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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

New Details Emerge on LGBTQ Bar Shooting that Left 5 Dead and 25 Injured in Colorado; DOJ Announces Special Counsel for Mar-a-Lago Documents and January 6th Probes; Justice Alito Denies Involvement in Alleged Leak of 2014 Case. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 21, 2022 - 05:00   ET



WHITNEY WILD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Whitney Wild in for Christine Romans. Let's take you to the biggest story in America right now. New details emerging in the mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ bar. Five people were killed, 25 others injured by a shooter with a long gun and other weapons.

Colorado Springs mayor says 19 of those hurt suffered gunshot wounds. The mayor says it likely would have been so much worse if not for what he called a true act of heroism by bar patrons. He says they took the shooter's handgun and hit him with it, disabling him. Witnesses describe a fast-moving heroine attack.


JOSHUA THURMAN, WITNESS: It was so scary. I heard shots, broken glass, bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Josh, sir, I'm sorry.

THURMAN: It was -- how? Why?

LEIA-JHEM, PERFORMER: Like I went to my boyfriend's car and then the shots started to ring. And everybody started to scream and swarm out.

THURMAN: This is our home. You know, this is our space. We come here to just enjoy ourselves and this happened?

SHENIKA MOSLEY, FOURTEEN-YEAR PATRON OF CLUB Q: There's always good energy. It was never bad energy. And it just sucks that we'll never be able to like have that ever again.


WILD: Like so many of these mass shootings, the mayor says the entire attack happened so quickly, just five minutes, police were on scene in two minutes. The suspected gunman, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldridge is in custody, he's receiving medical treatment. The injured victims were also take to a local hospitals for emergency treatment.


BILL PLATE, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, PENROSE HOSPITAL: We've taken care of seven members of our community, two remain in critical care, but are in excellent hands. The other five patients mainly had extremity injuries and two have already been treated and released back to the community, and then the others have been admitted to the hospital or still are undergoing treatment.


WILD: The accused gunman was already known to police. CNN has obtained video from last year of Aldridge surrendering to police after allegedly making a bomb threat against his own mother. Police say they'll be looking into whether the attack was an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. The FBI is assisting local authorities in their investigation. On Sunday, members of the community held a vigil at a makeshift memorial to remember the victims of the shooting.

Other vigils were held across the country. The same night as that Colorado shooting happened, an LGBTQ bar in New York City was attacked for the fourth time, the third time in just the last week alone. The club is called VERS Bar and it's in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. The owner provided surveillance video to CNN, and it includes one video in which a man is approaching a bar and then throws a huge rock through the front window.

The man then doubles back passing the bar. Now the owner installed shatter-proof windows because he is just so worried about anti-gay attacks. All right, moving now to another major story, a significant move in the investigations of former President Donald Trump. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to manage the criminal probes into two major issues.

So, the first is Trump's handling of classified documents, and then the second is his role in the January 6th insurrection. The prosecutor taking over these cases is the man you see right there, Jack Smith. He's had a range of positions in DOJ, and he spent many years in the Eastern District, that's the New York -- New York City Brooklyn Bureau U.S. Attorney's Office.

So he -- quite a bit of experience as a prosecutor doing major crimes out of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District, but perhaps what is most relevant about his experience is his time heading up the Public Integrity Unit at the Department of Justice. Over at that unit, he oversaw, you know, very politically-sensitive, very high profile investigations.

In recent years, he's actually been out of the country prosecuting war crimes in The Hague. Trump dismissed the appointment as political.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want to do bad things to the greatest movement in the history of our country, but in particular, bad things to me, but I've gotten used to it. It's lucky. It's lucky. A lot of people wouldn't get used to it so easily. [05:05:00]

This is a rigged deal just as the 2020 election was rigged and we can't let them get away with it.


WILD: All right, let's bring in former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. Michael, so good to have you this morning at 5:00 a.m. We very much appreciate your time this early morning. So my first question for you is, you know, former deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said he wouldn't have appointed a special counsel. So here is what he had to say and I'd love to hear your thoughts.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Merrick Garland clearly made a discretionary decision. The department had been handling this itself for two years, could have continued to handle itself, but he believed that this would help to promote public confidence. I think it remains to be seen whether that's the case.

Given the investigation that had been going on for some time, and given the stage which they've reached is that I probably would not have, but I just can't tell from the outside.


WILD: So what do you think was the right move here? Do you -- do you think Rod Rosenstein has a point or do you think Merrick Garland, who is in the driver's seat made the right call?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, PODCAST HOST: Based on both have a point which is to say that the regulations didn't require this, but Merrick Garland exercised his discretion to say these are extraordinary times and discretion is a big part of valor. And yes, though, this has been going on for a while, I will step aside from the day-to-day oversight of this thing, putting the special counsel, insulate the investigation from critics and hope for the best.

WILD: Merrick Garland made this announcement just a couple of days after former President Donald Trump announced his 2024 candidacy. Do you think that if former President Trump hadn't announced, that Garland would have appointed a special prosecutor. How do you think that, that announcement impacts, you know, everything going forward because it does have -- I mean, does have, you know, pretty significant impacts on the way that this investigation might be conducted?

ZELDIN: Right. I think there were two things that happened, Whitney, at the same time. One is former President Trump announces that he's running again and current President Biden says he intends to run again. And so when you have the present president intending to run against the person that is being investigated, and therefore the leading candidate in the Republican Party at the moment, that's what created the problem for Merrick. You can't be working for the president who is investigating his

leading opponent. So I think it was those two things that caused this decision to be set.

WILD: Do you think that appointing somebody like Jack Smith, who is -- you know, he's prosecuted war crimes, he's been in and out of the United States for you know, 14 years. I think he was in The Hague from 2008 to 2010. Then he was back in Brooklyn, then he was in Tennessee. I mean, his range of experience is really broad. He's been gone from the United States for the last four years.

Do you think that he is uniquely positioned to, you know, restore some trust among Americans who are weary of this decision? How do you think his experience impacts or makes him special in this entire conversation about how to restore trust again among Americans who are weary of this type of appointment?

ZELDIN: Well, he's a career prosecutor. And he's a very experienced career prosecutor. And if people think career prosecutors are the best people to be special counsel, then he should fit the bill. I personally believe that it would have been better if we could have found someone to serve as special counsel who had some experience in the private sector and including as a defense attorney so that they can make decisions about what should be done versus what can be done.

And I think that there's a problem with the special counsel that is only seen one side of the justice system. And that's where we are now. And that's where we've been in a lot of prosecutions. And that's why the special counsel and independent counsel statutes, have been so criticized because they believe that these special counsel feel some obligation to bring charges for -- because that's what they're there for. And I don't like that very much.

WILD: Former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin joining us this morning. Thank you so much, we really appreciate your thoughts. You raised really interesting points. And in the end, you know, there are going to be some people who just aren't convinced no matter what the outcome is. So it's -- you know, it's tough. It's a tough call. Thank you so much.

ZELDIN: It is. Thank you.

WILD: All right, Justice Samuel Alito strongly denying any involvement in an alleged leak of a 2014 Supreme Court decision concerning access to birth control. The claim about the leak follows the stunning breach of the Supreme Court's secrecy earlier this year, that was the absolute bombshell story written by "Politico".

It was a leak of a draft ruling also written by Alito that showed that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. CNN's Supreme Court reporter Ariane de Vogue has the details.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER (on camera): Right. This case involves the Reverend Rob. Schenck used to be an opponent of abortion. He told "The New York Times", that he knew of another instance of a leak of a Supreme Court decision. He formally ran a nonprofit. And he said basically through wealthy donors, he would try to get access to the justices.

He said that in 2014, one of his donors, a woman named Gail Wright(ph) told him that she was going to have dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Alito, and she was going to ask about an important religious liberty case that was pending. He said that she called him afterwards to say that she learned that Alito was going to write the opinion, and that it was going to go in their favor.

Flash forward, a few years later, he became a supporter of abortion rights. And when he realized that Chief Justice John Roberts last term was going to launch an investigation into who leaked the abortion decision, he said he had information that he thought would be interesting to Chief Justice John Roberts, and he sent him a letter.

It's worth noting that Justice Samuel Alito has issued a really strong statement denying "The New York Times" story. He said in part, "I never directed any effort on the part of the rights to obtain confidential information or to influence anything that I did in either an official or private capacity, and I would have strongly objected if they had done so."

CNN reached out to Wright(ph), and she said that the story in "The New York Times" patently false. But what's interesting about this story is, it may not just be about this particular leak and whether it happened, but the fact that there was this behind-the-scenes effort to try to influence the court.

That feels very political and that causes the justices and court watchers in general consternation because if the public thinks that the Supreme Court is just another political body, they may dismiss how important their decisions are and may not even follow them. That's the import of this story. Ariane de Vogue, CNN, Washington.


WILD: Ariane, thank you. This morning, western New York digging out from a historic snowstorm that absolutely slammed the area. Orchard Park is a few miles southeast of Buffalo, it got more than 6 feet of snow.

And here is a look at the Buffalo Bills stadium. No wonder why they had to switch to Detroit. So let's get to meteorologist Britley Ritz in the weather center. Oh my gosh, I grew up in Michigan. I know exactly how those people feel. Digging out --


WILD: Your car. Digging out --

RITZ: Exactly -- WILD: Your front porch -- oh, it's really pretty, but it can also --

RITZ: Yes --

WILD: Be kind of the worst.

RITZ: Absolutely. And this was crippling. And for your sake, I grew up in Ohio, so I totally understand it as well. We're doing the same thing again today for parts of New York, but the winds are starting to switch direction. So there's some hope in sight. But you mentioned over 6 feet of snow, Whitney, yes, 80 inches in Orchard Park.

And Watertown, New York, picked up 62 inches and still dealing with more this morning. Buffalo, three-day total, 36.9 inches. That's the second snowiest three-day period in November for the city. Daily record was set Saturday, picking up 21.5 inches. And here we are, we talked about that wind switching direction, that's a big key factor in why our snow chances are starting to taper back.

Now, more out of the southwest, instead of pushing right out of the west and northwest, that plays a role because it pulls in the cold water or cold air over the warmer waters. So then we're dealing with more snow. All right, so, we have wind advisories where gusts are expected to reach over 50 miles per hour for places like Buffalo and Watertown. Again, areas picking up another one to two inches in Watertown with the blowing snow, Whitney.

WILD: Britley Ritz, thank you. All right, coming up, accusations of war crimes on the battlefields of Ukraine. Only this time, it is the Russians pointing fingers at the Ukrainians. Then, we'll tell you about a story 2024 campaign, the major story lines out of that campaign are coming into greater focus now. The president and his predecessor could be facing criminal investigations.

Kyrie Irving back on the court after an eight-game suspension -- excuse, not the current president. The big question of course, we're talking about is the investigations into former President Donald Trump -- sorry. I just wanted to make that clear.



WILD: Welcome back to EARLY START. Looking across the globe now, Russia claims Ukraine is committing war crimes against its troops. The Kremlin says video circulated online capture Russian soldiers killed after surrendering to Ukrainian forces. CNN has geo-located the videos to the outskirts of Markivka, recently liberated village in the eastern Luhansk region.

The edited video purports to show a group of Russian soldiers lying face down with their hands on their heads. This is a still from that video, it shows more than ten -- excuse me, several soldiers emerging from a building and then lying down next to other troops in the yard. And then in this video, a man can be heard shouting, come on out, one by one. Which of you is the officer? Has everyone come out? Come out. Then there's a short burst of gunfire

heard on this video before it cuts off. A second clip shot from a drone appears to show the same men dead on the ground surrounded by pools of blood. CNN is unable to verify some of the details here, but "Reuters" is reporting that the U.N. Human Rights office is aware of the video and is investigating.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said the video shows, a quote, "deliberate and methodical killing of more than ten immobilized Russian servicemen." Executing prisoners of war is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Ukraine has also accused Russia of multiple war crimes since the invasion began. So let's bring in CNN's Matthew Chance, he's live in Kyiv, Ukraine. Matthew, how is Ukraine responding?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they are issuing a response to this, Whitney. I mean, first of all, this video is very unclear about what exactly happened. It's heavily edited.


And so it's not complete. But you do hear gunshots at the end of the first section of the video which implies that a Russian soldier opened fire on the Ukrainians that were taking the Russian soldiers, his colleagues, his comrades captive. What the Ukrainians say is that, that amounts to a feigned surrender. They were faking their surrender and using that cover to launch an attack on the Ukrainian soldiers in which case the Ukrainian officials argue that would not be a war crime, that would be a justified use of force.

No one is contesting at this point that these Russian soldiers were killed. That drone footage has been confirmed to CNN by Ukrainian military officials as being from that scene in eastern Ukraine. But of course, the Russians are furious about this. They're saying these soldiers, these Russian soldiers were executed after they had surrendered, and within the past few minutes, the Kremlin had said it will attempt to bring those responsible for these killings to justice.

What Ukrainian officials, though, kind of underline is that there wouldn't be any Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine if Russia hadn't carried out this invasion of Ukrainian territory. So, you know, this has become just another episode in the ongoing war of words and actual war between these two countries.

WILD: Well, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russia of launching more than 4,700 missiles since the start of the war. He also spoke about what he called the Ukrainian peace formula. So can you explain -- can you explain that for us and just kind of lay out what that would entail.

CHANCE: Well, I mean, look, I'm not sure that anybody at this point is ready for -- is ready for peace talks, because the situation is still very dynamic on the ground. Look, I mean, the Ukrainians have said they want a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from all Ukrainian territories that's been captured. And that includes the Crimean Peninsula which was captured back in 2014.

That's not something the Russians, I think at this stage are prepared to countenance. And of course, the Russians have got a whole separate, equally unrealistic set of -- set of demands for the basic, you know, basic part of a peace talk to be done on their side as well. And so, there may be some sort of on-the-surface talk of the possibility of a peace deal, but scratch the surface of that and no one at this point is prepared to sit down at the negotiating table in a serious way, Whitney.

WILD: Matthew Chance, thank you. Coming up, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving -- Kyrie Irving apologizing again before he goes back to the court after an eight-game suspension. And if Kevin McCarthy does become house speaker next year, at least one Republican congressman saying he doesn't think he will last very long.



WILD: Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving returning to the court after an eight-game suspension for refusing to apologize for posting a link to an anti-Semitic film. Joining us now is Carolyn Manno with this morning's "BLEACHER REPORT". So just give us the scoop.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Whitney. Well, I think this took a lot longer than everybody would have liked. But it feels now like everybody can finally move on, which is a good thing. I mean, Kyrie hadn't played for the Nets since November 1st after what the Nets called, quote, "a harmful impact of his conduct relating to social media posts."

Irving had to complete a list of tasks in order to come back, including having conversations with the Anti-Defamation League, conversations with the Jewish community leaders in Brooklyn. And those seemed to have made a difference. I mean, he received a warm welcome from the Brooklyn crowd during player introductions before tipoff, and went on to score 14 points and grab 5 rebounds in the Nets 127-115 win over the Grizzlies. After the game, he said he never doubted a return to the court.


KYRIE IRVING, BROOKLYN NETS: It felt good. It felt good. Just missed my teammates, missed the coaching staff. It felt good to get this game out of the way, and now we can move forward with the rest of the season.


MANNO: Elsewhere in sports this morning, if you went to bed early, you missed a thriller between the Chiefs and the Chargers. This one was a slugfest in the fourth quarter. Justin Herbert putting L.A. on top by four with a six-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Palmer with 1:46 left, but that's plenty of time for Patrick Mahomes to work his magic. All he needed was six plays to go 75 yards, hitting tight-end Travis

Kelce on a short crossing route, but he took to the end zone for the 17-yard score. His third touchdown of the game. Herbert and the Chargers had one final chance, Nick Bolton intercepted the deflected pass to steal the 30-27 win for the Chiefs. And afterwards, Kelce and Mahomes had a meeting of the mutual admiration society.


TRAVIS KELCE, TIGHT-END, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: I was never in doubt with 1-5 right there, I promise you that. Magic Mahomes does it again, baby.

PATRICK MAHOMES, QUARTERBACK, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Yes, he's special guy, a special player. He leads his team. He leads those receivers and it was -- we came back to him, we won the game.


MANNO: I love you, man -- no, I love you, man. This was one of the plays that everybody was talking about, Whitney. The Patriots and Jets combining for 17 punts in a complete snoozer until the very end. Check out rookie Marcus Jones taking the punt, 84 yards to the house for the game-winning touchdown with just 5 seconds remaining. New England wins 10-3, but they beat New York for the 14th straight time.

Jones also running his way into the record books. According to the NFL, his score was the first time in at least the last 40 seasons that the first touchdown scored was by the defense or special teams in the final minute of the game, very exciting for New England. And lastly, the Bears played in Atlanta yesterday, and a bachelor party, drove down from Chicago and dressed like legendary coach Mike Ditka.

You got the sweaters, the mustaches and all. They went to the game, the TV crew spotted them. After a long kickoff return -- I just love that.