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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

At Least 20 Tornadoes Reported Across the South; Oath Keepers Leader, Top Associate Guilty of Seditious Conspiracy; U.S. Defeats Iran 1-0 in Politically-Charged Match. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 30, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, act of God. A church steeple toppled as more than 20 reported tornadoes ripped through the American South.

Guilty as charged. The far-right founder of the Oath Keepers convicted of seditious conspiracy in the attack on the Capitol.

And the new space race. China just launched a major challenge to America's dominance of the stars.


ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with the severe weather threat right now across the Deep South. Reports of at least 20 tornadoes, most of them in Mississippi, others in Louisiana and Alabama. Storms cutting a path of destruction, washing out a bridge here in Monroe County, Mississippi, a steeple blown right off a church in another Mississippi community. A tornado watch remains in effect this morning for parts of Alabama, and Mississippi.

Let's get right to meteorologist Jennifer Gray.

What's the latest now, Jennifer, on this storm threat?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Christine, this is still an active situation as you can, see a lot of thunderstorm warnings in effect. We still have tornado warnings in effect as well. And as these storms continue to just race off to the east, we will continue to see severe weather across the Deep South, portions of Mississippi, Alabama, on in to Georgia the sun will be up in a few hours and we are going to continue to see a real threat for severe weather.

So, 21 tornado reports as you mention, 26 wind reports, 27 hail reports. Look at these hail sizes that were picked up in Mississippi, two inch hail was reported in Louisiana, 1.75 so just enormous sized hail with this system, more than 66,000 lightning strikes. Look at it, just racing off to the east.

Current temperatures are pretty mild on the front side of the cold, on the backside temperatures are going to be chilly. So, as this races to the east, we'll start to see the winds pick up and cooler temperatures on the backside. Because it's moving so quickly, we are really not seeing huge rainfall totals, we could have some isolated flash flooding involved in some of these heavier south, but we are basically going to pick up anywhere from 2 to 4 inches of rain across portions of Northern Alabama, Mississippi, on into Tennessee, and could pick up about two inches of rain or so.

We do have these flood alerts across places in Alabama, Mississippi, Birmingham included in that we do have a flood watch there, a couple flood warnings as well. This should all be wrapped up by the time we get into the later hours of the morning, Christine, but that is going to be a threat for the next couple of hours still very real.

ROMANS: Yeah. All right, Still dangerous on there. Thank you very much, for that keep us posted.

In Washington, a significant win for the Justice Department, a jury in Washington, D.C. convicting Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and his top associate Kelly Meggs of seditious conspiracy for their role in the Capitol riot. Now, the jury was split on a number of other charges against five alleged members of the right-wing militia group, Rhodes claimed he had no plans to attack the Capitol, that the right broke out spontaneously.

But his own words turned out to be the prosecutions best weapon. Here is Rhodes in December of 2020.


STEWART RHODES, OATH KEEPERS LEADER: That he does not do it now while he's commander in chief, we're going to have to do it ourselves later in a much more desperate, much more bloody war. Let's get it on now while he is still the commander in chief.


ROMANS: This was the first of three seditious conspiracy cases said to be heard this year, and it was a critical test of the DOJ's ability to hold January 6 rioters accountable.

Former top Trump advisor Stephen Miller has now appeared in court before a federal grand jury investigating the January 6th insurrection. He's the first known witness to testify since the Justice Department appointed special counsel Jack Smith to oversee the criminal investigations surrounding the former president.

A landmark vote in the Senate to protect same-sex and interracial marriage.


SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Sixty-one, the nays are 36, the bill as amended has passed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Mr. President, what a great day, what a great day.


ROMANS: The Respect for Marriage Act backed by all Senate Democrats, and 12 Republicans, the bill would not set the national requirement for all states to legalize same sex marriage, but it does require states to recognize another state's legal marriage.



SEN. CYNTHIA LUMMIS (R-WY): For the sake of our nation today, and its survival, we do well by taking this step. Not embracing or validating in each other's devoutly held views, but by the simple act of tolerating them. That, madam president, explains my vote.

SEN. TAMMY BALDWIN (D-WI): I want to recognize the millions of same- sex and interracial couples who have truly made this moment possible, by living their true selves, and changing the hearts and minds of people around this country. Many of the same-sex and interracial couples are fearful, they are worried that the rights, responsibilities, and freedom they enjoy through civil marriage could be stripped away.


ROMANS: The House is expected to pass the bill possibly as soon as next week, and send it to the president's desk to be signed into law.

All right. The House set to vote today to block a nationwide freight straight, lawmakers have vote to impose a tentatively brick deal that was struck in September between the railroads and 12 unions. Democratic leaders plan a separate vote on adding sick leave provisions that were not in that original contract. That is what led for unions to reject it. A strike could cost the U.S. economy a billion dollars in the first week alone.

Let's get more this morning from CNN's Phil Mattingly.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not an easy call but I think we have to do it.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind President Biden's call for Congress to impose a labor agreement on rail unions, a singular fear.

BIDEN: The economy is at risk.

MATTINGLY: Avoiding economic calamity essential focus as Biden huddled with detail for congressional leaders for the first time since the midterm elections.

With the clock ticking toward the December 9th deadline and the potential for crippling rail strike looming, Biden and congressional Democrats moving to undercut some of their closest political allies.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't like going against the ability of unions to strike, but weighing the equities, we must avoid a strike.

MATTINGLY: Set to short circuit, the push by rank and file union members to secure a long sought after benefit, paid sick leave.

MICHAEL BALDWIN, PRESIDENT, BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD SIGNALMEN: This became a glaring issue during the pandemic, when we had members force bid their employer and railroad to stay home and quarantine without pay. But, really, it comes down to simple thing like the flu for a day or two, or a sick child and the ability to take a day or two paid when you have to deal with the issues that life brings that you have no control over.

BIDEN: This agreement is a big win for America.

MATTINGLY: A provision left on the cutting room floor of a sweeping agreement celebrated by Biden in the Rose Garden just three months ago. That deal driven by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh secured pay raises and bonuses for workers, and was signed off on by union leadership subject to rank and file approval. Four of the 12 unions rejected that plan.

JEREMY FERGUSON, PRESIDENT, SMART TRANSPORTATION DIVISION: Members aren't necessarily voting on the money issues. It's the quality of life, and how they're treated with dignity and respect while they're at work.

MATTINGLY: Leaving Biden who has repeatedly said this --

BIDEN: I intend to be the most pro-union president, leading the most pro-union administration in American history.

MATTINGLY: And just a few hours after his meeting with congressional leaders touted his commitment to union workers during a trip to Michigan.

BIDEN: The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class.

MATTINGLY: To press forward and secure immediate action to save the broader economy in spite of that very pledge.

PELOSI: We'll be back tomorrow morning, Wednesday, send the bill over to the Senate, the biggest bipartisan vote. It is a compromise, and it is what we must do.

MATTINGLY: Phil Mattingly, CNN, The White House.


ROMANS: All right. America's oldest allies, Biden administration's first state visit, the first up for French President Emmanuel Macron is a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris that NASA headquarters. There is Macron arriving with France's first lady last night. The

Biden administration hopes to repair the relationship after a surprise U.S.-Australian submarine partnership torpedoed France's own sub deal with Australia.

Jim Bittermann joins us live this morning from Paris.

Good morning, Jim.

You know, how much damage did that sub deal with Australia do to the relationship between the U.S. and France? And what is the goal or the deliverable of this visit?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think on the sub deal, they have been pretty much screwed over in the past year since all that blew up a year ago. It was quite dramatic when it happened, but now, the French have received more than $500 million in compensation for the contract being broken by the Australians. And I think that the President Macron is going to be one of the few if only world leaders he can say who are that two state visits to the White House in his -- in his term.


He had the previous state visit with Donald Trump, but this time around with Macron and the issues are completely different this time around. The kind of things you will be talking about first and foremost is Ukraine, what they can do what both, countries as well as Europe can do in helping Ukraine get through the winter and there is going to be some ill feelings probably about surrounding the Inflation Reduction Act which is mainly centered on things in the United States, but still has impact abroad.

For example, one of the things that the Inflation Reduction Act does is give a $7,500 tax break to people who buy electric vehicles in the United States, and the Europeans believe that is unfair competition to their automobile construction in Europe. So that will be a couple issues that are going to be on top of the talks that go on, and all the ceremony that is connected with this visit will be a visitor Arlington ceremony this afternoon, as well as President Macron will be going to New Orleans later in the week to visit the French community down there -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Jim Bittermann, thank you so much. Yeah, it will be a couple days of pomp and circumstance for sure. Thank you, sir.

All right, just ahead, the U.S. governor who just opposed a ban on TikTok. Plus, two volcanoes erupting at the same time on the same island, and what the prince and princess of Wales plan to do in Boston just hours from now.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I would view this as a vindication generally of the work of our committee, but, of course, the other half of our work is forward-looking, what do we need to do to fortify American democracy against coups, insurrections, political violence and electoral sabotage in the future.


ROMANS: That is Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of the January Six Committee right after the verdict of the Oath Keepers trial came down. The founding member of that right wing militia groups Stewart Rhodes and his top lieutenant, Kelly Meggs, found guilty of seditious conspiracy, all five defendants were guilty of obstructing an official proceeding.

I want to bring in former federal prosecutor Lis Wiehl.

So nice to see this morning, and I really want to get your expertise here because seditious conspiracy is a rare and incredibly serious charge. How significant is this verdict?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Very significant. You are right, it is extremely serious charge, that hasn't been brought in any of the trial so far, stemming out of January six, the first time, and successful, carries 20 years in prison, and for each count, so very serious. Here is what happened, Christine, I think, the jury just one did not believe Rhodes who said, you know, I was not planning anything, I was just -- I did not even go in, which is true he did not actually go in. But he was planning.

And, Christine, this guy, he is a Yale-educated lawyer. I mean, come on, he should know that his words have some meaning, and he is getting on the phone, you played in your last clip a few minutes ago him on the phone taking phone calls, where he is organizing his people, right? He is organizing them to commit these acts and he is right outside the Capitol and seeing what is happening begging everybody on an organizing. He had a reaction group that was ready to go.

So the jury just did not believe anything he had to say quite honestly.

ROMANS: Yeah his own words in front of a microphone in December saying that we need to do this now, and take action while this president is still in office. I mean, clearly, those words resonated with the jury.

So the verdict shows each defendant found guilty, and not guilty of different charges, a mix I guess a mixed result. What do you make of that?

WIEHL: Yeah, it was a little odd in the sense that Rhodes and his men named coconspirators were found guilty on these additional charges, you have the three were not were found guilty of obstructing and official proceeding which still carries a hefty penalty and it was a little odd because those were the people that actually went into the capital, as opposed to roads staying outside the Capitol. So I think -- but it also shows a lot of deliberation, right? It shows that they didn't just go straight down the count and go, guilty, guilty, guilty. They went through each, said look, Rhodes was the ringleader he is guilty of the most serious charge.

But what is interesting to me, Christine, as well, if they were all convicted of tampering with evidence afterwards, which it carries a hefty penalty as well, but more importantly than I, that is showing that it is the consciousness of guilt we call in law, shows that if you are trying to cover up your social media, trying to get rid of things on your phone, if you are trying to get rid of all the stuff, after the facts, that shows a consciousness of guilt, that you knew what you did was wrong.

And I think that can't be underestimated as far as sticking with the jury to hear, wait a second, these guys are now saying they didn't know anything was wrong, it was top, not planned, and why are you covering it up when it was over?

ROMANS: Yeah, the story saying these were not just guys caught up in the moment playing revolutionary, this was acting revolutionary. You say the jury sent a message that incitement to resist lawful authority with 20 years of your life, and that was a big message.

WIEHL: Exactly and the incitement of unlawful proceeding that is basically the definition of sedition, right? So they were all convicted of some sort of that obstruction covering, up sedition, and the message is very clear, and I think this case is important to the DOJ for its standing on its own, but it's important for the cases that are coming up with the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.


And even for the people that were convicted here, maybe not Rhodes because they are not going to want as cooperation, they're not going to him any slack, but for some of the others, they may want their cooperation on these upcoming cases a, and also the people that are looking at trials are now seeing this verdict going wait a second, maybe I should take that plea deal, or maybe I should cooperate with the government. So it has an impact way beyond just the trial verdict and this particular case.

ROMANS: All right. Lis Wiehl, always need to see you bright and early for us. Thank you so much.

WIEHL: Absolutely. Anything for you guys.

ROMANS: Thank you. Have a great rest of your day, Lis.

All right, quick hits across America now, South Dakota's governor banning state employees from TikTok, and government devices. The executive order cited growing national security threat posed by the Chinese own social media platform.

Lava flows out of Hawaii's big island inching it closer to a major highway. The eruption of the Mauna Loa volcano creating a rare two eruption event that the nearby Kilauea volcano. The prince and princess of Wales visiting Boston today. William and Kate will present towards an event for his Earthshot environmental organization. Later, they'll go to a Celtics game.

Defiance across China despite government's attempts to stop those protests.

Plus, World Cup fans caught on video celebrating after losing.



ROMANS: This morning, angry protests in China driven by frustration over harsh and restrictive COVID policies. They are spreading to more cities including Hong Kong, despite heavy security and despite police efforts to quash them.

Let's go to CNN's Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong.

You've been following this for several days, these protests are -- they rare in China, not seen really since the student-lead Tiananmen movement back in 1989. We know by people who are just so fed up with the COVID lockdown, and now, they're Chinese leadership.

But I guess -- I'm a little surprised that they have today you are seeing new cities and protests.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, new protests, new cities, just indicates a level of frustration that is still out there. People across China are feed up with the pandemic policy that has upended lives and livelihoods. This is a policy that has led to delays in medical care. It's led to family separations. It's shuttered factories.

But the trigger was last week's deadly fire in Xingjian, in Urumqi, where a lockdown was blamed for getting the way of rescue efforts, and even as Chinese officials pledged to ease restrictions, more protests have been seen across China. You are looking on your screen at some of the videos that have been circulating on social media showing fresh protests in Guangzhou, in Dongguan, some major manufacturing hub in the South and east of Jinan.

In this video from this city of Jinan, you see protesters, pardon me, this is from Chengdu, from Guangzhou, in one video in Jinan, protesters are seen scuffling with police, taking various, and using them to force security forces back to repeal them.

As of today, let's bring up the map for you. CNN is now able to verify 23 COVID-related protest 17 cities, and the pressure is on. You see right there in the map, the pressure is on for Beijing, just to find a way out of this zero COVID policy. On Tuesday, officials addressed complaints about it. you know, they announce an action plan to boost the vaccination rate among the elderly and said lockdowns should be lifted as quick as possible to release inconvenience for the people, and guess what, lockdowns are starting to be lifted in Guangzhou, also the central city of Yongzhou.

This is very good news for Apple, and for Foxconn as you remember the lockdown, it was a factor behind last week's violent clashes between Foxconn workers and security forces there.

Back to you.

ROMANS: All right. Keep on it. Thank you so much, just a very rare what you're seeing happening there. Will they have meaningful change, long-term we just don't know yet? Thank you so much, Kristie Lu Stout.

At the World Cup, the U.S. defeating Iran in a thrilling match.

The only goal scored by American star Christina Pulisic definitely paid a price. He was injured on that goal.

CNN's Amanda Davies live in Doha, Qatar, for us, a real thriller.

What a moment for this young U.S. team, Amanda.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, it means everything, and the message that they posted via social media after the victory. The celebrations, where the team made it back to the hotel, anything to go by, certainly enjoy this moment and deservedly so. The first time back into the stage for World Cup since Brazil in 2014.

And the mood within the U.S. is such still pressed tension political buildup to this match. You know, being played out against that historic backdrop with the stakes being so high, you could really get a sense of what this moment meant as well sides walked out of the Al Thumama Stadium. The majority, Iran fans, very much hoping their side would be able to overturn that waste of history and book their place in the knockout stage for the first time ever, particularly in the midst of the political unrest at home.

But the questions that have been asked about this U.S. side, this youthful U.S. side is how they were going to deal with the pressure of this moment.