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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Sexual Assault Reports In U.S. Military Up 13%; Military Admits Al Jazeera Reporter Likely Killed By Soldier; Frances Tiafoe Shocks Rafael Nadal At U.S. Open. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 06, 2022 - 05:30   ET




POLO SANDOVAL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Labor Day behind us, the fall campaign season -- that is in full swing. President Biden traveling to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on Labor Day. They are two swing states that could play a massive role in the upcoming midterm elections in, what, a couple of months. It is now his third visit to Pennsylvania in less than a week.

Speaking in Pittsburgh, the president again calling out MAGA Republicans.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't be a democracy when you support violence, when you don't like the outcome of an election. You can't call yourself a democracy when you don't, in fact, count the votes that people legitimately cast, and can't that as who you are. You can't be a democracy and call yourself one if you continue to do what they're doing.


SANDOVAL: Joining us this morning, CNN's Jasmine Wright live in our Washington bureau. Jasmine, Labor Day behind us. What do you think the president's sort of midterm campaign tone is right now?

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Polo, we're certainly seeing him in the midst of it -- really, at the beginning of an intensive, in-person push, really -- probably the most intensive that we've seen from him since before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic -- really campaigning for these down-the-ballot Democrats.

And so, we saw Biden on Monday there in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. We saw him when he was with PA Senate candidate John Fetterman really trying to both tout what he views as his own accomplishments since taking office last year but also again hitting at those extreme MAGA Republicans.

He said -- here he is in Wisconsin. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: I want to be very clear upfront. Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican. Not every Republican embraces that extreme ideology. I know because I've been able to work with mainstream Republicans my whole career.

The biggest contrast from what MAGA Republicans -- the extreme right, the Trumpies -- they want to go to -- these MAGA Republicans in Congress as coming for your Social Security as well.



WRIGHT: So, when you asked about tone there, Polo, I think from just that quote we can infer a couple of different things.

First, we heard President Biden use the word Trumpies, really trying to attack Republican senators Rick Scott, Ron Johnson. Of course, Johnson is up for reelection in Iowa -- really trying to again make this outlining definition between what he views as traditional Republicans and what he views as those MAGA Republicans -- fervent supporters of President Trump.

But, of course, just later in that day, I have to note that he referred to President Trump as a former defeated president. Because, once again, when we talk about tone, this is President Biden trying to make this election in November not just a referendum on what he's done so far in office but again, a choice between President Biden and former President Trump.

And so, when we talk about political tests and tone, this is certainly something that's going to be on the mind of those watching these elections in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Because whatever the success or failures of Democrats there trying to turn that seat from Republican to Democrat is no doubt going to be viewed in the lens of 2024 and President Biden who, again, insists that he is going to run for reelection -- Polo.

SANDOVAL: And can the president sort of strike that empathic tone with those moderate Republicans?

Jasmine Wright, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Have a good day.

All right. So, reports of sexual assault in the military -- they are up, and they are up dramatically. And the problem is especially glaring in the ranks of the U.S. Army.

According to the latest data, reports of sexual assault increased more than 25 percent in the Army from 2020 to 2021. The Navy -- they also saw an increase of their own of more than nine percent, while the Air Force and the Marines each had an increase of about two percent. In all, though, the military receiving more than 8,800 reports of sexual assault in 2021.

I want to bring in now criminal defense attorney and former military lawyer, or JAG, Katie Cherkasky. Katie, thank you so much for waking up with us this morning.

We are seeing these numbers that we just shared with our viewers. They are just glaring. We've talked about these major changes that have been implemented but yet, these numbers are still so high. What do you think you attribute -- we attribute that to?

KATIE CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it's very interesting when you look at these studies and, obviously, is concerning to see that these numbers are so high. And I think that it could be a function of a couple of different things.

The military, in the past 10 or 12 years or so, has really been on a path to address the issues of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the ranks. And I don't think you're going to find many people today in the military that would tell you that they don't feel like this is a very serious issue and that any allegations are treated very seriously. But yet, we see these numbers very high.

A big part of it, in my mind, could be that there are redefinitions or re-understandings of what actually constitutes unacceptable behavior and that people now also feel more safe to report some of these things, which is kind of the positive way to look at it.

And then, obviously, on the other side of it is that there is not enough accountability and perhaps there's not enough consequences that are being shown to people, and perhaps it's just not curbing it enough. I guess that's the other interpretation you could take from that.

SANDOVAL: You bring some great insight here because you have been in the courtroom to not only defend some of these cases but also prosecute. So I wonder how we see these cases play out with each circumstance quite unique?

CHERKASKY: Well, that's exactly right and I think we always have to remember with any allegation, especially a criminal allegation like that, there is always a presumption of innocence. Each of these cases is very unique and has to be analyzed only on its own specific evidence before you can make an assumption about whether the outcome was right or wrong. If somebody did or didn't face accountability if you will. So we have to always keep that in mind.

But I think ultimately, the military has a lot of changes that they're -- that they've already implemented. And then in the future, they're actually looking to implement even more that I think might change the trajectory of these -- of these cases.

The military justice system is very unique. And a lot of people don't know this but prosecutors in the military don't make charging decisions. It's actually left up to the chain of command.

But starting next year, the military is shifting that for cases involving sexual allegations and those will be handled by an office of special prosecutors who actually can review evidence and make decisions about prosecuting these cases or handling them in administrative ways. So that could show us some differences in terms of the outcome of these cases as well.

But obviously, this is a cultural issue. The military has shifted a great deal from the time that a lot of people that are still on active duty remember where the culture was really kind of horrible in some ways in the sexual harassment kind of realm. I think that's really greatly gone away but there's still a good amount of work to do, it looks like, just based on what we're seeing here.

SANDOVAL: And the numbers that we just shared with our viewers. But nonetheless, even with that shift that you just mentioned, I think that that's important.

Do you -- is this -- even though you see these numbers continuing to rise in terms of sexual assaults in the military though, Katie, do you still have -- does it seem that you have some optimism though that we will continue to see the improvements that you've seen the last few years?


CHERKASKY: I think that the numbers are very difficult to read into because we don't know exactly what they're interpreting as reports. Whether they are taking things that have been adjudicated and the outcome just wasn't sufficient to what somebody was hoping for, or whether it's something that was never reported at all and there was no opportunity for the military to really address that.

So I think it's a question of whether people feel they have a safe haven to report these things and whether they're being handled in ways that's fair to both the accused person and the victim as well. So it's something that I think we need to keep track of. And obviously, Congress has a lot of oversight over the military and over their justice system, so we can see directly how this plays out.

But ultimately, every single case has to be handled with fairness and with due process, really, so that there can be a fair outcome. Because it's a very serious thing to be victimized but it's also very serious to be accused of a crime like this as well. So certainly, I think that the system needs to take that all into account as they try to address these numbers.

SANDOVAL: Right, and the focus to be on the survivors of these cases, too.

CHERKASKY: Absolutely.

SANDOVAL: Katie Cherkasky, former federal prosecutor. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

CHERKASKY: Thank you.

SANDOVAL: Have a good rest of your day.

All right. The Israeli military now admitting that Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was likely shot and killed by one of its own soldiers, but the Israeli Defense Forces say that the shooting was an accident and no one will be prosecuted.

I want to go now CNN's Hadas Gold live in Tel Aviv with more. Hadas, what has the response been, so far, there on the ground?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, Polo, this was a long- awaited report from the Israeli Defense Forces, nearly four months after Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the West Bank in May.

And while the IDF says they could not unequivocally determine who actually killed her because the bullet that ultimately killed Shireen Abu Akleh was so badly damaged that the forensic examination was not able to be conclusive, they have determined -- which is the same determination that CNN and other media organizations as well as the United States -- have come to the conclusion that it was most likely an Israeli soldier who fired that fatal shot.

Now, what the IDF believes happened is that an Israeli soldier in a military armored vehicle with limited sight range shot at Shireen Abu Akleh. They were south of where she was standing along with her colleagues -- but that the soldier did not realize that he was shooting at journalists and thought that he was shooting at Palestinian militants. This, despite the fact that Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleagues were wearing that protective gear, including that vest that says "Press" on both the front and the back.

Now, an Israeli Defense official says that the soldier involved is regretful. That this was not supposed to happen and it should not have happened, and he did not do so on purpose.

Now, in terms of any sort of consequences -- this is what a lot of people were looking to -- towards -- the Israeli military advocate- general, which is the same as a JAG in the Israeli military, has said that they will not be pursuing criminal charges. And this is because they have determined after looking at the investigation and after looking at all the information that the soldier did not deliberately fire at a non-combatant -- at a civilian or, especially, at a journalist. And because of that, they will not be pursuing criminal charges.

Now, this has been met with a great amount of anger not only from Shireen Abu Akleh's family but also from the Al Jazeera network where Shireen worked, and also the Palestinian Authority. They have all said, essentially, that they are accusing Israel of shirking responsibility and not taking on full responsibility for what happened, and that they plan to continue to pursue this case in the international criminal court -- Polo.

SANDOVAL: Hadas Gold in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much.

Next, fears of looming disaster as shelling cuts off power to a besieged nuclear plant in Ukraine. Also, a body found in the search for a kidnapped jogger in Memphis.



SANDOVAL: Fears are escalating at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine this morning after renewed shelling in the area that's been cut off outside the facility. And the Russian- controlled plant now using one of its emergency backup diesel generators to cool the reactors and try to avoid the possibility of a meltdown.

CNN's Melissa Bell joining us live from Kyiv, Ukraine. Melissa, can you tell us really what is the most urgent concern around the plant this morning?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was when Rafael Grossi, the head of the IAEA, had left the plant last Thursday, Polo, that he explained that his two main concerns for this -- Europe's largest nuclear power plant sitting, as it does, on an active front line -- was two-fold.

First of all, the workers who have been working under extremely difficult conditions of that Russian occupation since the month of March. But also, he said the external power supply, and that is what is of most concern.

We've seen over the weekend some of that shelling causing the last remaining external power line to be cut. Still, the plant, Polo, is functioning connected to the Ukrainian power grid, and also receiving electricity thanks to a reserve power line. That was purposely shut off yesterday as a result of more shelling and a fire that might have caused it damage.

So, for the time being, the plant has one single functioning nuclear reactor. One of them went down in these last few days as a result of the shelling. And no external power source coming in and no ability to get to the Ukrainian electricity grid either. That -- of extreme concern.

Instead, what we've been hearing is that one nuclear reactor that's functioning is providing the electricity to help the cooling systems within the plant. And, of course, that is a massive relief. But extremely worrying and important that those external power supplies be put back in place and repaired as quickly as they can be.

The IAEA inspectors, by their very presence, haven't managed to prevent the shelling. At least we're getting a little more information than we had done so far, Polo.

SANDOVAL: Melissa Bell with the latest in Kyiv. Thank you, and stay safe.


Meantime, Russia has imposed personal sanctions on more than two dozen Americans, barring them from permanently entering the country. Moscow's new sanctions list including actors Ben Stiller and Sean Penn.

Let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian with what's behind these sanctions. And why are Stiller and Penn on this list, Clare?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a good question, Polo. What have these two Hollywood actors ever done to deserve being sanctioned by Russia? Well, it turns out they have been very vocal and very visible in expressing their support for Ukraine and their opposition to what Russia is doing. In fact, you can see it there. Both of them have actually been to Kyiv and met with President Zelenskyy.

Sean Penn was actually in Ukraine when the invasion happened on February 24, reportedly filming scenes for a documentary on the invasion itself and met with President Zelenskyy. Ben Stiller, who is actually a goodwill ambassador for the UNHCR -- the U.N. refugee agency -- traveled to Ukraine in June to meet with President Zelenskyy and famously called him "my hero."

So they are sort of part of the broad picture of U.S. support for Ukraine and opposition to Russia. Having said that, a permanent ban on travel to Russia is probably not going to have a major impact on their lives. But it is a symbolic action by Russia -- a countersanction against the individual sanctions on Russians that the U.S. has been imposing.

SANDOVAL: Yes, Penn and Stiller added to a growing list.

Clare Sebastian in London. Thank you so much for that.

All right, next on "NEW DAY," bosses who want to get back to the office and workers who are in no hurry. That's coming up here on EARLY START. Also, the Titanic like you've never seen it before. Details only in 8K ultra-high-def could possibly reveal. Stick around.



SANDOVAL: All right, now a stunning upset at the U.S. Open as American Frances Tiafoe knocks out 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.

CNN's Coy Wire -- I can't even talk for how much of just upset that was for many. I'll tell you what though, Coy, the guy is only 24 and already just changing the dynamic of the rest of this.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it was a shocker, no doubt. Good to see you this morning.

What a moment for the man from Maryland. Tiafoe is the youngest American at 24 years old to get this far in the U.S. Open since Andy Roddick did it back in 2006.

Now, while snapping Nadal's 22- match Grand Slam win streak in four sets -- that's a major achievement -- it's Tiafoe's journey that makes it that much sweeter. Parents immigrated from Sierra Leone. Frances and his twin brother grew up sleeping on the floor at a prestigious tennis club where dad worked, making just 21 grand a year. The junior tennis program there cost $27,000 a year. So, Frances would watch the instructors give lessons. He practiced on empty courts. And by the time he was 14, Frances was a top-ranked kid in the nation in his age group.

Now, the last American in the men's draw is just three wins away from winning his first major after beating, arguably, the greatest player of all time.

Here he is after the win.


FRANCES TIAFOE, RANKED WORLD NO. 26: I felt like the world stopped. I couldn't hear anything for a minute. I was like -- I was like, oh my God -- like, even shaking his hand. I don't even know what I said to him. Like, I was just like it was just such a blur and like I was already -- I was already tearing so I could barely see him and my team.

I was like everyone was up and it was just -- it was just wild. Like, my heart was going a thousand miles an hour. I was so excited. I was like let me sit down. But yes, it was -- I've never felt something like that in my life, honestly.


WIRE: Keep smiling, Frances.

Tiafoe said that he was losing it in the locker room when he saw LeBron James tweeted "Congrats Young King! You earned it!" He responded, "We got some work to do."

Up next for Tiafoe is 9th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev. That's tomorrow.

And top-ranked American Jessica Pegula all business. She's on to the quarterfinals of a major for the third time this year, taking out 2- time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in straight sets. The daughter of Buffalo Bills owners Kim and Terry Pegula now faces world number one Iga Swiatek next. Let's go Buffalo.

Swiatek, 21 years old, the first Polish woman ever to reach the U.S. Open quarters after beating Jule Niemeier. Swiatek also could become the first player since Serena Williams to win seven titles in a single year.

Yankees slugger Aaron Judge one step closer to history, hitting a homer for a third-straight day. This one breaking the 2-2 tie against the Twins en route to a 5-2 win.

Judge now at 54 homers this season, just seven shy of tying Roger Maris' American League record that stood for 61 years. He is dominating. If you took 20 of his home runs away he'd still be leading the American League. And college football back. A wild opening weekend capped off with a

Monday night matchup right here in Atlanta between number four Clemson and the hometown Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Tech gave the Tigers a tussle until the third. The score was 14-10. But then, Clemson rolls 41-10.

And now, Polo, it's time for the big boys. Thursday, kickoff, Rams- Bills. It's on.

SANDOVAL: It does feel like fall is slowly approaching, Coy. Thank you so much --

WIRE: You got it.

SANDOVAL: -- for everything.

And thank you for joining us this morning. Christine is right back here tomorrow. In the meantime, "NEW DAY" starts now.