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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Speaker Pelosi Preparing To Depart Taiwan's Capital; U.S. Drone Strike Kills Al Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri; Sandy Hook Parents: Alex Jones Tarnished Our Son's Legacy. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 03, 2022 - 05:30   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Just ahead, new clues to a mid-air mystery that led to a co-pilot's death. And Nancy Pelosi, right now, leaving Taiwan. So, was her visit worth it?


HILL: This just into CNN. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leaving Taiwan's capital just moments ago. Pelosi and her delegation were seen on the tarmac in Taipei before climbing the stairs onto her plane.


Pelosi there, of course, ignoring China's threats about her visit to Taiwan, declaring while she's there an unwavering U.S. commitment to Taiwan's democracy. Beijing condemning the visit with a burst of military activity while also summoning the U.S. ambassador and suspending several agricultural imports from Taiwan.

Let's bring in CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's also a White House national security correspondent for The New York Times and the author of "The Perfect Weapon." David, good to see you this morning.

You know, the big question that's being discussed is whether this trip was worth it. What's the assessment this morning?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES, AUTHOR, "THE PERFECT WEAPON: WAR, SABOTAGE, AND FEAR IN THE CYBER AGE" (via Webex by Cisco): Well, that's a hard measure to make. It had great symbolic importance, clearly, for the Taiwanese people. She was cheered on her way into the legislature.

She made a symbolic stop at the Taiwan semiconductor manufacturing company. This is no ordinary chip maker. It's the one that provides the most high-tech chips to the United States and to China and the rest of the world -- bigger than any other chipmaker in the world. And that was to sort of say to China you need this island as much as we do and to be a bit of a restraint.

But at the same time, the Chinese government has announced a series of live fire exercises. And I was just looking at the map about where they will be conducted and some of them are just 10 miles off the coast -- much closer to Taiwan than the live fire exercises in 1996 that led Bill Clinton to send an American carrier group right to the head of the Taiwan Strait.

HILL: The fact that the -- that this map was released and that we're also learning that Taiwan is looking for some alternate flight routes because of some of this activity, if the goal here was provocation on China's part, is it working?

SANGER: Well, certainly, the goal of Nancy Pelosi was to make a statement to the Chinese. And many in Washington, including in the White House, were concerned that there were elements of this trip that were a bit reckless. The Pentagon didn't want them to do it, as President Biden said, because they felt like they have enough provocations with China right now and that there would be more symbolism to this trip than substance.

But the Taiwanese government, it looks like, greeted her and they rolled out the red carpet. So they wanted the sign of support. And for her, it was a bit of a legacy trip because if you think that the Democrats have a very good chance of losing the House in November and they do, this would be her last trip to Asia.

HILL: As we look at all of that, right -- U.S.-China relations have been at the forefront so much over the last several years -- those concerns aren't going anywhere. And that was, as you pointed out, part of the concern ahead of this trip in terms of what that impact would be.

Who is coming out of this visit, if we can make the assessment at this point, stronger?

SANGER: Not clear yet.

HILL: Yes.

SANGER: The United States has now established the principle, over the president's objections I think, that China cannot dictate the level of American officials who come to visit. Nancy Pelosi was the first Speaker of the House in 25 years since Newt Gingrich went in 1997, but she's also now reestablished that the third in line for the presidency can show up on Taiwan territory.

The Chinese may well use -- the Chinese government may well use these live fire exercises and whatever follows to establish that they really dominate the region right around Taiwan. And you look at where those exercises are being conducted -- they have completely surrounded the island. There's a big message in that.

HILL: David Sanger, always appreciate your insight. Thanks for joining us this morning.

SANGER: Great to be with you.

HILL: The White House is confident the drone strike targeting the leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, did, indeed, kill him. Zawahiri was one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks. The administration says Hellfire missiles on a drone took out the 71-year-old terrorists. It happened on that balcony in Kabul.

The Biden administration, though, admitting it does not have DNA confirmation of his death, but says visual confirmation that he was killed. And also, reiterating no civilians, according to the administration, were harmed in that precision strike.


LIZ SHERWOOD-RANDALL, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, we know who was on the balcony and we have multiple sources and methods that we have used to confirm with high confidence that it was Zawahiri who was killed. We also have seen the cover-up that was undertaken subsequently by the Haqqani Taliban in an endeavor to quickly remove his family from the compound and also to clean up after the strike.



HILL: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh now with more on the mission that killed the world's most-wanted terrorist.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): The target was the same as it was at the start of the war on terror -- 9/11 mastermind-turned al Qaeda's 71-year-old leader -- but the method startling precise.

Two missiles hitting Kabul's fanciest streets. The al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, stepping onto a balcony that had likely for years housed rich Westerners working for NATO, but stepping out onto it at dawn Sunday for the last time.

JOE BIDEN PRESIDENT, OF THE UNITED STATES: I authorized the precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all.

WALSH (voice-over): The Biden administration so confident they got the right guy they built a model of the house. They said they didn't need boots on the ground before the strike or after.

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: We do not have DNA confirmation and we're not going to get that confirmation. And quite frankly, based on the multiple sources and methods that we have gathered the information from, we don't need it.

WALSH (voice-over): It was a staggering counterterrorism success born of a failure the U.S. had tried to gloss over. As the U.S. rushed to leave Afghanistan, at the end, losing control at the close of its longest war, it had tried to suggest al Qaeda were degraded -- no longer a threat there. But in truth, the group were finding a safe haven there again with concerns last year they might have been able to strike the West again as early as next year. They weren't the threat they were when Zawahiri masterminded savagery at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi or on the USS Cole. And their brutal star had been eclipsed by the mayhem of ISIS. But their franchises had spread across the world, often encouraging locals to target other locals.

And Zawahiri remained their figurehead with his hands on some buttons. Analysts felt his recent messages suggested a man more at ease, even complacent. U.S. officials saying they had followed family members to get him.

His most likely successor, Saifal-Adel, recently in Iran, according to the U.N. One former Afghan official telling me he may have recently left for Afghanistan. But terror leaders last less long these days. Still, the enduring harder questions for the Taliban, few believed they had truly renounced terror like they promised the U.S.

But after 20 years of war, they still brought exactly the same al Qaeda figures back into the safest of their havens, central Kabul. Yet, found the United States also had a long memory and now didn't even need to be there to kill their most wanted.

WALSH (on camera): Fundamentally, the question really is not now whether this terror group with its most impactful, awful years far behind it manages to reconstitute itself into the threat that it once was or get itself yet another leader. It's whether this strike permanently damages a possibility of ordinary Afghans getting aid into their country soon.

Yes, it shows that the Taliban, whilst not governing in the way that they hoped they could because of sanctions, are also possibly slipping back into the worst aspects of providing safe haven for terrorists. That may make it extremely hard for the international community or certainly the western parts of it to think about putting aid into that country and exacerbate the tensions that are already there in those international relationships. And for ordinary Afghans struggling through this summer and the winter ahead, that could, indeed, prove deadly.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, New York.


HILL: Just ahead, the former Trump figure just subpoenaed in the criminal investigation of January 6. And conspiracy spreader Alex Jones confronted by Sandy Hook parents in court.


SCARLETT LEWIS, MOTHER OF 6-YEAR-OLD SANDY HOOK VICTIM, JESSE LEWIS: There's records of Jesse's birth, of me. I mean, I have -- I have a history. And there's nothing that you could have found because it doesn't exist that I'm deep-state.




HILL: Emotional testimony and a heated confrontation. The parents of a child murdered in the Sandy Hook school shooting telling a jury how Alex Jones' lies compounded their grief and made them fear for their own safety.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has the story.


LEWIS: My son existed.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "My son existed," says Scarlett Lewis. The mother of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, speaking directly to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in an Austin, Texas courtroom.

LEWIS: Jesse was real. I am a real mom.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In an utterly unthinkable sign of our times, Scarlett Lewis makes the case that she and her dead child are real directly to Jones.

LEWIS: It doesn't exist that I'm deep-state. It's just not true. I know you know that. That's the problem.

I know you know that and you keep saying it. You keep saying it. Why? Why? For money? Because you've made a lot of money while you've said it.

I know your -- I mean, I know you believe me, and yet, you're going to get -- you're going to leave this courthouse and you're going to say it again on your show. You're saying no. You just did.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): On his show today he raised questions about Scarlett Lewis and the boy's father, who are seeking up to $150 million in damages.


ALEX JONES, HOST, THE ALEX JONES SHOW: He is being manipulated by some very bad people. I've got to be honest, he's slow, OK, and his ex-wife is not.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The man Jones is calling slow and manipulated, Jesse Lewis' father, Neil Heslin.

NEIL HESLIN, FATHER OF JESSE LEWIS: I was blessed with him for 6 1/2 years. He's been gone 1 1/2 times that. And I cherish those days and those years with Jesse.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): In all, families of seven victims and one FBI agent have successfully sued Alex Jones for defamation in three different trials taking place in both Texas and Connecticut. JONES: I do.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Jones testified he was simply trying to get answers to questions that others were asking.

JONES: I never intentionally tried to hurt you. I never even said your name until this case came to court. I didn't even really know who you were until a couple of years ago when all this started up. The internet had a lot of questions. I had questions.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Based on a separate legal filing, families of Sandy Hook victims allege Jones is using bankruptcy laws to shield tens of millions of dollars from any possible liability.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, New York.


HILL: The burn pits bill finally passed by the Senate. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs joins "NEW DAY," next. Plus, the lasting legacy of a true baseball legend.



HILL: Baseball fans mourning the loss of legendary broadcaster Vin Scully this morning. Coy Wire has more in the Bleacher Report. Coy, good morning.


Vin Scully always said that he was just a schoolboy who wanted to be a sportscaster. Well, he became one of the greatest sportscasters of all time. And when you heard his voice you knew it was time for Dodgers baseball.


VIN SCULLY, LEGENDARY DODGERS BROADCASTER: Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you wherever you may be. Pull up a chair.


WIRE: Scully started broadcasting Dodger games in 1950 when the team was in Brooklyn. Eight years later, he moved with the team to L.A. and called their games all the way until 2016 -- 67 years, Erica. That's the longest run of any broadcaster with any one team. He called 25 World Series -- his first coming at just 25 years old.

The Dodgers making the announcement on social media during their game in San Francisco. The Giants honoring Scully with their jumbotron.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts talked about the icon after the game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVE ROBERTS, LOS ANGELES DODGERS MANAGER: He was a friend. He was a friend and he inspired me to be better. And there's not a better storyteller. And I think everyone considers him family, you know? And he was in our living rooms for so many generations. And Dodger fans consider him a part of their family. And so, he lived a fantastic life -- a legacy that will live on forever.


WIRE: Dodgers' president Stan Kasten saying Scully's voice will be etched in our minds forever.

Vin Scully was 94 years old.

Meantime, yesterday, we had one of the biggest MLB trades ever on deadline day. Padres picking up 23-year-old superstar Juan Soto from the Nationals. The 2-time All-Star and World Series champ and teammate Josh Bell heading west for Luke Voit and five Minor Leaguers. Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nats last month, forcing the team to seek a trade.

Fifty-three trades made overall, the majority of them in the last two days. Five All-Stars were traded, including Soto and his new teammate closer Josh Hader. The Rockies were the only team not to make a trade.

The NFL stripping the Miami Dolphins of two draft picks and suspending and fining owner Stephen Ross for violating the league's policies relating to the integrity of the game. A 6-month investigation found Ross violated a policy against tampering with other teams' players on three separate occasions in conversations with quarterback Tom Brady and the agent for then-New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton.

But the investigation did not find that Ross offered then-head coach Brian Flores $100,000 for every loss in the 2019 season. The investigation found he talked about tanking for a better draft position but wasn't really serious about it.

Flores, who is now a defensive coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, issued a statement saying he's disappointed that the allegations were minimized. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying that the investigation found tampering of unprecedented scope and severity.

Ross said he strongly agrees -- disagrees, rather, with the investigation's conclusion and his punishment but will accept. And Erica, he will have to. The penalties are final and there is no opportunity to appeal.

HILL: There you go, decision made.

Coy, good to see you this morning. Thank you.

WIRE: You, too.

HILL: Thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Erica Hill. "NEW DAY" starts right now.