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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Death Toll Tops 16,000 in Turkey-Syria Earthquake Disaster; Biden: Secret Docs "Stray Papers" from Decades Ago; Murdaugh Murder Trial: Could Blue Rain Jacket Be "Smoking Gun" of the Case? Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired February 09, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, time is running out to try to save survivors trapped under rubble in Turkey and Syria.

Plus, President Biden just said more than he's ever said about secret documents found in his home and a private office.

And did a killer somehow use a blue rain coat to hide a literal smoking gun in the murder of Alex Murdaugh's wife and son?


ROMANS: Welcome on to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

The search and rescue operation grows more grim and desperate by the hour in Turkey and Syria, more than 16,000 people have died in the earthquake there and hope is fading that rescuers will find survivors beneath the mountain of rubble. Remarkably, two women in Turkey were found alive Wednesday after 62 hours buried under a collapsed building.

And in Syria, a newborn baby was pulled from the rubble, her mother is believed to have died after giving birth. International search and rescue teams continue to arrive including some from the United States.

I want to bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz. She's live in Istanbul for us.

There has been anger, Salma, over the Turkish government's response to the disaster. What are they saying now?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're now entering the fourth day after this powerful earthquake one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike this region in a century hit. And that means that window, that glimmer of hope is fading. These rescue operations are soon going to turn into recovery operations, Christine, and that is absolutely horrifying for the many, many families that have been desperately waiting for answers.

The Turkish government has simply not been able to fan out across this huge area that has been affected about the size of the state of Nebraska. You have to remember there is over 20 million people affected by this. These numbers are truly difficult to fathom. Nearly 16,000 people killed. Over tens of thousands, nearly 60,000 people wounded, injured, need hospitals and clinics.

President Erdogan has admitted as you said that there were shortcomings. And during his visit yesterday, there were signs that he was trying to quash silence potentially any dissent. Twitter, it was difficult to access it and other social media sites were reporting potential blocks by the Turkish government. That is because of anger and grief you are seeing on the ground. Many Turks feeling that they have been abandoned by the authorities, feeling that this is a country that knows earthquakes are coming and should have been better prepared.

Yes, you mentioned the search and rescue teams coming from all over the world. It is still not enough. The scope and scale of this tragedy is just too huge.

And in further south to Syria, perhaps even more dire. The white helmets, the first responders pulling people out of the rubble saying that they have already pulled hundreds of people out, they have been able to save some, but again that window is closing, and no aid yet. The only open route between Turkey and rebel-held Syria exists. That route was damaged by the earthquake. The latest we have is that it could be functioning now and we may finally see a trickle of help entering Syria.

ROMANS: Just remarkable.

All right. Salma Abdelaziz -- thank you, Salma.

All right. Pennsylvania Democratic Senator John Fetterman is in Washington, D.C. hospital this morning for observation. He was admitted last night after feeling lightheaded. Fetterman was elected in November while recovering from a stroke he suffered in May. A spokesperson says there is no evidence of a new stroke, but Fetterman is undergoing more tests. He is said to be in good spirits and talking with his staff and his family.

President Biden giving his most extensive comments to date on the classified documents found at his home and office in Washington. In a PBS interview, the president downplayed the docs and said aides who packed up his papers were careless.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The best of my knowledge, the kinds of things that they picked up are things from 1974, straight papers. There may be something else that I don't know. But one of the things that happened is that what was not done well is as they packed up my offices to move them, they didn't do the kind of job that should have been done to go through every piece of literature that's there. But I'll just let the investigation decide what is going on and we'll see what happens.


ROMANS: The president was clear that unlike his predecessor, he didn't have to be threatened to cooperate.

One of the questions, will President Biden run for re-election in 2024 when he will be 82 years old? Here is his response to critics about his age.



BIDEN: Watch me. That is all I can say.

INTERVIEWER: It sounds like you are running.

BIDEN: I made that decision. It's my intention I think, but I haven't made that decision permanently yet.


ROMANS: The president is on the road selling voters after his state of the union.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is with the president in Madison, Wisconsin.


NATASHA LOOS, OWNER, CEDARBURG TOY CO.: With any presidency, it's never all good and it's never all bad.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Natasha Loos voted for President Biden and has applauded many of his achievements. But with another campaign looming, she admits she's eager for a fresh start.

LOOS: It always seems like we are trying to do a lesser of, you know, two evils and it would be, in my opinion, lovely if we could have somebody who is not in their 70s and 80s running for president.

I love that.

ZELENY: When we first met Loos at her Wisconsin toy shop, meant she said -- she was grateful Biden had turned the page.

LOOS: Just the tone down of the rhetoric, the not having to be glued to the TV or social media to find out what the latest is going on has been very refreshing.

ZELENY: At the halfway mark of his first term, respect for the president runs deeper than a desire for him to run again, even among his admirers.

Would you like to see him run again?

LUVERDA MARTIN, WISCONSIN VOTER: I'm on the fence. I'm not sure. I'm concerned about his age, not as brilliance or his competence, but his age.

ZELENY: LuVerda Martin commends Biden for his commitment to diversity, restoring the civility, and forgiving student loan debt, but waivers on the prospect of a second term.

MARTIN: You can tell the job has worn him down a little bit, which is where my concern is with him running again. But he is still there, that spark, that fire, that honest gentleman, he is still there.

ZELENY: Inside his Milwaukee brewery, Tim Eichinger said inflation and high interest rates have taken a toll, but he does not blame Biden and hope he runs again.

TIM EICHINGER, CO-OWNER, BLACK HUSKY BREWING: If I were, him I would say heck yeah, I will do this again. I've been doing this for a long time. I finally have gotten my chance, things are moving forward.

ZELENY: As the president came to Wisconsin to sell his State of the Union message, Jonathan Clark worked a few miles away at a custom printing shop. He still remembers Biden's words from the last campaign.

BIDEN: Look, I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else. There's an entire generation of leaders you saw stand behind me.

ZELENY: Back when Clark viewed him as the right man for the job, while he praised Biden's infrastructure law and other points of success. He said 2024 should be a new moment.

BIDEN: He is likely to run for reelection. Do you think he should?

JONATHAN CLARK, WISCONSIN VOTER: No. I think when he ran for office last time, it was talked about being a one term thing and I know he did not commit to that. But I think a lot of people that support the party were hoping that would be the case.


ZELENY (on camera): There is deep admiration for President Biden among his supporters that comes alive in one conversation after another, but there are some questions, some pointed and some private, about whether he is the right man for the moment two years from now.

Of course, all of that is unknowable as the president sets off to sell his State of the Union message traveling to Wisconsin on Wednesday and on to Florida on Thursday, making the case that his agenda is right for the country and that he is the right man for the job in 2024.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Madison, Wisconsin.

ROMANS: All right, Jeff. Thank you for that.

And no regrets from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

That's her heckling President Biden during Tuesday's State of the Union, yelling at one point "you lie". CNN's Melanie Zanona asked her about it.


MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: On Social Security and Medicare, I know that was one of those moments when you said you lie to President Biden, when he said Republicans want to ultimate cut those things. But there is a plan from Senator Rick Scott that would cut those federal programs. So it is not necessarily a lie that Republicans have talked about that in the past.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I haven't been in any meetings in our conference talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare. We're in charge of the budget. We're the one in charge of appropriation bills.

So yes, it is a lie. We've been attacked repeatedly. My image, my pictures of me, my name, Kevin McCarthy's name, many Republicans in the House have been used in this lie that President Biden and other Democrats keep telling. So, no, we aren't planning to cut Social Security, and because I called him a liar on the House, we settled that issue there at the State of the Union.

ZANONA: What cuts do Republicans want to see in this --


ROMANS: Asked whether Kevin McCarthy had any issue with her behavior, Greene said she hadn't heard from him.

President Biden was also asked on PBS about Republican investigations into his son, Hunter.


BIDEN: The public is not going to pay attention to that. They want these guys to do something. If only thing they can do is make up things about my family, it's not going to go very far.


ROMANS: CNN's Sara Murray has more on the contentious hearing under way in the House on the president's son.


REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Each witness will get --


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For House Republicans, a high-profile kickoff into the investigation into the president's son and Twitter.

COMER: The Hunter Biden laptop story was published on Wednesday. Twitter did not acknowledge the mistake for at least 24 hours. MURRAY: Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are making the

still unproven case that Twitter temporarily suppressed a story about Hunter Biden's laptop, ahead of the 2020 election at the behest of the federal government.

COMER: America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news and the intelligence committees to suppress and delegitimize the existence of Hunter Biden's laptop and its contents.

MURRAY: But a trio of former Twitter officials testifying, including deputy counsel James Baker, pushed back on that narrative.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER TWITTER DEPUTY COUNSEL: I'm aware of no unlawful collusion with or direction from any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation.

MURRAY: The former executives also expressed regret over temporarily suppressing the Hunter Biden story.

YOEL ROTH, FORMER TWITTER "HEAD OF TRUST AND SAFETY": I believe Twitter erred in this case because we wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016.

MURRAY: The hearing highlighting the catch-22 for social media platforms. After facing criticism for failing to crack down on foreign governments spreading disinformation in 2016, tech companies are back on the hot seat as Republicans accuse them of censorship, despite the bombastic allegations from Republicans --

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I think you guys got played by the FBI.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): Twitter was basically a subsidiary of the FBI.

MURRAY: The Twitter officials undercut the GOP's claims.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't recall speaking to the FBI at all about the Hunter Biden matter.

MURRAY: This as the Democrats witness a former Twitter employee turned whistle-blower indicated the Trump White House requested the removal of an expletive-laden tweet by celebrity Chrissy Teigen.

ANIKA COLLIER NAVAROLI, FORMER TWITTER EMPLOYEE: I do remember hearing that we had received a request from the White House to make sure that we evaluated this tweet and that they wanted it to come down because it was a derogatory statement directed towards the president.

MURRAY: Something Democrats pointed to as a sign of hypocrisy.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): They made that request.

MURRAY: While Democrats slammed the premise of Wednesday's hearing --

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): It's just an abuse of public resources and abuse of public time.

MURRAY: -- House Oversight Chair James Comer making clear this is just the beginning.

COMER: I can assure you this committee will succeed in holding the Bidens accountable. So much of the evidence of wrongdoing from this family is located in that hard drive that you all led the American people to believe was Russian disinformation.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, despite everything that we've heard about Twitter CEO Elon Musk being in touch with House Republicans, there were relatively few bombshells with new information in Wednesday's hearing. We did hear from Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert who said she had been in touch with Twitter staff and got more information about efforts to suppress her personal account in 2021. And that seemed to wrangle Democrats who said they did not had access to whatever information Boebert was referring.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right, Sara. Thank you.

Still ahead, more from President Biden. Did that spy balloon incident ruin relations with China?

Plus, Kim Jung-un's daughter we think front and center at a lavish military event in North Korea. Will the 9-year-old one day be the next supreme leader?

And do prosecutors have smoking gun evidence at Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial.



ROMANS: All right. Testimony set to resume this morning in Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial. Now, prosecutors focused on what could be a critical find at the home of his mother.

CNN's Randi Kaye is covering the trial for us in South Carolina.


MEGAN FLETCHER, SLED GUNSHOT RESIDUE EXPERT: This jacket is the jacket I examined.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's talking about the rain jacket that was discovered stashed in an upstairs closet at Alex Murdaugh's mother's home. It was found months after the murders of his wife Maggie Murdaugh and their son Paul. Meghan Fletcher a gunshot residue expert for the state told the court she found a significant amount of gunshot residue particles on the inside of that jacket. FLETCHER: I confirmed 38 particles characteristic. Given that it's on the inside, in order for it to be consistent with transfer, an object or objects with a high amount of gunshot primary residue on it would have had to transfer to it.

KAYE: An object like a firearm, as prosecutor John Meadors hinted at with this line of questioning.

JOHN MEADORS, PROSECUTOR: And he had a gun inside that rain jacket that had recently been fired and you were taking it somewhere to hide it or transport it with the 38 particles inside, inside the rain jacket be consistent with transfer from a recently fired firearm?

FLETCHER: That is a possibility, yes, sir.

KAYE: In his opening statement lead prosecutor Creighton Waters promised the jury this evidence was coming. The state's working theory seems to be that be Alex Murdaugh used this rain jacket to wrap up at least one of the murder weapons and after allegedly disposing of them, he stashed this raincoat in his mother's House. A theory the defense tried to knock down.

JIM GRIFFIN, ALEX MURDAUGH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There's no way for you to know when the gunshot primer residue was deposited on the blue rain jacket?

FLETCHER: That's correct.

GRIFFIN: You have no idea how the gunshot primary residue ended up on that garment correct?

FLETCHER: I cannot tell you how it got there.

GRIFFIN: OK. Or when it got there.

FLETCHER: Or when it got there.

KAYE: Alex Murdaugh's former paralegal also testified.

She told the jury about how he allegedly stole from his former law firm. She also identified his voice on a recording taken by Paul Murdaugh on his phone. Prosecutors believe the video was recorded just a few minutes before Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed. When Alex Murdaugh said he wasn't at his family at the dog kennels on the property.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, he's got birds in his mouth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you recognize any voices in the video?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And tell me who you hear. GRISWOLD: I hear Paul Murdaugh, Maggie Murdaugh and Alex Murdaugh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how sure are you?


GRISWOLD: I'm 100 percent sure.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Walterboro, South Carolina.


ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in criminal defense attorney and former assistant district attorney Julius Kim.

Julius, thank you so much.

OK. So the jury heard the CFO of the law firm testify after the judge allowed that the financial crimes alleged in Alex Murdaugh's world could be allowed in this murder trial. How do you think the prosecution is going to add that information into their argument?

JULIUS KIM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good morning, Christine. That was very crucial piece of evidence that the judge allowed in to this particular trial because in every criminal case especially a murder case, we're wondering what the motive may have been. And here the financial crimes, the financial aspect of this entire situation is very strong evidence according to the prosecution as to why Alex Murdaugh murdered his wife and son, and that is to distract people from his financial crimes in order to give him breathing room to maybe continue hiding what he has been doing or to come up with a better plan.

ROMANS: OK. So Alex Murdaugh said he had left the kennels and went to visit his mother briefly and came back and found the bodies. Now there is this video three minutes before the murder of a dog that his son Paul was boarding or taking care of and the fourth person has identified Alex Murdaugh's voice on that video in the kennel.

What do you make of that?

KIM: Well, it is pretty strong. Four separate individuals that have identified Alex Murdaugh voice on that video which is not consistent with Alex Murdaugh's statement. He indicated that he was gone at the time of the murders and they pinpoint this video to being just a few minutes before the murders actually took place.

And the fact that four people who have been around Alex Murdaugh a long time and positively identified his voice is pretty damning. It undermines Alex Murdaugh's alibi. And so I think that it will be hurtful to his defense.

ROMANS: There is a lot of circumstantial evidence but it puts him at the scene three minutes before the murders.

KIM: It does. And that is -- you know, in a circumstantial case the state isn't have any direct evidence that Alex Murdaugh committed these crimes, but it will have to build this logical conclusion for the jury and the fact that this video was presented and that Alex Murdaugh's voice was on it is part of that building process.

ROMANS: The prosecution is showing this blue raincoat and this testimony that perhaps -- the insinuation is that he wrapped up a firearm in this raincoat and stashed it at his mother's home.

This is however a household with numerous guns and shootings that happened all time. This is a very -- a lot of sport shooting happening in that family. What do you think the defense can do to try to poke holes in this also powerful evidence?

KIM: I think that they already did a pretty good job of pointing out that very fact, that the Murdaugh family has used firearms for sport on many occasions and that that raincoat in and of itself with the gunshot residue doesn't mean Alex Murdaugh is guilty, but it's just another piece of this puzzle, another brick to the house that the prosecutor is trying to build. The housekeeper also indicated that she thought she saw him move this into the house a week after the murders. So that begs the question what was going on there so all part of the circumstantial case.

ROMANS: Yeah, it is a case with so many layers that it is just incredible to watch.

Julius Kim, thank you so much. Have a nice day.

KIM: You, too. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

Reports of multiple tornadoes destroying homes in Louisiana. And the Mississippi Valley, at least 2 million people are under tornado alerts.

One person is dead, five others injured in Baltimore, police say the driver of a stolen car attempting to flee slammed into a second car and then both crashed into a building causing it to collapse.

NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert arrested while covering the Ohio governor's press conference on train derailment. Lambert has been released from jail. Governor Mike DeWine says police were wrong to arrest him.

All right. Just ahead, dark times for thousands of workers at Wednesday. Job cuts are coming.

And three tons of cocaine found just floating in the ocean.



ROMANS: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un showing off his newest ballistic missiles at a military parade in Pyongyang. Also seen there, a 9-year-old girl believed to be his daughter fueling speculation perhaps that she will one day be his successor.

Let's bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks.

Paula, as far as North Korea stage craft goes, the parade not unusual, but the child's appearance is. What are we learning?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, this is the first time in North Korea's history that one of the leaders has taken a child to see one of these really spectacular military parades. And it is remarkable images that we have been seeing state run media playing that footage as we speak.

And it shows at the beginning Kim Jung-un, his wife and his daughter believed to be about 9 or 10 years old walking town ado red carpet and smiling and clapping as she is seeing thousands of soldiers and weaponry being paraded this front of her. So really quite remarkable. And, of course, it is fueling even more speculation that she may be being groomed for succession.

Now, we simply don't know at this point, but this is the fifth time we've heard about her being seen in public.