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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: 1/6 Committee Argue Trump Remains "Clear and Present Danger"; Russian Aerial Attacks Intensify in Ukraine; Jury Awards $965M in Alex Jones Defamation Case. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 13, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. It is Thursday, October 13th. I'm Christine Romans.

Donald Trump remains a clear and present danger to democracy. That's the case the January 6 committee plans to make in the final hearing before the November midterms. Sources tell CNN we will hear testimony and recently uncovered evidence.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: The political coup and all of the events surrounding the attempt to overthrow Joe Biden's Electoral College, the insurrectionary pilots, the mobilization, the mob, all of the flowed out of the will and the determination of one man to seize the presidency. And that's Donald Trump.


ROMANS: Daniella Diaz joins us live from Washington.

Good morning, Daniella. What else can we expect this afternoon?

DANIELLA DIAZ, CNN REPORTER: Christine, it's really important to a size this will be the last time we will publicly here in this format from the committee, of course, the last time they will have some sort of hearing to present to the American people publicly, what they found in this investigation of Donald Trump's role in overturning the 2020 election results and what led to the Capitol riot. We don't expect witnesses later today unlike past hearings. The last time we saw public hearing was in July. What we expect is to testimony and evidence since the last time we heard from the committee.

And sources say we might hear evidence from Trump's former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of' Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Some of the new testimony will come from witnesses the committee has presented in previous hearings. Since the last hearing in July, a lot has happened in this investigation including that the committee has interviewed more former members of Trump's cabinet, received more than 1 million communications from the Secret Service in the lead up to the riot and most notably sat down with Ginni Thomas who was the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

And also notable here, Christine, the FBI search former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate as part of the investigation and the apparent mishandling of sensitive government documents. Separately from the committee is investigating, the Justice Department fired off subpoenas to dozens of individuals connected to Trump.

So, bottom line, we will hear publicly from the committee, the panel that has been investigating the January 6 capitol attack. The last hearing and other context around the midterms are less than four weeks away. And, of course, they want voters to listen to their investigation findings -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Daniella, I know you will be watching. Thank you so much.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin, host of the podcast, "That Said with Michael Zeldin".

Good morning.


ROMANS: All right. Listen to committee member Jamie Raskin and whether they have linking extremist groups to the former president or his inner circle.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D), MARYLAND: If the inner circle includes the three people that he pardoned between the election in November and January 6, Flynn, Stone, and Bannon. I call them the Flintstones. Then absolutely, there is abundant evidence that we are going to present.


ROMANS: So, Michael, out of all the evidence they have uncovered, what are you most interested in knowing about?

ZELDIN: What exactly what Congressman Jamie Raskin said. What are the ties between the Trump White House, Trump and the inner circle, Mark Meadows to the group, and the insurrectionist and the run up to it and the date of it itself. They need to tie that up as best they can.

And I think that augmenting the testimony they may have received, the information they received from the secret service. Remember the Secret Service lost a lot of text messages and was delaying the delivery of information. The committee as hundreds of thousands of messages and other information. It will be interesting to see what was said among the secret service agents.

Trump was the one who supposedly was interested in going down to the capitol, grabbed the steering wheel according to Cassidy Hutchinson, the limousine to take him down there. The secret service at no. I would like to see elaboration of that.


ROMANS: You know, we heard the former president bragging about the crowd size that day bragging about the crowd size in a day that was an affront to democracy.

Sarah Matthews, the former deputy press secretary, told Jake Tapper last night she thinks Trump still poses a threat to democracy. Do you think that has any bearing at all on the 2024 election?

ZELDIN: Well, it will be interesting to see what the American public finally concludes about Donald Trump and the threat he proposes to democracy. I think we see more of that in the Mar-a-Lago documents aspect of this investigation then the January 6 stuff, or maybe the two of those in combination.

If he's willing to take national security documents and stick it in his residence, and at the same time invite armed insurrectionists into the Capitol through the ellipse with no metal detectors, those things have to resonate with people for them to feel that Trump is a threat. We will see whether they make their case.

ROMANS: Yes, I guess they will.

Michael Zeldin, so nice to see you. Thanks for getting up early for us.

All right. Stay with CNN for live coverage is the hearings resume with new witnesses and evidence. "Attack on Democracy: The January 6 Hearings" live. That's today, at noon eastern.

A member of Oath Keepers testify in the far right group stored more weapons outside Washington, D.C. on January 6 then he had seen since his days in the military. On Wednesday, Terry Cummings told jurors he traveled to the Capitol with his own AR-15 rifle and ammunition to contribute to a quick reaction force. Cumming is not charged with the crime. Five others of the oath keepers of pleaded not guilty to conspiring to use force to oppose the lawful transfer to President Biden.

A Texas family five sentence together on Wednesday for storming the Capitol on January 6th. The Munn family of Borger, Texas, climbed through the broken window before entering the Senate conference room. The two parents received 14 days of jail time. The three adult children receive probation and home confinement. The Munns claim they went to Washington to get answers about whether the 2020 election was secure.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones taunting Sandy Hook families after a jury awarded -- ordered him to pay nearly $1 billion.

Plus, the president of Turkey meeting with Vladimir Putin about peace in Ukraine and new details about the blast that took out the Kerch Bridge in Crimea.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The detonation happened at exactly the right time. And exactly the right place.



ROMANS: All right. Russian aerial strikes on civilians in Ukraine are intensifying with a new level of callousness. The latest attack, massive shelling overnight in Mykolaiv.

Meantime, a senior NATO official says a nuclear strike by Moscow would, quote, trigger a physical response from the Ukraine allies and possibly from NATO.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen standing by live.

Fred, do Ukrainians feel the West has their back here?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTENATIONAL COPRRESPONDENT: Well, I think in general they do. I think they are grateful for the military aid they are getting and you could sense that yesterday at the meeting in Brussels where, of course, a lot was pledged again. Ukrainians are saying they need a lot more than they currently have, especially as far as air defense systems are concerned. We were talking about some of these attacks that happened overnight.

It's quite interesting because the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy came out a couple minutes ago speaking to European lawmakers and said right now, the Ukrainians only have 10 percent of what they need in terms of their defenses. That leads to a lot of casualties on the ground.

Here is what we are learning.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Another mass casualty attack in Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. Bodies strewn across a market in an eastern town of Avdiivka. Just one reason why the Ukrainians disagree with President Joe Biden's remark from the interview with CNN's Jake Tapper that Putin is a rational actor.

The advisor to Ukraine's presidential administration tells me he believes the opposite is true.

MIKHAIL PODOLYAK, ADVISER TO UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE (through translator): He is irrational. He takes a lot of decisions from an emotional position and without a deep understanding of what is going on. Every decision that President Putin makes is a mistake.

PLEITGEN: As jets patrol the sky over Ukraine's capital, Russia continued its blitz of missile attacks on Ukrainian cities, hitting the town of Zaporizhzhia and targeting critical infrastructure, especially power plants.

The advisor telling me, Ukraine is working hard to repair the damage and appreciates support from the U.S. and its allies. PODOLYAK: Our partners all reacted quickly to what happened on

Monday, the 10th. All our official partners, including the United States, announced the strikes were inhuman because they consciously targeted civilian infrastructure.

PLEITGEN: Ukraine's military says it's able to shoot down many of the missiles and drones Russia fires at its territory, but only has old Soviet-era surface to air systems and not enough of them.

At a meeting in Brussels, NATO made clear providing Ukraine with modern anti-aircraft missiles is a top priority.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: This contact group stands united and determined. We will continue to boost Ukraine's defensive capabilities for today's urgent needs and for the long haul.

PLEITGEN: The Ukrainians say they continue to make headway against Russia's forces on the battlefield. Kyiv saying its forces took back several villages in the south of the country.


And the presidential advisor telling me, despite Vladimir Putin's nuclear threat, Ukraine must prevail.

PODOLYAK: Look, the threat of the use of nuclear weapons is not the problem of Ukraine. In any case, we cannot stop our counteroffensive. In any case, we cannot give up our territory to Russian control because it will mean an endless war for us. It will be impossible to rebuild the country.


PLEITGEN (on camera): Christine, you were mentioning the missile attack in Mykolaiv. Obviously, you know, some casualties in that one. That's only one of the attacks Ukrainians faced overnight. Another involved kamikaze drones the Ukrainians say Russians are obtaining from Iran. Some of those actually had close to the Ukrainian capitol, Kyiv, overnight and early morning hours, some causing damage to infrastructure and some of the Mykolaiv districts.

So, you can see, it's a big challenge for the Ukrainians. They say they are able to shoot a lot of them down, but the problem is they cannot replenish enough of the rockets and they need the Western systems and they need them fast, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Fred for us in Kyiv this morning, thank you, Fred.

Russia's Vladimir Putin set to meet a name on with Turkey President Erdogan for talks in Kazakhstan. The Kremlin says Turkey will likely offer options for peace in Ukraine and the idea possible negotiations between the West and Moscow.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is monitoring all of this from London.

Why is this meeting so important for Russia here, Salma? SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CRRESPONDENT: Absolutely, President Putin in

Astana today, of course, meeting with regional leaders during the summit, trying to show strength and unity on his side while NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels.

We've already heard from President Erdogan of Turkey, of course, this morning. He says he wants to end the bloodshed. That's what he told leaders at the summit. He wants to end the bloodshed as soon as possible.

What is important to note here is that Turkey, throughout this conflict, has remained somewhat neutral. It has refused to impose sanctions on Russia. President Putin has continued to maintain an open channel of communication with the President Putin. Early on in the conflict, it was Turkey that was hosting peace talks. Of course, that has failed, but it was Turkey that was there to try to negotiate between these two sides. Now the president is trying to step up again.

Russian media, Russian state media reporting that President Erdogan may try to approach formalizing his negotiation, making him officially the mediator between Ukraine and Russia. As I said, there's already precedent for this. In the summer, it was President Erdogan who is able to negotiate and to end a grain blockade that had threatened potentially hunger around the world, it was President Erdogan who was able to resolve that.

This is very important to establish this conduit, this potential peacemaker in President Erdogan between these two slides. The real question is, is anyone willing to come to the negotiating table right now? President Putin, for his part, digging his heels in, increasing attacks on Ukraine. President Zelenskyy seeing major gains on the ground. They're simply might not be the impetus for peace right now, Christine.

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

Eight people are in Russian custody following a blast that damaged the only bridge connecting Russia to its recently annexed region of Crimea. Moscow is blaming that explosion on Ukraine's military intelligence.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From three different angles, surveillance video catches the moment of the Kerch Bridge explosion. Video experts have played and replayed to figure out what happened.

What is certain is the explosion maximized damage, detonating between two bridge supports and causing the span to collapse into the water below. Satellite images clearly show the impact of bridge, a vital link between Russia and Crimea.

CHRIS COBB-SMITH, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR: There are other variables put into the mix, which meant that the detonation happened at exactly the right time and exactly the right place.

LIEBERMANN: The low quality surveillance video played frame by frame at the moment of the blast raises many questions.

COBB-SMITH: We can't tell from that video footage whether that vehicle, whether it was that vehicle that detonated and caused this explosion.

LIEBERMANN: It's unclear whether it was a truck that carried the explosives or an undisclosed weapon, perhaps a missile or drone that struck the bridge in the darkness and caused the fireball.

Chris Cobb-Smith says it's unlikely the explosion came from below the bridge.

COBB-SMITH: There's certainly been a blast which has affected the span that still remains. There's a dip there. There's been some sort of overpressure definitively on the road. There's also signs of, we can call it soot, if you like, or signs of burning, which aren't evident on the underside of the bridge.

LIEBERMANN: The scant evidence make it's less probable that Ukrainian special operation forces connected explosives to the bridge or that the attack came from a boat on the water. Bridge is hundreds of miles from Ukrainian controlled territory by land or by sea.


Both patrolled by Russian defenses. So no explanation is without its problems.

But Ukraine has shown its military capabilities before, flying helicopters in and out of Mariupol while it was under assault and attacking the Saki airfield in Crimea, an operation that still hasn't been fairly explained.

The Kremlin immediately blamed Ukraine for the attack.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Here, as reported, we have no doubts that this is a terrorist attack aimed at the destruction of the critical infrastructure of the Russian Federation. And the authors, executors and masterminds are the secret services of Ukraine.

LIEBERMANN: The U.S. has been tight-lipped about the Kerch Bridge explosion.

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We don't really have anything more to add to the reports about the explosion on the bridge. I just don't have anything to contribute to that.

LIEBERMANN: The Ukrainians claim they don't know what happened.

DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I really don't know who blew up the Kerch Bridge. I wouldn't exclude it's a Russian. It was something happening inside of Russia because this bridge is so heavily protected from all sides.

LIEBERMANN: But experts say it would be unlikely for Russians to target their own critical infrastructure. Russian state media said eight people have been detained over the explosion. All that's missing now is a convincing explanation.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): As for the question about what could this explosive have been made of, again, that's a very difficult question to answer. It would not be something that the creators expected we get to Russian inspections, even if they are not that thorough. That lends some credence to the idea that perhaps this was a fertilizer bomb, maybe with an accelerant, or something similar to that.

Meanwhile, another question, how big was the explosion, experts seem to be in agreement that this was a very large explosive which again, lend some credibility to the idea of a truck bomb and leads us away at least to some extent from a missile or a drone which simply couldn't carry a warhead of that size.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.

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

Just ahead, President Biden's China strategy just revealed. Plus, Sandy Hook families prevailing over Alex Jones.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we were able to accomplish was to tell the truth. It shouldn't be this hard, it shouldn't be the scary.




ROMANS: All right. A second major judgment a second major judgment against Alex Jones. A jury deciding the right wing conspiracy theorist and profiteer should pay nearly a billion dollars for his false claims of the Sandy Hook shooting. The families involved were crisis actors.

CNN's Brynn Gingras was in the Connecticut courtroom.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who was found liable last year of defaming families of the sandy hook school shooting victims, must pay for his words.

ROBBIE PARKER, FATHER OF 6-YEAR-OLD EMILIE PARKER: I'm proud that what we were able to accomplish was to simply tell the truth. It shouldn't be this hard, it shouldn't be the scary.

GINGRAS: The Connecticut jury of six unanimously decided the John's must pay $965 million in compensatory damages to the 15 point this, 14 or family members of victims and the 15th is an FBI agent who responded to the scene on the day of the shooting. Found the members sat in court, some of them trying, as the verdict was read. Jones was not there.

ALEX JONES, CONSPIRACY THEORIST: The whole thing was fake.

GINGRAS: The "Infowars" host spent years spreading disinformation about the sandy hook school massacre which left 20 children and six educators dead, calling the shooting a hoax, alleging the families involved were crisis actors.

During four weeks of emotional testimony, founding members of the victims described how they have been harassed over the past decade, both in person, and online.

PARKER: For years, I've been dealing with this. Everybody was online, everybody was in the comfort of their studio in some of the state. I never had a chance to tell anybody how I felt or what I thought. I'm paraphrasing at this point but, how dare you? You're talking about my daughter. She was killed, who do you think you are?

FRANCINE WHEELER, SON MURDERED AT SANDY HOOK: She said, who's that? I said, that's my son Ben. He died in his first grade classroom at sandy hook school. Do you said, what? I said yeah, he died at Sandy Hook. She said, you're lying. I --

GINGRAS: During the trial, Jones took a stand only one time on September 22nd. He got in a heated exchange with the plaintiffs attorney.

CHRISTOPHER MATTEI, ATTORNEY FOR THE FAMILIES OF SANDY HOOK VICTIMS: Today, a jury representing our community and our nation rendered a historic verdict, a verdict against Alex Jones's lies and they're poised to spread, a verdict for truth and for our common humanity.

GINGRAS: Jones defense team opted not to cross examine him and Jones never took the stand again during their trial. His attorney saying this after the verdict was read today.

NORM PATTIS, ALEX JONES' DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Certainly, it is more than we expected. That is an understatement. We look very much forward to an appeal in this case.

GINGRAS: Even as the verdict came down, Alex Jones was on his show mocking the verdict say that he has no money. His attorneys say that they plan to appeal this decision. The plaintiffs attorney say that they are going to fight this to the very end. Now, those plaintiffs are going to also be awarded punitive damages, but the amount is going to be determined at a later court date.

Brynn Gingras, CNN, in Waterbury, Connecticut.


ROMANS: All right. Brynn, thank you for that.

Surging inflation is about to have an effect on millions of people Social Security checks and the Biden administration plans to give migrants a legal.