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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Brittney Griner Makes Direct Plea To Biden For Freedom; 6 Killed, Dozens Injured As Gunman Attacks Illinois July 4 Parade; White Sox Pitcher Calls For Change After Parade Shooting. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 05, 2022 - 05:30   ET



CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Of course, just days after we saw Brittney Griner appearing in court in the first hearing of her trial in Russia for drug charges -- charges that could carry a maximum 10- year sentence.

You can only imagine her mental state is extremely fragile right now. Have a listen to some of the -- some of the other words that she wrote in this letter. She said, "I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don't forget about me and the other Americans detainees."

She said, "Please do all you can to bring us home. I miss my wife. I miss my family. I miss my teammates. It kills me," she says, "to know they are suffering too much right now. I'm grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home."

And she goes on to say that it hurts to think of how she would be celebrating the Fourth of July this year. Of course, freedom means something different to her. But I think the phrase that really resonates in this Christine is when she says, as you said in the introduction, "I am terrified I might be here forever."

I think the big fear for her and for her supporters is that at some point she will fall out of the headlines and fall down the administration's priority list. And that is why you hear her supporters making so much noise and I think that is why you see her having written this handwritten letter to the president today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Clare, I'm sorry if you don't know this off the top -- off the top of your head but what kind of sentences do Russian courts give for drug crimes? I mean, is it a long time?

SEBASTIAN: You know, I think they are -- they are pretty harsh on drug crimes.


SEBASTIAN: I think it's telling that this crime where she is -- she is accused of carrying two, sort of, vape cartridges of hashish oil into this country -- sort of small -- into Russia, rather -- small amounts could carry a 10-year sentence. So, pretty harsh crimes when it comes --

ROMANS: Right.

SEBASTIAN: -- to drug charges, Christine. But in terms of overall, we have seen pretty high sentences handed --


SEBASTIAN: -- to Americans in the past in Russia.


All right, Clare Sebastian. Thank you so much from London for us this morning.

All right, six dead in a shooting at a July Fourth parade in Illinois. We'll speak to a man who was in the parade with his grandchildren.

Then, a malady of denial. Senator Mitt Romney with a wake-up call for America.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

More now on our top story this morning -- the mass shooting at a July Fourth parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. At least six people died and dozens were injured when rained down from a rooftop overlooking the parade route. A suspect is now in custody after leading police on a brief chase. Authorities have recovered a high- powered rifle from that rooftop.

The governor of Illinois spoke out emotionally on the issue.


GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): If you're angry today, I'm here to tell you be angry. I'm furious. I'm furious that yet more innocent lives were taken by gun violence. I'm furious that their loved ones are forever broken by what took place today. I'm furious that children and their families have been traumatized.


ROMANS: All right, our John Berman is live for us on the ground in Highland Park. And, you know, this event just right at the core of the patriotism -- this annual celebration that brings us all together to celebrate this country. Even before this, there were 50 -- according to The New York Times, 57 shootings in Chicago over this long weekend. It's just the latest flashpoint in gun violence in America.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Yes, Highland Park, about 25 miles north of Chicago. The parade here, a draw for decades. People come from all the towns around here to be part of this parade.

And you can still see the aftermath behind me -- the two blocks behind me right on the parade route. You can see the beach chairs just littering the sides of the road here, left right where they were when people were forced to scramble.

At about 10:15 a.m. local time they heard the shots. You just played the recording of that -- the rat-a-tat-tat of shots. It came from a rooftop about two blocks behind me. The gunman somehow got to the roof from a back alley using a ladder and then opened fire killing six people and wounding about 25.

Luckily, most of those who were wounded, and those range in age from eight to 85 -- most of them have been released at this point.

We did get the name of one of the victims -- one of the people who was killed. Her name is Jacki Sundheim. She worked at a synagogue, the North Shore Congregation Israel, in a town nearby. She was a preschool teacher there and an events coordinator -- one of the six people killed.

We're also getting new information about the suspect -- the person of interest, as the police are calling him right now, who was apprehended after a short police chase in Lake Forest, which is less than five miles from here. He was spotted by one officer, then called for backup. Other officers helped him and he was apprehended. You can see officers leaning on him on the ground.

Again, a person of interest now who has posted videos in the past -- music videos. Among them, one titled "Are You Awake" where he can be heard saying "I need to just do it. It is my destiny," with a stick figure of a shooter-like figure. So that's the type of thing investigators will be looking at, Christine, to try to piece together the trail that led --


BERMAN: -- to this horrific incident.

ROMANS: All right, John Berman for us in Highland Park. Thanks, John. Keep us posted.

Witnesses say there was just sheer terror after the shots rang out at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade.


Stuart Barnett was in the parade with his grandkids. He joins us now. Stuart, thank you so much for joining us this morning. This must have been just such a traumatic experience.

Can you paint the scene for us here? You know, I'm imagining a quintessential day there on the North Shore, right, in the northern suburbs. You're driving in your old Jaguar in the parade. You've got two grandkids sitting up on the back of the car. You're about a block away from the shooting. Tell us what happened.

STUART BARNETT, HIGHLAND PARK PARADE SHOOTING WITNESS (via Webex by Cisco): Well, you've encapsulated pretty much what the circumstances were. And this is a parade that I've been in a couple of times before and really was looking forward to it again after a couple of years of not having the parade.

As the -- as we were driving within about a block of where the shooting took place, I heard the loud banging sound and my first reaction was that it was fireworks from some nut case who would do something like that in the midst of this crowd.

But then I thought well, if I'm wrong about that and it's really gunfire, it's best that we get out. So I turned to my kids and my daughter and I said we're out of here. So I left my car right in the middle of the tracks of the Metro railroad and we ran about two blocks away.

I did see one of the traffic control people and I -- had an earphone in his -- in his ear, and I said to him do you know anything? And he said well, we think it's -- we think it's fireworks. And I said well, I hope that's what it is. And then, subsequently, about a half an hour later when I went back to retrieve my car, at that point, we knew that it was more than fireworks.

So, I did get my car --

ROMANS: Stuart, your instinct was to flee. Your instinct was I'm getting -- I'm getting my family out of here.

BARNETT: There was -- there was an instant of hesitation and I -- when I say an instant, maybe 5-6 seconds when I said you know, if I'm wrong about fireworks, we need to -- we need to move fast. And so, whether they were or they weren't I was going to get my family out of the area.

ROMANS: What did it sound like? You said maybe it was fireworks, but you say it was -- it was dramatic. You are -- you are a veteran. I mean, you were in the military. You say that the gunshots you heard in the military were nothing compared to the -- to that -- what happened at the parade. Can you tell us about that?

BARNETT: This -- yes. This was -- well, I think what accentuated the fire was that the shooting took place between buildings. And so, on top of just the normal noise of this rapid-fire was the echoing on the walls of the buildings. And so, it was amplified by it seemingly by the time it got to me. But it was very loud.

And I don't know how many shots were fired but certainly, enough that it was -- it was just extremely frightening. And as I say, it didn't take long for me to figure out that we needed to get away from there.


You know, something like this really -- I'm sure it's going to affect your friends and family in Highland Park -- the Highland Park community forever. What is your sense of how you'll all move forward?

BARNETT: Well, first of all, I know many of the people who were involved in some of the on-site caring of doctors who were there. Some of them were friends of ours. And I know one person from our club who was hit in the ankle.

I have to tell you that I have been thinking about what happened in Uvalde and it's been on my mind. And then, of course, this happens where we thought nothing like this could ever happen.

And the only thing that runs through my mind now is that -- and I wouldn't wish this on any congressman who is a pro-gun rights individual, but if one of their loved ones were impacted the way people in our community were impacted by this, I can't help but think that possibly the next time they had an opportunity to vote they would change their mind. Because you just can't get it out of your system when something like this happens to a loved one. It's just -- it's impossible.

ROMANS: Yes. Fourth of July parade, at schools, at grocery stores, at synagogues. I mean, this is just -- this is just this steady drumbeat in news, you know? It's just -- we wish you and your community well as we figure -- you know, as you heal, cope with this, and try to move forward.

Stuart Barnett, thank you. Thank you so much for your time this morning.

BARNETT: Thank you.

ROMANS: We'll be right back.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Mitt Romney says America is in denial. The Republican senator from Utah just published an opinion piece in The Atlantic. He says a return to office by former President Trump would worsen the national malady of denial, deceit, and distrust. He reserves special criticism for the reaction of MAGA loyalists to the January 6 hearings.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich, Washington bureau chief for the Daily Beast. Nice to see you this morning, Jackie.


ROMANS: Senator Romney has been one of the few Republicans to speak out against Trump. My question, is he breaking through -- is anyone listening?

KUCINICH: It's a really good question. And when you read through this op-ed, you have heard things that Sen. Romney has said before. He's warned about the fragility of democracy and about leaders standing back or potential leaders standing back and watching.

But he's kind of a man without a country when it comes to his party. The kind of Reagan Republican model that Romney himself tries to emulate really doesn't -- they're growing. It's a smaller and smaller contingent in the Republican Party.

So, it's not clear to me if this is a call to action -- if he's putting himself in that position. Romney is someone, of course, that ran for president and who, himself, has been subject to the winds of political change sometimes. But on this particular issue, he really has made him -- tried to make himself a voice of reason within the Republican Party and perhaps someone who is warning of what's to come should Trump end up the nominee again.


ROMANS: Yes. He says President Joe Biden is genuinely a good man but he has been unable to break through that national malady of denial, deceit, and distrust. A return of Donald Trump would only feed. He also has harsh words for Congress, and Congress hasn't done much to help either.

Meantime, California Gov. Gavin Newsom --


ROMANS: -- is taking aim at Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, in this -- in this ad. Let's watch.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): So let's talk about what's going on in America. Freedom -- it's under attack in your state. Your Republican leaders -- they're banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors. I urge all of you living in Florida to join the fight or join us in California.


ROMANS: OK, so what's the end game here for Newsom?

KUCINICH: I don't know that we know the end game yet but, man, that is a thirsty ad, isn't it?

ROMANS: Is he giving -- is he giving a strategy? Is he giving like a blueprint for Dems here? Is that what it is?

KUCINICH: It seems like he's trying to fill a void, honestly, because you heard him speak out after -- I can't remember if it was the draft or the actual opinion of Roe v. Wade saying Democrats, where are we? Why is there no offensive against this?

So, he is -- he is -- he's also someone who has got a lot of money. He doesn't really have an election per se to spend it on to defend himself. He survived the recall. And he's in a state where on more progressive policies there's a receptive audience.

So -- and now he's using some of that money in a -- in Florida. And he's also -- this is the first time he's kind of gone into DeSantis' turf. He's tried to take it to DeSantis. DeSantis is, of course, a rising political star in the Republican Party who is building himself up as sort of a rival to former President Donald Trump as the -- as the person that's going to take over should he decide not to run.

So, I think that's one of the reasons that you see Newsom kind of setting himself up --


KUCINICH. -- against DeSantis. So perhaps this is a -- we're seeing a view of the future in that regard.

ROMANS: Yes, two very -- two governors in different parties whose stars are both on the rise in very big states. It'll be interesting to watch.

KUCINICH: We should say -- he said -- he said he's not interested in running for president, just to put that out there, Christine.

ROMANS: OK. Well, today. When politicians say that --

KUCINICH: For now.

ROMANS: -- they mean -- they mean right now. There's always a little piece of their brain --

KUCINICH: Keep it out there.

ROMANS: -- that is interested in running for president, and we both know it.

Look, Donald Trump called Liz Cheney a, quote, "despicable human being" right on brand, right, after she forecast these potential criminal referrals for the former president.

What do you think that says about how threatened he may be by this whole -- the hearings that we're seeing underway, and by Liz Cheney, too?

KUCINICH: I mean, he kind of is living rent-free in his head. And he has -- I mean, he's really gone after her. He's endorsed her challenger. He's made life really hard for her back home in Wyoming. But she's not -- she's not -- she's shown herself not to be someone who is going to back down from this.

I mean, he's even -- there's reporting out there from The New York Times that he's thinking of moving up a presidential -- a potential presidential announcement because of the damage that the January 6 hearings are doing to him, both politically and otherwise.

But, Liz Cheney saying in that interview on ABC that there could be potential criminal referrals to the Department of Justice. And we're only going to see more. That's what the larger January 6 committee is forecasting going down at their next hearings about what Trump's involvement was on that day. ROMANS: All right, Jackie Kucinich. Nice to see you. Thank you for getting up bright and early for us.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

KUCINICH: No problem.

ROMANS: A Chicago White Sox pitcher speaking out in the wake of the mass shooting in nearby Highland Park. He says something needs to change on gun violence.



ROMANS: All right. The Chicago White Sox originally planned for a post-game fireworks show but held a pre-game moment of silence for the victims of the Highland Park shooting instead.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning, Carolyn.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning. I wish I could offer a brief respite from what's going on in the headlines --

ROMANS: I know.

MANNO: -- but the fact remains that this tragedy hits very close to home for the White Sox. Their ballpark is located about 30 miles from Highland Park.

White Sox manager Tony La Russa said there was some talk with Major League Baseball and local authorities about canceling last night's game but it went on as scheduled. The post-game fireworks show was called off, as you said, Christine, and a moment of silence held before the first pitch.

Pitcher Liam Hendriks, an Australian player who has been vocal on a number of political issues, offered his thoughts on gun violence while speaking with reporters before the game.


LIAM HENDRIKS, PITCHER, CHICAGO WHITE SOX: Unfortunately, in this day and age, it's becoming all too commonplace. I think the access to the weaponry that is being kind of used in these things is -- something needs to change. Something needs to be done. Something needs to happen because there's way too many people losing their lives.

It's baffling to me. Obviously, coming over, you -- that's what America is known for. I can -- I can walk into a store as a non- American and buy a handgun in certain states and that baffles me because it takes longer -- I had to take a driving test when I was over here. I didn't have -- I won't have to take a test if I want to get a gun. That's stupid. Whoever thought that was a great idea is an idiot.


MANNO: The team issued a statement expressing its deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims of the horrific shooting and to all of those who are affected by it.

All of the city pro teams released statements expressing their condolences for Highland Park, with many extending their message to all victims of gun violence. The Bears calling the shooting senseless and disgraceful. And you just heard Hendriks there calling it baffling as well, and I think he's just vocalizing what a lot of people feel this morning after the holiday.

ROMANS: All right, simply a tragedy. All right, thank you so much, Carolyn Manno. Nice to see you.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY's" covering of the July Fourth parade shooting starts right now.