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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Iranian Couple Gets 10+ Years In Prison For Posting Dance Video; CNN On The Front Line Of Intense Fighting In Eastern Ukraine; Epic Arctic Outbreak Forecast For The Northeast. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 02, 2023 - 05:30   ET



SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the response from authorities was to raid their home and to take this couple in detention. They were denied access to a lawyer, according to human rights groups, given very little in the way of due process or a fair trial, and eventually brought in front of this very notorious judge -- Judge Abolqasem Salavati.

And I say his name because he is someone who has been sanctioned directly by the United States. He's been called the judge of death by rights groups because he's known for handing down these very lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty in cases of protest.

But yet again you're looking at this beautiful young couple now spending 10 years potentially in jail all because they danced in the streets of Tehran.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much for that. Keep us posted if we learn any more.

All right. Trench warfare and rocket fire mark a grim and bloody standoff in the eastern Donetsk region in Ukraine where several towns have seen combat for much of the war. The fighting and the elements are fierce.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is on the front line of what's being called hell in the east.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): All-out winter warfare on the eastern front. We're in a trench with Ukrainian paratroopers. They fire on Russian positions using AKs and a U.S.-supplied Browning heavy machine gun.

BOGDAN, UKRAINIAN COMMANDER: (Speaking foreign language).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): "They're searching for weak spots in our positions," says the commander. "Call sign ghost. They want to see if we fight back. If we show strong resistance, though, they don't advance." And this is what strong resistance looks like. The Russians are only about 400 yards away hidden in the snow and fog but constantly firing at the entrenched Ukrainians.

BOGDAN: (Speaking foreign language).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): "The enemy uses all kinds of weapons," Bogdan says. "Small arms, heavy machine guns, artillery, mortars, rocket launchers, and aviation as well." But so far, the Ukrainians say they haven't lost an inch of territory here.

PLEITGEN (on camera): The Ukrainians say the situation here is reminiscent of some of the worst times in World War II where they're not only fighting a strong adversary but the elements as well.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The snow, the mud, and the cold make fighting here even tougher. And Ukraine's leadership believes the Russians will soon escalate even more after mobilizing hundreds of thousands of men for a likely spring offensive.

But this gunner who goes by the name Deputy says the paratroopers are ready.

DEPUTY, UKRAINIAN GUNNER: (Speaking foreign language).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): "It will be hard," he says. "It will be tough but we will hold because we stand here for our land. If we don't do it nobody will."

There's a visceral hatred towards Moscow's leaders among these men.

BOGDAN: (Speaking foreign language).

PLEITGEN (voice-over): "In Russia, they have a terrorist dictatorial regime," Bogdan says. "So now the civilized world is fighting against this wild medieval dictatorship."

As we prepare to leave, incoming grenades explode above. And this, the men say, is a relatively quiet day. They expect much worse in the months to come but their motto is "If not us, who else?"

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Krasnohorivka, Ukraine.


ROMANS: Fred, thank you for that.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

Israeli warplanes bombing the Gaza Strip early this morning. Israeli defense forces claiming the strikes were in response to a Hamas rocket that was intercepted on Wednesday.

North Korea threatening an all-out showdown after South Korea and the U.S. staged joint air drills featuring strategic bombers and stealth fighters. Pyongyang warns it will quote "deter" the U.S. if exercises continue.

Australia is removing the British monarchy from its five-dollar bill -- the last banknote to bear Queen Elizabeth's image. It will be replaced with an indigenous design. King Charles will still be on the country's coins.

Your kids might tell you Facebook is so yesterday. New numbers from the company show it's anything but.

And stop me if you've heard this before -- Tom Brady retiring. No, really retiring -- we think.



ROMANS: All right. The sports world and everybody else is reacting to the news that Tom Brady is hanging up his cleats again, and this time it is for good.

Andy Scholes is here with --


ROMANS: -- this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.

SCHOLES: Yes, good morning, Christine.

You know, today is Groundhog Day, and if it feels like we've done this before it's because we have. One year ago this morning we were in the same position reporting on the retirement of arguably the greatest of all time, Tom Brady. The seven-time Super Bowl champ taking to social media yesterday to make the announcement for the second time. And this time he says it is for good.

And, of course, reaction starting pouring in. The Broncos tweeting a shot of Brady and Peyton Manning with the caption "Good thing we always seem to have this photo available. Please don't make us use it again."

Rob Gronkowski, Brady's teammate on the Patriots and Buccaneers posting, "Tommy, since I already wrote you a long retirement message last year, this time I shall say welcome to the two-time retirement club. You're a legend and you will always be my friend."

The Patriots and owner Robert Kraft tweeting "No player in NFL history has done it as well for so long as Tom Brady. He is the fiercest competitor I have ever known and the ultimate champion."

And Kraft -- he will share his memories of Brady in a live interview in the 8:00 a.m. eastern hour of "CNN THIS MORNING." You won't want to miss that.

All right, in the NBA last night, Steph Curry and the Warriors playing in Minnesota. Steph tying the game at 110 right here with a minute-39 to go. Then he had a chance to win it in the closing seconds but his shot no good. Steph had 29 but went cold in overtime and missed all three of his shots.

And Naz Reid putting the game away, getting his own rebound here, and then throwing it down as the T-wolves won that one 119-114.


The Blazers' Damian Lillard, meanwhile, showing off his range in a big way against the Grizzlies. Check out this shot at the end of the third from beyond the opposite free-throw line. Unfortunately, it did not count. But fortunately for Lillard, he made plenty of other shots, scoring 42 points as Portland beat Memphis 122-112.

All right. If you arrived late to TD Garden in Boston last night, the game with the Nets -- well, it was already over by the time you made it to your seats. The Celtics storming out to a 30-point first-quarter lead. And they would lead by as many as 49 in the game and would win easily 139-96.

A funny moment in the fourth quarter. A ball boy was wiping up a wet spot when the action came back his way. He had to sprint off the court. The Celtics players on the bench catching him and they all had a nice laugh of a photographer showing the ball boy some of the footage.

And Christine, I was a former Rockets ball boy. I've been there. One of the scariest situations is if you're out there on the court and the action starts heading your way and you've got to run off. So I'm happy he made it and knowing it all was good.

ROMANS: That's awesome. All right, nice to see you, Andy Scholes.

SCHOLES: All right.

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

The judge in the Alex Murdaugh trial is expected to rule this morning whether evidence from the financial crimes Murdaugh is accused of will be allowed into the record for his murder case.

President Biden hosts Jordan's King Abdullah at the White House today as tensions escalate in the Mideast. The king met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a prediction.


ROMANS: OK, so what will Punxsutawney Phil predict today? We'll see the famous groundhog at Gobbler's Knob less than an hour from now.

Head prosecutors are taking a close look at the police reports filed after Tyre Nichols' beating death. Do they match what's seen on the video?

And next, help wanted in America. Eleven million jobs to fill.



ROMANS: Your Romans' Numeral this morning, 11 million, as in job openings in America -- the most since July. That's a lot of help- wanted signs. Almost two open jobs for every person looking for work. It's a jump from 10.4 million open jobs just in November.

Big increases in help-wanted signs in accommodation and food services, retail trade, and construction. It's the latest sign of a tight jobs market.

Looking at markets around the world this morning, European stocks are higher. Investors awaiting a European central bank decision later today. The Bank of England also expected to raise rates for the 10th time in a row.

On Wall Street, stock index futures right now narrowly mixed here after a big rally on the Fed's decision to slow the pace of interest rate hikes. The Nasdaq closed two percent higher. The Dow reversed a 500-point drop earlier in the day.

The Fed approved a 25-basis point hike -- a sign medicine is starting to cool inflation may finally be working.

A big tech earnings day is upon us, too. Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, and Starbucks set to report later today.

On inflation watch, gas prices holding steady overnight at $3.50 a gallon.

All right, Facebook parent company Meta -- the stock is a big mover overnight. Shares rocketing nearly 20 percent higher in after-hours trading. It's the third-straight quarterly decline in revenue, the company reported. But Wall Street seems to think Mark Zuckerberg is finally speaking their language.

Joining me now is CNN Business writer Clare Duffy. And Clare, Meta had a brutal year in terms of profit and the stock lost $600 billion in value. So what changed overnight with his report?

CLARE DUFFY, CNN BUSINESS WRITER: Yes, it's interesting Christine because the results really weren't that great. As you said, the third consecutive revenue decline. They posted a double-digit decline in profits.

But Wall Street seems to be latching on to this fact that Mark Zuckerberg seems to really have changed his tone last night. He is known for talking about wanting to make big investments. Talking about the future of the company and this future version of the internet called the Metaverse.

But last night he didn't talk very much about all of that. Instead, what he talked about is the fact that the company wants to focus on efficiency this year. The company, in November, laid off 11,000 workers. And he talked last night a lot about the cost savings that the company wants to make in the next year.

ROMANS: "...and we're focused on becoming a stronger and more nimble organization." "Year of Efficiency." They've already laid some people off, so Wall Street has been liking the talk about efficiency.

Another big win I guess for Meta -- Facebook now is, what, two billion daily active users?

DUFFY: Exactly, two billion daily active users. It was a four percent jump from last year. And this is a really good sign for the company after there were concerns last year that Facebook had become sort of this stodgy, old platform that wasn't going to keep growing. It's been -- it's been struggling with competition from TikTok, especially. Young people just don't seem to want to be on Facebook.

But the company has made some changes in the last year in a lot of ways, making Facebook a bit more like Instagram and introducing reels and recommended content, and it seems to be paying off.

ROMANS: All right, nice to see you, Clare Duffy.

DUFFY: Thank you.

ROMANS: Thank you so much for coming in this morning.

All right, now the big picture on the U.S. economy. Let's bring in Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Asset Management. Nice to see you again, Seema. Thank you for joining us.


ROMANS: All right. So the Fed raised interest rates again but the smallest hike since March. Here's the Fed chief yesterday.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: We continue to anticipate that ongoing increases will be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to two percent over time.


ROMANS: So, Seema, I guess the Fed's not done but acknowledged that inflation has peaked in parts of the economy. What's your takeaway?

SHAH: Yes, yesterday was very interesting. I mean, Powell started off the meeting very hawkish, as you said, indicating that there's further rate hikes still to come. But then as the press conference continued he sounded a little bit more dovish as each minute went.

So what we see now is that the market is saying that although there may be one or two more rate hikes still to come it looks like, because inflation has started to decelerate and the Fed feels somewhat confident about that, you could actually be looking at rate cuts like the -- the market is continuing to see that many people in the street, including ourselves, have a slightly different view.


But we have to acknowledge that Powell seems like he's opened the door a little bit to rate cuts this year.

ROMANS: Yes. And we're looking right now on the screen. One inflation gauge, sort of, super-core inflation. The three-month annualized return of CPI is actually right back near the Fed's target. But the Fed chief yesterday did note that other parts of the economy are now showing really any disinflation yet.

So what kind of data do you think Powell and company are going to pay most attention to determining the next move?

SHAH: Right. So data dependency -- that has been the key message and I think now more than any time over the last year that is really going to be important.

So what they're going to be watching is, of course, all of the inflation numbers. But specifically, they're really looking at the labor market because they want to see what's happening with wage pressures. So they'll be watching things like the jobs report, of course, tomorrow. They'll be looking at the payroll numbers.

But particularly, we're going to be watching average hourly earnings because that's going to give us a clear indication of whether or not wage pressures are coming down even as the labor market stays very tight. And the importance of that bit is that if they are able to bring down wage pressures fairly well while the labor market stays strong, that means that they can potentially achieve this soft landing that they've been aiming for. But it would be unlikely because history tells us that that's very, very rare. But certainly, it's -- it is a possibility.

ROMANS: So we saw also 11 million job openings. Almost two jobseekers -- or jobs for every one jobseeker. We get that jobs report tomorrow that might show some slowing of growth but still a solid labor market. The Fed chief says the labor market is strong.

Do you think the Fed wants to see a weaker job market?

SHAH: I think it's, unfortunately, one of the requirements in order to bring down inflation to healthier levels. I think the hope though is that they can avoid seeing a major, major softening in the labor market.

So they are hoping that they can get to some kind of happy medium where you do start to see job openings coming down because more and more people are returning to the labor market. And if they can do that then you don't necessarily need to see as many job losses as you typically would after this aggressive hiking cycle. ROMANS: It's so interesting. We've seen the Fed aggressively raising official interest rates. We've seen bank savings rates only go up a little bit. I mean, it feels as though the higher interest rates have been more a burden on Main Street in terms of higher borrowing costs and not necessarily a boon in terms of savings yet.

Is that going to change?

SHAH: Well, so, you're right. I mean, if you look at the topline economic data that keeps coming through it does look fairly robust but we are starting to see signs of weakness under the surface. So as you said about the savings rate.

But what have seen is that actually, extra savings which had served during the COVID era -- COVID period has now started to come down fairly rapidly. And most importantly, credit card balances have started to increase, which is suggesting that there are strains starting to build.

So you do start to see that there is weakness beginning to come through. It's just dependent on kind of what level of weakness that we should anticipate.

ROMANS: Yes. People are spending a little bit less, they're saving a little bit more, and maybe acting a little more defensively as we head into uncertainty this year.

Seema Shah, nice to see you. Thank you so much.

SHAH: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right.

Next, Hunter Biden fighting back. The new investigation he's now demanding next on "CNN THIS MORNING."



ROMANS: Beyonce is going on a world tour, but is Ticketmaster?


BEYONCE, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Singing "Summer Renaissance."


ROMANS: Queen Bey announcing her Renaissance World Tour Wednesday. It's 41 shows starting in Stockholm May 10 and wrapping up in New Orleans September 27. It's Beyonce's first solo tour in more than six years. Some fans are already worried about the rush for tickets after the Taylor Swift Ticketmaster fiasco.

Our top of the morning, the top-grossing concert tours of all time.

Here's number one.


ELTON JOHN, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Singing "Yellow Brick Road."


ROMANS: Elton John's Farewell Yellow Brick Road World Tour. That began in 2018 and is still going -- $818 million over 278 shows and counting.




ROMANS: Ed Sheeran's Divide Tour is number two, grossing $776 million before it wrapped in 2019.

Here's number three.


U2, ROCK BAND: Singing "Where the Streets Have No Name."


ROMANS: One of my personal favorites. U2's 360-Degrees Tour hit the road to the tune of $736 million. That was back in 2009.

All right, the northeast is bracing for a ferocious arctic blast. Parts of New England could see wind chills near -- get this -- minus 60. That's right -- near 60 below zero.

Let's get to meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, the National Weather Service calling this an epic generational arctic outbreak.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right, and that generation is between 25 and 30 years. That's a typical generation, right? Not even the "Maine Cabin Masters" are going to want out in this here with windchills of 60 below in Maine, New Hampshire, and parts of Vermont.

It's still icing across parts of the Deep South but that's the minor story compared to what's going on here in the northeast for the next couple of days. Windchills all the way down to Albany will be 35 degrees below zero.

This is a pets, people, and property type of storm. You must really prepare for this. It's a quick blast. It will only last 36 hours but it's the coldest air in the northern hemisphere and it will run right across New England and probably going to sneak all the way down even to parts of Pennsylvania. It's significantly cooler there.

Temperatures right now not bad, but look what happens in just 24 hours. Temperatures really go down. Now, in New York, it does warm up but you have a couple of very cold days in store for you.

"CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.