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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

El Paso Braces for Massive Influx of Migrants; Harvey Weinstein Convicted of Rape at Los Angeles Trial; Putin Orders More Surveillance of Russian Citizens, Borders; January 6 Committee Refers Trump to DOJ on 4 Criminal Charges. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 20, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, down to the wire. The Supreme Court blocks Trump era border rules from running out just hours before the deadline. But for how long?

Sabotage behind the lines. Vladimir Putin orders a crackdown on traitors and spies in Russia right after a serious of mysterious explosions and fires.

And a triumphant return for the World Cup champs. Lionel Messi and his teammates bring the trophy home to fans in Argentina.


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

So, time is quickly running out for Title 42. That's the Trump era border rules that were set to expire hours from now. Just how much time they'll save is still up in the air. Supreme Court justice John Roberts has ordered the policy frozen in place for now pending more court action. More than a dozen Republican-led states have fought the Biden administration to keep the swift expulsion rules in place.

Border cities like El Paso, Texas, are still bracing for the policy to ultimately be lifted as thousands more migrants amass nearby.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there.


ED LAVANDERA, C NN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): El Paso's mayor says he's bracing for as many as 4,000 to 6,000 migrants to be released into the city per day if Title 42 is lifted on Wednesday.

MAYOR OSCAR LEESER (D), EL PASO, TEXAS: We have hundreds and hundreds on the streets and that's not the way we want to treat people.

LAVANDERA: City officials have started moving hundreds of migrants who were camping out around downtown area bus stations into hotels or newly opened shelter space. LEESER: We want to make sure that everyone is safe and we know that

the influx on Wednesday will be incredible. It will be huge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on in, guys.

LAVANDERA: In the last week, we're told more than 1,000 migrants have found refuge inside the family shelter center in downtown El Paso.

This is Sarah. She came from Ecuador with her husband. They've been traveling 30 days.

She says the journey was brutal. Sarah Romero, like almost every migrant we've spoken with, says they were kidnapped and held for days in Mexico until they paid their way out but they arrive at an uncertain time.

You're worried that you're going to be deported?

She said they are looking for anything. They would like to request asylum, or humanitarian visa, something that would let them work or earn some sort of living.

Romero is one of thousands who entered El Paso in the days leading up to the end of the public health policy known as Title 42 which allowed U.S. border officials to expel migrants nearly 2.5 million times since 2020.

So here on the edge of the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico, not everyone is trying to cross over. The people standing behind me, they don't want to cross just yet. They're waiting for Title 42 to be lifted because they're worried if they cross now, they will be deported.

Some are sleeping under the cover of this car wash. Many are in barren shelters like this one.

Kelly Perez and her husband have waited here two months.

Why are you waiting to cross?

We've heard so many other Venezuelans that have been deported. They don't want that to happen so they're waiting for Title 42 to get lifted to see how things play out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They call this the asylum of the southwest.

LAVANDERA: But El Paso officials know that spirit of compassion will be put to a test this week. County Judge Ricardo Samaniego says this area has never experienced a moment like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's nothing that we're doing right now that's sustainable. Everything is addressing and reacting to the situation.

LAVANDERA: Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily halted the lifting of title 42 on Wednesday, officials here in El Paso say they will continue moving ahead as if Title 42 will be lifted on Wednesday. They say right now they're focused on opening mass shelters at warehouses and even unused school buildings.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, El Paso, Texas.


ROMANS: Ed, thank you for that.

Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein convicted again of sex crimes at his trial in Los Angeles. In a mixed verdict, Weinstein was found guilty of 3 of 7 charges including rape. Jurors delivered for more than 40 hours, over 10 days.


Weinstein is already serving a 23-year sentence for a rape conviction in New York in 2020.

We'll get more this morning from CNN's Natasha Chen. She is in Los Angeles.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The jury found Weinstein guilty of the three counts that were related to the first Jane Doe accuser. Now this case involved four women accusing him of rape and sexual assault charges for a total of seven counts to which he pleaded not guilty. But again, the jury only found him guilty on those three counts related to the same accuser.

For the second accuser and the fourth accuser, the jury could not come to a decision and those were declared mistrial. For the third accuser, the jury found him not guilty on that sexual assault charge.

Now, the fourth accuser over the course of the trial was identified as Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a filmmaker and wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom. The attorney for her released a statement in part saying while we would have preferred that the jurors found him guilty of all counts, we understand it was a complex trial made more difficult by the defense team's argument that a woman who is assaulted must forego her chosen career or be accused of consent after the fact. That attorney also said that you never know how politics may play into things regarding her client's marriage to the California governor.

The attorney for Harvey Weinstein also released a statement specifically referring to this first accuser where he was found guilty on those three counts. The attorney said Harvey is obviously disappointed, however, hopefully because with this particular accuser there's good ground to appeal based on time and location of alleged events, he's grateful the jury took their time to deliberate on the other counts and he is prepared to continue fighting for his innocence.

Now, this Los Angeles jury deliberated for 41 hours. That is far longer than the jury deliberated in New York in his New York trial where he was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is appealing that case and so what happens in this case becomes very interesting now with these three guilty counts. He could be facing up to 24 years in prison on this trial and the jury is supposed to reconvene tomorrow to hear more arguments about the sentencing and guidelines.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right. Natasha, thank you so much for that.

Traitors, spies and saboteurs, Vladimir Putin ordering the federal authority to track them down by amping up surveillance of Russian citizens. Putin saying more intel is needed to combat new threats within Russian society and at the country's borders.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is following the story from London.

And, Clare, what kind of new threats is Putin talking about here?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN COIRRESPONDENT: Yeah, it was pretty cryptic, Christine. He talks about the changing situation in the world and the sort of new threats as a result of that appearing clearly we can read into that the reference on the war in Ukraine and the fact we've seen the violence spill over on to Russian territory, shelling in nearby regions earlier this month. Of course, we saw some attacks on military air fields hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian borders. Clearly, that has rattled President Putin.

He talks about stepping up the work of the FSB, the federal security service border force cracking down on foreign security services, rooting out as he said, traitors, spies and saboteurs. So, cross border threats.

He's talking about this is providing cover, I think, for another hallmark of this conflict, repression at homes. It provides an excuse to sort of step up surveillance of citizens. He talks about special control on crowded places, transport, all of those things.

Somewhat unusual for Putin he talked about the, quote, extremely difficult situation in Russia's new regions, illegally annexed territories within Ukraine. He talked about the difficult work of the security services there. They will be continued to be provided with the most modern weapons. Of course, it's extremely difficult and you proceed to lose ground on that territory which is what happens to Russia, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Clare, thank you so much for that.

Now, back here, increased demand and a shortage of supply leading CVS and Walgreens to limit the number of children's Tylenol and other pain supplies. CVS has a two product limit for both in person and online sales. Walgreens is limiting customers online to six purchases but at Walgreens there's no limit in the stores.

Doctors and medical experts expect the shortage to last through the winter cold and flu season. All right. On Capitol Hill, a key House committee expected to vote

today on whether to release former President Trump's tax returns to the public. House Ways and Means Committee only got access to the Trump tax documents last month. Now unlike his predecessors, Trump never released his tax information as a candidate or while he was in office.

The January 6th committee recommends criminal charges against the former president. Will the DOJ act on them?

Plus, a new congressman elect with some gaping holes in his resume.


And a hero's welcome for Argentina's national team back home after winning the World Cup.



ROMANS: The House January 6th committee making an unprecedented recommendation to prosecute a former president. The panel Monday issuing four criminal referrals for Donald Trump and saying it has evidence of two other criminal actions.

CNN's Sara Murray has more from Capitol Hill.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The House Select Committee investigating January 6th convening publicly one last time.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): He lost the 2020 election and knew it. In the end, he summoned a mob to Washington and knowingly, they were armed and angry pointing them to the Capitol and told them to fight like hell.

MURRAY: And laying out its case that former President Donald Trump was ultimately responsible for the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): No man would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office.

MURRAY: The committee referring four crimes to the Justice Department that they say the former president committed while trying to stay in the White House.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): We believe that the evidence described by my colleagues today and assembled throughout our hearings warrants a criminal referral of former President Donald J. Trump.

MURRAY: Including conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to make false statements. It believes there is sufficient evidence for two others, conspiracy to injure or impede an officer and seditious conspiracy. The panel also referring attorney and Trump ally John Eastman to DOJ but saying DOJ will have to determine who else should face prosecution.

RASKIN: Their understanding of the role of many individuals may be incomplete even today because they refused to answer our questions.


We trust that the Department of Justice will be able to form a far more complete picture.

MURRAY: Republican lawmakers who snubbed subpoenas were referred to the House Ethics Committee. After 17 months of investigating and roughly 1,000 witness interviews, the committee determined that Trump knew the fraud allegations he was pushing were false, but continue to amplify it anyway.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): The committee has evidence that ex-President Trump planned to declare victory and unlawfully to call for the vote counting to stop and that he told numerous allies about his intent in the weeks before the election.

MURRAY: Even as some of Trump's closest allies like Hope Hicks worry it was damaging his legacy, Trump persisted.

HOPE HICKS, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: He said something along the lines of, you know, nobody will care about my legacy if I lose. So that won't matter. The only thing that matters is -- is winning.

MURRAY: Trump worked on a scheme to transmit false electoral ballots and replace Department of Justice information and replacing his own vice president.

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): President Trump spearheaded a campaign to coerce him to do it anyway, ultimately culminating in a dangerous threat to Mr. Pence's life on January 6th.

MURRAY: The committee highlighting Trump's $250 million fundraising haul between the election and January 6th raised primarily off claims of election fraud that did not exist. Questioning whether any of the money was used to pay lawyers who may have tried to obstruct the congressional investigation. And evidence from one unnamed witness who was urged to stay loyal to Trump.

LOFGREN: The witness believed this was an effort to affect her testimony and we are concerned that these efforts may have been a strategy to prevent the committee from finding the truth.


MURRAY (on camera): Now Donald Trump's campaign is already pushing back on what the committee had to say in the meeting on Monday. They call the committee's events show trials by never Trump partisans even though it's made up of Republicans and Democrats. We also got a response from attorney for John Eastman who said in a statement: A criminal referral from a congressional committee is not binding on the Department of Justice and carries no more legal weight than a referral from any American citizen.

Sara Murray, CNN on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: All right. Sara, thanks for that.

Let's bring in Katie Cherkasky, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Good morning. So nice to see you.

What do you make of these four charges, the referrals from the Department of Justice and how do you think they may overlap with the parallel investigation over at DOJ?

KATIE CHERKASKY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I will say these referrals, even though they're not legally binding, are incredibly worrisome that not only should Trump not be in power again but that he should be criminally prosecuted. The analysis of whether too actually move forward with that prosecution is quite different than the showing that there is evidence that could support charging because from Merrick Garland's perspective, it has to be not only that you have sufficient evidence for indictment but that you believe you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal forum these charges.

So that is going to be a very interesting position for Merrick Garland and the DOJ to be in. The messaging is very clear and the evidence has been laid out there. It's going to be significant one way or the other what the DOJ ends up doing with this referral.

ROMANS: The committee work isn't very public. The parallel work over at DOJ into potential wrongdoing by the president is very, very quiet. The public facing DOJ hearings has been prosecuting the insurrectionists, right, who are at the Capitol on January 6, a lot of convictions and some were interviewed by the Select Committee. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were invited by the president of the United States.

ERIC BARBER, CHARGED WITH THEFT AND UNLAWFUL DEMONSTRATION IN THE CAPITOL: He personally asked for us to come to D.C. that day and I thought for everything he's done for us, if this is the only thing he's going to ask of me, I'll to it.


ROMANS: Remarkable to hear one after another of those people say that they thought they were there at the behest of Donald Trump, then president. The how significant is that for Trump?

CHERKASKY: Well, I think what the committee did that was very significant in terms of a potential prosecution is they really got ahead of some of the defenses that he might have been able to raise. Now, obviously, the committee presented its case and it was to all extent a one-sided case. There wasn't a defense formally presented there.

But there's been so much evidence that has amounted to show not only the acts that took place but the state of mind and the mentality and justification of a lot of those decisions and I think that's going to be a difficult thing to ward off on the defense side if this does move forward in any criminal way.


Even if it doesn't though, I think that the evidence that's been put together by the committee is very telling in terms of the mindset.

Now this difference, again, between the ability to indict and to prove beyond a reasonable doubt is a very significant consideration and I think that the DOJ is going to have to look very carefully at what could happen with the prosecution here because if it does end in acquittal, I think strategically that could be something they want to avoid.

So, regardless of what the charging decision is here, I think Trump's decisions have been significantly limited by the evidence that has been put together by this committee.

ROMANS: So, the DOJ is going to receive all of these transcripts, all of these interviews, all of the work this committee has done over these many, many months. Do you think that makes DOJ work much faster to make its next move?

CHERKASKY: I think the prosecutors have to do a thorough and complete job regardless of timing. Unfortunately I think that could be more or less advantageous. I think being so public about this recommendation and knowing that it is symbolic still puts the DOJ in a very specific position to justify what it does or doesn't do moving ahead with charging these individuals, including former President Trump. So, certainly, I think this put pressure on the DOJ that has never existed, and they will have to respond directly.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right. Katie Cherkasky, so nice to see you this morning. Thank you so much for dropping by.

CHERKASKY: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now. CNN has found that a New York Republican just elected to Congress may have misrepresented his education and work history. "The New York Times" broke the story about George Santos. This lawyer says the story is a smear.

An Ohio man convicted of killing eight people from a family has been convicted to life without parole -- sentenced to life without parole. George Wagner's parents and brother were also accused in the 2016 shootings. The parents and brother have yet to face trial.

A wildfire near Boulder, Colorado, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. The fire started in the building and spread to the woods nearby.

Just ahead, Putin says he has no plans to absorb Belarus, says that during a visit there. Can he be trusted to keep his word?

And South Africa's president re-elected just days after surviving an impeachment threat.



ROMANS: Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Belarus raising concerns about a potential new offensive in Ukraine. Putin meeting with President Alexander Lukashenko to discuss military exercises there. Putin says Russia has no plans to, quote, absorb Belarus, but Ukraine and U.S., they remained skeptical.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Look, I think a statement like that has to be treated as the height of irony coming from a leader who is seeking at the president moment to violently absorb his other peaceful next door neighbor.


ROMANS: We'll get more this morning from CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Russia's president makes a rare trip to his smaller neighbor Belarus and the timing has everyone wondering why. Putin talking in to locally especially baked bread has always been bigger on the world stage demanding his towering Belarusian counterpart come and see him. But was he here because he wants something?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have certain areas of military cooperation and it's not just supplying each other, which in my view is incredibly important, it's also working together and cooperating.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.


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

Meanwhile, Russia and China joining forces this week for live fire naval exercises in the East China Sea near the waters off Japan. The drills beginning Wednesday include firing missiles and artillery and air and sea targets and antisubmarine exercises.

Let's bring in CNN's Ivan Watson live in Hong Kong for us.

What's the purpose, Ivan, of these drills in an already tense Western Pacific region?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not the first time two navies are operating together. The Japanese defense forces were monitoring Russian and Chinese ships in June operating not far from Japan as well. The announcement about these exercises, which are called Maritime Cooperation 2022, were made by the Russian defense ministry and we haven't seen any announcement coming from the Chinese side, which I think is somewhat interesting.

The two countries in February, the two leaders announced that they had a friendship with no limits. That's Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin, and then Vladimir Putin went on and invaded Ukraine. And since then, his military has really taken a beating.