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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Former Governor Nikki Haley Announces White House Bid; DOJ Tells Court There's Evidence of a Crime in Bid to Force Answers from Trump Attorney; Alex Murdaugh's Attorneys Considering Putting Him on Stand; Report: Russia Detaining Thousands of Ukrainian Children. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 15, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the Republican race for president, Trump and Haley are in. Who's next?



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Wouldn't you like to know?


ROMANS: Plus, the plea deal that allowed the Michigan state gunman to legally buy guns before his campus rampage.

And the risky move defense lawyers could make in the Alex Murdaugh trial. Will they put him on the stand in his own defense?


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

There are not two Republicans in the 2024 race for the White House. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley kicks off her bid for the presidency in a matter of hours. She'll become the first major rival to challenge her ex-boss, former President Trump for the GOP nomination.


NIKKI HALEY (R), FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: It's a time for a new generation of leadership, to rediscover fiscal responsibility, secure our border and strengthen our country, our pride and our purpose.


ROMANS: The Haley campaign launch gets underway, today, in a Charleston South Carolina. CNN's Kylie Atwood is there.


HALEY: I'm Nikki Haley, and I'm running for president.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley telling her story to the American people as a presidential candidate for the first time.

HALEY: I was the proud daughter of -- not black, not white, I was different. But my mom would always say your job is not to focus on the differences but the similarities. And my parents reminded me and my siblings every day how blessed we were to live in America.

ATWOOD: The 51-year-old, casting herself as the future of the Republican Party.

HALEY: It's time for a new generation of leadership.

ATWOOD: Urging the GOP to chart a new course.

HALEY: Republicans have lost a popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections.

ATWOOD: In highlighting her accomplishments, as a two term governor of South Carolina, the state where she was born and raised.

HALEY: Every day is a great day in South Carolina.

ATWOOD: Cutting taxes and leading her state through the aftermath of the 2015 deadly shooting by a white supremacist, at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

HALEY: We turned away from fear, towards God.

ATWOOD: At the time, really confronted a controversial issue, spearheading efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the state capital.

HALEY: The biggest reason that I ask for the flag to come down is that I cannot look my children in the face and justified standing there.

ATWOOD: In her announcement, Haley also nodding to her experience in the world stage, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

HALEY: China and Russia are on the march. They all think that we can be bullied, kicked around, you should know this about me -- I don't put up with bullies. And when you kickback, it hurts them or if you're wearing heels.

ATWOOD: But no mention of former President Trump, who tapped her for that role.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I just want to thank Nikki. ATWOOD: Haley's entrance prompting praise from Republicans.

REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): She's got all the qualifications to run for president.

ATWOOD: Even as some are concerned that a crowded primary could benefit former President Trump.

MACE: To see someone, see some of the leadership coming out of south, as exciting. But I do have concerns if there are too many people on the ballot by the time it gets to South Carolina that, you know, it lessens the chances of anyone sort of coming out in this thing.


ATWOOD (on camera): And, on Wednesday, Nikki Haley will make her pitch in person for the first time here in South Carolina, which is her home state. And, then she's off to the races, headed to New Hampshire, Iowa, to continue campaigning.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Charleston, South Carolina.

ROMANS: All right. Former Vice President Mike Pence hits the road today with visits to Minneapolis and Cedar Rapids. Pence is mulling a potential presidential run in 2024.

CNN has learned he plans to fight a recent subpoena from the special counsel, investigating former President Trump's post-2020 election activities. Sources say Pence plans to argue he was president of the Senate at the time, which shields him from having to comply.

But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis not officially in the 2024 race yet, and not giving any hints to reporters.


REPORTER: Nikki Haley announced her presidential run today. Do you plan on following suit?


DESANTIS: Wouldn't you like to know?


ROMANS: Big laugh there.

Polls show the 2024 Republican primary is a two-man contest between former President Trump and DeSantis, with both men pulling over 30 percent, nationally.

Prosecutors investigating former President Trump's handling of classified documents say that they have evidence of a crime. They're asking a court to force his attorney Evan Corcoran to give additional testimony. Corcoran already testified before a grand jury for four hours. [05:05:02]

Prosecutors are trying to overcome the shield of attorney-client privilege, alleging Trump used Corcoran in the furtherance of a crime or fraud. A spokesman for the former president calls the move a witch hunt.

All right. Alex Murdaugh's double murder trial resumes this morning with his attorneys now thinking about putting him on the stand in his own defense. The court heard from the sister-in-law about some of the strange comments Alex made to her after the murders.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more.


MARIAN PROCTOR, SISTER OF MAGGIE MURDAUGH: She loved her family. She loved her boys.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maggie Murdaugh's sister, on the witness stand, just feet away from the man accused of taking the lives of her sister and her nephew, Paul Murdaugh. Marian Proctor shared in court that Maggie told her Alex had specifically requested she and Paul go to the family's hunting property that night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said that Alex wanted her to come home that night?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what was your understanding of Maggie's intent or what they were going to do that night?

PROCTOR: I was under the impression they were going over to Almeda to visit his parents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You encouraged her to go to Moza (ph)?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that the last time you talked to her?


KAYE: Proctor shared how she felt after learning about their deaths.

PROCTOR: I just couldn't believe it. I didn't think it was true.

KAYE: Maggie Murdaugh's sister testified about what she described as an odd conversation she had with Alex in the days following the murders. She said when she asked him if Maggie and Paul had suffered, he assured her they did not.

Then this -- PROCTOR: I asked him, I said, Alex, do you have any idea who's done this? And I said, we have got to find out who could do this. And he said that he did not know who it was, but he felt like whoever did it had thought about it for a really long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That strike you as odd?

PROCTOR: I just didn't know what that meant.

KAYE: She also testified following the murders, Alex seemed focused on resolving a boat lawsuit his son Paul was involved in.

PROCTOR: We would talk about the boat case and he was very intent on clearing Paul's name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did he say?

PROCTOR: He said that his number one goal was clearing Paul's name. And I thought that was so strange because my number one goal was to find out who killed my sister and Paul.

KAYE: Regarding his whereabouts the night of the murders, Maggie's sister told the jury that Alex told her family that he had not gone to the dog kennels where the murders took place earlier that night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then he said he never went to the kennels?

PROCTOR: Correct.

KAYE: Keep in mind, Alex told investigators he wasn't at the kennels either until much later that night, when he found his wife and son dead. Yet the state and more than half a dozen witnesses have identified his voice on a recording taken at the kennels around the time of the murders.

The recording was discovered on Paul Murdaugh's cell phone months after the murders. On cross examination, the defense talked about Maggie being part of a loving family and how poorly Alex was coping with the murders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alex, was he grieving greatly?

PROCTOR: Terribly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And people have --

PROCTOR: Withdraw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- described him as being destroyed, is that -- would you agree with that assessment?


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

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: All right. Randi, thank you for that.

A new report accuses Vladimir Putin of holding Ukrainian children in defensive camps. The study's author calling it, quote, a gigantic Amber Alert on Ukrainian children.

CNN's Clare Sebastian live in London.

These are thousands of children, this report reveals. What else do we know?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, this report paints a pretty frankly dystopian view of Russia, potentially using Ukraine's youngest citizens to further the aims of the war. The report comes from the conflict observatory by the humanitarian research lab backed by the State Department.

And they say they have evidence that it least 6,000 Ukrainian children, at some point in the last, year in Russian custody and by custody they mean that these camps that they have identified, essentially 43 facilities, they say that number could be much higher whose primary purpose is the political reeducation, the report says of these children, exposing them to patriotic cultural Russia's-centric material. And, in two cases, in two of these camps to sort of military education even including the use of firearms.

Take a listen to what Ned Price, the State Department spokesperson, had to say about this.



NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The network of facilities which these children are sent is vast, expanding from Russia occupied Crimea across Russia itself from the Black sea region to its far east.

Putin seeks to rob Ukraine of its future by taking its children. Russia's system of force relocation, reeducation and adoption of Ukraine's children is a key element of the Kremlin's systematic efforts to deny and suppress Ukraine's identity, its history and its culture.


SEBASTIAN: Well, Russia, meanwhile via the Russian embassy in Washington has called the claims absurd saying that it accepts families, children including fleeing what it calls the atrocities committed by the armed forces in Ukraine and ensures the protection of their lives and well-being -- Christine.

ROMANS: Certainly disturbing report.

All right. Clare Sebastian, thank you so much.

Next, new information about the Michigan State shooter and how he got his guns.

Plus, desperation rising in Turkey and Syria, where aide is slow to arrive for earthquake victims.

And, the one country where credit cards are quickly becoming useless.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

Michigan State University has now identified the three students killed Monday night by campus gunman. Junior Arielle Anderson, sophomore Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner, also a junior. Five other students remain in the hospital, in critical condition.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus has more on what happened and the investigation into the shooter.


POLICE: We're going to need multiple, multiple ambulances.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The shootings at Michigan State University left three students dead and five others critically injured. Brian Fraser, a sophomore, and Alexandria Verner, a junior, were among those killed.

The gunman, 43-year-old Anthony McRae, first opened fire on the campus Monday just before 8:30 p.m.


CALLER: There's still people down there trying to get out.

BROADDUS: Shooting at two location locations, the first inside a classroom at Berkey Hall.

INTERIM DEPUTY CHIEF CHRIS ROZMAN, MSU DEPT. OF POLICE & PUBLIC SAFETY: While the officers were managing that scene at the hall, we began receiving additional reports of another shooting at the MSU Union Building.

POLICE: I'm coming down stairwell 13 with seven people.

BROADDUS: New video shows students hiding in a classroom, reacting to a knock while on the phone with police.

STUDENTS: Don't open the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) door! Get the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) down! They said don't open the door!

BROADDUS: One witness to the shooting says his fight-or-flight response kicked in. DOMINIK MOLOTKY, STUDENT, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: I went to the

far side of the class and ducked down, and he came in and shot three to four times in our classroom.

BROADDUS: Police released a photo of the shooter taken from campus security cameras and a caller's tip sent them to Lansing, Michigan.

MODERATOR: It's going to be a suspect wearing red shoes and a backpack.

BROADDUS: The search ended just before midnight.

POLICE: Shots fired.

POLICE: Shots fired, 23:49, subject down.

BROADDUS: Police said the gunman shot himself during a confrontation and died.

ROZMAN: We have absolutely no idea what the motive was at this point. We can confirm that the 43-year-old suspect had no affiliation to the university. He was not a student, faculty, staff, current or previous.

BROADDUS: According to police, they're now investigating a two-page note found in the gunman's backpack, saying he's going to, quote, finish off Lansing and that there are, quote, 20 of him who will carry out shootings, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Law enforcement now investigating a local residents, where the gunmen's father says he lived with him but. And two weapons. The shooter purchased two handguns in Michigan in 2021, a law enforcement source tells CNN.

ROZMAN: We do have at least one weapon.

BROADDUS: The gunman had been arrested before. He was released from probation in May of 2021 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for possession of a loaded firearm. MSU students are now dealing with what's next after spending hours hiding from a gunman.

GRAHAM DIEDRICH, STUDENT, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: We took heavy furniture from around the library and just barricaded ourselves into a study room to make sure we were safe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was, like, shaking in the bathroom, and it was just terrible. Just, like, preparing myself for, like, the worst thing ever.

BROADDUS: Despite the tough circumstances, there's one greeting among all Spartans that still unites them.

Go, green!


BROADDUS: You guys smiled instantly. KELLY WEBB, STUDENT, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: As horrible and

disgusting and tragic as that was, we are all in it together and everyone was here for each other.


BROADDUS (on camera): And that's a greeting that made them smile today, and it's one they learned during the freshman orientation. And it was needed, especially as the students learn more about that 43- year-old shooter, who police say had a note in his pocket threatening not one but two schools in New Jersey. And out of an abundance of caution, at least one of those schools did cancel classes on Tuesday. But police say there was no threat. They did say however that the 43- year-old shooter has ties to New Jersey.

Adrienne Broaddus, CNN, East Lansing.

ROMANS: All right, let's bring in senior news writer of "The Trace", Jennifer Mascia.

So nice to see you this morning, again, under terrible circumstances. Let's talk about the shooter, suspected shooter. We know he was arrested in 2019, charged with felony, carrying a concealed weapon. They didn't have a weapon permit, but a change to a misdemeanor.

Then, when he was discharged for probation, he was able to legally prestigious and possess a firearm again.

I guess, Jennifer, that shows you that the bar is really high in this country to disarm someone.

JENNIFER MASCIA, SENIOR NEWS WRITER, THE TRACE: Yes, here we have yet another example as we did in California with Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, of how hard it is to disarm somebody in America, today, even if they display behavioral warning signs and, even if they have a criminal history.

So, this gunman, in 2019, was a registered handgun owner. He was caught carrying a gun without a concealed carry department in public.


So he was charged with a felony. But, as often happens with gun charges, you, know prosecutors want to close cases, so, to avoid a trial, they'll offer a plea deal. And a lot of, times those gun charges are reduced to a misdemeanor, and that is exactly how he was able to avoid the selling gun ban. If you commit a crime that's punishable by more than imprison, that triggers the gun ban.

Because he got probation, he was able to avoid that. So even though he had mental health disturbances and a criminal history, the second he was off probation, he could buy a gun.

ROMANS: You know, Jennifer, "Washington Post" analysis counts 366 school shootings since the massacre in 1999. And here's East Lansing's mayor after that shooting at Michigan state. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RON BACON, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN: We now have a complete generation that's going up with, this many times over as just a part of from elementary school all the way up to now and we're now looking at this as a college level as well. So, they level this the entire time.


ROMANS: An entire generation of kids, who gun violence every day currency in their life. And, we know that there were kids there who experienced, who have experienced mass shootings twice in their life. I, guess what does that say about the debate here today?

MASCIA: Well, I -- by my count, there were at least four students at MSU who were survivors of previous mass shootings. One from Sandy Hook, and three from the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan, last 2021.

So, I did not grow up with this, I think the generation after Columbine, you know, if you're into school at that time, you're used to, this is becoming your normal. Active shooter drills, threats of guns near campus that shut down school. And, now unfortunately, tragically, these school shootings.

You, know we have kind of a limited window where this becomes normal for kids and they just developed a callous and it just becomes something that they have to deal with. But people who did not grow up with that, that is a lot to swallow. So, now you have people who have been through multiple mass shootings.

And in America, actually, we have at least two dozen days throughout the year that have anniversaries of more than one mass shooting. So you could see how this is exhilarating and becoming the new normal for kids.

ROMANS: Wow, and then that begs the question, why and how do we fix it and that is a longer conversation with all kinds of pitfalls. No question.

Jennifer Mascia, so nice to see you. Thank you.

MASCIA: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

A Georgia police officer fired and facing felony charges connected to a missing 16-year-old girl whose remains have not been found. Suzanne Morales was reported missing last July.

The NTSB says that the videos of the Ohio toxic train disaster shows a wheel bearing overheating ahead of that accident. Hazardous chemicals spilled in some waterways in the area are still contaminated.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California announcing she will not seek reelection in 2024, the 89 year old tells colleagues that the recent death of her husband as had a powerful impact on her.

Coming up, how the assassination of Haiti's president led federal agents to Florida, and senators zero in on safety in the skies.



ROMANS: The death toll climbed to more than 41,000 after the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey and Syria. It reduced entire cities to piles of rocks and debris. Desperation has grown, even as rescuers are, somehow, finding people still alive in this rubble. Two people pulled out in just the past few hours.

CNN's Nada Bashir live in Istanbul.

And, Nada, crews are still looking to save people, aren't they?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: They really are. And it is remarkable that this far on, the earthquake has struck, and they are still finding survivors, search and rescue teams say they're still hearing voices beneath the rubble. Just in the last few hours, 45 year old woman was pulled out of the rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras, 222 hours after being buried beneath the rubble.

This is truly remarkable. But it has to be said that the window for finding survivors is closing quickly. And, now, there is a focused shift to supporting those who survived the earthquake. And now left devastated, homeless and nothing. Take a look.


BASHIR (on camera): More than a week on and the scale of the destruction is still difficult to grasp. The landscape permanently changed. The death toll still rising. Those who made it out alive, now grappling with a devastating new reality.

For Semir and Amal, it is a reality that is painful to come to terms with. They've fled their apartment with three-year-old Lena (ph) and seven-year-old Yussuf (ph) seconds before the building collapsed.

Now, they found temporary shelter in the home of one generous Istanbul resident living overseas. But their trauma is difficult to overcome, and memories of the quake still haunt the family.

SEMIR CEKIC, EVACUATED FROM QUAKE ZONE (through translator): Our friends and relatives are still under the rubble. The whole family is gone.

AMAL CEKIC, EVACUATED FROM QUAKE ZONE (through translator): Yussuf tells me, mom, I don't have a room, I don't have a house, no toys, no friends. I want to go back to school. Lena is constantly crying. She's my only daughter. She has changed a lot.