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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

GOP Oversight Committee Launches Investigation Of Biden Family; Rafael Nadal Crashes Out In Second Round Of Aussie Open; South Braces For Another Round Of Thunderstorms, Tornado Risk. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired January 18, 2023 - 05:30   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. House Republicans are ready to flex their new investigative muscle, probing business dealings by members of President Biden's family. That includes allegations that his son, Hunter, used his family connections to line his pockets and benefit his business partners.

A CNN review shows that then-Vice President Joe Biden did meet with some of his son's business associates.

CNN's chief investigative correspondent Pamela Brown has more.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN INVESTIGATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He has built his political career on promises of honesty, hard work, and a pledge that a family name means something.


I give you my word as a Biden.

BROWN (voice-over): But while Joe Biden swears by his name in politics, his son and two brothers spent years trying to benefit from the Biden name. It's all now the focus of a Republican-led congressional investigation.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): We want to know what the Biden administration has tried to hide from the American people and why they are not being transparent.

BROWN (voice-over): Republican Congressman James Comer now chairs the House Oversight Committee and has set his sights on Joe Biden's son, Hunter. A mysterious laptop, now in the hands of the FBI, and long- held conspiracy theories about President Joe Biden and what he does or doesn't know.

J. BIDEN: I have never discussed with my son or my brother or anyone else anything having to do with their businesses, period. BROWN (voice-over): Despite his denials, a CNN review of the laptop data, as well as other public material, shows that Joe Biden did, in Iraq, with some of his son's associates while serving as vice president, though it's unclear exactly what was discussed.


One example the Republicans cite, Miguel Aleman Magnani, a Mexican businessman and son of the former president who Hunter was trying to woo.

In 2014, Aleman Magnani and his dad were photographed at the White House with then-Vice President Biden.

In a later email, Hunter Biden reminds Aleman Magnani of the favors he's done for him. "We have been talking about business deals and partnerships for seven years. I have brought every single person you have ever asked me to bring to the f-ing White House, and the vice president's house, and the inauguration."

Hunter Biden bluntly acknowledged the power of the Biden name in a memoir, writing that the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which put him on its board, "considered my last name gold."

HUNTER BIDEN, SON OF PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don't think that there's a lot of things that would have happened in my life that -- if my last name wasn't Biden.

BROWN (voice-over): Joe Biden's brothers have repeatedly referenced him in their private dealings.

Frank Biden, a developer of for-profit charter schools, has invoked his brother in trying to convince local officials to approve his projects, like in Sunrise, Florida, where he told the city in 2015 to trust his venture.

FRANK BIDEN, BROTHER OF PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Not because of Frank, but because of the honor of being the brother of a guy I think we all know and love.

BROWN (voice-over): In 2021, at a gathering of medical professionals, he made this pledge.

F. BIDEN: The bully pulpit that I have as a result of the privilege of being associated with my brother, Joey, and I'll do everything in my power to support you to get the job done. To get federal dollars to your research.

BROWN (voice-over): Frank Biden told CNN there has been zero interaction between his brother's public office and his private business, adding, "Do I engage in any way in quid pro quo on any level? Absolutely not."

MICHAEL FREY, HEALTH CARE ENTREPRENEUR: The last name gave credibility initially. BROWN (voice-over): Health care entrepreneur Michael Frey told CNN Joe Biden's other brother, James, broke financial promises he made while referencing the Biden name. Frey's company filed a lawsuit alleging fraud by James Biden who denied the claims.

Frey spoke to CNN before the lawsuit settled in 2020.

FREY: Everything was on the Biden name, and so we took that to heart.

BROWN (voice-over): James Biden was also named in a lawsuit filed in July. He allegedly received about $600,000 in loans in 2018 from a company he worked with, Americore Health, "...based upon representations that his last name, Biden, could open doors and that he could obtain a large investment from the Middle East based on his political connections." The suit states that the investment was never delivered.

The lawsuit was settled, though James Biden denied the allegations in court filings. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert, calls it all troubling.

KATHLEEN CLARK, LAW PROFESSOR, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, ST. LOUIS: We have, certainly, examples of Biden family members explicitly trading on his name, trying to convince business partners to do deals with them. That's outrageous.

BROWN (voice-over): Even so, government ethics experts say the Biden's ethical challenges pale in comparison to Donald Trump.

CLARK: One of the differences is that Trump, himself, personally was corrupt and certainly did enrich himself through the use of government power.

BROWN (voice-over): Even the Republican congressman leading the Biden investigation raises concerns about Trump's dealing while president.

BROWN (on camera): And you believe there should have been more transparency with Trump and his family members and the business that they may have been doing overseas?

COMER: I do. I do. I absolutely do.

BROWN (voice-over): Comer says he wants to introduce bipartisan legislation to tighten ethics laws, but the committee's first priority is the Bidens.

BROWN (on camera): It's important to note there is no proof the president has done anything illegal. We sent the White House a list of questions, including whether the president stands by his statement that he never discussed his relative's businesses with them. And in response, the White House sent us this statement.

"The president has pledged to restore ethics to the White House and has established the most rigorous ethics guidelines of any administration in history. No family member has or will serve in the administration or be involved in government decision-making."

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: An excellent deep-dive there, Pamela Brown. Thank you.

All right, a huge upset at the Australian Open while you were sleeping, as defending champion Rafael Nadal crashes out in the second round.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, what happened?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Christine, a big upset here. Rafael Nadal's bid at a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam title coming to an end quickly overnight when he was eliminated by unseeded American Mackenzie McDonald.

So, Nadal -- he struggled with an apparent hip injury in this one, which caused him to pull up midway through the second set. The 35- year-old -- he was able to continue after a medical timeout but was just not really moving like he normally is. He ended up losing in straight sets.

This is only the second time since 2007 that Nadal has exited the Australian Open this early in the tournament and afterwards, he spoke about the emotional toll of the loss.



RAFAEL NADAL, 22-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: I can't come here -- or can't come here and say -- lying that the life is fantastic and I'm staying positive and keep fighting. Not now. Tomorrow starts another day, but now it's a tough moment, it's a tough day. I'm going to accept that and keep going.


SCHOLES: Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, meanwhile, did not participate in warm-ups before last night's home game against the Ducks because he refused to wear a 'Pride Night' jersey. He was the only Flyers player who didn't have a rainbow sweater or a stick up for auction after the game.

And Provorov told reporters after the game that he opted not to participate because of his religious beliefs.


IVAN PROVOROV, DEFENSEMAN, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: I respect everybody. I respect everybody's choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That's all I'm going to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: All right. Elsewhere, the U.S. Women's National Team starting the year strong with a 4-nil shutout against New Zealand in Wellington. Mallory Swanson scoring the opening goal just after halftime. She added a second strike a few minutes later.

Amazingly, this is the first time U.S. Women have won their first game of a World Cup year since 1999.

Now, these two teams are going to face off again on Saturday in Auckland ahead of this summer's Women's World Cup. And you can watch that match live on HBO Max.

All right. Finally, President Biden welcoming the reigning NBA champions back to the White House yesterday. The Warriors -- they've won four titles in eight years, but they did not visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while Donald Trump was president.

Steph Curry thanked the administration for its work in bringing WNBA star Brittney Griner home from Russia. He also made this connection between his job and the job of the president.


STEPH CURRY, GUARD, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: For us to be here to find that the common synergies within what we do on the court and what we represent, and when it comes to providing hope, inspiration, belief to everybody that watches us play, that's what you do in role as leading our country. And to continue to do exactly what you say. Do things together. Continue to preach that message. That's what we're all about.



And Christine, good to see teams visiting the White House again --


SCHOLES: -- because there was a while there where it did not happen.

ROMANS: Yes, a bit of a drum (PH).

All right, nice to see you, Andy Scholes. Thank you so much.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Here is today's fast-forward look ahead.

This morning, Brian Walshe will be arraigned in Massachusetts on the arrest warrant charging him with the murder of his wife, Ana Walsh. She has been missing since the new year.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will have his appeal heard today. He wants the court to overturn his conviction for the 2020 murder of George Floyd. The state attorney general expects a ruling by mid-April.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. His wife, Olena, spoke there Tuesday.

All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING," more on the devastating helicopter crash in Ukraine. Ukraine's interior minister killed, along with children on the ground.

And next, right here, consumers fighting back against inflation. Will they win?



ROMANS: All right. Your Romans' Numeral this morning is 20 million, as in $20 million. That's the severance package for ousted Disney chief executive Bob Chapek -- on top of Chapek's pay at $24 million last year, down from $32 the year before.

He took over Disney in February 2020 and was out in November after the board determined he was no longer the right person to serve in the role. His predecessor, Bob Iger, replaced him.

All right, looking at markets around the world right now, European markets are mixed this morning. Inflation in the U.K. coming in at 10 1/2 percent. Wow, that's high, but it's actually cooling for a second month from a 41-year high in October.

On Wall Street, stock index futures right now leaning barely higher. I would call that undecided.

The Dow, yesterday, fell more than one percent after disappointing earnings by Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. But the Nasdaq extended its winning streak -- seven days now.

On inflation watch, gas prices crept higher overnight, now at $3.36 a gallon.

Later this morning, key inflation data -- the Producer Price Index. Year-over-year readings are expected to cool to levels not seen since April 2021. Still high, but cooling. That is the story in inflation.

Also in just a few hours, December retail sales. That's the number that measures spending in stores, online, and in restaurants. Sales fell six-tenths of a percent of November from October. It was the biggest monthly decline last year as sales slowed in holiday-related purchases, in home projects, and autos.

So let's bring in CNN Business reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn. And Nathaniel, it's so interesting. We're seeing this week that a lot of big companies are slowing down their price hikes. They've been raising prices because their prices have been going up.

They're slowing down their price hikes because consumers are balking now. Consumers are getting picky about higher prices. What's happening?

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: So they say that the cure for high prices is high prices, and that's exactly what we're seeing here. Shoppers are turning away from these higher prices. They're kind of revolting in a way, and this is helping slow down inflation. Companies can't pass along these higher prices.

You take a look at general merchandise sales last year. Unit sales, which looks at the number of products shoppers bought, down seven percent. And then, dollar sales down two percent. And that means customers are not buying as much and this is helping slow down inflation.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right, so this other trend -- Best Buy, Starbucks, Dunkin' -- they're changing their rewards programs. Why? And I can imagine some people aren't happy about that.


MEYERSOHN: Keep your hands off my Starbucks rewards points, Christine.

So -- yes, so companies are changing their rewards programs and it has to do with trying to save money with these higher costs. Rewards programs are expensive for companies. They're trying to keep their costs lower.

So, Dunkin', Best Buy, Starbucks -- Starbucks and Dunkin' are making it so you have to earn more points to get free coffee and other freebies. Shoppers are really frustrated by this. And then, Best Buy is making a change where you -- if you want to earn rewards points you have to take out a Best Buy credit card.


MEYERSOHN: People are really frustrated they have to take out another credit card. You have one customer who said it's a very bad idea and he's going to Amazon and Walmart.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right, consumer advocates, meantime, are warning stores against something called digital discrimination with online-only coupons. What does that mean?

MEYERSOHN: So, yes. So, coupons -- print coupon users -- they're also really frustrated right now because more companies are moving away from print coupons and turning them online. But his leaves out people who don't have access to a computer and don't use the internet. And this is a particularly important issue for older customers and for lower-income customers.

Pew says that 39 percent of people over the age of 65 don't own a smartphone. Twenty-five percent don't use an internet. And so, you have consumer advocates warning companies not to move away

from print coupons. And a lawmaker in New Jersey introduced a bill that would require retailers to offer print coupons of the same value as digital coupons.

ROMANS: Interesting.

All right, Nathaniel Meyersohn. Nice to see you. Thank you.

All right, The Wall Street Journal reports Microsoft could announce more layoffs this morning. The tech giant's last round of layoffs were back in June, affecting about one percent of the company's 200,000 workers. Microsoft never disclosed how many positions it cut.

There has been a rash of layoffs in the tech sector due to worries about inflation and the slowing global economy since November. Amazon said it was cutting 18,000 employees. Meta said 11,000. Salesforce is losing 8,000. And again, all through the past couple of years. They have been adding hundreds of thousands of jobs and now they're taking some of those back.

All right, comedian Leslie Jones guest-hosting "THE DAILY SHOW." What she's bringing to the anchor desk ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING."

And the new Corvette, the fastest ever made. What's the secret?



ROMANS: All right, Our Top of the Morning, the top movies and T.V. shows streaming right now.


Clip from Netflix "GLASS ONION."


ROMANS: "GLASS ONION" is number one. The movie tops's most popular list.

A T.V. show takes number two.


Clip from Paramount Pictures "YELLOWSTONE."


ROMANS: Yes, "YELLOWSTONE" now in season five. No spoilers, please. I am not caught up yet. That is a good show.

Here's number three.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) Clip from Searchlight Pictures "THE MENU."


ROMANS: That's "THE MENU" with Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy.

All right, get ready for the fastest Corvette ever. The Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray is a gas-electric hybrid that will start at just over $104,000. Zero to 60 in 2 1/2 seconds. And as a hybrid, it doesn't need to be plugged in to charge. Instead, the lithium-ion battery charges when the car brakes or slows down. It's set to go on sale later this year, 70 years -- exactly 70 years after the very first Corvette was unveiled.

All right, Americans in the south bracing for a new round of thunderstorms threatening large hail, damaging winds, and isolated tornadoes. It's set for some of the same cities that were really just hit hard by deadly severe weather just a week ago.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers joins me now. Chad, what do you think about this new round of storms? Worse than the last?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, considering the last had 35 tornadoes, I would say no. I don't think we have a 35-tornado kind of day today.

We have snow across the northern part of this into parts of Colorado. Snowing in Denver. I-25 very slow this morning.

But there is the area where we are going to see the significant severe weather risk here, and then a fire risk back out to the west because the air is so dry and windy there.

So, storms are already firing up in parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The snow is up there across parts of Nebraska and parts of Kansas, and certainly into northeastern Colorado.

This is where the severe weather will be. And remember that we had -- we have five categories. We had category three last time, where one, two, but there's no three in the middle. I'm not saying that there won't be later on when they do the updates when the sun comes out, if it does, because sun is never a good thing for a severe weather day. Sun always makes the atmosphere more bubbly. And so, you could see the potential for bigger storms if the sun does come out.

Let's take you ahead, though, 10:00 in the morning, and then we move you ahead to the afternoon. You can begin to see the line of weather there across parts of Arkansas. Still snowing across the northern sections here. Snow on the north, severe on the south. That's what we expect.

And then moving you ahead to tomorrow night as rush hour could be a little bit slow in some of these northeastern cities with some rain on the roadways.

So, yes, we do still have those winter storm warnings. This is going to be plowable snow. We're going to be talking about -- you know, I mean, a foot of snow in some of these spots, and maybe even more across parts of central Nebraska, and even on up into parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. No breaking news that it's going to snow in Wisconsin.

But there you go. There is the rain across parts of the Deep South as we expect. Back out to the west, a little bit of light snow. But for the next few days after.