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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

People in East Palestine, Ohio, Question Safety of Water and Air; VP Harris in Germany; Nikki Haley Kicks Off Campaign, Calls for "Generational Change". Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2023 - 05:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody that came here expects a hell of a lot more than what we're getting right now!


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START -- fallout, people who live near a toxic train wreck demand answers about air and water safety.

Plus, air disaster. A military chopper plunges to the ground, there are no survivors.

And moments ago, Vice President Harris touched down in Munich. More on her mission to Germany.


ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around of the world. I'm Christine Romans. This is EARLY START.

The head of the EPA travels to Ohio today to assess the ongoing federal and state response to a devastating toxic train derailment. Michael Regan will meet with city, state and federal leaders and he might get an earful from people who live there if last night's town hall is any indication.


LENNY GLAVAN, RESIDENT: Is it okay to still be here, you know? My kids safe, other people safe, is the future of this community safe, you know? We all know the severity of that question and what's at stake.

TRENT CONAWAY, MAYOR, EAST PALESTINE: I'm a mayor of a town of 4,700 people. If you think that I can fight against a railroad or fight against the EPA, or fight against anything like that, you're crazy.


ROMANS: Jason Carroll has more. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DR. BRUCE VANDERHOOF, DIRECTOR, OHIO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: We are strongly recommending those who have not yet had their water source checked to use bottled water. And bottled water is being made available.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a week after a toxic train derailment that led to the evacuation of much of this small Ohio town, state health officials are urging some East Palestine residents to drink bottled water until water tests are complete.

VANDERHOOF: This is going to be particularly important if you are pregnant, if you are breastfeeding, or if you are preparing formula for an infant.

CARROLL: Officials say the toxic spill was largely contained the day after the derailment and that tests have shown the air quality is safe.

But they have found low levels of contaminants in four nearby waterways spanning seven and a half miles, including Leslie Run, a creek which runs through East Palestine and neighboring Negli (ph) right through the back of Kathy Reese's (ph) property.

(on camera): In the back of your property back here, they found dead fish?

KATHY REESE (ph), EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: Yes, they saw dead fish.

CARROLL: Reese says she has been drinking bottled water instead of well water ever since she started spotting dead fish in the creek following the derailment. She says she's still waiting for the state to come and test her well water.

REESE: Air wise, I feel OK. Water wise, no. No. There's just too many chemicals and stuff that were spilled that they still don't want to identify completely.

CARROLL: An Ohio Department of Natural Resources official estimates some 3,500 fish in the state have died following the train derailment. These people saw the flames from their homes and worried their neighborhood still may not be safe.

What about testing water or ground?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I get that I don't recommend you put anything in the ground. I mean, vegetables or tomatoes or anything this year because we don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think they're going to do enough. CARROLL: And some residents say they have been frustrated by what they describe as a lack of communication with officials on the ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We pass all of the creeks and there's crew after crew with white hoses and black hoses all through the creeks, they're not telling us why, and this is daily. I'm driving my children to school past all of this and they're asking me questions that I don't have answers to.

CARROLL: Some of their questions unanswered. We found getting information just as challenging.

OK, just tell me, are they pumping water out or pumping water back in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can talk to the guys up in top of the hill, sir. We're just grunts.

CARROLL: We're just trying to get a sense of what those pumps are. Can just -- someone just --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Norfolk Southern can tell you everything. That's the hotline. They can tell you everything.

CARROLL: But you realize people are calling this number and no one is getting back to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just told to direct people to that number.

CARROLL: The governor asked by reporters Tuesday if he would feel comfortable living in East Palestine.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: I think that I would be drinking the bottled water. And I would be continuing to find out what the tests were showing as far as the air. I would be alert and concerned, but I think I would probably be back in my house.

CARROLL: But residents like Kathy Reese say they are left with few choices.

REESE: Just, I guess, pray and keep drink a bottled water until we know for sure what's going on.


CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, East Palestine, Ohio.


ROMANS: Jason, thank you for that.

Two Tennessee national guardsmen killed after their helicopter crashed during a training flight in northern Alabama.

That is video of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashing yesterday afternoon near Highway 53 and Burrell Road, in Huntsville, Alabama. Federal and local authorities are investigating the crash. No other service members or civilians were injured.

Vice President Kamala Harris s touching down in Germany just moments ago. She will be attending the Munich Security Conference, annual gatherings of global political, defense and intelligence leaders. This is shaping up to be the most consequential foreign trip of her vice presidency.

Let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian.

Clare, what is Harris hoping to accomplish at this meeting?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine, it's interesting. This time last year when she attended the Munich Security Conference just days before the Russian invasion, that was also touted as her most consequential foreign trip and I think this one trumps it a year into a war which shows no sign of ending. The official White House statement says that the purpose is to demonstrations resolve, U.S. global leadership and enduring commitment to support Ukraine.

I think it is clear that the relationship is increasingly important. Germany unwilling to consider sending its own Leopard tanks until the U.S. had also pledged its tanks shows that the U.S. role in the provision of military aid is still critical and still by far the largest donor to Ukraine.

So, Kamala Harris will be looking to coalesce that support for Ukraine even as the costs mount. We've heard from NATO saying that Ukraine is burning through ammunition faster than it can be produced by NATO allies. So now is the time to firm up that commitment and this is a major show of force really from the United States ahead of the anniversary of that invasion.

We have Kamala Harris in Munich, we have the U.S. defense secretary in Estonia. And, of course, President Biden set to travel to Poland on Monday, Christine. So, clearly, the optics will not be lost on Russia.

ROMANS: Indeed. All right. Clare, thank you so much for that.

The gunman who killed ten people last year in a racist mass shooting inside a Buffalo supermarket sentenced to life without parole on Wednesday. Just before the 19-year-old learned his fate, all hell broke loose in that courtroom.

More now from CNN's Omar Jimenez.


BARBARA MASSEY MAPPS, SISTER OF SHOOTING VICTIM KATHERINE MASSEY: I'm not going to be nice. My name is Barbara Massey. I'm Katherine Massey's sister. You killed my sister.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sentencing day for a shooter became families processing pain they've carried with them for almost a year. Katherine Massey was 72 years old.

MASSEY MAPPS: Your little pumpkin ass decided to come and kill my sister. I talk to Kath every single day.

JIMENEZ: Her sister, Barbara, making sure the shooter knew who he killed.

MASSEY MAPPS: Kath was a saint among sinners. You come to our city and decide you don't like black people. Man, you don't know a damn thing about black people. We're human! We love our kids to go to the schools. We love our kids. We never go in no neighborhoods and take people out.

JIMENEZ: Barbara's son lunged in. Family after family pulling no punches.

MICHELLE SPIGHT, TWO RELATIVES KILLED IN BUFFALO SHOOTING: You journeyed down my grandmother's straight and then walked up at Tops and killed two of my family members. I want you to think about this every day of your life. Every day of your life, think about my family and the other nine families that you've destroyed forever. Forever! May 14th will never be the same for me.

JIMENEZ: It wasn't just emotions. It was reliving May 14th, 2022 all over again. The shooter walked into a Tops Supermarket in Buffalo and killed 10, wounding three others with the express intent of killing black people. In court, the shooter apologized, but it didn't seem to have any impact.

BRIAN TALLEY, BROTHER-IN-LAW OF SHOOTING VICTIM GERALDINE TALLEY: How can you possibly get any kind of -- how can you possibly stand up here and say that you're sorry? The hatred that you must have in your heart for Black people, I will never understand. I don't want to understand it. But I must say this, I pray to God they do not kill you.

MICHELLE SPIGHT, TWO RELATIVES KILLED IN BUFFALO SHOOTING: If you don't know God, I invite you to find him, because you are going to need him.

JIMENEZ: He was sentenced to life in prison, the judge leaving no room for interpretation.


JUDGE SUSAN EAGAN, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK: There can be no mercy for you. No understanding. No second chances. The damage you have caused is too great, and the people you have hurt are too valuable to this community. You will never see the light of day as a free man ever again.

JIMENEZ: After court, the families hope their message was more clear than the sentence could ever be.

ZENETA EVERHART, SON WAS INJURED IN BUFFALO SHOOTING: Yes, somebody rushed him at him today in the courtroom. But that's the emotion that all of these families feel on the inside. I feel like that every single day. We all feel like that every single day.

I was happy to see him scared today. He should be able to feel what those families felt that day when he pointed that gun in their faces.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, the shooter was sentenced to life without parole on the state charges. At the federal level, he still faces charges including ten counts of federal hate crimes resulting in death. Now, he's pleaded not guilty, but they potentially carry the death penalty as a consequence. Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland has yet to make a decision on that pursuit, but back in December, lawyers for the shooter said that they would be willing to plead guilty to those federal charges as long as the death penalty is taken off the table as possibility.

Omar Jimenez, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: Tough story there. Omar, thank you.

All right. Still to come, a missile about to strike, video evidence of an attack that killed an American medical aid in Ukraine.

Plus, the chilling moment when police first asked Alex Murdaugh if he murdered his wife and son.

And, could Nikki Haley capture the GOP nomination for president?


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're ready. Ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past.




ROMANS: Newly declared presidential candidate Nikki Haley holds a town hall today in Exeter, New Hampshire. She's hoping to gather support in early voting state in the run-up to the 2024 race.

More now from CNN's Kylie Atwood.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a strong America, for a proud America, I am running for president of the United States of America.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nikki Haley throwing her hat into the ring for the 2024 presidential race.

HALEY: We're ready, ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past.

ATWOOD: The proud daughter of Indian immigrants calling for a generational change in American politics.

HALEY: America is not past our prime, it's just that our politicians are past theirs.

ATWOOD: The twice-elected governor of South Carolina turned 51 last month, even calling for competency tests for older politicians, which would include President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump u no her rival for the GOP nomination.

HALEY: And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.

ATWOOD: She detailed her vision for America's future and for the direction of the Republican Party.

HALEY: We've lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections. Our cause is right but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. Well, that ends today.

ATWOOD: As the former ambassador to the United Nations, she focused in on the threat from China, too.

HALEY: It is unthinkable that Americans would look at the sky and see a Chinese spy balloon looking back at us.

ATWOOD: Highlighting her identity as a woman of color, she waded into the culture wars animating her party, claiming that America is not a racist country.

HALEY: This self-loathing is a virus more dangerous than any pandemic. It's a system of a lack of pride in our country and a lack of trust in our leaders.

ATWOOD: If her bid is successful, Haley would be the first woman and the first Asian American nominated by the Republican Party for president.

HALEY: This is not the America that called to my parents. And make no mistake: this is not the America I will leave to my children.

ATWOOD: With her announcement, Haley is the first major Republican challenger to Trump, who's criticized her decision to enter the 2024 fray despite saying he encouraged her to run.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I said, look, you know, go by your heart, if you want to run.

ATWOOD: For her part, Haley only mentioned Trump once in her speech today, with the two likely to be joined soon by other Republican hopefuls in the coming months.

HALEY: As I set out on this new journey, I will simply say this -- may the best woman win.



ATWOOD (on camera): Nikki Haley really had a little piece of something in this speech for everyone, clearly trying to appeal to a wide swathe of Republican voters. But even though it is only officially her and former President Trump who have entered the race, there are other expected contenders who are already out on the campaign trail -- Tim Scott, Asa Hutchinson, and former Vice President Mike Pence, all in South Carolina or Iowa this week.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Charleston, South Carolina.

ROMANS: Kylie, thank you.

Yeah, 2024 here we go, right?

Let's bring in Greg Valliere, chief strategist at AGF Investments.

Good morning, Greg.


ROMANS: Only a year and eight months, but who is counting, right? Your job, Greg, is to inform people who is going on in Washington so they know what to do with their money. And you say chances are 55 percent Ron DeSantis will be the GOP nominee. Why?

VALLIERE: Well, he is 44, first of all, he is very popular in Florida.


I think the Republican base still likes Trump, but I think an awful lot of people in the base want to move on.

ROMANS: Forty-four years old, 55 percent chance. And you also say there is a 70 percent chance Joe Biden runs for re-election. So not a sure thing.

VALLIERE: I'm not at 100 percent like a lot of people. The thing that strikes me about Biden, among the Democrats, polls show an overwhelmingly majority do not want him to run again. He's only got like 25 percent support from Democrats. So that may give him pause, but I think that he will run.

ROMANS: You are 80 percent sure that Trump stays in the race even with his legal troubles?

VALLIERE: Oh, yeah. I think that he will take his legal troubles and make himself a martyr. He's great at that, it energizes his base. So, yeah, I do think that he's going to run.

ROMANS: Greg, let's talk about this exceptionally gloomy Congressional Budget Office warning yesterday of a federal debt default between July and September if Congress doesn't act. You say there is a 60 percent chance of a last minute deal. Has CBO's warning changed that number?

VALLIERE: No, although it was an exceptionally dire report, Christine. CBO is talking about unemployment at 5.1 percent later this year. And it is 3.4 percent now if I'm not mistaken. They are talking about virtually no economic growth this year. The economy is growing quite nicely as we saw in the retail sales report yesterday.

So I think that the CBO report was too dire. Long term, yeah, we got real problems. Short run I think the bond market can handle the deficit.

ROMANS: Yeah, long term, you got CBO saying you're going to add another $19 trillion to the national debt if everything goes forward without any changes.

And you say chances for fiscal restraint in this final deficit deal is, what, 80 percent there will be some restraint you think?

VALLIERE: I do think so. I can't envision a scenario where there is nothing done to appease the Republicans in the House at the very last minute, they will demand something and I think that that something will be fiscal restraint or maybe even a spending freeze.

ROMANS: Spending freeze. Any chance that Social Security or Medicare will be cut or tweaked somehow?

VALLIERE: I got to think it is zero. I think chances of Social Security changes are virtually nil. Chances of tax hikes virtually nil. Chances of defense spending increase, there will be an increase but not as robust as the last couple of years.

ROMANS: All right. We got a short term problem, that's the debt ceiling and that is just weeks really before people feel that. We have a long term problem and that is nothing being done to address the big drivers of the debt in the first place, and I don't see anyway forward in Washington talking about how to really do it.

Greg Valliere, thank you so much. Nice to see you -- go ahead.

VALLIERE: You bet.

ROMANS: OK. Quick hits across America right now.


ROMANS: One dead, three injured after a shooting at a mall in El Paso, Texas, last night. Police say two men are now in custody.

The jury in the double murder trial of Alex Murdaugh seeing footage of the investigator asking him this question for the first time.


POLICE OFFICER: Did you kill Maggie?


MURDAUGH: No, I did not kill Paul.


ROMANS: That trial resumes this morning.

The Justice Department deciding not to charge Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz after a year's long federal sex trafficking probe into whether he paid for sex with minors.

Right, 80-year-old President Biden scheduled to see his doctor just hours from now. Is a president's physical ever routine.

And tough questions after a U.S. aid worker and others killed by a Russian missile in Ukraine.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So do you think that you would deliberately targeted by the other side?




ROMANS: Welcome back.

Medical aid workers in Ukraine say a former U.S. marine and fellow volunteer Pete Reed was killed intentionally in a Russian missile attack. It happened in eastern city of Bakhmut two weeks ago. I want to warn you, the footage here is disturbing.

Here is CNN's Matthew Chance.


CHANCE (voice over): These are the final seconds before volunteer medics in Ukraine, including American, Pete Reed seen here exiting the white van come under vicious attack.

The images obtained exclusively by CNN show the explosion ripping through the scene, leaving Reed among the dead.

But incredibly, you can also hear the screams of survivors, survivors like Erko, a volunteer from Estonia witnessing all of this from just feet away.

ERKO LAIDINEN, VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Yes, the last one second that I remember before the blast or when the blast happened, I saw the big ball of flame and it was like instantly. My thoughts were the darkest that can be. CHANCE: Volunteer medics working in Bakhmut are no strangers to the extreme violence ravaging this city. Fierce fighting for control, making it one of Ukraine's deadliest frontlines. Soldiers dubbing it a meat grinder.

But the part of town where the medics were answering their emergency call on February 2nd seemed relatively calm.