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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

A.G. Garland: DOJ Won't Permit Voters To Be Intimidated; Trump Organization On Trial For Criminal Tax Fraud; Two Victims And Suspect Killed In St. Louis School Shooting. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 25, 2022 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. More than seven million ballots have already been cast in 39 states. Early voting on pace with the record set in the 2018 midterms.

There are also multiple reports of potential voter intimidation. In one instance in Mesa, Arizona, two armed men dressed in tactical gear were spotted at a ballot drop box.

Attorney General Merrick Garland says he takes stopping these tactics seriously.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Justice Department has an obligation to prevent -- to guarantee a free and fair vote by everyone who is qualified to vote, and will not permit voters to be intimidated.


ROMANS: A top Homeland Security official describes a, quote, "incredibly heightened threat environment" ahead of the election.

Day two of jury selection in the Trump Organization tax fraud trial. The company is accused of evading taxes through an off-the-book scheme to compensate top executives.

Former CEO Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty in the case and is the prosecution's star witness.

Attorneys hope to have a jury seated by the end of the week.


Let's bring in Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida. Nice to see you, Dave.

I'm wondering if he's going to be the star witness what that means for the -- for the prosecution here. They must be -- they must be pleased here that they have him cooperating. DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA (via Webex

by Cisco): Oh, yes, they are. This is a strong case against the Trump Organization, especially now that the longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg has cut a deal. He pled guilty and he's going to testify against the Trump Organization.

And the law is clear that income and fringe benefits are taxable. And the 15-count indictment here detailed an ongoing and deliberate scheme of tax fraud that was much bigger than we originally thought. I mean, Weisselberg, himself, apparently got $1.76 million in untaxed compensation. It's much longer than we thought. This went over 15 years.

And was much more meticulous than we thought. They actually had two separate sets of books. It's like the movie "The Producers" where one set of books essentially said show to the IRS and the other one said don't show to the IRS.

So, this took a lot of thought and planning.

And this is not a nitpicking matter because when companies like this evade taxes, who pays? The rest of us pay, including jurors.

ROMANS: All right. In another issue surrounding the president or in the president's orbit, the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has agreed to temporarily pause Sen. Lindsey Graham's testimony in the 2020 presidential election probe in Georgia.

If this is a temporary move, what's next for Graham and the grand jury's investigation?

ARONBERG: Yes, I do think this is a brief delay to allow the Supreme Court to hear both sides before ruling. It still takes four justices, though, to hear a case -- to hear the appeal, and I think they won't.

And I'd be shocked if they took the case and then they overturned the lower court. Because the lower court is the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals where a unanimous 3-judge panel used very sound legal reasoning to rule for the D.A. in Georgia. And two of the three judges on that panel were Trump appointees.

So, ultimately, I do believe that Lindsey Graham is going to have to testify. This speech or debate clause does not shield him from a Fulton County grand jury subpoena because that clause protects legitimate legislative activity, not campaign-related phone calls to election officials in a state that you don't represent.

ROMANS: All right, Dave Aronberg. Nice to see you bright and early this morning. Thank you, sir.

ARONBERG: Thanks for having me back.

ROMANS: All right.

A teenager who killed four students and wounded seven others at a Michigan high school last year is pleading guilty to all 24 charges against him. Ethan Crumbley admitted to one count of terrorism causing death and four counts of first-degree murder for the mass shooting at Oxford High School. And prosecutors are also targeting his parents.

CNN's Jean Casarez has more.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The criminal case against the parents is precedent-setting and the prosecution wants to include even more evidence through experts, saying that the parents of Ethan Crumbley created that pathway of violence. They want expert testimony. The defense is saying it is unconstitutional, the science is not valid, and it's prejudicial. The issue will be looked at this Friday.

As far as Ethan, in February, he will be back in this court and the issue there will be sentencing -- what amount of time is proper. Both sides will argue the Supreme Court, in 2012, for the United States, said that to have mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for a minor is unconstitutional. There have to be other options.

We'll see what will happen. And his sentencing will be farther along in 2023 -- Christine.


ROMANS: All right -- thanks, Jean.

Police releasing the identity of one of the victims of the school shooting in Missouri Monday. Jean Kuczka was a 61-year-old health and physical education teacher at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. She taught there since 2008 and was looking forward to retiring in a few years.

Police say a 16-year-old girl was also killed. Seven other teens were injured.

The gunman has been identified as 19-year-old Orlando Harris. He was shot by police and later died at the hospital. Police say he brought a long gun and around a dozen magazines with him to the school.

Seven security personnel were at the school at the time of the shooting and police arrived four minutes after the first 911 call. The police chief says the quick response saved many lives.


CHIEF MICHEL SACK, ST. LOUIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: This could have been much worse. The individual had almost a dozen 30-round high-capacity magazines on him, so that's a whole lot of victims there. But because of the quick response, that suspect didn't have the opportunity to turn this into it. It's certainly tragic for the families and it's tragic for our community but it could have been a whole lot worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Investigators are trying to determine what led the gunman to do this. They say there is a suspicion he was suffering from mental illness.


All right, what about inflation? The wealthy are spending on luxury items like it's 1999.

And did two NFL officials ask for a player's autograph after a game? That is a big no-no.


ROMANS: All right, let's get a check on CNN Business this morning.

Looking at markets around the world, you can see Asian markets are mixed. Chinese stocks and Hong Kong shares coming off their worst day since the financial crisis. Investors fleeing from China-related exposure as President Xi Jinping tightens his grip on power.

On Wall Street, stock index futures leaning lower this morning after what's been a hot streak for the markets this month. The Dow and the S&P 500 rising Monday by more than one percent. You know, the Dow has gained nearly 10 percent in October.

Investors are bracing for another big interest rate hike, but then they're hoping the Federal Reserve may slow. The Fed next meets on November 2.


Consumer confidence numbers also due out later today.

So, JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon -- you remember earlier this year he warned of an economic hurricane. Two weeks ago he warned a recession is coming. But now, he says a recession is not his biggest concern for the U.S.

Speaking on a panel at the Future Investment Initiative Conference in Saudi Arabia, Dimon said he's more worried about geopolitics.


JAMIE DIMON, CEO, JPMORGAN CHASE: It's very good news right now in the United States. People see it. Consumers, businesses still spending lots of money -- a lot of physical stimulus. But there's a lot of stuff on the horizon, which is bad and could -- it doesn't necessarily but could put the United States in a recession.

But that's not the most important thing for what we think about. We'll manage right through that. I would worry much more about the geopolitics of the world today.


ROMANS: All right, Jamie Dimon there in Saudi Arabia.

All right, inflation or not, the wealthy are still spending on high- end goods. Luxury brands like Gucci and Louis Vuitton are posting strong sales while lower-income shoppers are struggling to afford basic groceries.

Let's bring in CNN Business consumer reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn. I've seen this sort of two Americas in retail land here. The luxury sector is still going strong. What are you seeing there?

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN BUSINESS CONSUMER REPORTER: Right. So, Gucci bags and Louboutin shoes are flying off the shelves. Wealthy shoppers continue to splurge on luxury goods despite higher prices -- sometimes a couple of thousand dollars higher.

Hermes sales last quarter were up 24 percent. Kering, which owns Gucci, up 14 percent.


MEYERSOHN: LVMH, the owner of Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, up 27 percent.

So, blockbuster numbers for the luxury goods companies. And it's proving that wealthier shoppers are resilient in the face of higher prices. They are revenge spending from all the time spent inside during the pandemic.

ROMANS: Revenge spending -- I hadn't heard it put that way but that really makes a lot of sense.

Meantime, you've got survival spending on the lower end of the spectrum where lower-income customers -- paycheck-to-paycheck customers are trading down what kind of products they're buying because of inflation. What are you seeing?

MEYERSOHN: Right. So, there's a gap right now between wealthier customers and lower-income customers. Lower-income customers are spending more on groceries, gas, and rent. Grocery prices up 13 percent last year, the highest rate of inflation in 40 years.

So even if lower-income shoppers are seeing a little bit more money in their paychecks, it's being wiped out by inflation.

These customers are -- like you said, they're trading down. They're shopping more at dollar stores and discount stores. Walmart said they're switching from buying a gallon of milk to a half-gallon --


MEYERSOHN: -- and they're pulling back on the big-ticket items.

ROMANS: Yes. And the CEO of Kraft told me this week that they're making sure they have a lot of different sizes of, like, bottles of catsup, for example. So if you don't have as much money in your family budget that week you could buy the smaller bottle of Heinz catsup. Just a lot of variety.

You've seen companies sort of changing their messaging and their promotions.

I want to -- I want to play this starring Shaq.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems like places are giving you less and less food these days.


O'NEAL (Portraying his father): Oh, shrink-flation is just another word for robbery.

O'NEAL: But this is Shaq-flation.

O'NEAL (Portraying his father): Dang, that's huge.


ROMANS: Shaq-flation. What does this messaging tell us, I guess, about what Papa Johns is trying to do here?

MEYERSOHN: Right. So I never thought I'd see Shaq and shrink-flation in the same ad, but here we are.

So, Papa Johns is trying to reassure customers that it's not shrinking the size of its food -- shrink-flation -- like many other companies are. It's increasing the size of its pizza -- Shaq-flation.

So we see companies really trying to message to consumers that are frustrated with inflation, frustrated with some supply shortages.

Tide is running ads with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Ice-T, encouraging customers to wash their clothes with cold water. Dawn says it has a new dish bottle where you can squeeze out every drop so you don't need to buy a new one. Dollar General is advertising it has more products for a dollar.

So we see companies changing their messaging --


MEYERSOHN: -- to consumers right now.

ROMANS: Nathaniel Meyersohn, so interesting -- thanks. Nice to see you today.

All right. Hollywood has lost one of its Campiest comedians. We're remembering beloved actor and comedian Leslie Jordan, next.



ROMANS: Severe weather moving across Texas. A firehouse in the town of Jarrell had its garage doors and roof blown off by a powerful storm overnight. It also brought down power lines and trees.

Let's get to meteorologist Chad Myers. Wow, those are quite some pictures.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Really, and even some tractor-trailers were blown off I-35 by that potential tornado. They don't know yet whether that was a tornado or not. They'll be out this morning looking at it at daybreak. But a lot of wind damage.

Everybody thinks about spring being the severe weather season, and it is because the cold air is kind of getting pushed back by the warm air. Well, in the fall, the exact opposite happens. The cold air is pushing away the warm air as we get into winter.

This is where the severe weather could be today. Let me take you now hour-by-hour where this rain and thunderstorm activity is going to be right now, moving off to the east. And there's a line of weather. That's the squall line. That's where the wind will be. You have to follow that line to the east across Mississippi, Alabama, and even into Georgia.

And there will be some severe weather possible in the Ohio Valley as well, as this line of weather continues to charge across.

Some people may get some severe weather after dark, and those are the hard -- and even after you're going to bed, those are the hardest ones to detect. We're going to have to watch that.


But some good news. We'll get rain in the Mississippi River and they could really use it. It's the lowest it's ever been in some spots there across the Lower Mississippi.

Temperatures about where we should be -- maybe a couple of degrees warmer. And even across the northeast, temperatures are quite mild for this time. And maybe even by the weekend we'll still have some leaves out there. You can go drive around and look at them, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, and watch the rain fall in the Mississippi River. I'm telling you right now, they need to get those barges moving again.

MYERS: You bet.

ROMANS: All right, thank you so much. Nice to see you, Chad.

MYERS: Good to see you.

ROMANS: Friends and fans mourning the death of a beloved actor and comedian, Leslie Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LESLIE JORDAN, ACTOR: I am so sorry I missed the ceremony. But tell me this, darling, do they still say till death do us part when the bride is a vampire?


ROMANS: Jordan was best known for his work on "WILL & GRACE." He also appeared in "AMERICAN HORROR STORY" and "THE COOL KIDS."

And during the pandemic, he would post funny videos on Instagram and gained millions of followers.


JORDAN: This is awful. It's still March. How many days in March?


ROMANS: Jordan's last post on Sunday was of him singing a hymn with artist Danny Myrick.

Monday morning, Jordan was involved in a car accident and pronounced dead at the scene. Leslie Jordan was 67 years old.

All right. The Patriots have a full-blown quarterback controversy as the team benches starter Mac Jones in a blowout loss to the Bears on "MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL."

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


So, Mac Jones -- he made his return to action last night but didn't get to stay in the game very long. Bill Belichick pulling him in the second quarter after an interception for rookie Bailey Zappe. And the Patriots -- they scored two touchdowns on two straight drives with Zappe, but it was pretty rough going after that.

The Bears scored 23 unanswered points and the Patriots didn't score at all in the second half. The Bears would win this game easily, 33-14.

Belichick downplaying his quarterback controversy after, saying it was always the plan to play both Jones and Zappe.

Now, the Manningcast, meanwhile, was back last night and former President Obama joined Peyton and Eli. And they joked about the brothers visiting the White House after their Super Bowl wins.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to say that both of you guys were gentlemen. There were some -- there was some silverware missing after that visit but we couldn't -- we couldn't directly trace it to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: All right. Tom Brady, meanwhile, says there's no chance he's going to quit on the Buc. Tampa is 3-4 to start the season -- their worst start -- the worst start Brady has faced after seven games in 20 years. But despite that, they're actually still tied for first in the NFC South. And Brady says they're not giving up.


TOM BRADY, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS QUARTERBACK: I said last week that there's no immediate retirement in my future. There was a retirement in the past but I've moved on from that. But certainly not.

You know, I've never -- you know, I made a commitment to this team, and I love this team and I love this organization. I told them in March I was playing and I've never quit on anything in my life.


SCHOLES: All right. Finally, a pair of NFL officials are under investigation after this video surfaced of them appearing to as Buccaneers' wide receiver Mike Evans for his autograph after the game. The Panthers beat writer Sheena Quick shot the incident in the stadium tunnel as the players exited the field.

League rules state that game officials are prohibited to ask players or team personnel for autographs and memorabilia, as it can be seen as a conflict of interest. CNN has reached out to the NFL Referees Association for comment.

But Christine, one of those refs, a 21-year veteran; the other one in his fourth season. So they've been around the block for a while and they can't claim that they didn't know the rules. And that -- but that -- you know, that certainly is like, he's getting his autograph? Like, you know --

ROMANS: Could there be another explanation? I mean, validating his parking ticket. I mean, I don't know. I mean, what could the other explanation be?

SCHOLES: There's not a great one, Christine. And, you know, fans -- if there was a questionable flag in that game and then he was getting an autograph afterward --


SCHOLES: -- imagine what fans would be saying then. At least it was a blowout so there's nothing in question in the game. But it leads you to wonder how -- was that the first time he's gotten an autograph or asked for something from a player?

ROMANS: We shall see.


ROMANS: All right, stay tuned to that.


ROMANS: Nice to see you, Andy. Andy Scholes this morning.

SCHOLES: All right.

Thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. "NEW DAY" starts right now.