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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Former Pence Chief of Staff Confirms He Testified Before Grand Jury; Biden: Trump "Lacked the Courage" to Respond to Capitol Riot; Brittney Griner in Moscow court for Sentencing Hearing; Pope Apologizes for Indigenous Abuse in Canada's Catholic Schools. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It is Tuesday, July 26, 5:00 a.m. here in New York. Thanks for getting an early start with us this morning. I'm Christine Romans.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The criminal investigation of the Capitol riot is reaching closer than ever to the top. Marc Short, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, testifying last week before a federal grand jury, and talking about it on CNN though he is not saying much.


MARC SHORT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I can confirm that I received a subpoena for the federal grand jury and I complied with that subpoena, but under advice of counsel, I can't really say much more than that. That was my only appearance before the grand jury.


ROMANS: And there are also reports that a second former Pence aide Greg Jacob was also subpoenaed and testified.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers.

Jennifer, tell us how significant is this that two of the former vice president's top aides have now appeared before a grand jury?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Christine, it is significant for a couple reasons. First of all, they are really important witnesses. One of them was one of the live witnesses that the January 6 committee brought us and they were very close to the former vice president not testified and they know everything basically that he knows.

And we know that Mike Pence, of course, was the center of the scheme of former President Trump to overturn the election, the linchpin really. So it is important for that reason. And it is also important because it means that the DOJ investigation is broader than we've previously known. We knew that they were investigating the fraudulent slate of electors. Obviously, we know about the hundreds of cases that stem from January 6 itself, but we didn't know that they were looking into the Mike Pence pressure campaign and that means that their investigation is broader and likely gets much closer to the former president than has previously been made public.

ROMANS: And I wonder if this, you know, Marc Short and Greg Jacob, this is almost as good as Pence himself speaking here. These are two people close to all the action.

RODGERS: It is close. Listen, never as good as the person who was in the room. It is a secondhand account if they weren't in the room themselves. But it is very good. We heard some of what they said to the January 6 committee. So they are getting to Pence.

And remember the DOJ has more tools to compel witnesses to testify including the former vice president than the January 6 committee does. So it may mean that they are ultimately going to have Mike Pence testify as well.

ROMANS: I wonder what could be revealed in the testimony that hasn't yet come to light.

RODGERS: Well, you know, we've seen very small snippets from the January 6 committee. They interviewed these people for hours and hours and we've seen just the smallest version of that. So there is a lot that hasn't come to light yet I suspect.

And DOJ, of course, has more do than the January 6 Committee does. They will want to find out about other evidence that these people know about, they will want to make sure that there is not any inconsistent evidence there. So a lot that we haven't heard yet and DOJ will be digging into all of that and following up as we speak.

ROMANS: Let's talk about Fulton County, Georgia. A judge has launched a case against the Georgia Republican State Senator Burt Jones in that Trump fake elector investigation. After Willis hosted a fundraiser and donated to Jones' opponent, Charlie Bailey, the judge called it a "what were you thinking" moment. What do you make of it?

RODGERS: It's really, really interesting. And it is logistically problematic for the D.A. because now her investigation is kind of split. She can proceed as against all of the other folks who signed the fake electors slate, but not this one person. So the attorney general is apparently going to have to figure out what D.A. will handle that investigation.

So it just kind of breaks things apart, it is kind of a practical nightmare for this D.A. and really an unforced error, you know. There is no reason that she should have been in this position. And it may impact her case, certainly, it will as it relates to this one potential defendant. So it is unfortunate and hopefully, she'll be a bit smarter with conflict of interests moving forward.

ROMANS: All right. Jennifer Rodgers, so nice to see you bright and early this morning. Thank you so much for that analysis. RODGERS: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. President Biden speaking to law enforcement with this to say on Donald Trump's failure to take action January 6.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Face-to-face with the crazed mob who believed the lies of the defeated president.


The police were heroes that day. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act.


ROMANS: Jasmine Wright is in Washington for us.

Jasmine, nice to see you this morning.

You know, President Biden has largely avoided criticizing his predecessor, focusing on moving forward instead of looking back. Does this signal a shift in strategy?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN REPORTER: Yeah. Well, President Biden is looking to draw a stronger contrast with Republicans as midterms draw near.

And so, I think that we're seeing that play out in real time here as President Biden addresses a conference of Black law enforcement officials in Florida virtually with pre-recorded remarks. And I think you're right, he seldomly calls former President Trump out by name, seldom criticizes him by name, but here we're seeing him do just that.

Now, President Biden made the case that you can't be pro-insurrection and also be pro-cop. Take a listen.


BIDEN: Brave law enforcement officers are subject to the medieval hell for three hours, dripping in blood surrounded by carnage. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-cop. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-democracy. You can't be pro-insurrection and pro-American.


WRIGHT: So there we obviously see an appetite from President Biden to at least strongly condemn President Trump for his actions that day. Officials have said that the president has watched these hearings here and there, but he specifically watched Thursday's hearing at least the begin of it with that really -- or what really outlined what little former President Trump did to stop the insurrection that day. President Biden watched it after he tested positive for COVID and was isolating at the White House. ROMANS: Yeah, you can almost hear it in his voice, that huskiness, as

so many of us have been isolating once we get COVID. You can hear that in the president's voice. What are they saying about his condition at the moment?

WRIGHT: Yeah, Christine. Well, the president's condition -- symptoms have nearly resolved here, that is according to his doctor, Kevin O'Connor, who in a letter updating reporters on Monday testified that President Biden was only having that residual nasal congestion which you could hear in those remarks that we just listened to.

Now, Dr. O'Connor said that the president pulse and temperature were normal and his breathing was excellent. So, of course, this morning, the president will enter day five of five days of isolation at the White House and probably tomorrow they will try to see if he can test out, again trying to rejoin the world and start pushing once again on his agenda.

ROMANS: All right. Jasmine, nice to see you this morning. Thank you very much. Keep us posted.

All right. Recession watch this morning conflicting and confusing signals about whether a recession is here or near. The White House stressing the resiliency of the U.S. economy. Here is the president.


BIDEN: We're not going to be in a recession in my view. My hope is that we go from this rapid growth to steady growth and so we'll see some coming down, but I don't think that we'll -- God willing, I don't think that we'll see a recession.


ROMANS: But this new take from former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.


LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: I think that the overwhelming weight of the evidence is that we are not in recession now. The negative GDP is in a sense misleading. People spent a lot of money, so inventories got drawn down. That is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness whenever the GDP numbers show.

I do think that over the medium term, the great likelihood is that we will have a recession because when we have an economy as overheated as the economy that we have, that has been the almost universal historical experience.


ROMANS: So to be fair here, no one knows for sure, right? These are all forecasts. Official arbiters of recessions often don't rule until it is over. But we're about to get more clarity though about what the situation is right now. The Federal Reserve meets on interest rates tomorrow, it is expected to raise interest rates three quarters of a point. That will mean higher borrowing costs for you.

The GDP number that Mr. Summers mentioned is due up Thursday and corporate earnings all this week, we've already heard from Walmart and this is a big sign of a savvy consumer and here is why. Walmart is warning that it had to slash prices on its high margin nonessential goods because savvy shoppers are focusing on the essentials on gas and food. Inflation is biting their budgets and they are spending on what they need, not on the creature comforts of the pandemic.

We'll also get a new reading on consumer sentiment later this morning. So, just a lot happening here on the economy watch.

ROMANS: All right. Right now, in a Russian courtroom, Brittney Griner and her lawyer trying to win her release.

Plus, Pope Francis asking for forgiveness for what he calls deplorable evil.

And how a work crew sparked a fire that burned dozens of homes.



ROMANS: WNBA star Brittney Griner is back in a Moscow courtroom for a sentencing hearing this morning. Her defense team is hoping for leniency. Griner is pleading guilty to a drug charge. Now, she insists that she did not intend to break any Russian laws. She faces ten years in prison on this drug charge.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen has been tracking the case for us.

And, Fred, is she going to testify before the judge this week?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Christine. Well, it's actually interesting because her lawyers just came out of the courtroom and they were asked whether or not that's going to be the case at the next trial hearing which is actually set for tomorrow. And they said that, yes, that is the plan. That she is going to take the stand, that she will be cross-examined, that she will, of course, also be examined by her own team as well and that she does plan to speak to the court.

Now, the hearing for today has concluded, latest info that we have is that Brittney Griner was just led out of the courtroom.


Of course there were officials from the U.S. embassy there as well.

Right now, what's going on currently in this stage of the trial is that the defense is presenting their evidence. So, today, they had an expert witness on, an expert on narcotic toxicology who said that, yes, in Western countries specifically in the United States, sometimes CBD oil is used for medical purposes and can be described by doctors even though that is something that is illegal in Russia. That is all part of the broader strategy that the defense right now is

following to obviously try to get Brittney Griner out of jail as fast as possible. On the one hand, she did plead guilty, she is asking for leniency, but they are also putting for instance character witnesses up who are saying that she did a lot for basketball in Russia by playing in Russia doing a lot for the sport in that country. And then also that she made an honest mistake because she was using the CBD cartridges, or the cartridges that had CBD oil in them for medical purposes.

So, it's part of a broader strategy. They are hoping for leniency, but, of course, one of the things, Christine, that we also have to point out is that in many cases, there are very harsh sentences in Russia, very few defendants who actually getting a quitted in Russian courts. Nevertheless, we're hearing from Brittney Griner's legal team that we've been in touch with them a lot over the past couple of weeks as this trial has been going on.

They do hope that in this case, she will get leniency simply because she is a very prominent athlete. She is someone who did a lot for the sport in Russia and she is also someone who admits to making an honest mistake, Christine.

ROMANS: Making an honest mistake. We'll see what happens in court.

Fred Pleitgen, thank you for following that for us. Keep us posted tomorrow, too.

All right. It is day two of Pope Francis' journey of penance to Canada. The visit intended to be an apology for what the pope calls deplorable evil of indigenous abuse in Canadian Catholic schools.


POPE FRANCIS, CATHOLIC CHURCH (through translator): Today, I am here in this land that along with its ancient memories preserves the scars of still open wounds. I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking for forgiveness.


ROMANS: Let's bring in CNN senior Vatican analyst John Allen from Rome. You know, John, Christianity is a religion of forgiveness. When you read details of what happened to these children and what happened in these schools, it is very difficult to dig deep to find forgiveness especially for so many of those families and communities.

What's been the reaction to the pope's apology?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Hi there, Christine. Well, I think the reaction has been two-fold to the extent that we can gauge it. There was a press conference yesterday with representatives of various indigenous groups in Canada. And I think that the two elements are, one, did gratitude for this historic apology. I mean, let's remember that popes have been apologizing for various

sins of the Catholic church since the era of St. Paul VI, Pope Paul VI in the 1960s. There have literally been hundreds them. This certainly will register as one of the most forceful and heartfelt.

I mean, Pope Francis described a project of cultural destruction and forced assimilation that resulted in these residential schools. He called it catastrophic and disastrous and humbly begged for forgiveness for the evil. That is remarkably forceful rhetoric.

And I think that the indigenous peoples particularly given that it was delivered on their soil, on the site of one of these former residential schools, are grateful for it.

However, I think that they are also saying that those apologies are going to ring hollow if they are not followed by actions, specifically what they are looking for is an opening of the church's archives both in Canada and in the Vatican to try to get to the bottom of what happened to these children who were forcibly placed in residential schools.

They are also looking for financial reparations. The Canadian bishops have committed to raising about $30 million. So far they have raised about 4 or 5. They are looking for this trip to kick start that and to make it real.

And I think that the success or failure of this about papal trip to Canada is going to be gauged by whether that commitment to action follows these heartfelt apologies, Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah, I think it is remarkable to see him there, you're right, on Canadian soil making this apology. I mean, they are still making new discoveries all the time about atrocities that happened at some of these schools. It's still decades old but still very fresh in a way.

ALLEN: Oh, it is incredibly fresh. Bear in mind that these residential schools operated from the 19th to the middle part of the 20th century. So, we're talking about a century of experience.


But the discovery of these hundreds of unmarked graves is really we're only talking about the last year or so. And so, the scope of the horrors that happened at these places is still very fresh. Not only for Canada's indigenous population but really for the entire society in Canada. This has become a litmus test in a way of the seriousness of Canada's commitment to human rights and to justice especially for minorities.

And so, the extent to which the pope stands in these spaces and delivers what is seen as a credible meaningful apology, that is hugely important. But in addition, I think that these indigenous communities and Canadians generally are also looking to see, great, these apologies have now been delivered, what comes next. And that will really be the acid test, Christine, of whether this trip

is genuinely the beginning of a period of reparation and healing as the pope as described it or whether it comes off as kind of a PR exercise. We shall see.

ROMANS: All right. Forgiveness, reparation, healing.

Thank you so much, John Allen, for that an analysis. Nice to see you this morning.

All right. New strikes on Ukrainian ports, where does it leave the new deal to export grain from those ports?

And the battle in the Midwest over a near total abortion ban.



ROMANS: All right. Just in to CNN, the city of St, Louis now under a flash flood emergency. We've seen some areas reporting almost 7 inches of rain in four hours, and there are reports of rescues.

Let's get right to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. Still dark in the St. Louis area, but we know that there is a lot happening there.

What can you tell us?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, very dangerous setup. When you look at flash flood emergencies, water rescues could be taking place and flooding is imminent or occurring and this particular one goes until about 8:30 in the morning local time. And we're seeing these storms essentially training over the region, and what that means is that think of box cards on the train moving over the same area over and over again. And this is precisely what's happening. It's led to this incredible amount of rainfall. In some spots now pushing up close to seven inches as Christine noted.

When you look at those numbers in four hours, 7 inches of rainfall, that is a one in 500 year event and pretty rare event to set up here. So we know that this is dangerous as it gets especially when it is dark outside of course. And the flood warnings widespread across the region, including the entirety of St. Louis itself. And then rainfall amounts pretty impressive here. Storm totals in some spots approaching 9 inches now.

So we're watching this carefully with these storms as they continue to move up with this landscape. And the energy will want to shift a little farther toward the east, so we expect the Ohio Valley and the Mid-Atlantic to get in on some of the thunderstorms later on into the morning hours and produce a risk for flooding.

Now, the other story we've been following is the incredible amount of heat building across the western United States. Look at this, Washington state, Oregon, into parts of California, 107, 108, records once again across the region. And heat alerts across a widespread area of Seattle, Portland and to portions of even southern Oregon where it could feel as hot as 110 degrees.

Look at Seattle, next four days temps staying well into the 90s, average this time of year is right around 79 degrees and we think finally this time next week, we begin to see a cooling trend around portions of the Pacific Northwest and the heat stays put. Anytime that you have warmer weather in Portland, Oregon and Las Vegas or Phoenix, you know that it's a big time heat wave.

And keep in mind, this is one region of the country, Christine, where air conditioning is very hard on come by, so they're really going to feel the brunt of this heat wave across that region.

ROMANS: Yeah. Folks in the northwest, please check with your neighbors, right? Especially older neighbors and people who need help.

Thank you so much for that, Pedram. And keep us posted.

All right. California's fast moving Oak Fire near Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County, it has grown to more than 17,000 acres. It is now the state's biggest wildfire of 2022. Dozens of homes and other buildings destroyed, including the home of a newlywed couple.

They returned to see their house in ruins, but they are thankful that they escaped the flames.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I have to prioritize keeping her safe versus the house safe, I'm taking her and we're getting out of there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The girls were not with us, so safety was a priority to make it home safe to the girls.


ROMANS: All right. Officials say the Oak Fire is just 16 percent contained, and the cause is still under investigation.

Fire officials in North Texas, they know what caused a grass fire that has damaged more than two dozen homes in the city of Balch Springs. That's near Dallas. They say a crew that was mowing a field Monday hit some debris and caused a spark. And set the cut grass on fire. No injuries have been reported thankfully.

In just a couple hours, Indiana lawmakers will reconvene in a special session to consider a near total ban on abortion. They met Monday for more than four hours while thousands of pro-choice advocates gathered outside the statehouse to protest.

CNN's Alexandra Field is on the ground for us in Indianapolis.



ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thousands of demonstrators swarming Indiana's state capitol for the heated debate over a bill to ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy, with exceptions for some cases of rape, incest, and threats to the life of the mother.


FIELD: Fierce opposition to the bill coming now on both sides of the issue.

JODI SMITH, INDIANA RIGIHT TO LIFE: Indiana Right to Life's mission is to protect the right to life. Our opposition to this bill is because in its current state, it doesn't stack up to that mission.