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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden to Visit Ft. Myers to "Reaffirm" Support for Florida; Secret Recording Played in Court Shows Alleged Plan for Violence; Ukraine Pushes Back on Kremlin-Controlled Areas on Two Fronts; U.S. Plans More Sanctions Against Iranian Police, Intel Officials. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired October 05, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday, October 5th. I'm Christine Romans.

In just hours, President Biden and the first lady will fly to Fort Myers, Florida. The White House says he's going to reaffirm his commitment to supporting the people of Florida as they repair and rebuild.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's going to be listening to the people who live there who have lost so much. He's going to be talking to the respondents on the ground who have done tremendous work.


ROMANS: The death toll from Hurricane Ian now stands at 109. All but four of them in western Florida.

Today, people who evacuated from Sanibel Island, one of the hardest hit in the state, will be allowed to return to survey their losses.


DANA SOUZA, SANIBEL CITY MANAGER: It's going to hit home. It's going to be emotional when they see their properties up close and the amount of damage that this storm inflicted upon them.


ROMANS: More now from CNN's Carlos Suarez. He is in Fort Myers.


CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The need for help in Florida, immediate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of our food at the house went bad. SUAREZ: At one food distribution site in north Fort Myers, the line of cars grew by the hour.

The Cajun Navy Foundation on the ground in Florida for days, handing out crucial supplies for residents without basic services.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've got diapers. And there's water, food.

SUAREZ: Thousands so far have been rescued from destroyed or flooded homes with harrowing stories of survival.

STAN PENTZ, HURRICANE IAN SURVIVOR: I got pushed away, and I went around the building. I was able to find some bushes and I grabbed onto it. I pulled myself in, halfway in. I just stayed there for hours, hours.

SUAREZ: State officials, working to compile a list of those missing.

KEVIN GUTHRIE, DIRECTOR, FLORIDA DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We hope to have a better number on that, going into the next couple of days.

SUAREZ: Hurricanes Ian's death toll now over 100, more than half of those deaths in Lee County, where rescuers face large areas of homes, boats and bridges shattered in Ian's wake.

SHERIFF CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We are probably still another 3 to 4 days left in search, rescue, and recovery. But until we go through the rubble and see exactly what we have, we are not certain who is missing and what those numbers will be.

SUAREZ: County officials identified 46 of the 55 bodies recovered. One of those killed, an Ohio mother, celebrating her 40th birthday in Fort Myers who could not find transportation to leave her vacation rental before the storm.

MARCENO: These are not numbers. This is -- this is family members.

SUAREZ: For the hardest hit barrier islands, the only way in and out is by air and boat.

CAPTAIN CATHY EAGLE, BOAT TOUR GUIDE: I just dropped some people off to at their house. I'm just going to get supplies.

SUAREZ: Emergency officials are racing to build a temporary bridge to connect Pine Island to Cape Coral north of Sanibel.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We're going to have that bridge patched this week so they're going to be able to go and access.

SUAREZ: The National Guard and a group of volunteers began and airlift of food and supplies for stranded residents.

UINIDENTIFIED MALE: We have extensive water damage within this building. SUAREZ: School buildings unspared. DeSoto County schools say a high

school will remain closed for two months. An elementary school in Fort Myers Beach shows dust and debris everywhere. School officials may relocate students, teachers and staff.

SUPERINTENDENT CHRISTOPHER BERNIER, SCHOOL DISTRICT OF LEE COUNTY: This is not going to stop us from opening our schools as soon as we can.


SUAREZ (on camera): Preparations are underway ahead of President Biden's visit here later today. The White House says he is going to meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and he is going to get a briefing by the governor. We expect the president to get a look at the damage by air and ground -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Carlos, thank you so much for that.

New this morning, audio recordings played in court in the Oath Keepers sedition trial. Prosecutors say the recording was at a November 2020 Oath Keepers planning meeting that discussed bringing weapons to Washington, D.C., in preparation to fight on behalf of former President Trump.


STEWART RHODES, OATH KEEPERS LEADER: We're not getting out of this without a fight. There's going to be a fight. But let's just do it smart and let's do it while President Trump is still commander in chief and let's try to get him to do his duty and step up and do it.


ROMANS: That was Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes in the secretly recording meeting taped by an attendee who later sent the tip to the FBI.

But in the audio, Rhodes says he wants to put pressure on Trump to invoke the insurrection act.



RHODES: If the fight comes, let the fight come. Let Antifa go -- if they go kinetic on us, then we'll go kinetic back on them. I'm willing to sacrifice myself for that. Let the firght start there, okay.

That would give President Trump what he needs, frankly, if things go kinetic, good. If they blow bombs up and shoot us, great. Because that brings the president his reason and rationale for dropping the Insurrection Act.


ROMANS: Other defendants are heard on the recording discussing what weapons are legal to bring into Washington, D.C.


MEGGS: Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn't hurt to have a led pipe with a flag on it.


ROMANS: All five defendants have pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy charges which carry up to 20 years behind bars.

Former President Donald Trump is asking the Supreme Court to intervene in the dispute over classified materials that the FBI seized from Mar- a-Lago this summer. The emergency request comes at a time when the high court's legitimacy is under intense scrutiny. Trump is asking the court to ensure that more than 100 classified documents are part of the special master's review. The request granted could bolster the former president's attempt to challenge the search in court. The DOJ has until Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. to respond.

Let's bring in Lis Wiehl, former federal prosecutor and author of the book "A Spy in Plain Sight."

Nice to see you this morning.

So, we have the former president asking the Supreme Court to intervene here. Even if he here to win, DOJ would still be able to use the documents in their investigation.

So, what is the motivation here by the Trump legal team?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Oh, Christine, he's grasping at straws here, right? The whole point of his modus operandi has been to delay these documents getting to the prosecutors to use in front of a grand jury. So what he's saying right now is a technical argument. He's saying the 11th Circuit didn't have the power to sort of rein in the special master and say, look, those 100 documents we were just talking about, those don't go to the special master.

What he's saying -- Trump is saying, hey, 11th Circuit, you butt out. You never were supposed to get into this.

I don't think that's going to hold water in a Supreme Court that is unbiased, let's say, because an interlocutory appeal, which is what he's saying happened here, absolutely was met. All the criteria was met for that.

So he's really trying to say something that, you know, hey, a federal court can't, you know, look at and review what a special master is doing. That just doesn't make sense from a legal perspective. It just doesn't make sense at all, that you can't have a higher court reviewing what the lower court has already done.

Now if the Supreme Court takes it, which I don't think they will, I think they'll refuse to take it. I think they'll say very little about it. If the Supreme Court does take it though, it could backfire on Trump because then everything's open, even the appointment of the special master potentially could be relitigated and Trump doesn't want that because he likes the special master.

And, of course, we know the Department of Justice would rather not have the special master involved and get all the documents right now for the grand jury.

ROMANS: Trump has lost every case he has brought before the Supreme Court. You think the odds are not in his favor for this request?

WIEHL: For an unbiased Supreme Court, yes. It is being heard first by Justice Thomas and we know there's some issues there, but Thomas, according to protocol, is supposed to give over the decision to the entire court to make to decide whether or not to take the case, whether or not to even hear the case.

So I don't think legally speaking for the reasons I just said, I don't think it holds water. I mean, I think the Supreme Court should shoot it out and recognize it for what it is, which is it's just one more delay tactic.

And, Christine, we've seen this over and over and over again. This is his last chance, right? It's the Supreme Court. This is it. If he doesn't win here, he's out of appeals.

ROMANS: Let's talk a bit about that seditious conspiracy trial that the Oath Keepers. A couple of interesting days. Federal prosecutors played the audio recordings in that Oath Keepers trial. Take a listen.


RHODES: We're not getting out of this without a fight. There's going to be a fight. But let's just do it smart and let's do it while President Trump is still commander in chief and let's try to get him to do his duty and step up and do it.


ROMANS: This is the first major piece of evidence prosecutors have used against this far right. What do you make -- how significant is this audio?

WIEHL: Oh, this is huge. This is a gold mine for the prosecution, right? They need to show that there was planning and it's a conspiracy because one of the -- at least one of the co-conspirators wasn't even there on January 6th. So they need to show that, hey, this was going on well before January 6th.


They were planning it. Not only were they planning it and hoping to get Trump involved with the Insurrection Act which would say, hey, you can bring in the militia, we're the militia, we can come in, trying to bring Trump in.

But they're also in the audiotape talking about, be careful, don't get popped, meaning legally don't get popped, knowing -- that tells me and it would tell any juror that, hey, they knew what they were doing and they knew what they were doing was potentially illegal and they're trying to protect themselves from it.

So, Christine, look for this audio to be played multiple times. If any defendant takes the stand, this will be played in cross examination and, of course, it will be played in closing argument in part where, you know, it's going to convince a jury, this wasn't something a rag tag team that decided at the last minute that they were upset and decided to go on to march on January 6th. This was going on, you know, almost two months before, which is pretty incredible to think about, Christine.

ROMANS: They have all pleaded not guilty and we will see how that proceeds.

Lis Wiehl, thank you so much. Nice to see you today.

WIEHL: Great to see you, Christine. Have a wonderful day.

ROMANS: Yeah, you, too.

All right. A rapid response to North Korea's latest provocation.

The U.S. and South Korea launching four missiles off the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul for us.

And, Paula, that's not the only response we have seen from these two allies.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, we saw a really coordinated response from the U.S. and South Korea. As you say, four missiles fired off the east coast in the early hours of Wednesday morning and then on Tuesday, the same day as North Korea fired that intermediate range ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean, we saw another drill. They had a bombing drill with fighter jets off the west coast of Japan.

So, this is unusual to have two sets of these planned exercises in less than 24 hours. The message we're being told from the U.S. side is that it is to show North Korea that they are militarily capable of responding in kind if they do decide to do so. We heard from John Kirby from the National Security Council saying that it was important to show that they have this capability and that they're trying to deter North Korea from carrying on.

But what we have seen is that North Korea does appear that it will continue in this tack according to every expert we have spoken to. There are still concerns that they could be back to do a seventh underground nuclear test that apparently according to the U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies, they have been prepared and ready to do that since earlier this year. They're waiting for the political will. From the diplomatic point of view, U.S. president spoke to Japan's

leader and called North Korea's launch dangerous and reckless -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Paula, thank you so much for that. Keep us posted. A lot happened over the last day or two there.

All right. Still ahead, a Russian warning to United States: keep arming Ukraine at your own risk.

Plus, Washington warns Tehran there will be an issue with the crackdown on protesters.

And this, work four days, get paid for f five. How's that working out?



ROMANS: This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed in law measures that claim to annex four parts of Ukraine into the federation, an annexation international law deems illegal and the land he has claimed is not even fully controlled by Moscow anymore. This as Ukrainian troops are pushing forward in the south and east to retake Kremlin-occupied areas.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us live from Kyiv, Ukraine.

Good morning, Fred. How successful is this Ukrainian counteroffensive?


Yeah, less and less of that territory is actually controlled by Russians. I think the Ukrainian themselves are even quite surprise at some of the successes that they have been having, especially over the past couple of weeks, of course, in general, over the past couple of weeks as well.

If you look at one of the places that we've talking about, that area in the east around the town of Lyman, the Ukrainians have been successful. The areas around the east in Lyman, Ukrainians have been able to push further there. They say they've taken an additional couple of settlements and are moving further towards the east and regaining some of that territory there as well.

The big story we're seeing unfold is south of the country. Down near the town of Kherson, which, of course, is a major population center in the south, really one of the first places that the Russians were able to take when they invaded the country. And right now, the Ukrainians seem to be making sweeping gains there.

We heard especially in the late evening hours of last night was the Ukrainians saying they have taken a lot of areas in the Kherson administrative district, specifically in the north there sort of moving south into that district and really winning a lot of territory back. They say that the Russians are quickly retreating. It's quite interesting to hear because the Russians themselves are saying they are regrouping, as they put it. They do now acknowledge their forces are moving backwards. They call it a regrouping to rebuild the defensive lines.

It's interesting to see Russian state TV which obviously for a very long time is talking about what they claimed were Russian successes in the battlefield acknowledging things are moving in a very bad direction for the Russian military. Also, during the Russian military's briefing they had, the official briefing, they didn't specifically acknowledge their retreat but if you looked at some of the maps they were showing, they certainly had a lot less territory that they controlled on the maps as well.

All of that, Christine, not stopping the Russian military from striking back. In fact, in the early morning hours of today, they used kamikaze drones possibly supplied by Iran to strike a place 50 miles south of where I am, Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Fred Pleitgen, thanks for that update.

A Russian diplomat warns the U.N. that U.S. military aid to Ukraine is advancing, quote, a direct military clash between Russia and NATO. The Biden administration just announced an additional $625 million in security aid.

Let's bring in CNN's Scott McLean live from London.

Scott, how serious is his claim?


Yeah. So, this came from Russian diplomat named Konstantin Vorontsov. He leads the Russian delegation to the U.N. disarmament commission and he said that these American supplied weapons are bringing closer the possibility of a direct conflict between Russia and between NATO. He also accused the Ukrainians of using U.S.-supplied weapons to strike targets deep within Russian-held territory.

Of course, the Ukrainians have not acknowledged responsibility for any strikes on Russian soil. Of course, there has been plenty of worry since the outset of this conflict that there could be escalation. That worry is now more acute given the fact that as you mentioned earlier, Christine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has officially annexed four partially held territories inside of Ukraine and he has previously threatened to use nuclear weapons if Russian territory is struck.

So, of course, the worry here is that Putin will use any strike on these Russian-held territories inside of Ukraine to then escalate the conflict. A top adviser to president Zelenskyy said yesterday, look, Ukraine is not a nuclear power but the United States is. If anyone needs to send a message to Russia, it needs to be a nuclear power like the United States. All the while as Fred mentioned, Russia is getting desperate on the

battlefield. Even Russian media is acknowledging this. Two well-known correspondents inside of Russia blaming in part those U.S.-supplied weapons and also a serious lack of manpower. One war correspondent with Russian state TV says that at the moment, the Russians have the manpower to hold the line but they don't have enough manpower to make any significant advances for at least two months -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Scott McLean, thank you so much for that, Scott.

All right. CNN has learned the U.S. is getting ready to take action against those cracking down on protesters in Iran.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We have already sanctioned some of the morality police, some other Iranian intelligence officials that we know were responsible for cracking down on these protestors and were responsible for Ms. Amini's death. I think you will see us issue more sanctions going forward.


ROMANS: Sweeping protests sparked by a death of woman in police custody. She had been detained for violating Iran's dress code.

Let's go to CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Istanbul who's been covering this from the start.

And, Jomana, how will the U.S. sanction Iranian police and intelligence officials?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you heard there, Christine, we expect the United States to announce these additional sanctions this week. What they look like we really don't know yet. We're going to have to wait and see. Perhaps more symbolic than anything, the United States and other countries have been under a lot of pressure, lots of rising calls to do more to support those rising up in Iran.

But with or without that support, three weeks into this, Christine, we are still seeing people taking to the streets and now we're seeing the youngest in the country also joining in.


KARADSHEH (voice-over): This religious propaganda song released by the Iranian government with a tribute to former Quds force commander, General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike is also a pledge of allegiance to the supreme leader and the ideology.

Critics of the regime say it's part of an effort to indoctrinate the next generation to carry on the Islamic revolution, but that generation is now rising up saying enough to repression, demanding rights they've never known. In Tehran, spontaneous outbursts of defiance, young girls on the

streets waiving their head scarves chanting "death to the dictator" and the now familiar women live freedom protests with cars honking their horns in support.

More and more video now emerging of teenage girls joining in the protests. In this video, the girls remove their head scarves and chase an official out of the school throwing water bottles and they chant dishonorable. Girls emboldened by the young women at the front of the nationwide protests, braving bullets, the threat of prison or flogging standing up to the Islamic republic and its so-called morality enforcers, risking it all for their freedoms, for their right to choose.

No one knows how this will all end but one thing is for certain, the barrier of fear has now been broken.


KARADSHEH (on camera): And, Christine, this week we heard from Iran's supreme leader for the first time commenting on what's going on in the country. Again, the same rhetoric we heard from the regime dismissing this all as a foreign plot by Israel and the United States to weaken the Islamic republic.


Some concern that this may be an indication that we are going to see an even harsher crackdown in the coming days.

One line I found really interesting from his comments, really disturbing, actually, Christine, he said some of those who are taking to the streets, those young ones, he said this is excitement from watching a program on the Internet and he says with the right punishment they can be awakened to the fact that they are wrong -- Christine.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Jomana Karadsheh, thank you for that.

All right. Elon Musk changed his mind. Yup, he's going to buy Twitter again. Does he mean it this time?

And testing out a four-day work week. How are bosses reacting?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chaotic. We didn't know what we were doing. We were all over the shop.