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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Hundreds Detained in Crackdown on Antiwar Protests in Russia; Zelenskyy Wants Russia Stripped of UNSC Veto Power; DOJ Free to Resume Probe of Mar-a-Lago Documents; New York Attorney General Seeks Sanctions, Penalties for Trump and Family; Iranian Women Cut Their Hair, Protesting Death of Mahsa Amini. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 22, 2022 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It is Thursday, September 22nd. It is 5:00 am in New York. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with condemnation at home and abroad of Vladimir Putin's not- so-veiled nuclear threats while announcing a draft of some 3,000 reservists.


ROMANS (voice-over): Putin's mass callup triggering antiwar demonstrations across Russia. More than 1,300 people reportedly detained in a Kremlin crackdown on these antiwar protests.

There are also reports of some demonstrators rounded up and immediately then drafted into the armed forces. Putin's actions also setting off a flood of flights out of Russia. Nick Paton Walsh is with us.

Nick, it's called a partial mobilization of citizens.

How is that playing out?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: It seems pretty clear -- and forgive the siren noise around me here. But so much of Ukraine constantly under threat of attack.

It seems to be playing out initially pretty badly for the Kremlin. The first issue they have to overcome is what to do with these thousands of potential recruits they're going to send to the front line, that might already be being sent to the front line.

They lack equipment, the ability to supply the regular army here over the last six months. But domestically this was an enormous gamble for Putin. And it's certainly not going the way he hoped.

These flights, some of them full; military age males, some pictures show trying to get out of the country, they don't believe this mobilization is necessarily partial. The restrictions that this will just be veterans, reservists or those with special skills for the military being called up.

Also we have these protests, 1,300 detained. I should point out, when they say no for war, it's when actual Russian soldiers they potentially know are being sent to the front line after six, seven months, in which ordinary life in Russia has barely changed because of this war.

But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy using his speech at the U.N. General Assembly to say that Russia should use its veto on the U.N. Security Council to say that all this talk of referendum, mobilization, essentially Russia delaying its retreat because it wants to spend the winter in occupied territories here, that winter is coming very fast.

But while so much of the focus was on Putin's call for a partial mobilization and his troubling nuclear rhetoric, also Ukraine pulled off something frankly of a coup here, remarkable prisoner exchange overnight.

A number of Russian prisoners of war held by Ukraine and one particularly important one, Victor Medvedchuk, a man close to Vladimir Putin, the godfather to one of his daughters and a key figure inside of Ukraine before the war, who was caught in April, was swapped for 200 of the Azovstal defenders.

Those are the men and women who defended the Azovstal steel plant over weeks through the most awful conditions, who've been held by Russia since.

So while Ukrainians are dealing with the threats from Russia of nuclear force potentially, although many not taking that too seriously, and the potential impact of this partial mobilization, they are also waking up to this extraordinary news from Kyiv that both people they consider heroes, who defended Azovstal, are finding their way back now to Ukraine in exchange for one key figure so close to Vladimir Putin.

An extraordinary move there by Ukraine, extraordinary swap but also an extraordinary week ahead of us, as we go through these sham referenda in occupied territory and in a likely move by Moscow after that to say that those occupied parts of Ukraine are part of Russia, a very tense week ahead.

ROMANS: Nick, thank you so much for that.

So here's some of that emotional, defiant address Nick was talking about. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy calling on world leaders to make Russia pay for the war it launched against his country seven months ago.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: A crime has been committed against Ukraine. And we demand just punishment. The crime was committed against our state borders. The crime was committed against the lives of our people. And Ukraine demands punishment for trying to steal our territory.


ZELENSKYY: Punishment for the murders of thousands of people.


ROMANS: Punishing Russia for its aggression is part of what Zelenskyy outlined as his five-point formula for peace. It also includes guarantees to protect life, the restoration of security measures and re-establishment of Ukraine's territorial integrity, future security guarantees and Ukraine's determination to defend itself.

President Biden taking direct aim at Russia and Vladimir Putin in his speech at the U.N., rebuking Putin for his nuclear threats and slamming the brutal, needless war chosen by one man.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine's right to exist as a people.

Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should not -- that should make your blood run cold. A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.


ROMANS: The financial cost of Russia's war in Ukraine continues to mount on top of international sanctions. CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us now.

Clare, you heard Nick mention a few moments ago, everyday life in Russia over the past six months hasn't changed that much. But with Putin changing the stakes, this isn't going to come for free. When you pull back the curtain you can sort of see the big hole in Vladimir Putin's budget.

Is his war fiscally sustainable?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it depends how long it will last. Mobilization is a long-term commitment. Expats will tell you it will take weeks, even months to get them to the front line, properly trained and equipped.

That's investment in the training, equipment, logistics. All of that coming at a time while Russia has shown some resilience in the face of this unprecedented campaign of Western sanctions.

Inflation has come down, the ruble has stabilized, there was never a financial crisis. The strain is starting to show now. New data out last week suggests Russia's budget surplus, all but evaporated over the summer.

And in the meantime, spending on the military is ramping up. We're hearing a recent report that they're urging government agencies to cut spending. So the strain is definitely mounting.

We're hearing as well from the E.U. today that there may be an eighth package of sanctions touting various sectors of the Russian economy and individuals. The pressure is mounting; mobilization coming on top of a cost of living crisis for the Russian people similar to what we're seeing across Europe.

Inflation has come down but it's still at 14 percent. Living standards are dropping. So all of this means it's getting harder and harder for Russia to sustain the war.

ROMANS: Clare, we'll keep an eye on it. Thank you so much.

This morning, two American veterans captured fighting alongside Ukrainians are now free. Alexander Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh were held for more than 100 days by a Russian-backed force. They were released as part of a prisoner swap. Drueke's mother elated and talking to CNN's Anderson Cooper.


BUNNY DRUEKE, FORMER POW ALEXANDER DRUEKE'S MOTHER: I need to be weighted down and so like -- feel like I'm just floating. I'm so happy.

My mind just couldn't comprehend it because there had been no warning. We -- it just came out of the blue and even surprised the State Department how quickly this happened.

You know, nobody's complaining. We're all really happy about it. But it was it was quite a surprise.


ROMANS: The two Americans were taken to the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia, where they're being checked out for medical clearance.

A new storm is now taking shape in the Caribbean with an eye on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Plus, the House about to vote on a bill to fund the police. But first Donald Trump now facing a major civil fraud lawsuit.





ROMANS: All right. It's a go for the stalled Mar-a-Lago probe. Another setback for former president Trump's legal team. A federal appeals court says the Justice Department can resume its review of 100 classified documents seized last month from Mar-a-Lago. It reverses a district judge's order to halt that review. Observers

say Trump's actions to block a potential criminal investigation now dimming. One of his only remaining possibilities appears to be an emergency request to the Supreme Court.

Trump now defending himself on another legal front. New York's attorney general filing a lawsuit against Trump, three of his adult children and the Trump Organization, accusing all of them of staggering fraud. We get more from CNN's Jessica Schneider.


LETITIA JAMES, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal; it's the art of the steal.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York's attorney general Letitia James announcing she is suing former President Donald Trump and his three oldest children for lying to lenders and insurers for more than a decade fraudulently inflating the value of their properties all over the country.

JAMES: They violated several state criminal laws including falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements, insurance fraud and engaging in a conspiracy to commit each of these state law violations.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): James is seeking drastic remedies. Her lawsuit demands Trump and his family forfeit the nearly quarter billion they've illegally gained over the years and she's looking to shut down Trump's business dealings in New York.

JAMES: We are asking the court to, among other things, permanently bar Mr. Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director in any corporation or similar entity registered and/or licensed in New York.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): New York's attorney general filed this 200- plus page lawsuit after a three-year-long investigation. James also flagging what she says are possible crimes to federal investigators.

JAMES: We are referring those criminal violations that we've uncovered to the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Internal Revenue Service.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): James pointed to Trump's Fifth Avenue apartment as an example of the fraud. Trump allegedly claimed it was 30,000 square feet when it was actually 11,000 and he valued it at $327 million.

JAMES: To this date, no apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): James says the motive was to entice banks to loan them more money and to allow Trump and his companies to pay less in taxes.

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Obviously there's tax fraud going on here given them massive inflation of these values.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Trump has rebuffed James' investigation over the last three years.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: My company is bigger, stronger, far greater assets.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): And he lashed out on his Truth Social page shortly after the lawsuit was filed saying, "She is a fraud who campaigned on a get Trump platform."

But James, a Democrat, running for re-election this year, saying Trump cannot dismiss what her office uncovered as some sort of good faith mistake.

JAMES: White collar financial crime is not a victimless crime. Everyday people cannot lie to a bank and, if they did, the government would throw the book at them.

Why should this be any different?

SCHNEIDER: The New York attorney general is also alleging Trump and his three eldest children lied more than 200 times when it came to asset valuations on statements over the course of 10 years.

Now, of course, this is a civil case that's been filed in New York state court. It would be up to other entities like the Manhattan DA's office or the U.S. attorney office in New York to determine whether criminal charges should be filed -- Jessica Schneider, CNN Washington.


ROMANS: CNN has learned conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court justice Ginni Thomas has agreed to an interview with the House committee, investigating the January 6th attack.

Her attorney confirmed the interview will take place in the coming weeks. The committee wanted to speak with Thomas after CNN first reported her texts with then Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about overturning the election.

House lawmakers making it harder to overturn a certified presidential election with changes to the Electoral Count Act.

It includes a higher threshold for Congress to object to electors, enforcing the state's own vote counting and certification process and clarifying that the vice president cannot reject official state results, delay counting votes or issue procedural rulings.

Later today a vote in the House of Representatives to fund the police. CNN's Daniella Diaz live on Capitol Hill for us.

What would this bill do specifically? DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, this is a set of four bills, to be clear, would provide millions of dollars for public safety and policing measures.

As you said, the goal here is to fund the police with vulnerable Democrats pushing for the legislation to be passed before the midterms, to combat those attacks from Republicans on the campaign trail who the goal for Democrats is to defund the police.

That is why these past couple of months we saw different factions of the Democratic Party in the House working on these bills, trying to figure out what they could get the majority of Democrats to pass in the House.

So we will see that vote later today. But really the bigger picture here being, Christine, these are just messaging bills, as I said, for the vulnerable Democrats in the campaign trail.

It's unlikely the Senate is going to take up these measures before the midterms if at all, because there's unlikely going to be any Republicans who will support these measures and get it over the finish line on the Senate side.

But we saw progressives, vulnerable Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus all negotiating to figure out what they could agree on. So we could see the vote later today. It's expected to pass. Of course, we will see ahead of the midterms these Democrats campaign on these measures.

ROMANS: All right, Daniella Diaz on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Just ahead, women rising up and cutting off their own hair in protest.

And a hopeful new trend in the fight against cancer.





ROMANS: The death of a young woman being held by Iran's morality police has triggered other women in that country and beyond, frankly, to cut off their own hair in protest.


ROMANS (voice-over): This video is from Istanbul, thousands of miles from Tehran, where 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was pulled off the street for allegedly violating a strict dress code. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz has the story.


ROMANS: These are the biggest antigovernment protests that Iran has seen in years. Now it appears the anger is spreading.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are huge acts of defiance. We're seeing people pull off their head scarves, burning them in fires, walking the streets, chanting against the government in a country that is known for very strict crackdowns.

That's exactly what these demonstrators are witnessing. We've seen social media videos showing water cannons being used. Rights groups say several people have already been killed, including teenagers. Pellets are being used. Some people have lost eyes because of it.

Spread across Iran and across several cities now. It's important this is not just about Mahsa Amini. She was arrested by the morality police and died in custody; Iranian authorities said it was a tragic accident.

But her family accusing the government of causing that death in detention simply for not covering her hair as the morality police wanted her.

But that is not the only factor at play here. That's why authorities are cracking down so hard on these protests. You also have an economic downturn; people are struggling to make ends meet.

And the government, rather than focusing on the financial issues, is expanding the power of the morality police, cracking down ever more on these areas. And Amini's family is Kurdish.

So those areas protesting are Kurdish cities. So a lot of pressure right now on the Iranian authorities. Rights groups calling for this to end. But protesters continue to come out. And there's been a shutdown of some internet apps. So an attempt there to silence this movement. But these videos continue to show these huge acts of defiance.

ROMANS: All right, Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that from London.

By this time tomorrow, Bermuda will be feeling the full wrath of hurricane Fiona. Right now over a million customers are still without power in Puerto Rico. More than 12,000 are housing in shelters. FEMA's administrator says infrastructure will take days to repair.


DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA DIRECTOR: We are doing whatever we can to stabilize the infrastructure as we go, as we continue to do assessments, right?

It's going to take a while to understand truly the extent of the damage for repair. But as far as the temporary measures we need to put in, we're doing those as we find them.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: President Biden has declared the island a major disaster, releasing federal funds to help.

As Fiona moves north, a system currently gathering strength over the Atlantic could be the next named storm, Hermine.


ROMANS: Just hours from now, we'll hear what Alex Jones has to say in his own defense on the witness stand.

And the Fed trying to stick that elusive soft landing for the U.S. economy.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: We don't know. No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be.