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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

January 6th Committee Just Hours Away from Recommending Criminal Charges for Former President Trump; A State of Emergency at Southern U.S. Border with a Surge of Migrants Waiting for Trump-Era Rules to Expire in the Next 48 Hours; Argentina Fans Get Ready to Greet World Cup Winners. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 19, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the January 6th Committee could be just hours away from recommending criminal charges for former President Trump. A state of emergency at the southern U.S. border with a surge of migrants waiting for Trump-era rules to expire in the next 48 hours.

And Argentina on top of the world as fans get ready to greet the World Cup winners when they get back home today. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Christine Romans. We begin with the House January 6th Committee set to wrap up its work after a nearly 18-month investigation into the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The panel meets in public one last time today. They're expected to recommend multiple criminal charges against former President Trump.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): This is someone who tried to interfere with a joint session, even inciting a mob to attack the Capitol. If that's not criminal, then I don't know what is.


ROMANS: We get more this morning from CNN's Sara Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The house committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol is set to hold its final public hearing on Monday. A source tells CNN that they are expected to refer former President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution on at least three charges.

Those include insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the federal government. Now, these referrals don't necessarily carry a ton of weight with the Justice Department. DOJ does not take its cue from lawmakers on who it is going to bring criminal charges against, on who it is going to prosecute. But lawmakers have said they think this is important for the

historical record. Also in talking to some of them, they believe that they found evidence of criminal wrong doing, and that it is part of their duty to la that evidence out and to lay these referrals out to the Department of Justice.

Now, all of this comes at a sort of politically and legally perilous time for former President Trump. You know, we know he's already under DOJ scrutiny for activities around January 6th, efforts to subvert the 2020 election. We're also learning from sources familiar with the matter, that a special grand jury that has been investigating Donald Trump and his allies in a criminal investigation there is set to wrap up its work.

And it will be up to the district attorney there to decide whether she's going to bring charges against Donald Trump or any of his allies. Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: Thank you for that, Sara. Meantime, an estimated 10,000 people waiting to cross the border and calls for the White House to extend sweeping Trump-era border restrictions are getting louder and bipartisan. Just days before Title 42 is set to expire, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is among those calling for the White House to step in.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): The president needs to use every bit of power he has as an executive to find a way or ask for an extension. The president can basically -- I think ask for that extension, I think his administration is doing that or will do that. I sure hope they do.


ROMANS: The mayor of El Paso, Texas, declaring a state of emergency over the weekend as thousands of migrants sleep in frigid conditions on city streets. Border authorities are currently seeing about 1,200 asylum seekers a day enter south Texas. And that number is expected to soar with the lifting of Title 42. CNN's Gustavo Valdes has more from the U.S.-Mexico border.


GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This group of Venezuelans are using the leftover clothing and trash they find on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande to stay warm and witness the people who are crossing the Rio Grande to get into the United States. Often times, they tell them to wait, not to cross right now.

They encourage them to wait until Title 42 expires on Wednesday, arguing that they might have a better chance to remain on the United States, yet, we see time and time again how people decide that once they get to Tuxtla Gutierrez, they need to get across as soon as possible to turn themselves in to the border patrol in El Paso and try their chances that way.

The flow of migrants continues. It's been constant group of 20, 30 people, are taking several times an hour. We see the border patrol dealing with them here at the border to be taken into El Paso where now, the mayor has declared a state of emergency, arguing that the number of people crossing over is more than the city can handle.


And he fears that come Wednesday, the number is going to be much greater and the situation could get out of control. On the Mexican side, city and state authorities in the state of Chihuahua are telling me that the migrant situation is not different for them.

Yes, there are more than in other times, but their main concern is what's going to happen if more border agents are having to be moved to deal with this surge of migrants and abandon or not do their daily duties at the crossing, at the legally crossing points, creating a longer waiting time for the people who want to go and spend their money, spend Christmas with their relatives in El Paso or in other parts of the United States. This is high season for crossings in this area, and on the Mexican side, that is the main concern. Gustavo Valdes, CNN, Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico.


ROMANS: All right, we are hearing now from passengers who were on a Hawaiian Airlines jet that hit severe turbulence on Sunday, at least 36 of the 288 people on board were hurt on that flight from Phoenix to Honolulu.


KAYLEE REYES, PASSENGER: My life flashed before my eyes. I was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The plane shook and then, like it went into a sudden drop, kind of like how you would go into a drop on a roller coaster. My mom wasn't buckled. And so, I turned to my right and I saw that she was like -- she hit the ceiling and she hit the floor. There were like several other people that hit their head.

When we landed, paramedics came and they were like wheeling people out. And I saw like a few -- like a handful of people with lacerations on their head and blood dripping down.


ROMANS: Twenty people were taken to the hospital emergency rooms, including a 14-month old child, 11 suffered serious injuries. Hawaiian Airlines says it's conducting a thorough investigation before returning that plane to service. Former FTX Chief Executive Sam Bankman-Fried, SBF, set to appear in court in the Bahamas today. A source tells CNN he will reverse his original decision, he will now agree to extradition to the U.S. Bankman-Fried is charged with eight counts of fraud and conspiracy

after his once $32-billion crypto exchange plunged into bankruptcy in a matter of days. He could face up to 115 years in prison, although it's unlikely he could get the maximum sentence.

All right, Argentina is on top of the world. Fans there celebrating their World Cup victory over France. It's Argentina's third World Cup title, but the first since 1986. The national team due to arrive back home tonight. CNN's Stefano Pozzebon is live in Buenos Aires. Stefano, give us a sense of taste of the celebrations there.

STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, this city really feels like on top of the world, just as you said. We are frankly on the top of our -- on the rooftop of our hotel because until very late last night, or I should say very early in the hours of this Monday morning, fans were still celebrating and, of course, the situation got hectic and we had problems with our signals because really, you get a sense of the power of sports.

The power of football in this case when these people just let it go, just went on to the streets and celebrated, not only their triumph of their beloved, the national football team in Qatar, but maybe, you know, it's also the three years of a pandemic, the depth of a deep economic crisis in Argentina is facing. It was a huge moment of collective elation and just sheer collective joy.

You can probably see just behind me, you know, this is one of the -- this is probably the biggest avenue of Buenos Aires. It's a big seven- lanes avenue, and yesterday, it was filled from south to north with hundreds of thousands of people wearing their shirt and simply just sheer joy and pure celebration for these national football team, and of course, for one man, Lionel Andres Messi, 35 years old, finally conquering the only trophy that was still missing from his cabinet.

What a moment for him. What a moment for this nation, Christine.

ROMANS: Oh, wow, all right, Stefano, thank you so much for that. The pictures just really tell the story. All right, this morning though, France will welcome home its national team after their heart-breaking loss to Argentina in that World Cup final. The French team is due to arrive in Paris in about 7 hours from now.

CNN's Jim Bittermann live in Paris for us. And wow, I mean, what a match. A hat-trick for Paris, right -- or for France, and two goals in a minute and a half and they still lost the game. How will the team be received?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think, Christine, with a little bit of resignation because I think the French are now resigned this morning to the fact that they did, indeed, lose. But I'll tell you, it was up and down all night long -- all night long night last night during the game.


The French fans certainly got their money's worth. The kind of thing we've seen in the papers this morning from "Le Parisien", "proud of our blues". Of course, the team's name -- nickname is The Blues. And also some rise to the kind of mood this morning are kind of blue about it. In fact, the team was -- on its own has decided not to come back to a large celebration along des Champs-Elysees, which is of course, the traditional route for victorious teams when they come back.

Instead, they've just said, well, we'll have a little bit of a celebration, something of a celebration any way, the Place de la Concorde in the center of Paris. Christine?

ROMANS: Amazing. I mean, they did -- there's a lot to be proud of. I mean, they were a champion team that then went ahead and got into the final again. That hasn't happened in a really long time. So breaking some -- breaking some taboos there along the way. Thank you so much, nice to see you.


ROMANS: All right, ahead, the thrilling World Cup final is being called the best ever. We are live in Qatar. Plus, an anti-abortion priest defrocked for what the Vatican calls a blasphemous post on social media. And the January 6th Committee set to recommend criminal charges for Donald Trump in just a matter of hours.




SCHIFF: The evidence is there that Donald Trump committed criminal offenses in connection with his efforts to overturn the election. I think there's sufficient evidence to charge the president.


ROMANS: House January 6th Committee member Adam Schiff telling CNN it's clear to him that Donald Trump committed criminal offenses in trying to overturn the election and inciting that mob that attacked the Capitol. Let's bring in former federal prosecutor Michael Zeldin. So nice to see you this morning, thanks for getting up early for us.

MICHAEL ZELDN, PODCAST HOST: My pleasure. How are you?

ROMANS: I'm great. Look, the insurrection charge is new. You know, will the Justice Department take this further to proceed with charges, do you think?

ZELDIN: Well, I think there's a lot of evidence that needs to be considered by a grand jury to determine whether or not an indictable offense has been committed. The one that's interesting to me is this charge of insurrection, which is really inciting a riot, inciting the insurrection. And it can be proved in many different ways.

Doesn't have to be a conspiracy, like seditious conspiracy. It can be acts undertaken during the course of the insurrection, to aid and abet or to encourage them or even inaction like failing to call up the National Guard as a means of facilitating the ongoing insurrection. So it's an interesting charge. And I think the DOJ will look long and hard at it.

ROMANS: The DOJ is doing its own investigation and probably has access to even more information and material, right? These referrals from the committee are not legally binding. Is the significance from the committee's standpoint here that this is -- this is critical for the historical record.

ZELDIN: Yes. It is absolutely critical for the historical record. But also I think because there are prosecutors, ex-prosecutors on the staff of the investigative committee and many of those lawyers, like Adam Schiff, were themselves prosecutors. When former prosecutors look at evidence and then say to the DOJ, look, we've been there and done that.

We've analyzed this evidence for months and months and months, and our suggestion to you is that, there is criminal activity there, I think that makes the Justice Department think long and hard about that evidence. And so, I think it has an important effort on the part of -- to convince the DOJ and, of course, as you just suggest, for historians, for the future, it's important that this be fully outlawed.

ROMANS: You've been weighing all of this so carefully over the past 18 months or so, watching this unfold. What do you think the chances are the Justice Department does charge former President Trump?

ZELDIN: Well, you know, it's a funny thing. Over the course of studying this, have gone from being pretty skeptical that they would do this to now thinking that if there is not a political reason to not do it, there's probably a sufficient legal basis to do it. So, they have to weigh the politics versus the pure legal, like Gerald Ford did with Richard Nixon.

And if they determine that the law really trumps the politics of it, I think there's a fairly good chance that they might file some charges.

ROMANS: All right, Michael Zeldin, so nice to see you this morning. Thank you so much.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, quick hits across America now. The Vatican reportedly removing Frank Pavone, a leading voice in the anti-abortion movement from the priesthood. "The New York Times" says disobedience and blasphemous writings on social media triggered that action. The University of California reaching a tentative agreement with thousands of teaching assistants and other workers. The deal for increased pay and benefits could end a month-long strike.

President Biden today expected to name former Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy as U.S. Envoy to Northern Ireland. Comes Britain and the EU clash over trade regulations between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. All right, rescue efforts are under way right now for dozens of sailors missing from a sunken warship.



ROMANS: Russian drones left parts of Ukraine's capital in flames just a few hours ago. Ukrainian military officials report damage to critical infrastructure in Kyiv. CNN's Clare Sebastian following this for us live in London. Clare, what else are you hearing about these strikes?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine. This seems to have been a major barrage of drone attacks across Ukraine. This morning, the Ukrainian defense ministry tweeting that this was one of the most massive drone attacks to hit the country since the start of the war. They say that in total, 35 Iranian Shahed drones were launched towards Ukraine of which 30 were shot down.

A large number appear to have been directed towards the capital, Kyiv, where the military administration there says that 23 drones were launched towards the capital, of which 18 were shot down. So, it seems that Ukraine's air defense systems are working actively, but still some missiles are getting through.

You showed those images there -- just there of the fire raging in Kyiv which authorities are still trying to put out. Energy infrastructure was hit there just several days after that massive barrage of attacks which knocked out a lot of energy infrastructure on Friday. This continues to be a key part of Russia's play book.

Other civilian elements were hit as well, private homes, things like that. So, we know that this was a lot of it concentrated in Kyiv, other regions as well affected the aerial bombardment continues to be a key part of Russia's strategy.


But all of this coming as President Putin travels to Belarus today to meet with his Belarusian counterpart, raising fears among some in Ukraine that there may be more plans for a ground offensive to follow this aerial bombardment. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Clare, keep us posted, thank you for that. So, the World Cup final lived up to its billing and then some -- the thrilling match between Argentina and France decided in a penalty shootout, an instant classic. And some are calling it the best final in World Cup history. It was the best final in World Cup history. That's what I want to say.

CNN's Amanda Davies live in Doha, Qatar. What an amazing match. What was it like being there for this incredible final?

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, Christine, I'm very fortunate in my life. I have been to a lot of sporting events. I've been to a fair few World Cup finals, and that really was incredible. It's one of those days that makes me want to beg people who don't have football or soccer in their lives, this is why you need to get involved. You missed out if you weren't watching last night.

It's -- the superlatives are free-flowing. It was insane. It was staggering. It was emotional edge-of-the-seat kind of stuff, and that was as a neutral. You can only imagine what it was like for those invested in either Argentina or France, for the players who were taking part. And yes, FIFA is saying it's the best World Cup final ever.

But for me, what is always a great indicator is how other sports people, the greatest in their field react to a moment like that. They are the people who know what it's like to perform under that pressure on the biggest stage. You've had the likes of Serena Williams, LeBron James, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer all absolutely giving their applause and celebrating that moment for sports.

It was billed as Kylian Mbappe against Lionel Messi, as you said it, rightly delivered. It was advantage Argentina, France pulling back, the momentum going back to Argentina, then France again, then the penalties and ultimately Lionel Messi crowned at last as a World Cup winner. The one that has been missing from his trophy cabinet. And this is what he had to say afterwards.

ROMANS: Oh, Amanda, we don't have that sound. I have to tell you, though, the two Mbappe goals within 93 seconds or something, I mean, almost had a heart attack. I've just never seen something like that in a World Cup match.

DAVIES: Yes, 97 seconds it was. And you have to feel for Kylian Mbappe to score a hat-trick, age, 23 years of age --

ROMANS: Yes --

DAVIES: At a World Cup final, and still not get your hands on that trophy once again. But it was lovely to see Messi and Mbappe embracing at the end, though Paris Saint-Germaine teammates.

ROMANS: Yes --

DAVIES: You do suspect, though, Mbappe will get that opportunity again.

ROMANS: Oh, yes, he is a young talent and a fierce talent. And I know we'll be seeing a lot from him. Thank you so much, Amanda Davies, nice to see you, I'm so glad you got to see that match in person. It's so great. Thank you.

All right, to China now where it's reporting its first COVID-related death since easing pandemic restrictions earlier this month. Chinese health officials say two people in Beijing have died as cases surge, but no other details were released. CNN's Ivan Watson is live for us in Hong Kong.

And Ivan, China has been known to under-report numbers of deaths in the past, Wuhan, for example. Could the latest number be higher or could we trust these numbers? IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's going to be

hard to figure out. For instance, I just say that anecdotally, we know people are contracting COVID in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, and they're not telling the authorities. So the case count isn't accurate.

As far as the death toll, well, we have these first two reports, and the experts are predicting that those numbers are going to grow substantially in the months ahead. There is a fair amount of modeling that's going on that's being done even here in Hong Kong at Hong Kong University that's taking the example that Hong Kong endured where it had successfully maintained a bubble against COVID, and then Omicron just blasted through it.

And the population here had very low immunity, and there was very low vaccination rates among senior citizens. And then in just under two months, you had more than 8,000 people who died from COVID here. So taking those models and projecting them on the mainland China with 1.4 billion people, and also only about 42 percent of people over 80 fully vaccinated.

You have projections, according to different models, of hundreds of thousands of deaths in the months to come, to up to 2 million. Hong Kong University report estimating close to 1 million. Those numbers could drop the experts say, if they can ramp up the vaccination, if they can get more anti-viral medication out there.

But as it is, it is a kind of bewildering U-turn that the country is facing where mainland China was locking cities down left and right.