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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Fetterman's Debate Performance Raises Scrutiny of Stroke Recovery; Putin: Risk of World Conflict Remains "Very High"; Suburban Voters Could Hold Key to Control of Congress; CNN Witness Transfer of Joshua Jones' Remains by Russia. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 27, 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 Thursday, October 27. I'm Christine Romans

We begin with a break-in at the headquarters of Arizona's Democratic candidate for governor Katie Hobbs. A source within the Hobbs campaign tells CNN these pictures show the man who broke in earlier in the week. CNN has blurred his face because police have not identified any suspects in the case.

Phoenix police say items were taken but the Hobbs campaign says it hasn't been able to get a full inventory. The campaign says Hobbs and her staff have faced hundreds of violent threats since she declared, which she blamed on her Republican opponent.

Quote, let's be clear, for nearly two years, Kari Lake and her allies have been spreading dangerous misinformation and inciting threats against anyone they see fit. The threats against Arizonans attempting to exercise their constitutional rights and their attacks on elected officials are the direct result of a concerted campaign of lies and intimidation.

Kari Lake pushing back against any insinuation she is responsible for the break-in.


KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GOV. CANIDDATE: I'm saddened that Hobbs and her camp would try to pin this on us. It's defamatory and it's wrong and it's so obvious what's happening. Her own party is attacking her. She's trying to deflect her own abysmal campaign and the fact that, you know, nobody even knows where her campaign office is. Person who broke into it probably didn't even realize it was a campaign office. It's really sad.


ROMANS: Phoenix police are trying to identify and locate the man in the security footage.

The day after John Fetterman stumbled in a debate against Mehmet Oz, the Pennsylvania Democrat stood on a rally stage in Pittsburgh and acknowledged the challenge he faced and faces now less than two weeks before the election.


JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: To be honest, doing that debate wasn't exactly easy. Nor it was going to be easy, after having a stroke after five months. This is never been done before in American political history before, actually.


ROMANS: Stumble or not, Fetterman told the crowd his campaign raised more than $2 million in the one day since the debate. That's money the campaign intends to sink into a blast of TV ads, highlighting his Republican opponent's controversial remarks on abortion.

More now on the challenges both men face from chief national affairs correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, in Pittsburgh.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The spotlight on Pennsylvania intensified a day after a debate between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz sharpened the stakes in the battle for control of the Senate.

FETTERMAN: I had a stroke. He's never let me forget that.

ZELENY: The question is not what Oz thinks of his rival.

MEHMET OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Obviously, I wasn't clear enough for you to understand this.

ZELENY: But whether voters believe Fetterman has sufficiently recovered from a near deadly stroke in May and should be elected to a six-year term in Washington.

JAN WELSCH, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I don't think he has recovered from the stroke.

ZELENY: Jan Welsch was watching the debate closely Tuesday night and said she found Fetterman's performance embarrassing.

WELSCH: I had questions about Oz earlier. But after listening with him against Fetterman, it's definitely Oz.

ZELENY: But Craig Bischof said he was turned off by what he saw as Oz picking on Fetterman.

Do you think he is healthy enough?

CRAIG BISCHOF, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Yeah. He gets healthier every day. He's coming a long way. The stroke is a hard thing to get over.

ZELENY: In one of the nation's tightest Senate contests, stark differences in style and substance may well reverberate for the final 13 days of the race with crime, energy and abortion rights among the issues at the center of a bitter duel.

OZ: I want women, doctors, local political leaders leading the democracy that's allowed our democracy to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.

ZELENY: Today, his advisers told CNN Oz believes the federal government should not play a role in abortion policy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe versus Wade.

OZ: Pennsylvania deserves better than Fetterman.

ZELENY: At a campaign stop, Oz talked about crime, not abortion, and did not address his line about local political leaders which Fetterman immediately seized upon in a new ad.

OZ: Local political leaders.

AD ANNOUNCER: Oz would let politicians like Doug Mastriano ban abortion without exceptions. Even in cases of rape, incest or life of the mother.

ZELENY: As Democrats try linking Oz to Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for governor.

But it was Fetterman's own shaky performance --

FETTERMAN: My doctors, the real doctors that I believe -- they all believe I'm ready to be served.


ZELENY: It dominated the post-debate discussion, stirring alarm among Democratic leaders from Pennsylvania to Washington, where the slim hold on the Senate is at risk. With the help of closed captioning to accommodate for lingering effects of his stroke, Fetterman not only struggled to prosecute his case against Oz but also on fracking, a critical force of energy jobs here. In 2018, he said this.

OZ: I don't support fracking at all. And I never have.

ZELENY: And on stage Tuesday night, he struggled to explain how his views have evolved.

FETTERMAN: I do support fracking. I don't -- I don't -- I support fracking. And I stand -- and I do support fracking.

ZELENY: The debate opened a new round of discussion about Fetterman's ability to serve, which is now likely a central question in the closing stretch of the race.

DEANNA REITZI, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I think I was expecting it, but not to that degree. He slumbered a lot and it was -- it was very painful.


ZELENY (on camera): And when Fetterman arrived at a rally in Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening, he bluntly acknowledged the challenges he faced at that debate. He says he is still recovering from the stroke, and went directly after his opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz on abortion, that is clearly a final line of attack here.

There is no doubt, more than 700,000 people have already voted in Pennsylvania, this remains one of the tightest Senate races in America.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Pittsburgh.


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

Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker now accused by another woman of pressuring her to have an abortion. The woman identified only as Jane Doe spoke virtually at a news conference at her lawyer's office. She claims she wasn't a years-long relationship with walker that led to the 1993 pregnancy. She says she is coming forward now, because she believes Walker, quote, is a hypocrite and not fit to be a U.S. senator.


JANE DOE: He has publicly taken the position that he is quote, about life, end quote. And against abortion, under any circumstances, when in fact, he pressured me to have an abortion, and personally ensured that it occurred, by driving need to the clinic and paying for it.


ROMANS: Walker responded the same way he did to an earlier, similar accusation from a former girlfriend, calling Jane Doe's claim a lie, cooked up by political opponents.


HERSCHEL WALKER, REPUBLICAN U.S. SENATE NOMINEE IN GEORGIA: They would do and say anything for power, and they don't realize that they messed with the wrong Georgian right here. This seat is too important for me to step down, so now they are going to have to come through me, to get to anyone else, because if they can do it to me, they will come after you next.


ROMANS: Walker supports a national ban on abortions with no exceptions. CNN has not independently verified either woman's claim.

Police in St. Louis, revealing the family of that 19-year-old gunman who killed two people at his former high school, they worked with authorities to get him mental health treatment. They also knew that he acquired an AR-15 style rifle, and with the help of police they had the rifle taken away. Police say they are investigating how he got the firearm back.

The teen was killed in a gun battle with police, a student and beloved teacher died in the rampage. The teacher's daughter says her mother was one of the kind.


ABBY KUCZKA, DAUGHTER OF TEACHER KILLED IN ST. LOUIS SHOOTING: When I first heard about the shooting, I had no idea it was my mom. I know she put herself in front of the gunfire to save her kids, that was her passion. My mom's a hero.


ROMANS: Police say the gunman's family is cooperating with their investigation.

A Wisconsin jury returning its verdict in the trial of a man accused of killing six people by plowing his SUV into the crowd at the Waukesha Christmas parade.


JUDGE JENNIFER DOROW, WAUKESHA COUNTY COURT: We, the jury, find the defendant, Daryl E. Brooks, guilty of first degree intentional homicide.


ROMANS: Brooks was found guilty on all six counts of intentional homicide, 61 counts of reckless endangerment. He represented himself in court and was combative throughout the trial. Each homicide charge carries a mandatory life sentence.

All right. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken says Russian President Vladimir Putin has been made aware of the consequences should he unleash nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Blinken's comments, not long after Putin himself said this.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Risk of conflict in the world as a whole, as well as at the regional level remains very high. New risks and challenges for security are emerging. This is a consequence of a sharp aggravation of the global geopolitical confrontation.


ROMANS: CNN's Clare Sebastian live in London.

Clare, also hearing, CNN hearing from a top Russian diplomat about the use of nuclear weapons, what is he saying?



This is the ambassador to the UK speaking to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, refuting claims Russia might be planning a nuclear attack.

Before we listen to what he said, just some context to this because in recent weeks, we've seen Russia ramped up very thinly veiled nuclear threats.

Then, of course, we have the accusation that Ukraine is planning a dirty bomb, without evidence. The defense minister, the Russian defense minister calling multiple Western counterparts on Sunday to warn them. The West worries it might be Russia that is actually planning something like this.

Even as we heard from the Russian ambassador in the UK, we see President Putin supervising nuclear drills in his country, warning as you heard, of a global conflict. In that context, take a listen to the Russian ambassador to the UK.


ANDREY KELIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.K.: First of all, it is conversation, with minister of defense Shoigu, he assured us we will not use any nuclear weapons. Russia is not going to use nukes, so it is out of the question.


SEBASTIAN: So I don't think that this will stop the west from worrying about those Russian threats, that flat denial from the Russian ambassador to the UK. And, of course, the Pentagon, Secretary Blinken both reiterating this week they don't see any evidence as of yet that Russia is planning a nuclear attack, planning in any way, no reason to change that U.S. nuclear posture.

But in light of the recent nuclear threat, in light of the dirty bomb allegation, in light of these albeit annual routine drills taking place, they are still monitoring the situation closely, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Clare, thank you so much, in London, for us.

All right. Back here, three men convicted in Michigan and connected with the plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer. A jury found them guilty of providing material support for a terrorist act and to other crimes. Prosecutors say they plan to attack the state capitol building and kidnap government officials including the governor. They are members of the militia group known as the Wolverine Watchmen.

Whitmer, in a statement says the verdicts are further proof that violence and threats have no place in our politics.

Just ahead, the body of an American killed fighting in Ukraine, returned by the Russians. Plus longtime enemies in the Middle East have signed a historic deal, after years of talks.

And next, how the battle for control of the U.S. Congress runs right through suburban neighborhoods.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the race for Congress is a really important race, because that will make, you know, who will, be Republican or Democrats, as a real issue with abortion, and with the fiscal.


ROMANS: That voter right there from Minnesota's second district, sums up what is at stake in the midterm election, now just 12 days away. He lives in a suburban district, in the shadow of Minneapolis. That is so crucial to control of the U.S. Congress. Analysts believe there are at least 18 congressional districts across the country that are considered toss-ups. The GOP needs a net gain of only five seats to win back the House.

For more, let's bring in Nathan Gonzales, who's the editor and publisher of "Inside Elections".

Nice to see you again.


ROMANS: Good morning, Nathan.

Which toss-up election stands out to you right now?

GONZALES: Well, choosing between them is kind like choosing between my children. I love them all, in their special, unique way. But I think Minnesota's second district is a big one. As far as believing, shows Democratic Congresswoman Angie Craig in a rematch against robin, Tyler Kistner. The district includes those twin city suburbs, kind of in the shadow of the violence, the riots after George Floyd's murder, still lingers. Also some economic concerns, and that's similar to other suburban districts.

I think Oregon's sixth district, a brand-new district, was created through the process, you have a Republican Mike Erickson against Democratic state senator, Andrea Salinas. Some similar concerns, economic concerns along with crime and homelessness, in Portland, that issue lingering there.

And I would include Nebraska's second district, where you have Republican congressman named Don Bacon running against a state senator named Tony Vargas in the Omaha area. And Don Bacon has been in serious races before, he has usually won, he has a stronger challenger than he has ever had before.

And these suburban voters are wrestling with economic concerns, but also they are concerned about, would Republicans go too far in restricting access to abortion if they got into power? That is the crux of the argument for some of these key voters.

ROMANS: In the presidential election of 2020, the President Trump lost the suburbs, then. What is different this time around? What is changing the minds of suburban voters in these toss-up elections?

GONZALES: I think suburban voters are looking at the problems that they are facing, they are looking at who is in charge. They are concerned about the economy, they are concerned about a whole host of issues and they see the Democratic president, Democrats in control of Congress, some of these states, the Democratic governor, they are holding Democrats responsible for those problems.

The status quo is not working, and that is, they aren't ready for a change. The question is, are Republicans a credible change, or a credible alternative to those voters who want to shake things up?

ROMANS: Right. So far, you have heard Republicans, slamming Bidenomics, Democrats, blaming Democrats for inflation and gas prices, a whole host of things. You have not heard what specifically, their anti-inflation plans are. Maybe that is on purpose.

I mean, polls have consistently --

GONZALES: Right --

ROMANS: Go ahead.

GONZALES: I was going to say yeah, the more specific that you get, the more opportunity that you give your opponents to poke holes in that. Usually if you are the out party, you want to keep the focus on who is in charge, what the problems are, and not give any opportunity for people to attack it.

We will see, that is why Democrats want this election to be a choice between two parties, because the voters are not concerned, not happy with both parties.


But Republicans want this to be a referendum. Do you think President Biden is doing a good job? Do you think this economy is strong? Because that is better footing for the Republican Party.

ROMANS: Yeah, the only consistent thing has been the approval ratings, right? They are low for this president, and what voters say is issue number one, which is inflation, and the economy, followed down the list by crime and abortion.

I guess with so many new voters, especially I think of Pennsylvania, all these new people coming into vote. It is unclear I guess what will be the top driver or if there will be multiple drivers for people as they go into the voting booth, Nathan.

GONZALES: Well, it looks like undecided voters are prioritizing the economy, and inflation. They are prioritizing what they are facing right now. And for those voters who have not yet decided, it could be something as simple as gas prices. You know gas prices are not necessarily the best indicator of the strength of the economy, nor does the president necessarily have control over gas prices.

But it is about the here and now for those voters who have decided late. So shifting gas prices could make a big difference in these last elections.

ROMANS: Gas prices, certainly in the psyche of American voters, and with outsized influence in the psyche of American voter. Nathan Gonzales, "Inside Elections", nice to see you.

GONZALES: Great to see you, Christine.

ROMANS: Thank you.

All right. Meet the new boss. Coming up, Elon Musk pays Twitter headquarters a visit.

And a CNN team on the scene as an American killed fighting for Ukraine begins his journey home.


CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just arrived at a meeting point. They are now waiting for the Russians to arrive with the body.




ROMANS: The body of an American, killed while fighting alongside Ukraine's military has been returned by Russian forces. A CNN team witnessed the transfer of Joshua Jones's remains to Ukrainian custody, the first step on a final journey home to his family in the U.S.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is live in Zaporizhzhia with her exclusive reporting.

Clarissa, how did this all come about? What was it like to see this unfold?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Well this was really down to the extraordinary efforts of Joshua Jones and his family, of two Ukrainian lawmakers, but the office of the presidency here in Ukraine, who were working around the clock, lobbying international organizations and doing everything they could to try to push Russian forces to release Joshua Jones body so it could be returned to his family, and yesterday, that finally happened.

Take a look.


WARD (voice-over): On the front lines, in Ukraine, he was known to his fellow fighters, as "Tactical Jesus," on account of his long hair, and deep knowledge of the Bible. To his mom, he was simply Joshy.

Tennessee native, Joshua Jones, was just 24-years-old, when he was killed, fighting in eastern Ukraine back in August. His passport, and Ukrainian Military ID, showed up on Russian social media channels, soon after. But his body was never recovered.

Since then, Ukrainian lawmakers, Oleksandr Trukhin, and Oleksandr Kovalyov (ph), have worked tirelessly, to get his body back.

And today, it is finally happening.

WARD: Why is it important to you to recover the body of Joshua Jones?

OLEKSANDR TRUKHIN, UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: He's the same one, hero for me, like our soldiers. So, we should make everything possible, to give his body back, to his family.

WARD: We are driving to the front line, in Zaporizhzhia. We stop along the way to link up with Military intelligence. In another car, a Russian soldier sits, slumped over. He is being released, today, as part of a larger swap, in which 10 Ukrainians were already freed.

The lawmakers talk with the officers, to go over the plan, once more. A makeshift white flag is put together, for the moment of transfer. And we're off again, this time, to No Man's Land. A rare two-hour ceasefire has been agreed by both sides, and time is of the essence.

So, we've just arrived at the meeting point. They're waiting, now, for the Russians, to arrive, with the body.

A team of forensic investigators get ready, for the task ahead. This is as far as we are allowed to go. Actual handover will happen, just beyond the hill.

Waiting for their return, it is eerily quiet. Only the bravest dare come out in these parts.

One of the transfer team, captures the moment, Joshua Jones' is brought back, into Ukrainian territory, as Russian forces look on.

For Kovalyov (ph), and Trukhin, it's the moment they have been waiting for. Jones is now one step closer, to being returned, to his family.

Back in the car, they show us his personal effects.

TRUKHIN: This is his personal body cross, which he was wearing. He was very religious guy.

WARD: What's your feeling in this moment? You've been working towards this, for a long time, to try to get Joshua Jones, back to his family.

TRUKHIN: Our feeling, we are proud of our country, of our team. We are proud of president. And we are proud that we are saving lives. Because you know when even somebody is dying, his family continue to live.