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NASA to Launch an Unmanned Artemis 1 Rocket to the Moon; Graham Predicts Riots in the Streets if Trump is Prosecuted; IAEA Mission Set to Visit Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant This Week. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 29, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Monday, August 29th, I'm Christine Romans. In just hours, NASA will launch this rocket to the moon. There are -- these are live pictures of Artemis 1, the first step towards sending humans back to the lunar surface for the first step in 50 years.

First step, because Artemis 1 has no crew. Essentially a test mission to make sure all the technology works. Artemis 2 set for 2024 will orbit the moon with astronauts aboard, and finally in 2025, Artemis 3 will land humans at the moon's south pole. It's all part of a longer- range plan for a manned mission to Mars.

Joining me now, CNN's space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher live at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And I love -- I love the nod to the Apollo program, by calling this Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo, of course, a Greek mythology. What is the significance of this mission if we've already been to the moon before?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE & DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Christine, a lot of people say that, but the reason NASA wants to go back to the moon now with the Artemis program is really for two reasons. One, they want to leave behind a lot more than just flags and footprints.

They want to actually build a base on the moon, one that astronauts can live on permanently. And part of the reason they want to do this is because China also has plans to build a base on the south pole of the moon. So there's a geopolitical competition element to it.

And then the other reason is, they want to ultimately go to Mars. NASA officials stress repeatedly that the moon is really just kind of a proving ground and a stepping point to someday get to Mars, Christine?

ROMANS: Now, how are the weather conditions there? Is Artemis 1 likely to lift off during that two-hour flight window this morning?

FISHER: Yes, so Christine, the issue with this flight window, it's two hours, so that's good. We've run into two issues this morning. First, we started about 45 minutes late due to some lightning that was too close to the launch pad. But the biggest issue this morning and the one that's had everybody really on the edge of their seat, is a hydrogen leak.

And this is a similar sort of issue that -- a similar issue that they encountered during the wet dress rehearsal a few months ago. So, fortunately, they have been able to work through that, and as of now, the core stage is almost entirely filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the two big propellants that fill that main tank.

So, Christine, you know, a lot can happen between now and launch time, they're still targeting 8:33 a.m. in the morning, but that may not be possible, given the delays that they've had with lightning and the hydrogen leak.

And one more thing, Christine, you know, it's August in Florida, the weather is looking really good at 8:30 in the morning, but as we get closer to 10:30, the end of that launch window, then those showers start to come in. So, it's too soon to say if this rocket is going to go, but a lot of excitement here at the Kennedy Space Center.

ROMANS: And this rocket is a big rocket, right? This is unlike anything we've ever seen before, am I right?

FISHER: It is the largest rocket -- sorry, the most powerful rocket that's ever been built, Christine. This rocket is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and it is, I think what's going to be so neat here is, I mean, nobody has seen a rocket of this size in power launch since the Saturn V rocket 50 years ago. There are about a100,000 to 200,000 people that have come out to see this launch because it is going to be such a spectacle.

This is the kind of rocket that you can feel inside your chest, reverberate inside of you, almost make the ground shake when it lifts off. You cannot find a hotel room anywhere within about a mile of the Kennedy Space Center. And you've also got the vice president coming down here as well. So, Christine, a powerful rocket and also just going to be quite a spectacle if this thing actually goes off today.

ROMANS: I know, it's going to be really fun. And I love -- you know, like my kids are going to a watch party, it sort of reminds me of the heady days of the shuttle program, right? When everyone is really invested again into one of these missions.

FISHER: It really does. And you know, Christine, I was actually here during that last space shuttle launch in July of 2011. And you know, back then, there was such a sadness that you could really feel here about the end of the space shuttle program and NASA not having its own rocket, its next generation replacement to the shuttle ready to go.


And it's been, you know, more than a decade since then. And so, you know, you finally have a real sense of energy and excitement back here at the Kennedy Space Center, not for a private rocket, SpaceX rocket, which has obviously launched so many times over the last two years, and so, with people on board -- but this is finally a NASA-built rocket on the launch pad ready to fly. ROMANS: All right, Kristin Fisher, you're going to have a really --

hopefully a really fun morning. Thank you so much. We're going to be following that mission to the moon with special coverage throughout the morning here on EARLY START, and then ahead, of course, on NEW DAY, so stay with us.

All right, we now know the Justice Department claimed classified national security material and evidence of obstruction would likely be found at Mar-a-Lago. Those were the critical arguments in the affidavit the department used to get a warrant for the FBI to search Donald Trump's Florida club and home.

The heavily-redacted probable cause affidavit was released to the public, Friday, at the order of the judge hearing that case. Let's bring in former prosecutor, Michael Zeldin; host of the podcast, "That Said with Michael Zeldin", and Dave Aronberg; Florida State Attorney for Palm Beach County. Thank you both for coming.

Michael, based on the redacted version of that affidavit released on Friday, we know that there could be evidence of obstruction. What does that tell you about the investigation where the focus is now? What did you learn from that affidavit?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, PODCAST HOST: A couple of things, Christine. First is, they want to know how did these documents get out of the White House? Who took them out of the White House? Who retained them? Why were they taken out of the White House? And what's the level of risk that they present to our national security?

All of those things are important questions that the affidavit asks. They also state two things, one that you just mentioned, which is that they feared that they would find evidence of obstruction if they didn't move quickly, and two, it says in the motion for sealing the warrant, that they have not identified all potential criminal confederates yet. And this, therefore, is a broad and ongoing criminal investigation.

ROMANS: Dave, in the case that there is that, what's Trump's legal defense here? We know the judge says he has preliminary intent to appoint a special master. What does that mean?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good morning, Christine. The special master to me is just a delay tactic. Because that request is really moot. I mean, they have already -- DOJ has already had these documents for three weeks. They've had a filter team review the materials already.

And Trump wants a special master, an independent person to redo what the DOJ is doing, but the cat is already out of the bag. And so, this is just to delay matters further. Trump's main defense though is that these documents have already been declassified. But DOJ took great pains to debunk that in the affidavit.

You could see large passages to respond to Kash Patel's argument that these were declassified. And in any event, the three statutes that DOJ is relying on do not require these documents to be classified. So, I don't think Trump really has a good defense, and the fact that, he keeps changing his defense week by week, to me is consciousness of guilt.

ROMANS: So, we know that boxes of material have been coming out of Mar-a-Lago for months actually, you know, even before this warrant was executed. Michael, the director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, along with the DOJ sent a letter to several house committees signaling that she is conducting a damage assessment of the documents taken from Mar-a-Lago. What are they looking for do you think? What are the next steps?

ZELDIN: Well, we know from the classification markings, that these are some of the most sensitive types of documents there are. They are human source documents, they are foreign surveillance documents, they are signal documents, which is the satellite collection. And now we have to say, not only do they have these markings, but what is the content of those documents?

So you can have different sort of grades of top secret. They could all be top secret, but you could have gradations within it. So they've got to look at that and then make a determination what the impact is on our national security and what remedial steps need to be taken.

And that's what they're going to do, and then they're going to notify counter parties to this to make sure that all the necessary steps to ensure our national security are put in place.

ROMANS: Look, we're getting a little more color, but there's so much we don't know. There's still so much that is grey and we don't know where this is going. But Dave, Senator Lindsey Graham signaling a warning over the weekend, in the event that Trump would be indicted over these classified documents. Listen to what he said.



SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If there's a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information after the Clinton debacle which you presided over and did a hell of a good job, there will be riots in the streets.


ROMANS: What's your reaction to this? I mean, that has got to be something, the political ramifications have got to be foremost in the mind of investigators.

ARONBERG: I mean, DOJ will just do its job, Christine, regardless of the political consequences. Merrick Garland comes to the world of the judiciary. He is in his mind above politics. And when Lindsey Graham says, there could be riots, that sounds like a threat. He needs to be careful as a sitting senator not to face an obstruction charge.

I mean, after all, he's facing some real legal liability in Georgia, he's fighting a subpoena there to appear before a grand jury. He may get another one if things go haywire here. And so, he really needs to be careful because the country's temperatures are so elevated right now because of all this and all the rhetoric out there, and he's just fanning the flames.

ROMANS: All right, Michael Zeldin, Dave Aronberg, thank you so much for getting up early with us this morning. Have a great rest of your day.

ZELDIN: Thanks.

ROMANS: All right, ahead on EARLY START, one Republican governor is demanding an apology from President Biden over his harsh description of MAGA Republicans. Plus, midterm uncertainty, once giddy Republicans, less confident these days about winning a big majority in the house. Plus, fresh artillery strikes overnight, just yards from a nuclear power plant in Ukraine.



ROMANS: Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency are expected to visit the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia power plant this week. It comes amid a growing fear of a potential nuclear disaster as both Russia and Ukraine say the facility has been shelled repeatedly for 24 hours. CNN's Scott McLean live in London with more. It is so concerning what is happening there. What will the IAEA experts be looking for, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, first, they have to get there. The IAEA Director General who is leading this mission, Rafael Grossi, says this kind of a thing, sending a team of 14 experts, 14 inspectors into an active war zone, it hasn't actually happened before, even getting there is a huge undertaking, it will take probably, minimum two days of travel depending on which direction they come from, and could potentially even require them to cross over an active frontline of a war zone.

Assuming that they do get there, they're going to be trying to assess how well the plant is actually running, how well the safety systems are functioning to do any security or safeguarding work that they can do. They want to know the conditions for the Ukrainian staff who continue to work there, and they probably most importantly, they want to assess the damage to the actual site, because we haven't gotten a whole lot of reliable information.

The agency said over the weekend that, well, there has been damage to the actual site of the nuclear power plant just about a 100 yards from one of these reactors. The building is described as a special building, it has facilities relating to waste management, water treatment, that kind of a thing. There's also been shelling in the suburbs of Enerhodar, the city that the plant is located in.

All of this, Christine, is on Russian-held territory. And so, you would imagine that any incoming fire would be from the Ukrainian side, but the Ukrainians say that this is actually the Russians who are shelling territory that they already hold, trying to provoke a response. They call it nuclear blackmail, it's all raising huge concerns about the safety and security of not only the plant, but also the wider area in the event of a disaster. The city of Zaporizhzhia nearby is now handing out iodine tablets to its local population, Christine.

ROMANS: I mean, that just speaks volumes, right? That they have to even be preparing like that. Scott McLean, thank you so much. Up next, the Buffalo Bills releasing their rookie punter after a rape allegation, and Beto O'Rourke leaves the campaign trail for a hospital visit. The latest on his condition.



ROMANS: All right, a Washington Commanders running-back is recovering this morning after being shot multiple times during a possible robbery attempt. Andy Scholes has this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT". What's going on?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Christine. So according to D.C. Metro Police, running-back Brian Robinson was shot a couple of times in his lower extremity shortly before 6:00 p.m. yesterday. They don't know if this was a carjacking attempt or just an armed robbery, Robinson was taken to a nearby hospital, and the Commanders say his injuries are non-life threatening.

Head Coach Ron Rivera tweeting that he visited Robinson in the hospital, and the rookie appreciated all of the love and support, and says he'll be back soon doing what he does best. Police have identified two potential suspects and recovered a firearm a short distance from where the incident occurred. Robinson was a third-round pick by the Commanders after five seasons at Alabama.

All right, the Bills meanwhile releasing rookie punter Matt Araiza over the weekend. Araiza and two of his former San Diego State teammates were named in a civil lawsuit, accusing them of raping a 17- year-old at a Halloween Party last year. No criminal charges have been filed yet, but San Diego District Attorney's office say they are still reviewing the case.

Bills' Manager Brandon Beane had said that the team first learned about the situation last month they were still trying to gather the facts. Araiza saying in a statement before he was released, "the facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight."

All right, and finally, Rory McIlroy pulling off the biggest comeback in FedEx Cup history yesterday, rallying from six strokes back in the final round of the Tour Championship to become the first player ever to win the cup three times. Rory outlasting Scottie Scheffler on 18 to get the win in a year when Rory was one of the biggest defenders of the PGA Tour against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series, it's pretty fitting he walks away with the $18 million prize --


SCHOLES: There, that was here in Atlanta, Christine. Big night in New York. Serena Williams taking to court at the U.S. Open --

ROMANS: Damn --

SCHOLES: For her opening match, that's slated for around 7:00 Eastern could be her final match of her career. That's going to be one lot of people watching tonight.

ROMANS: Yes, I'll be watching that one for sure. All right, Andy Scholes, thank you so much. A state of emergency in effect in Mississippi this morning after a record-setting rainfall and severe flooding. Floodwaters rising in Jackson, Mississippi's largest city. The mayor, this weekend, urging residents not to take evacuation warnings lightly.


MAYOR CHOKWE ANTA LUMUMBA, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: If you are capable of getting out now, get out now. Get out as soon as possible.


ROMANS: Jackson, Mississippi, is still dealing with the toll of devastating flooding two years ago. So, is there any relief in sight? Let's get to meteorologist Karen Maginnis. Pictures just tell the whole story.


KAREN MAGINNIS, METEOROLOGIST: It's terrible. It's a real crisis in so many ways. And we're looking at the river that should be cresting today. The Pearl River is about 400 miles of the Pearl River, very notorious and very historic flooding has occurred over the years from the Pearl River. Now, they've seen about 12 inches.

Right now, we're in moderate stage, flood stage. We think it will crest a little bit later on. There will be some chances for precipitation here, but for the most part, it's going to be on the light side. It should stay just below major stage at 35.5 feet. But as I mentioned, the Pearl River is really going to be running high as all of that really goes downstream.

We've seen just heavy amounts of rainfall over the past week or so. But now, there's a little bit of a disturbance right along this northwest Gulf of Mexico, so that will keep the showers in store and the forecast right around Houston, also over into southwestern sections of Louisiana.

ROMANS: All right --

MAGINNIS: Christine?

ROMANS: Karen Maginnis, thank you for that. All right, he's on a legislative winning streak, his poll numbers are creeping up, suddenly, the same Joe Biden looks different. But will it make a difference for Democrats in the midterm elections? Plus, the U.S. testing the Taiwan waters, how is China responding?

And the first big step towards the U.S. returning to the moon, we're just hours away from the Artemis rocket launch.