying just one minute after Wilson went inside. That's according to the police affidavit which also says that ballistic evidence recovered at the scene shows similarities to bullets test fired from a Sig Sauer handgun Strickland recently purchased for Armstrong. Police say the potential that the same firearm was involved is significant.

FILLA: Looking into Kaitlin, she didn't have a criminal history, and came here to Texas and is residing here with her boyfriend.

KAYE: Still the arrest affidavit shows Armstrong had a jealous streak. In the documents Strickland told investigators that while he was dating Wilson, Armstrong called Wilson to say she was the one dating Strickland. He also told investigators Armstrong had blocked the other woman's number in his phone and that he had to change the woman's name in his phone so Armstrong didn't know who he was speaking to.

Strickland also admitted lying to Armstrong about his whereabouts that day so she wouldn't know he was with Wilson. In response to the killing Strickland issued a statement saying he and Wilson had only a brief romantic relationship about a week or so in the fall of 2021. He said about a month after dating Wilson, he resumed his relationship with Armstrong.

Anna Moriah Wilson's family also released a statement reiterating she was not in a romantic relationship with anyone at the time of her death.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


JARRETT: A lot of questions on that one. Our thanks to Randi.

Now to this, a duty to intervene. That's key new language used by the U.S. Justice Department now updating its use-of-force policy for the first time in 18 years. The "Washington Post" obtained a new memo from Attorney General Merrick Garland directing all federal agents that they must, must intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force. It also makes clear that officers have a duty to act if they see someone that needs medical care.

The policy is scheduled to go into effect later this summer, comes two years after George Floyd died under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis as other officers watched.

ROMANS: That's interesting.

All right, ahead on EARLY START, a senior Russian diplomat resigned his position to protest what he calls Putin's criminal war.

JARRETT: And former members of the U.S. Special Forces now volunteering on the frontlines in Ukraine.