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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Now: President Biden Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Lapid; Witness Trump Tried to Call is White House Support Staffer; Energy, Food & Housing Prices Surge to New Peak. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 14, 2022 - 05:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Thursday morning.

Welcome to our viewers in United States and around the world. It is Thursday, July 14th, I'm Erica Hill. Christine Romans is off.

Right now, President Biden is in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. In a couple hours, the two leaders will sign a joint declaration aimed at expanding the security relationship between the U.S. and Israel encountering Iran.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is live in Jerusalem this morning.

So, Wolf, we are expecting a news conference from Biden and Lapid after that signing. What in this -- expected to be in the security declaration?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It will be a very strong statement of U.S. support for Israel not only in terms of political support, humanitarian support, but also in terms of strategic support and working with Israel in a whole host of areas. And they go into extensive detail. It's going to be an important document that the U.S. and Israeli government will co-sponsor obviously and it will underscore the U.S. commitment.

By the way, we're showing our viewers some video some moments ago. Right now, here in Israel, President Biden is meeting with Yair Lapid, the Israeli -- the new Israeli prime minister. This is an interim prime minister. There is a new Israeli parliamentary election now scheduled for November 1. And that will be very, very significant.

In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Lapid, he's going to be meeting with the Israeli President Herzog and also the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So, he's got a very busy schedule. And as you know, Erica, the president will have a joint news conference which will have live coverage of here in Jerusalem with the Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. there will be questions from Israeli and American journalists at the news conference. We'll see what they have to say.

But clearly, there is a lot of issues on the agenda right now. And they will go into substantive detail in the course of their statements.

HILL: Yeah, there certainly is a lot on the table, as you pointed out, Wolf. We'll look forward to more of that coming up and to your coverage as well. Wolf, thank you.

President Biden meantime attacking former President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal even before arriving in Israel.

Reporter Elliott Gotkine is live in just.

So, Elliott, President Trump's move -- former President Trump's move to exit that nuclear deal was widely popular in Israel. It suggests Mr. Biden's criticism of it won't be. Where does this put things?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Well, Erica, you recall that former President Donald Trump described it as pretty of the worst deal ever and now, President Biden is describing it as a gigantic mistake. And these are comments made in a wide ranging interview that president Biden did with Israel's Channel 12 news before he arrived in the country.

They had much to discuss on Saudi Arabia, potential no normalization on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and other global issues. But Iran was one of the key things that they discussed and President Biden didn't mince words.


INTERVIEWER: You know, most of Israelis are opposed to return to the Iran deal. And American partners in the region seem skeptical. May I ask you, many Israelis wonder why you are determined to return to the deal?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because the only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is a Iran with nuclear weapons. And if we can return to the deal and hold them tight -- I think it was a gigantic mistake for the last president to get out of the deal. They are closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were before.

INTERVIEWER: In the past, you said that he would do anything to ensure Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons. Does that also mean that you would use force against Iran, is that what that means if needed?

BIDEN: As a last resort, yes.


GOTKINE: Now, we think this is the first time that President Biden has explicitly said that force was an option. They previously said that all options were on the table. So this would seem to suggest a kind of hardening of the rhetoric against Iran and, of course, as wolf was saying, we'll get a signing ceremony between Prime Minister Lapid and President Biden later today in which both sides, Israel and the United States, will reiterate their commitment to doing whatever it takes effectively to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And in the word of a U.S. administration official to also address Iran's destabilizing efforts and threats from Iran and its proxies against Israel -- Erica.

HILL: Elliott, appreciate it. Thank you.

President Biden also set to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on Friday. As CNN's Hadas Gold explains, almost no one is expecting any big breakthroughs.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years ago, on his last visit to the White House, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made a rare venture into English.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: Now, Mr. President, with you, we have hope.

GOLD: Several months later, that hope proved to have been terribly misplaced.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

GOLD: Under Donald Trump, U.S. policy tilted heavily towards Israel. The Palestinian political office in Washington was closed. The American consulate in Jerusalem, which symbolized U.S./Palestinian relations, also closed, and almost all economic aid to the Palestinians was switched off.

So when Joe Biden won the election, there was great relief among many in the Palestinian community. But that relief has little to show in terms of action. The Biden administration highlights renewed financing. About half a billion dollars, mostly on schools, hospitals, and other humanitarian aid projects. Further, $100 million is set to be announced on this trip including some money for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem.

But politically, the White House seems unwilling to pressure Israel over continued expansion of West Bank settlements and weak in the face of Israel's resistance over plans to reopen the consulate in Jerusalem.

Hussein Sheikh is one of Abbas' closest aides.

HUSSEIN SHEIKH, SECRETARY GENERAL, PLO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (through translator): The U.S. administration has been talking with us about these issues for more than a year, but nothing has been achieved. Even so, we continue to hope this visit will produce serious outcomes that it provides hope and a political horizon.

GOLD: Biden's visit to the West Bank will take him not to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, but to Bethlehem, just a few miles south of Jerusalem, where the president will find it hard to avoid stark reminders of the conflict.

One issue that will likely be staring President Biden right in the face, the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, this giant mural of the al Jazeera journalist is right on the road you take as you enter Bethlehem.

For many here, the U.S. response to the death of the Palestinian American reporter shot dead while covering an Israeli military operation has been inadequate and indicative, they believe, of the U.S.'s unwillingness to force Israel to get serious about peace and bringing an end to occupation.

LINA ABA AKLEH, NIECE OF SHIREEN ABU AKLEH: Putting an end to this injustice, an end to this impunity is important because it sheds light, it continues to shed light on the greater picture of what Palestinians continue to endure on a daily basis.

GOLD: From the Palestinian perspective, the overwhelming feeling around the president's visit is one of pessimism.

Hadas Gold, CNN, Bethlehem.


HILL: Joining us now, Joel Rubin. former Middle East foreign policy consultant.

Good to have you with us. Let's pick up where Hadas left off there. There is pessimism on the part of Palestinians but hope as we heard from one official, they continue to open for serious outcomes.

Realistically, what do you expect to come of this meeting?

JOEL RUBIN, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Erica, this is a very important meeting. It is putting the Palestinian issue back on the map. What Joe Biden is doing here in Israel today where I am in Jerusalem and as well as going to Bethlehem and then to Saudi Arabia is restoring American global leadership and putting issues back into discussion that president Trump dropped and dropped in a most damaging way to American interests and to the region.

And so, this discussion, these meetings, we're seeing some movement, President Abbas spoke with Prime Minister Yair Lapid recently, w seeing more American aid going in. It's not going to resolve everything for certain, and that is core to understanding this, it cannot all be resolved in one day, but this is starting the discussion at the highest level and that is very important.

HILL: And we'll see where those discussions lead. I also want to ask you about comments that we heard, Elliott Gotkine played those comments that he made to Israeli TV saying we could use force as a last resort when it comes to Iran. That is a very strong statement, as opposed to everything is on the table acknowledging that force could be an option here.

Is the U.S. prepared for that? RUBIN: You know, Erica, I think the president is restating long

standing American policy. But what he did say directly in that interview, he spoke to the Israeli people and he said diplomacy is the best path and frankly the only path to preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon which is why he continues to pursue that and he will make that case with our Gulf allies.

Israelis need to hear it clearly. The president being here is showing that he has their back on many different security issues, but he is making the case that diplomacy is the best route. Last resort option is the last resort going back multiple presidents.

HILL: You know, we learned earlier this week, Iran partners with Russia supplying some of these attack drones for use in Ukraine. How much do you think that it is figuring into this -- you say this is long standing policy, but this is sort of the most stark statement that we've heard to this point to say, right, that force could be an option here?


RUBIN: Yeah. Look, I think that what we're seeing with Iran in its, frankly terrorist activities in the region, support for militias, it has framed the region into organizing itself to resist Iran. And so call out Iran and putting sanctions on Iran, you will see more engagement on the defense side. This is all heading in the direction of potentially greater conflict, and that's what President Biden is trying to avoid conflict.

Can't emphasize enough how important it is for him to be here in person with strong American diplomatic leadership, talking to our allies, talking about both the adversaries they face as well as the realistic options. He is not looking for military action but he certainly is not keeping his eyes shut as to the behavior that Iran is engaging in.

HILL: As we watch what is playing out, and we'll hear more about the security declaration, this of course is all teeing up the next trip which comes in Saudi Arabia where there is a lot of focus specifically on will there be a hand shake, will there not be a hand shake, what will actually be brought up in terms of human rights abuses. How important is it for there to be a very strong statement from President Biden specifically talking about human rights?

RUBIN: It is very important. It is important for his credibility back at home and his policy in the region. It doesn't mean every issue will be resolved. That is the hardest part, trying to advance the ball while also engaging.

Saudi Arabia has been a long time strategic partner of the United States. President Biden was right to call Mohammed bin Salman out for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. But it doesn't mean that we cut and rush relations. I don't think that the Biden team wants to do that. But he will have to talk openly, he will have to press on that and certainly the countries in the region will also see the United States providing support military support and diplomatic support for their goals as well. So, a lot of discussions and a lot of different issues at the same time.

HILL: And do you think that he will be pressed in this news conference on the findings regarding the death of journalist, Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh?

RUBIN: It is a hot issue within the Palestinian world and certainly in the U.S. as well, an American journalist being killed should never happen anywhere ever. And I think that the president will get pressed, he will certainly touch on it, he will see pictures. I was in Bethlehem recently, he will see pictures of Shireen all around him.

So it will come up and the administration is making efforts to speak to the family directly to try to make sure that they understand that the administration is doing what it can to rectify this. But it is a very hard situation and it should never have happened.

HILL: Joel Rubin, appreciate you joining us this morning, thank you.

Up next here, what sources now say about that mystery January 6 witness who claimed to receive a call from Donald Trump.

Plus, the search for the missing amid the threat of more flash flooding in the American south.

And hard working miles per hours squeezed by rising inflation.



HILL: New reporting this morning on Liz Cheney's claim earlier this week that Donald Trump personally tried to contact a witness who has been speaking with the January 6 committee. CNN has learned that witness is a member of White House support staff.

Daniella Diaz is joining us live from Capitol Hill.

So, Daniella, we don't know the name of the staffer. Do we have anymore detail on why the former president may have tried to contact this particular person?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN REPORTER: Erica, there is still a lot of details we're learning. But this is a staffer that had unique insight into former President Donald Trump then president Trump, has information that the committee is interested in. This individual was reached out by Donald Trump, he reached out to this individual, this individual declined the call and actually referred the information to their attorney which then, of course, contacted -- referred the information to the committee.

But, look, the committee provided this information and this revelation at the end of the hearing on Tuesday but did not provide any information about this person's name or why they believe this is an example of witness tampering, that is of course what Cheney said. But they did refer the information to the Department of Justice which is note only considering that they have not revealed any other details, Erica.

But, look, the committee has communicated with this individual, they said, not in a formal way, whether they've been deposed. But it sounds like it's been informal communication and they have been providing information to the committee about what they know. But, look, of course, there is still a lot of details we don't know about this. Really want to emphasize that.

But this of course comes after that first hearing last week with -- or two weeks ago with Cassidy Hutchinson that revealed that Trump has been reaching out -- or people in Trump's orbit, have been reaching out directly to people that have been speaking to the committee. Of course, an example of what the committee calls witness intimidation and this is just the latest example of another situation that the committee has explained during their hearing that has been happening between former President Donald Trump and people working on the investigation.

And I do want to note that Chairman Bennie Thompson told Ryan Nobles, our co-worker, that more details they will be learning in the coming days. But, of course, Erica, this is what we know for now.

HILL: Yeah. All right. Daniella, appreciate it. Thank you.

Well, Senator Lindsey Graham now way to now trying to quash the grand jury subpoena investigating former President Trump's efforts to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results. Prosecutors in the Atlanta area say the grand jury needs to hear from Graham about at least two calls that he made to Georgia secretary of state and his staff in the wake of the election.

Graham urged Raffensperger to reexamine absentee ballots. The senator's attorneys, though, claimed that those calls were, quote, legislative activity and are protected b the Constitution.

Inflation, probably don't have to tell you, is surging. It is now over 9 percent, the highest level in more than 40 years. That is even above what analysts had predicted.

Much of this is driven by skyrocketing gas prices. Consumers understandably upset. Economists are worried about the possibility of a recession.

So, where does this leave us? Here is Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Surging costs for gas, food and rent pushed inflation to a new four-decade high last month. Consumer prices are up 9.1 percent from a year before, further squeezing household budgets raising concerns of a recession.

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: The typical American household, they need to shell out almost $500 more a month to buy the same goods and services that they were buying a year ago because of this higher inflation, so, very painful. TODD: At this gas station in Northern Virginia, motorists wonder how much more pain they can endure.

KRISTIN ALLSTADT, MOTORIST IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA: I do not feel like I have any confidence on when the prices are going to go down. So, it has been a little frustrating.

MARK THAW, MOTORIST IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA: I'm used to spending like maybe $50 a week in gas. I'm just spending over like $120, $130 a week for gas.

TODD: Gas prices were up nearly 60 percent over the year, although in the past month, they have actually fallen about 8 percent, and at the grocery store.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here is a great example. These are normally paid $2 at the most, maybe $3.00 something a bag, $5.50 I believe.

TODD: Dairy prices are up 13.5 from a year ago, meat up 13.8 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I buy zero meat. There's no meat in here.

TODD: And just staying in your home or buying one is more expensive, home prices and rents up 5.6 percent from 2021.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to make a decision whether or not you're going to pay your rent or go buy some food.

TODD: And of these skyrocketing prices, gas, food and rent are necessities.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, WASHINGTON POST OPINION COLUMNIST: Those are areas that most Americans, particularly lower income Americans, cannot cut back on. So, if they're seeing the price of gasoline go up, they can't decide that they're going to stop commuting to work, right? They can't decide that they're going to stop picking up their kid from school.

TODD: The Federal Reserve can fight inflation by, again, hiking interest rates, but that also cools off the economy.

RAMPELL: The more aggressively they have to raise rates, the more aggressively they have to effectively stomp on the brakes, the higher the risk of recession becomes.

TODD: In the meantime, consumers are debating how they can change their habits to get by.

JENI BLESSMAN, MOTORIST IN NORTHERN VIRGINIA: I have changed my travel behavior and that I will try to cluster when I need to go far.

THAW: And I'm also in the process of buying an electric scooter so it will save me on gas.


TODD (on camera): What else can consumers do? Economist Mark Zandi says, for those people contemplating a big purchase, like a car or a new home, hold off until prices go down and inventory goes up. That will probably take at least a few more months.

Brian Todd, CNN, McClain, Virginia.

HILL: Right now, President Biden is in Israel, we could hear from him a short time from now. Stay with us for that.

Plus, next here, roads and bridges washed out by severe flash flooding. We'll get you updated.



HILL: Devastating pictures to show you out of Western Virginia, 44 people unaccounted for this morning after severe storms unleashed flash flooding in rural Buchanan County. Power outages are also making it difficult to contact anyone. At least 100 homes were washed away in the areas. Roads remain blocked by landslides and approaches to bridges also washed out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next thing you know, flooding.

DOMINICK FRAGOSO, BUCHANAN COUNTY RESIDENT: One of our neighbor's driveways completely collapsed and fell down the mountain. Roads if you walk up there, they are completely destroyed. Some of them snapped, some slid across other roads.


HILL: The Red Cross is helping with relief efforts. Authorities have also issued a boil water notice for the area.

Well, the rain may be over in Virginia, but the slow moving thunderstorms could still impact areas. Following those from Louisiana through the Carolinas.

Meteorologist Tom Sater standing by.

Could be a bit of rough day today.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It could. I mean, we still have our stretch of 100 degree heat. Good news no more rain in that area.

But when you look at the U.S. storm reports, we had the winds and hail reports in the west, but that system on the east coast, over 340 wind reports. But it wasn't about the wind, it was about these torrents of rainfall.

We went back and looked at the radar loop -- again, here is the county in West Virginia, just below that in the western part of Virginia, training one thunderstorm after another over the same area, 6.5 to 8.5 inches in a couple hours time. This is a mountain hilly area, so all that rainfall down to the lowest point, the river. They said walls of water coming and pushing those houses off of course their foundations. Washed away roadways, over 40 people are missing. Keep them in your thoughts.

A little bit of rainfall could be heavy at times. Panhandle of Florida over toward parishes in Louisiana, it doesn't look really impressive on the forecast radar, but there will be some downpours and more rainfall out west. And then a nice little band moves in toward Chicago for Friday.

More records were broken, Waco, 108 yesterday, Broke it by one. The record went back to 1933.