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Top Iran Official Says Hijab Law Now Under Review; Gunfire at 2 Power Stations Plunge Part of North Carolina into Darkness; Walker and Warnock Make Final Pitch Before Voters. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 05, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, Iran considers new rules for women. Is the government giving in after months of protests? Gunfire at two power stations plunging part of North Carolina into darkness. Who sabotaged crucial infrastructure and why? And the final hours of Georgia's Senate runoff, Warnock and Walker, campaigning today before the last voters decide tomorrow.

All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans. We begin with the attorney general of Iran claiming his country is reviewing its mandatory head covering law. The wearing of a hijab or a headscarf in public is mandatory for all women in Iran under strict Islamic law.

That law is enforced by the country's so-called morality police. Now, Iran's attorney general says parliament and the judiciary are not only reviewing the hijab law, he also claims the morality police have been abolished, although Iran's state media is now disputing that. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz tracking the latest developments for us from London. And is the Iranian government serious about these reforms or is this just an attempt to stop the protests?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: To answer that question, let me start by breaking down these comments from Iran's attorney general that were made over the last several days. I'm going to start with the most controversial one. And that is these reports that Iran's morality police was shut down or abolished.

Look, these were really off the cuff remarks by the attorney general. He was responding to a question from a reporter about where is the morality police because many protesters on the ground say they have not seen the morality police on the streets over the course of the last few weeks and months, again, this was an off-the-cuff response.

Iran state media was quick to push back against it, pointing out that the morality police actually fall under the Interior Ministry, not the judiciary, meaning the attorney general would have no authority over them, and look, it's really important to know here that if something as central as the morality police was being abolished by the government, that would be a major announcement.

That would be a well orchestrated statement, not a vague response in a press conference. Then there's the second part of this, which is the hijab law, now under review according to the attorney general by the judiciary and Iran's parliament. The results of that review should be revealed in the next couple of weeks. But it's really important to understand that, yes, this protest movement started in opposition to the hijab law, started in opposition to the morality police after Mahsa Amini died in their custody.

But it's morphed into something so much bigger than that. This is now a movement that wants to scrap the entire religious system of Iran. That wants to see the dismantling of the Islamic government that's in charge. So simply reviewing the hijab law is not enough. If there's anything that sort of revealed about these comments, that is revelatory, is that the government of Iran is struggling to suppress this movement.

It's been going on now for almost three months, rights groups say hundreds of people have been killed, thousands of people arrested. A CNN investigation found that rape and sexual assault are being found, instances of them being found among those who are arrested. This is absolutely something that Iran is struggling to get a grip on.

ROMANS: All right, Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that reporting, keep us posted on any developments when you get more clarity about really if there is any kind of a change in policy there. Thank you. All right, the mandatory curfew imposed in a North Carolina county expired just months ago -- moments ago, rather.

Forty thousand customers lost power after two sub-stations were damaged by gunfire Saturday night. The outage is being investigated as a criminal occurrence, police say multiple rounds were fired at the two sub-stations and that it was targeted, it was not random. The 9:00 p.m. curfew could return tonight.


TOM MCINNIS, MEMBER OF THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: I'll challenge our members of the community, if you do not have to go out for any reason, please stay home tonight. We might have to do this, of course, tomorrow night and the following night, but tonight for certain, stay at home.


ROMANS: No suspects have been identified. Authorities are not saying whether the incident is a case of domestic terrorism. A rough week of weather in store for much of the south. Several days of heavy rain are in the forecast now, and while that could ease drought conditions, it may also lead to significant flooding.


I want to bring in this Monday morning, meteorologist Britley Ritz. Britley, who is in the danger zone here and when?

BRITLEY RITZ, METEOROLOGIST: Yes, starting this evening, we are dealing with a warm front that's going to climb up over the southeast and bring in heavy rain. Yes, temperatures are well above normal. Current temperatures right now across the Tennessee Valley down into the southeast, roughly in upper 30s, low to mid-50s, which is prime conditions as this warm front begins to lift to bring us some heavier rain alongside the boundaries.

So that front-lift, sweeping in all of that moisture over the next -- let's say, three days where some of the heaviest rain will be falling. That will come in around north Georgia, northern Alabama, Mississippi into southern Tennessee late tonight, Tuesday, Wednesday, bringing in still, heavy rain.

But the bigger concern, late tonight and into tomorrow, all highlighted in yellow where we have that slight risk of flash flooding. The grounds are so dry, so then we're dealing with the threat for flash flooding because it can't get absorbed quick enough over the next 48 hours. The yellows, the oranges that you're seeing there in the lower Mississippi and southeast, down through parts of the Tennessee Valley, picking up 2 to 4 inches of rain.

And these are areas that have been under drought so we really need it. But again, the problem is the ground is so dry it can't get absorbed fast enough. I mean, 95 percent of Tennessee is under some sort of drought, so we really need to hold on to this rainfall over the next five days, notice the spots of red. These areas could get close to 5 inches of rain. Now, that's isolated amounts, but widespread roughly around 2 to 4 inches.

ROMANS: All right, Britley, thank you so much for that, we'll keep a very close eye on it, thanks. Europe's ban on importing oil shipped by sea from Russia takes effect today. G7 countries, the European Union and Australia all agreed last week to impose a price cap, $60 a barrel on Russian oil shipped to other countries that do not have an embargo. That move heightening uncertainty about the Winter energy supply. Clare Sebastian has the latest from London. So, what does all this mean, Clare?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Christine, I think it's worth stepping back now in the tenth month of this war, these are very serious energy sanctions. These are the biggest we've seen yet. The EU today bringing in its embargo as you say on all seaborne oil from Russia. Last year, that accounted for about two-thirds among all the oil that it had imported from Russia.

So, that's big in itself, and then the price cap. Now, the price cap is a serious measure, but there are major questions as to whether it's going to work. It's been set at $60 a barrel, which is only just below what Russian oil has been trading for in recent months and frankly, years.

So, it's not going to put a huge dent in Russian revenue as it stands. Second question is, will it achieve its secondary goal of stabilizing the oil markets by allowing Russia to keep selling its oil, keeping it on the market while at the same time trying to, of course, limit its revenues.

Oil prices are coming up this morning, I think the worry there is that this could cause Russia which it threatens to stop selling oil to any customers who comply with this cap to follow through on that promise. That could bring down supply. At the same time, Christine, despite the promises and realities of global recessions that we're seeing COVID restrictions lifted in some parts of China which could cause demands to rise. So, I think there are some concerns that it could cause turmoil on the oil markets.

ROMANS: All right, we know you'll be watching, thanks, Clare. The jury is expected to begin deliberations today in the Trump Organization criminal fraud trial. Closing arguments ended Friday with prosecutors urging jurors to put aside politics and focus solely on the fraud allegations against the company while also accusing Donald Trump of knowing about the schemes in real-time.

Defense attorneys move for a mistrial after the prosecution told the jury that Trump must have known about the tax crimes and even sanctioned some of them. All right, George Clooney, Gladys Knight and four scrappy -- Gladys Knight and four scrappy Dublin punks were among those celebrated Sunday the Kennedy Center honors for their artistic influences on American culture.

President Biden had high praise for the honorees at a reception prior to the main event. CNN's Arlette Saenz has more from the White House.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (on camera): So many familiar faces and voices were on hand at the White House as President Biden celebrated the Kennedy Center honorees. This marks one of the highest awards that those in the arts and entertainment industry can receive here in the U.S.

And the president called each of these honorees truly exceptional people who embodied the character of the phrase "we, the people." Now, the president ticked through the accomplishments of each of these honorees which included actor George Clooney, Christian singer Amy Grant, there was also Gladys Knight also known as the Empress of Soul, and also a composer named Tania Leon, and then a little Irish rock band you've probably heard of, called U2.

And the president also talked about how the arts and entertainment and music can serve as a unifying voice across the world, and pointed to one of U2's most famous song.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And a moment when there's too much hate, too much anger, too much division here in America and quite frankly around the world. We have to remember today as their song goes, "we are one, but we're not the same, we get to carry each other."

From this Irish-American president in a White House designed by Irish hands who built this, and designed it, I want to thank U2 for all you've done and the way you lift people up, you really make a difference, thank you. (APPLAUSE)

SAENZ: Now, the president and first lady then went on to the Kennedy Center where they attended this awards ceremony, the second time that they've done so since President Biden took office. This was an event that his predecessor, former President Donald Trump skipped while he was in office.

But on Sunday evening, the Bidens were on hand to try to celebrate these honorees. As for the rest of the public, they will have to wait until December 28th to watch the awards on TV. Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


ROMANS: All right, it is the final lap in the Georgia Senate race. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker campaign today in the final hours of the runoff. Plus, why Hawaii won't stop the lava flowing from a volcano to a crucial highway. And a Florida police chief flashing her badge and asking for a favor during a traffic stop.



ROMANS: Raphael Warnock, Herschel Walker making their final pitch to voters ahead of tomorrow's Senate runoff in Georgia. More than 1.8 million Georgians have already cast early ballots. Warnock, the Democratic incumbent held a virtual reality, Sunday -- virtual rally, Sunday, enlisting the help of Stevie Wonder. Walker, the Republican challenger was joined by two GOP senators at his rally.


HERSCHEL WALKER, CANDIDATE FOR SENATOR: Do you all know Raphael Warnock has spent over $100 million against me already? And we're in a tie. That mean he don't know how to spend his money, so why is he spending your money?

RAPHAEL WARNOCK, CANDIDATE FOR SENATOR: But if you stand up for me on election day this Tuesday, I will stand up for you for the next six years, and together, we will reach our highest ground.


ROMANS: It sounds like a morning to bring in Daniel Strauss; senior political correspondent for "The New Republic", nice to see you, Daniel, thanks for dropping by this Monday morning.


ROMANS: Let's look at these new polls. A new CNN poll shows an interesting trend -- interesting trend. Only 17 percent of voters who support Raphael Warnock say their vote is more to oppose Herschel Walker, but 47 percent of voters who support Walker say they're doing it to oppose Warnock.

Only 52 percent of Walker's pollsters saying that they actually like Walker. What does it tell you about what's driving people to the polls here?

STRAUSS: I mean, at this point, it's more a motivation -- it's partially an antagonism towards Walker. And that's due to the Warnock campaign which has done a pretty good job of keeping the spotlight on some of like Warnock -- Walker, excuse me -- Walker's more bizarre comments in the past.

And they've also been able to rally voters, A, who like Joe Biden to their side, and then, B, who like neither Joe Biden or Donald Trump. At the same time, Warnock's campaign has made sure to closely associate Walker with Donald Trump. Now, in Georgia, you'd think that would be, I don't know, really helpful for the Republican nominee.

But the CNN polling shows that the former president is unpopular, at least underwater among voters. So you can associate Walker with Trump, but that's only going to rally the very Trumpian base while the rest of the party or the rest of the voting electorate is going to go toward Warnock.

ROMANS: So, this seat, how important is this seat for the Democrats? They already hold control of the Senate. How important is this 51st seat here?

STRAUSS: At first blush, it's not that important because like you said, Christine, this is about controlling the Senate, but at the same time, Democrats I've talked to say, it is extremely important because it's a question of whether they have to worry about some of the more conservative members of the set -- of the Democratic caucus in the Senate going rogue.

So, that means when Joe Manchin has apprehensions of a bill, when Kyrsten Sinema has apprehensions of a bill, the party has to bend over backwards to keep them in line. But with an extra Senate seat here, that means there's less of a concern and less of a priority of having to kowtow to either of those candidates -- sorry, either of those senators wishes at one point or another.

For Republicans, the argument that I've heard operatives make is that this is a question over whether we can break through the Biden administration's priorities, and really have a stronger seat at the table or less so. Look, and in this day and age, the 60-vote majority is really king, and it's pretty much a unicorn. You rarely --

ROMANS: Yes --

STRAUSS: See either Republicans or Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate. Short of that, though, the question is, how much resistance can the party out of power cause with the majority -- without a majority that they have? And any seat counts here, so --

ROMANS: Yes --

STRAUSS: It's pretty important.

ROMANS: OK, I wanted to ask your -- what you think about something that happened this weekend. The former President, Donald Trump, said he would like to terminate the constitution to restore himself to power, throw out the election results of 2020, declare the rightful winner, never mind -- even -- oh, my gosh, I mean, I've read it like ten times, and I can't believe a former president would advocate for throwing out the constitution. This is a new high or a new low in election denialism depending on how you look at it.

STRAUSS: I cannot think as someone who majored in history in college and has been a political reporter for over a decade, I cannot think of another president in American history who has made such an absurd claim.


And I don't say that lightly on TV. Yes, look, I mean, this is -- this will further I think, distance Trump from members of the Republican Party who have been saying for a little while now, it's time to move on. It's time to look to other candidate. And comments like that are just not going to win over the broader electorate.

And it's just also not feasible obviously. It's just not going to happen. So -- but also let's keep in mind that this is a president who rarely, if never, apologizes. So, he's going -- he's -- as the comments continues to float around the ether of the internet, I doubt he's going to say he misspoke.

ROMANS: You know, it sounds pretty definitive, every word there is pretty definitive. All right, thank you so much, Daniel Strauss, nice to see you this morning.


ROMANS: All right, England is through to the World Cup quarterfinals shutting out Senegal on Sunday, and setting up a showdown with France. Meantime, Japan after knocking off both Spain and Germany looks to reach the quarterfinals for the first time. Let's bring in CNN's Amanda Davies live in Doha, Qatar. Good morning!

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS REPORTER: Good morning! Yes, the U.S. men's national team might have made their way back home to their respective homes across the U.S. and Europe here from Qatar. But the football still very much going on, and I have to tell you, I felt I needed to apologize to the Senegal fan as I bought my coffee this morning because of England's really dominant performance last night, which see them -- saw them book their place in the quarterfinal, and set up a meeting against the defending champions, France.

The England boss Gareth Southgate said he's seeing that one as the toughest test his side could face, given the form the French have shown in this competition so far. Their strength and depth in their squad and the performances of Kylian Mbappe, who is scoring goals for fun. He got another two last night to lead the way in the goal-scoring chart, five here in Qatar at this tournament. Nine World Cup goals overall. So, that sees him overtake both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It is though, one of Mbappe's Paris Saint-Germain teammate, Neymar, who will be the focus of attention later on today. He, of course, has been in a race against fitness to come back from the ankle injury that ruled him out of Brazil's final two group stage matches.

His boss, Tite said yesterday that he was going to be available to play depending on how Sunday's training session went. Well, after that training session, 30-year-old Neymar channeled a bit of James Brown on his Instagram, saying, "I feel good, I knew that I would now." It's quite difficult to say that without bursting into song, but it does look like Neymar will be back and providing all his creativity to the Brazilian charge as they look to claim their sixth World Cup title.

South Korea, their opponents, though, for their part have certainly put on a show so far in this competition. Back in the knockout stage for the first time since 2010 and will be no pushover. But if Brazil needed any extra motivation, of course, they'd be paying all those well wishes to 82-year-old Pele who we know has suffered some deteriorating health in Brazil, back in hospital and very much providing some extra motivation for the Brazilian team here.

ROMANS: Absolutely, wishing him all the best, simply a legend. Thank you so much, Amanda. Nice to see you. All right, quick hits across America now. Police in Texas charging a FedEx driver with kidnapping and killing a 7-year-old girl who disappeared for her -- from her home last week, northwest of Fort Worth. Athena Strand's body was recovered late Friday.

Tampa's police chief placed on leave after body-camera footage showed her flashing her badge during a golf cart traffic stop.


MARY O'CONNOR, POLICE CHIEF, TAMPA: I'm the police chief in Tampa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, how are you doing?

O'CONNOR: I'm doing good.


O'CONNOR: I'm hoping that you'll just let us go.


ROMANS: They were pulled over for driving on a road without a license plate. Lava from the Mauna Loa volcano is slowly closing in on a major Hawaiian highway. But experts say it's unlikely they'll try to redirect the flow because of just how unpredictable lava can be. All right, more ahead on the soccer legend, Pele, reaching out to fans as he fights cancer. Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes I receive some threatening letters.

China's agent would come find you and take you back. It's just a matter of time.


ROMANS: Allegations that China used covert police stations around the world to harass exiled citizens.



ROMANS: All right, U.S. Intelligence experts expect the fighting in Ukraine to slow down but not end during the upcoming Winter months.


AVRIL HAINES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, UNITED STATES: Once you get past the Winter, the sort of question is, what will the counteroffensive look like potentially in the Spring and in fact, in March and in that area? And we expect that frankly, both militaries are going to be in a situation where they're going to be looking to try to re-fit, to re-supply in a sense, to reconstitute so that they're kind of prepared for that counteroffensive.

But we actually have a fair amount of skepticism as to whether or not the Russians will be, in fact, prepared to do that.