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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Soon: Ukraine's Zelenskyy to Meet Biden at White House; Biden Admin Asks Supreme Court to Delay Ending Title 42; 70 Million Under Winter Weather Alerts; Trump's Tax Returns. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired December 21, 2022 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy on his way to Washington to visit the White House and speak to Congress.

The Biden administration urging their Supreme Court to let pandemic border rules run out, but not just out.

And the American people about to get a look at Donald Trump's tax returns after almost four years of legal fighting.

All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's surprise visit to the U.S. In just a few hours, he will meet with President Biden at the White House. It is Zelenskyy's first trip outside of Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. Ukraine's president is expected to address Congress.

The Biden administration is about to a now it's a additional $1.8 billion in assistance to Ukraine, that includes patriot missile defense systems.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in London for us.

Clare, Zelenskyy's trip is not without risk.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine, risks on various fronts. The immediate security whisks of course, which is why we did not see Zelenskyy confirmed that this trip was happening. In just a few hours ago, when he said he was already on his way. So, those immediate risks to his security.

There are also risks for him politically, remember at the beginning in the war when the U.S. offered to evacuate him from Ukraine, he said I do not need a ride, I need ammunition. So I think to make this trip politically sound he needs to bring back that significant weapons package from the U.S.

I think that weapons pocket in itself carries some risks as all of these foreign weapon deliveries to, in terms of how Moscow will see it. They do see it as an escalation. The spokesperson this morning saying that these weapons deliveries, it all leads to an operation of the conflict and does not bode well for Ukraine.

But, when Zelenskyy appears to have calculated that the benefits will outweigh the risks. The optics of this meeting will be crucial, a face-to-face meeting with President Biden and the oval office, addressing the joint session of Congress, all of that will showcase the alliance with the U.S. and the West and even strengthen it as we head into a new congress, with Republican control of the House.

Of course, the substance as well patriot missiles will be crucial for Ukraine as they try to defend their electricity grid and their civilian infrastructure from that continued Russian bombardment, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Clare Sebastian, keep us posted, details of that trip as they happened. Thank you.

All right. Donald Trump's tax returns are going public.


REP. RICHARD NEAL (D-MA): The clerk will report the tally.

CLERK: Mr. Chairman, on this vote, I have 24 yeas, and 16 nos.


ROMANS: The House Ways and Means Committee voted along party lines to release the former president's tax documents from 2015 to 2020.

Now, Trump thought against this for years. The Democratic led committee is also released a report showing Trump's returns showed huge losses delimited tax bill. The actual returns should be out in a matter of days.


REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX): You will get all of the tax returns that the Supreme Court and the lower court said that Mr. Neil's request could get. He will get all of those, that may be delayed for a few days only to permit time to redact things like Social Security numbers, personal ID numbers, that type of thing. But, you will get the complete Trump tax returns such as they are for the years that Mr. Neal requested.


ROMANS: The ranking Republican on the committee accused Democrats of weaponizing this information, a Trump spokesperson said that Democrats are, quote, playing politics.

The Biden administration wants the Supreme Court to reject a challenge by Republican-led state, and let Title 42 end.

But they also want justices to hold off until at least 27th. Biden's team say that they need time to prepare for this surge of migrants. While the legal wrangling goes on, people on both sides of the border wait. We get more from CNN's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just hours before sunrise, Texas National Guard soldiers and Texas state troopers constructed a nearly mile-long fence covered in razor wire along the Rio Grande, in the very spot where federal Border Patrol agent started processing thousands of migrants in the last week. The Texas military department says the National Guard did not alert the border control or local officials that this fence would be constructive.


On Monday, El Paso officials said National Guard soldiers were to primarily focus on humanitarian efforts and which security of migrants who are already in the city not with deterrent efforts.

MARIO D'AGOSTINO, EL PASO DEPUTY CITY MANAGER: The state is preparing resources. They are relocating to El Paso. They are not activated, anything other than security. So, at this, point it is for the what- ifs.

LAVANDERA: El Paso County judge Ricardo Samaniego says the newly installed fans and razor wire is a political stunt and a misuse of resources at a critical time.

JUDGE RICARDO SAMANIEGO (D), EL PASO COUNTY, TEXAS: Standing on the border, putting barbwire and fences is not what we need. We are the epicenter right now of migration. And you've got the governor not calling the mayor and myself.

LAVANDERA: But this is the kind of optics and strategy that Texas Governor Greg Abbott has long supported. The Republican governor has repeatedly criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to secure the border.

But the newly installed fence isn't stopping migrants. CNN captured these images just a few hours after the fence went up of a group of four migrants crawling through the razor wire despite warnings from border agents. They were taken into custody.

RUBEN GARCIA, DIRECTOR, ANNUNCIATION HOUSE: And who's got the keys to that?

LAVANDERA: As the uncertainty of what will happen with Title 42 looms over this border city, local officials and migrant advocates say they will continue preparing as if the public health rule that was used during the pandemic to block migrants from entering the U.S. some 2.5 million times will be lifted. Those leading the humanitarian efforts like Ruben Garcia are frustrated. Garcia runs the migrant shelter Annunciation House and has served migrants for more than 40 years in El Paso.

GARCIA: Right now, the federal on the state government are fighting with each other. So, they are not working together. They are fighting. One of the reasons we face moments like this it is because our

political leadership does not sit down to work out comprehensive reform. That takes into account the phenomena of refugees.


LAVANDERA (on camera): The El Paso mayor tells CNN that the Texas governor's office told him, that the efforts to build this chain link fence with a razor wire was supposed to be a three-hour training mission for the Texas national guard. Those three hours have long past, and the fans and razor wire remain in pace. Now the mayor says that they want to speak with the Texas governor's office, and the Texas Department of Public Safety to see why it is still standing.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, El Paso.

ROMANS: All right. Governor Gavin Newsom has declared a state of emergency in parts of northern California, hit by a deadly and destructive earthquake. At least two people died in the 6.4 magnitude quake that struck in Humboldt County. It knocked homes of their foundations, shattered homes of businesses, and knocking items of shelves. Nearly 70,000 homes in Humboldt County lost power.


JESSICA BONES, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: I felt like I was in a tornado. My house is -- it completely moved in circles. It was pretty terrifying and, it was loud.

NATHAN MYERS, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: It was pretty violent. I have wheels on my bed, so I was shaking left to right, rolling back and forth. It was the biggest one I've ever been.


ROMANS: There have been at least 80 aftershocks following that earthquake. Right now to white Christmas, but an extremely cold one for much of the country. A major storm system known as a bomb cyclone has some 70 million people under winter weather alerts, prompting airlines to issue free of charge changes for holiday travelers.

Let's get to Jennifer Gray at the CNN weather center.

Just how brutal is the storm going to be, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine, it's going to be a big one. And people who do not get the snow, you will get this cold. It is going to be very, very cold. You are also going to have blizzard conditions across parts of the northern plains, as well as the upper Midwest. So this one is basically just getting going. You can see the snowfall through Montana, North Dakota.

This is going to intensify throughout the day, and so that is why we have all of these watches and warnings, blizzard warnings in effect for portions of Minnesota. Look at the preliminary snowfall totals. We've had more than 20 inches of snow across parts of Washington, 15 inches of snow. So a big snow producer across the Pacific Northwest, is going to be even bigger as it enters the Midwest.

We could pick up 12 to 18 inches of snow across the UP of Michigan. We are also going to see a lot of light cancellation. Chicago's going to be a hard hit area, we could see major cancellations, along with the snow we are going to see 50 mile per hour winds across the Midwest and then the very cold temperatures are going to settle in.

Look at these extreme wind chills, already reported across Montana, 50 degrees below zero. It has been the wind chill, so we have wind chill warnings, wind chill watches, stretching all the way down to the U.S. Mexico border. New Orleans included in this, Brownsville, Atlanta is even under a wind chill watch.


It shows you how far south this extreme cold is going to reach. Look at these, Casper, Wyoming, overnight it feels like temperatures 50 below zero. St. Louis, even, 27 below zero. Atlanta will get down to a feels like temperature of 19. So, this is extreme.

Look at the whiplash, 47 degrees. Wednesday's high in Denver, to one degree below zero in Thursday. Absolutely incredible how we will go to this extreme cold in such a dramatic fashion.

ROMANS: Yeah, some of those wind chills look life-threatening, actually.

GRAY: They actually are. Frostbite can settle in in less than five. Minutes

ROMANS: All right. Good to know. Thank you so much, Jennifer. Nice to see you.

Elon Musk says that he will step down as CEO, tweeting that he will step down as soon as I find someone foolish enough to take the job. Musk said they will abide by the results of a Twitter poll created of whether he would resign. Some 17 million users voted, nearly 58 percent said he should leave, he should quit.

Even if he finds a replacement, Musk will still be the owner and ultimate distanced maker at the company. Shareholder of his other company, Tesla, have been nervous about how much time he's been spending on Twitter. Tesla shares have dropped something like 60 percent this year.

Coming, up the moment a train barreled into a truck in Tennessee.

Plus -- Russia building up its military bases in the Arctic. How NATO is responding.

And, desperate journeys with border rules in limbo.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He says that he was helping his mother cross and that she grabbed a branch, and then she fell down a cliff and into the river.



ROMANS: All right. The Department of Homeland Security is moved more than 9000 migrants out of El Paso, Texas, in the last week. Texas is dealing with a surge of migrants in the southern border as Washington fights over border rules.


CNN's Rosa Flores has more.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Brian and his mother left their native Venezuela full of dreams three months ago. He made it to south Texas after being processed by immigration authorities. She did not.

What happened to your mother?

He says they were traveling through the Darien Gap, a mountainous jungle between Colombia and panama. He says that he was helping his mother cross, and that she grabbed a branch, and then she fell down a cliff and into the river. He says that he will never forget the look in his mother's eyes.

He is one of more than 300 migrants who are processed by border patrol, and dropped off in Brownsville every day, says migrant advocate Sergio Cordoba.

SERGIO CORDOBA, TEAM BROWNSVILLE: Our worry is, are we going to be able to order the supplies that we need?

FLORES: Late Monday, the Trump era policy, which allows immigration agents to swiftly return migrants to Mexico was paused by the Supreme Court just days before it was scheduled to lift. The decision, easing concerns about the sudden surge of migrants at the border that is expected when the rule ends.

JUDGE RICHARD CORTEZ, HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS: Honestly, we are relieved that Title 42 has been extended. We were prepared for the worst. We were pretty already at capacity in some locations.

FLORES: I'm in Brownsville, Texas, and just across the river in Matamoros, Mexico, there are thousands of migrants, mostly Venezuelans and Haitians, who are living in camps and on the streets. I've been talking to them.

What do you think about Title 42 staying in place?

They say they are happy Title 42 is still in effect, but they are also preparing for the worst. Buying inflatable rafts, like in this photo shared with CNN, to cross the Rio Grande, if they are not allowed to enter it legally.

In nearby McAllen, Texas, Border Patrol is dropping off about 450 migrants per day at this respite center, says the director, Sister Norma Pimentel. Pimentel is monitoring the anxiety that is growing across the border in Reynosa, Mexico, where there's an estimated 8,000 migrants in packed shelters and open air camps according to advocates.

SISTER NORMA PIMENTEL, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY: It's not safe to be in Mexico because of the fact they are exposed to all the elements, and exposed to all the dangers.

FLORES: The dangers that still haunt Brian after his mother's death.

What did you see in her eyes?

Fear, sadness.

Brian says seeing his mother's photo is painful, especially this one. His mom is not in the photo. She took the picture days before she perished.


FLORES (on camera): I've been messaging with Brian and he says that the other thing that he cannot forget is the smell of death in the Darien Gap. That just speaks to the risk that migrants are willing to take to come here, to come to America for a better life.

Now, I also want to say that one of the things that I keep hearing from migrants is that they have sold everything in their home countries to come here to the United States. It is all part of misinformation. They say that, simply word has spread that the U.S. southern border is open. Of course, the United States says that that is not the case. But, the back and forth in fight Title 42 is not helping in their messaging.

FLORES: Rosa Flores, CNN, Brownsville, Texas.

ROMANS: Just amazing. All right. Rosa, thank you so much that.

So, Title 42, that COVID era border policy allowing officials to swiftly expel migrants. It remains in effect for now. The Biden administration wants the Supreme Court and, it but not until at least the 27th, 19 Republican led states want to keep it. It is in limbo.

Let's bring in immigration reporter from "Congressional Quarterly Roll Call", Suzanne Monyak.

So nice to see this morning. It was set to expire today, now the policy is in legal limbo while we wait for the Supreme Court to respond to the Biden ministration's request. Where do things stand right now?

SUZANNE MONYAK, IMMIGRATION REPORTER, CQ ROLL CALL: That is correct. We are currently waiting for the Supreme Court doesn't decide whether the title 42 policy can and, or whether it must remain in place while litigation continues. A group of Republican led states have asked that the policy remain in effect. They're hoping to press pause on a federal court ruling from last month that struck down title 42 and ruled that it was illegal. That was a ruling that was supposed to take effect about five hours ago, now.

The Biden administration, while I do want a slight, delay generally would like to see the Title 42 policy lifted.

ROMANS: You heard what Rosa Flores was reporting, there that she's been talking to migrants at the border and that they say that word of mouth as spread that the U.S. borders open. The Biden administration of course is that it is not and there are surging resources to the border to deal with this, plan consequences for an unlawful entrance, they say that they were going to talk with other countries, international partners as well.


Is that enough? When word of mouth is drawing thousands of people to abortions they think is focusing?

MONYAK: It is hard to say, it certainly is a difficult situation in the Republican-led states of said that once Title 42 lives they're expecting to see an influx in migration, which they say will negatively inflict them. It certainly isn't in issue that has both -- even Democrats are wary of lifting title 42 concern that high level of migration will overwhelm those communities.

ROMANS: If the Supreme Court rules that title 42 needs to stay, that is a win for Republican-led states. Talk to me about how divided Congress is on this issue and the political fallout of the Biden administration if you do see, for example, a huge surge in migration?

MONYAK: It is definitely a tricky issue politically, especially because title 42 is a policy that does not actually cut cleanly across partisan lines. Congressional Republicans to support the policy, many of them citing it more as an immigration control than a public health constriction they support.

But it is also demon Democrats they would like to see extended. There is bipartisan legislation that would've extended Title 42. Senator Mark Kelly just told me the other day at the capitol that he had serious concerns about the department of homeland security's readiness and preparedness. That's Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona.

ROMANS: A border state where they are really dealing with us.

OK. Suzanne Monyak, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

MONYAK: Nice to see you, too. Thanks again.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America right now.

A train derailed after colliding with a truck, south of the tracks near Chattanooga, Tennessee. Two crew members were injured, the truck drivers not hurt. A California judge denied a new trial for Scott Peterson. His lawyers

have alleged juror misconduct. Peterson was convicted of killing his pregnant wife and unborn child 20 years ago.

The 2021 Boston marathon women's winner, Diana Kipyokei, was stripped of her title for doping. She is also been banned for competition for six years.

Coming up, sub-sonic cruise missiles launched by parachute. How exactly does that work? And seen it on the ground in Beijing is trying to downplay is how deadly its latest COVID surge is.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm in the parking lot right now and it is completely full of cars. I am speaking here because there are many, many security guards patrolling this entire area.




ROMANS: All right. Russia is expanding its military in the arctic just by the drain on resources from its war on Ukraine.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has it closer look at how Russia's been building up its bases along the Arctic coast line and testing out its latest weaponry.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Up here in the Arctic, you wouldn't get the feeling of Russia's military has crippled by its catastrophic invasion of Ukraine. To Moscow, this ice quickly receding with climate change is vital to its defense and future. These new satellite images obtained by CNN revealed that changes that key military installations over just the past year and show that, despite the damage done to Russia's military from their invasion of Ukraine, they are still expanding up near the Arctic Circle fast.

Towards the east, three drones have been built up here at Tiksi between this October and last. Work here to over the last year on the runway in the Nagurskoye form of near the Arctic Circle. And one of five new resonance and radars which they claim can fight stealth jets emerging out of nowhere here. And this new building, at one radar station near Norway, emerging since June last year.

In an exclusive interview, NATO's chief is aware of the growing threat.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: What we see now is a significant Russian military buildup in the high north. As we see, Russia re-opening all of the Soviet basis military sides, but also testing novel weapons in the arctic and the high north.

WALSH: The Arctic is vital to Russia, not only for oil and gas. But also as part of its new color defense. The Kremlin is also urgently launching new atomic icebreakers. To ensure it retains influence over a shorter trade route from the Pacific to Europe opened up by climate change, reducing the Arctic ice cover.

But the war in Ukraine has led to a change on major. Sides they lead 75 percent of the article and forced to Ukraine, the senior western intelligence official has told me that it's Navy is almost untouched, semi detached from the war. They had, it also, after strikes on the air feels deep inside Russia, just have been dispersed around its territory, some for the, north boosting effectively they're present in the arctic. And NATO is also sending its messages.

What you're seeing here looks like a normal drop of a supply pellet. But, it is an on president surprise over Norway by U.S. special forces this year, dropping off a cruise missile on a parachute. Here, it ignites the U.S. military keen to show that it can fire its charms from a cargo plane, greatly increasing its range near Russia.

Shaken by a recent sabotage of Baltic Sea pipelines, and NATO is now focused on protecting Norway's energy infrastructure, now Norway, not Russia, supplies above 30 percent of the gas exports to Europe.

STOLTENBERG: Since the sabotage in the Baltic Sea, we have doubled our presence which is with the submarines would not patrol aircraft in the Baltic and the north of the seas.

WALSH: A change unlikely to calm Moscow or reduce its footprint somewhere so close to home.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.


ROMANS: Nick thank you for that. China's changing how to find a COVID related death as it faces a surge of cases under relaxed restrictions. Only people who die of respiratory failure directly caused by the virus will be considered a COVID death. The change come as Beijing reports just a few fatal cases, even though business seems to be booming at funeral homes and crematoriums.

Here's CNN's Selina Wang.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chinese chief epidemiologist says that the country is currently undergoing the first of three expected waves this winter.