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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Zelenskyy: Ukraine Ready For Prisoner Exchange With Russia; North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn Faces House Ethics Investigation; California Governor Warns Of Possible Water Cuts Amid Megadrought. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 24, 2022 - 05:30   ET





The Biden administration is considering a plan to send special operations forces into Ukraine to help guard the newly-opened U.S. embassy in Kyiv. According to several U.S. officials, the idea is in very preliminary stages at this point and has not been presented to the president yet. Right now, the embassy and its limited number of personnel are protected by State Department security officers.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Ukraine is ready for a prisoner exchange with Russia and he's calling on all his country's allies to pressure Putin to agree to one.

Let's go live to Lviv, Ukraine and bring in CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne, good morning.


Well, President Zelenskyy saying that they are ready for this prisoner swap -- this exchange -- as early as even tomorrow, really underscoring the sense of urgency here in his message to those world leaders at Davos through a video call. He is saying that this is not simply a humanitarian act but a very political act here that requires the cooperation of many of these other countries and world leaders.

He says under no circumstance should Russia receive any kind of concessions, and that the economic pressure is the most important thing to keep up with. The oil embargo, the sanctions, the closing of businesses -- that type of thing.

And he also suggested too, Laura, that Russia really doesn't value its people all that much when you talk about this prisoner exchange. He notes that Ukrainian forces have literally, he said in his words, filled tens of thousands of body bags with the corpses of Russian soldiers who have been left behind. So, really, trying to set the scene if you will for expectations of these negotiations with the Russians.

On the Russian side, Russian state media reporting that the deputy foreign minister has said yes, Russia is still open to a prisoner swap. But we also heard from the leader of the Russian-controlled territory of Donetsk who says they are preparing documents right now for potential tribunals of those who have been held captive and surrendered inside of Mariupol from that steel plant.

And Laura, finally, I have been in touch with the wife of one of those who is in captivity in the -- by the Russians. She last heard from her husband -- this was five days ago when he surrendered and turned himself in. She has heard no word in terms of how he is doing -- his whereabouts. She is trying to be hopeful but she fears the worst -- Laura.


JARRETT: All right, Suzanne Malveaux. Thank you for your reporting as usual.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, veterans of America's elite special forces are taking hard-earned lessons from their time in Iraq and Afghanistan to Ukraine now. The fight, one veteran says, comes down to good versus evil.

CNN's Sam Kiley reports from Irpin, Ukraine.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you know where to go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't. We just knew the enemy was this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move, move, move, move, move.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just hopped to these backyards and clear through here.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's not as straightforward as it sounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's now crossing the street. He's going to go into that building.

KILEY (voice-over): Veterans of years of counterinsurgency warfare, this small team of American and British fighters is under Ukrainian command. And they now look at war down the other end of the barrel and have asked us to conceal their identities for their own security.

This is a war that has a moral clarity for these volunteers in Ukraine's international legion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, people keep saying oh, you're doing it for democracy and it's really not, you know. It really comes down to good versus evil. I never figured out why they were killing women and children. And it wasn't by accident; it was murder. I mean, we found many people just up at the end of the street that were bound together and shot and thrown on the side of the road.

KILEY (voice-over): Many in Kevin's team, ex-special forces operators, have had millions spent on their training in the West in countries that won't send troops to war with Russia. Among the first into Irpin, they took over this house behind enemy lines. He says the team killed dozens of Russians in the park below. He says that the fighting and the shelling, and the Russian killing of civilians was relentless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two pro-Russians in here.

KILEY (voice-over): As Kevin's team advanced, he says they got trapped in this health spa for several days. It was steadily torn apart by Russian artillery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the house of hell. This was four really miserable days of really little sleep, really heavy artillery, really heavy infantry presence from the Russians.

KILEY (voice-over): Kevin's small team is funded largely by donations to the Ukrainian legion. It operates mostly behind Russian lines. And they were stunned at first at being on the receiving end of airstrikes and heavy artillery. But they're applying the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan to Russia and believe that they're having an effect on the enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's definitely a psychological aspect to it. We do know that the Russians were talking about hey, they're -- like, we can't figure out where they're at. We don't know what's happening. We are being artilleried so heavy that we put this chair here so we could jump out this window if we had to in a hurry.

KILEY (voice-over): Deeper into the spa he comes across evidence that Russia plays dirty, even in local defeat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So a lot of the Russians came back through some of these places and remind them of booby traps. You can see this cable goes back into the ground where it's been intentionally buried, and it's tied off here.

KILEY (voice-over): So far, this group has not lost a soldier --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's definitely a nightmare.

KILEY (voice-over): -- but that time may come. It's a risk he says he's prepared to take because for the West's former warriors in the war on terror, Ukraine has given them something back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One way or the other, they've either been lost or they've lost everything. So this has given them another chance to come back here, and it's like they've put their life back together.

KILEY (voice-over): Sam Kiley, CNN, Irpin.


JARRETT: Thanks to Sam for that extraordinary reporting.

Now to this. A Russian diplomat resigning in a rare and public protest of Moscow's aggressive war in Ukraine. Boris Bondarev is a 20-year veteran of a Russian diplomat -- of Russian diplomatic service. He posted this lengthy statement on LinkedIn Monday condemning Russian leaders for the invasion.

He says this, quote, "For 20 years of my diplomatic career I have seen different turns of our foreign policy, but never have I been so ashamed of my country. Those who conceive this war want only one thing -- to remain in power forever, live in pompous tasteless places, sail on yachts comparable in tonnage and cost to the entire Russian Navy, enjoying unlimited power and complete impunity. To achieve that, they are willing to sacrifice as many lives as it takes."

A pretty extraordinary statement.

ROMANS: That's a very -- that's a -- knowing what we know about opposition --


ROMANS: -- inside Russia, that is a very brave position.

JARRETT: Very brave, indeed.

All right, a brief congressional career plagued by scandal. Now, Republican Madison Cawthorn finds himself on the wrong end of a House ethics probe.

ROMANS: Plus, Major League Baseball disciplines the Yankees' Josh Donaldson for inappropriate comments directed at a Black player. Details ahead in the Bleacher Report.



JARRETT: Forty-three minutes -- back now.

Less than a week after his Republican primary defeat, North Carolina freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn is now under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.

CNN's Annie Grayer is live in Washington with the details on this story. Annie, what exactly is the committee looking at there.

ANNIE GRAYER, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Laura, Madison Cawthorn's problems are not over yet. The House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation into whether Cawthorn had an inappropriate relationship with a staffer, or whether he was involved in insider trading involving cryptocurrencies. I should note that an anti- Cawthorn group was the first to raise these concerns that led to the opening of this investigation.

[05:45:00] But controversy is not new to Cawthorn. It's definitely followed him around since he became a member of Congress, so much so that even his own fellow Republican colleagues, even House Republican leadership had started to distance themselves from him.

Now, Cawthorn lost his primary in North Carolina last week but this investigation could still be a problem for him. The Ethics Committee has subpoena power and has the ability to make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice if its investigation finds a crime.

But Cawthorn does not seem to be worried about this investigation. In fact, he tweeted yesterday, "Wow. I must still be a problem for the swamp. They're still coming after me."

But -- so we'll just have to see, Laura, how this investigation unfolds.

JARRETT: All right, that sounds sufficiently messy.

And also messy is this. A review panel is recommending an investigation into Republican Congressman Ronny Jackson. Jackson hasn't even been in office that long. So what's the issue there?

GRAYER: Well, Laura, Jackson may have violated federal law by using campaign funds to pay for a private dining club in Texas. An advisory panel, called the Office of Congressional Ethics, conducted a review which found that Jackson had been making consistent payments to the Amarillo Club and using his campaign finances to do so. These donations -- these finances include membership fees, dues, and even meals to the Amarillo Club.

But Jackson, himself, did not cooperate with the review panel, but his lawyer claims that there was no wrongdoing. So, Laura, we'll just have to see if the House Ethics Committee takes up this review to open its own investigation.

JARRETT: All right. We know you will stay on top of it, Annie Grayer. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, 46 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets around the world to start the day, you can see Asian shares fell here. The big reason there, these COVID-19 lockdowns and concerns of what that's going to mean for China's economy, in particular. Europe has opened lower. And on Wall Street, stock index futures are also down here.

This is looking like the S&P 500 will be flirting again with a bear market after roaring back Monday on positive earnings news from JPMorgan Chase and some other banks. Yesterday, the Dow and the S&P popped nearly 2%. Goldman Sachs, part of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, jumped more than 6%. That is a big -- JPMorgan Chase -- look at that one.

JARRETT: Wow. ROMANS: More than 6% there. B of A also did well.

You know, JPMorgan said its customers are doing just fine. Consumers are doing fine. And new evidence this morning underscoring this disconnect, right, between what we've been talking about -- Americans' bleak perception of the overall economy and the reality of their own personal economy.

A new Federal Reserve survey says nearly eight in 10 adults said they were either doing OK financially or they were living comfortably. That, Laura, is the highest level since they started taking that survey in 2013. Nearly seven in 10 said they could cover a $400 emergency expense, way up from just about half in 2013.

Overall, Americans said they were doing better at the end of last year. That's when this survey was taken. Consumers were doing better than before the pandemic. Of course, since then, inflation has spiked, the stock market has tumbled, Omicron has disrupted the recovery, Russia invaded Ukraine. Other than that, what could go wrong, right?

More recently, there have been some big challenges, of course. But it's a reminder that last year ended with Americans in a strong financial position.

To Russia now where Starbucks is pulling out permanently. The company -- Starbucks paused operations and stopped shipments of its products to Russia back in March. The official decision is in. It has decided to end its brand presence in the Russian market. About 2,000 employees in the country will be paid for six more months. Starbucks will also help them look for new jobs outside of that company.

JARRETT: Let's get a little sports now. The Celtics blow out the Heat in game four of the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals to even the series.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So this Eastern Conference Finals -- it just has not been pretty. The games haven't been close and both the Heat and Celtics dealing with injuries. Marcus Smart out for the Celtics last night. Tyler Herro out for the Heat.

And to say Miami struggled offensively in this one would be quite the understatement. The Heat missed their first 14 shots of the game. They were down 18-1 in the first quarter. This game was never close. The Celtics led by as many 32 in the third. The Heat's starters scored just 18 points in the game.

Victor Oladipo, meanwhile -- he had 23 off the bench for Miami. This was the first playoff game ever that an entire starting lineup was outscored by a player from its own bench.

Boston wins 102-82 to even that series at two games apiece.


The Western Conference Finals, meanwhile, continues tonight. The Warriors looking to complete a 4-game sweep of the Mavs. You can see that one at 9:00 eastern on our sister network TNT.

All right, the Tampa Bay Lightning are now just four wins away from reaching their third-straight Stanley Cup final. The back-to-back champs eliminating the Panthers last night in a 4-game sweep. Veteran Pat Maroon scored the game-winner in the third period, while goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 49 shots he faced in the 2-0 shutout.

Getting swept -- huge disappointment for Florida. They had the NHL's best regular-season record winning the President's Cup.

The Lightning now won their 10th-straight playoff series. That's only happened three other times in NHL history. Tampa is now going to face the winter of the Rangers-Hurricanes series. Carolina is up 2-1 heading into tonight's game four.

All right, in baseball, Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson has been suspended one game for what MLB calls an inappropriate comment made to White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson during Saturday's game. Donaldson, who is white, admitted saying to Anderson, who is Black, "What's up, Jackie?" Jackie, meaning Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball's color barrier.

Now, both benches actually cleared later in the game after White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal confronted Donaldson about his comments. Donaldson denies any racist intentions, saying he was joking about a 2019 Sports Illustrated article where Anderson said he felt like today's Jackie Robinson, and that he's actually called Tim Anderson Jackie on previous occasions.

Donaldson is appealing the suspension.

All right. Finally, another day, another great foul ball catch. Check this out. A fan unknowingly caught a foul ball in his beer at the Cubs-Reds game in Cincinnati. The guy next to him actually had to tell him it was in there.

So, guys, he had to follow one of the unwritten rules of baseball. When a ball lands in your cup you've got to chug whatever is left in there -- and he did just that. I bet that leather tastes so good.

ROMANS: Oh, gross.

JARRETT: The fact that he didn't initially see that it was in there suggests to me that was not his first of the night.


ROMANS: I know. They're so expensive. Can you really have more than two beers at a game?

JARRETT: Uh, yes.

SCHOLES: You've got to finish it. You've got to finish it.

JARRETT: I wish I could do that right now.

Thank you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Thanks, Andy.

All right, 52 minutes past the hour.

A new witness in Johnny Depp's $50 million defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard. Who his legal team plans to call to the stand next.



ROMANS: All right.

This morning, supermodel Kate Moss is expected to testify in the ongoing trial between Johnny Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard. During the trial, heard mentioned a rumor that Depp once pushed Moss down a flight of stairs when the two were dating back in the 1990s. Depp's team is expected to call Moss as a rebuttal witness. The two have reportedly remained close throughout the years.

JARRETT: California Gov. Gavin Newsom issuing a stark warning more needs to be done to save water or else residents could be facing mandatory water restrictions this summer. This, as the state stretches into its third year of a severe megadrought.

CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more.


PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Yes, good morning, guys.

We know the drought situation has been dire across the western U.S., but you notice this. Upwards of 90% of the western U.S. dealing with drought, and about 42% underneath an extreme drought situation.

And it certainly doesn't help when you look at the incoming heat wave in place where over seven million Californians underneath a heat advisory where temperatures across the Central Valley get up to as much as 103 degrees here over the next couple of days. When you're talking this hot in the latter portion of May, you're talking about 20 degrees above average.

So, again, you notice Sacramento, 101 on Tuesday. That would best an all-time record for the day. Same story on Wednesday before we see cooler temperatures come in. The records across Sacramento have been standing since the 1950s -- a century mark observation there back on the 25th of May. And, of course, it has been very, very dry. In fact, down towards Long

Beach, only 1.14 inches of rainfall has come down. Eight inches is what is normal for this time of year and only 14% of what is normal as well. So, again, the heat not going to help the situation.

We'll go with 77 on the coast in San Francisco. Ninety-three this afternoon across Las Vegas -- guys.


ROMANS: Wow, that is hot out west.

JARRETT: A scorcher. Pedram, thank you.

ROMANS: Pedram, thank you.

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

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