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Aid Workers Describe Attack On U.S. Volunteer In Bakhmut; Turkey's President Vows To Rebuild, Aid Arrives In Syria; Biden's IRS Nominee Grilled About $80 Billion Overhaul. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired February 16, 2023 - 05:30   ET




MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): -- the second seemed relatively calm.

So when you arrived at the scene where you'd had these reports of casualties and you saw the casualties there was there any fighting going on? Was there any artillery shells coming in close by that you would have -- would have made you aware that this was a particularly dangerous spot?

ERKO LAIDINEN, VOLUNTEER MEDIC: No, no. It was -- it was actually awfully quiet there. We didn't go no warning because usually you can hear when the rounds come in. You can hear the whistling noise -- the deterrence that there is some mortar or artillery shell coming in. There wasn't nothing like this.

CHANCE (voice-over): And he catches the exact moment on his own cellphone. A frame-by-frame analysis shows what military experts tell CNN is an anti-tank missile striking the vehicle -- a weapon that requires line-of-sight targeting to be this accurate. Minutes later the medic's dashcam records a second strike. Slow-motion revealing it's yet another anti-tank missile.

LAIDINEN: It was observed and aimed directly, and to be sure that's it going to be a perfect hit they waited until the complete stop and after that they instantly fired.

CHANCE (on camera): So do you think that you were deliberately targeted by the other side?

LAIDINEN: Yes. I think that there is not much of a debate about it. They shot two different vehicles. They tried to hit another also. So they were ready. They were prepared.

CHANCE (voice-over): Russia has repeatedly denied deliberately targeting civilians. But over this gruesome video of the aftermath the Russian private military company Wagner says the volunteer medics were foreign mercenaries hit by what it calls an accurate strike.

Even for humanitarian volunteers in this Bakhmut meatgrinder protection, it seems, is scarce. Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Matthew. Thank you for that.

Turkey's president is vowing to rebuild after the catastrophic earthquake that turned cities into rubble, killing more than 42,000 people there, and in Syria where a relief plane has finally landed in Aleppo -- no small diplomatic feat.

CNN's Nada Bashir joins us live from Istanbul. And Nada, near-freezing temperatures dwindling hope as rescue efforts begin to wind down. What's happening now?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well look, Christine, we are still hearing these remarkable stories of people actually being pulled from the rubble nearly 248 hours now since the earthquake struck, and they are alive and this is giving people in southeast Turkey a sense of hope. But, of course, the window for finding survivors is closing very, very quickly.

And as you mentioned, it is freezing cold temperatures. The situation on the ground in southeast Turkey and indeed in northwest Syria is dire to say the least.

And there are huge humanitarian concerns. We have seen a groundswell of support from the international community and from the Turkish government, of course, in terms of providing that humanitarian assistance. But the message that we're hearing from aid groups is that there simply needs to be more. It is not enough for the thousands and thousands of families left homeless in the wake of this earthquake.

And, of course, there are still so many there in southeast Turkey hoping -- waiting for news of their loved ones who are still missing and presumed beneath the rubble of the collapsed buildings across that region.

Now, just in the last hour or so we've heard a press conference from the Turkish foreign minister alongside NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg. There we heard that NATO has committed further support for the Turkish government in aid of those impacted by the earthquake, including plans to send thousands of tents over the coming weeks in order to house and home many of those who have been left homeless by the earthquake.

And I have to say here in Istanbul we're already beginning to see families being evacuated to this city. They're being hosted in university dorms, some of them by volunteers who are opening up their doors to vulnerable families. But, of course, this is going to be a long and hard challenge not only for the Turkish government but, of course, for those who have left -- been left with absolutely nothing -- Christine.

ROMANS: Just terrifying. All right, thank you so much, Nada Bashir for us this morning.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

Five dead in New Zealand and police say more than 3,500 people are still unreachable after widespread flooding and devastation in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.

The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, resigning abruptly Wednesday citing the brutality of public life after backing a referendum on independence from the U.K.


Elderly Chinese residents protesting cuts to their health insurance in Wuhan. It's the latest display of public frustration as China struggles with the aftermath of its zero-COVID policy.

Next, a judge in Georgia about to release parts of a special grand jury report on Donald Trump's actions after the 2020 election. And a moving tribute to three fallen students by Michigan State's basketball coach.


ROMANS: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

The head of the EPA visits East Palestine, Ohio today to assess the response to that toxic train derailment. He'll meet with city, state, and federal leaders, and residents who wonder whether it's safe to stay there.

Today, parts of the Georgia grand jury report on the former president Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election in the state will be made public, but not the specific charging recommendations.

President Biden undergoes a routine physical today. The White House counting on a clean bill of health for the 80-year-old before an expected reelection bid.


All right, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo speaks out against gun violence after Monday night's deadly campus shooting.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


You know, it's been a difficult few days for everyone on the Michigan State campus after the mass shooting that claimed the lives of three students and injured five others.

Now, the victims were honored last night during a candlelight vigil in East Lansing. Men's basketball coach Tom Izzo, who is in his 40th year at the school -- he urged the crowd to speak out about the senseless loss of life in their community.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TOM IZZO, MICHIGAN STATE MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH: Gun violence is insane right now. We all have a platform. Some are small, some are high, but we all have a platform. And I hope each and every one of you use your platform to help others so other families don't have to go through what these families are going through now.


SCHOLES: Now, all on-campus activities were postponed yesterday, including Michigan State's basketball game against Minnesota.

All right, elsewhere in Florida, a full-time director at a real estate investment firm took a break from his day job to make his ATP Tour tennis debut, and he ended up getting one of the biggest upsets in the sport's history. Thirty-three-year-old Matija Pecotic rallied to beat former world number-eight, Jack Sock.

Pecotic was ranked as high as 206 in the world before he was forced to stop playing tennis after stomach surgery in 2016. He then went to Harvard Business School and after graduating he started playing a little tennis again.


MATIJA PECOTIC, TENNIS PLAYER, REAL ESTATE INVESTOR: I absolutely love this game and I know it's not forever and I'm 33 and I try to maximize each day. I try to train every morning if I can -- you know, five-six times a week. I mean, sometimes I train with my boss who is 70 years old. But this week I trained with a guy who was probably in his late-50s. But you find creative ways to work around it.


SCHOLES: Yes. Pecotic's victory -- it was short-lived. He did end up losing his next match in straight sets, but what a win.

All right. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, meanwhile, celebrating their Super Bowl victory with a parade through Kansas City yesterday. And tight end Travis Kelce -- well, he had a good ole time pumping up the crowd.


TRAVIS KELCE, TIGHT END, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The haters were saying that the Chiefs would never make the playoffs. The haters were saying the Chiefs were done. If you knew the Chiefs, we're going to win the division. Let me hear you say hell, yeah.

PARADEGOERS: Hell, yeah.

KELCE: All right now.


SCHOLES: All right. And finally, Tom Brady has some new friends to keep him busy in retirement. Brady adopting two Siamese kittens after he and his daughter Vivian fell in love with animals while volunteering at the Humane Society.

Christine, Brady saying this is what my mornings look like now. Much different than having to get up early to go train for football, right?

ROMANS: Absolutely -- two cats.

All right, nice to see you, Andy Scholes --

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: -- this morning.

Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" people who live near a toxic train wreck are frightened, furious, and getting very few answers.

And next right here, taxes in America. Biden's IRS nominee questioned about who will face new audits.



ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning, 19 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office says the U.S. is projected to add nearly $19 trillion to its national debt by the end of 2033. That's $3 trillion more than previously forecast. You can blame rising costs for interest payments -- higher interest rates -- veterans' health care, and retiree benefits.

Looking at markets around the world right now, European markets are higher. Asian markets finished the day mixed. And on Wall Street, stock index futures at this hour are flat to leaning lower.

Stocks edge higher yesterday. There was surprising strength in the U.S. economy. Retail sales surged three percent in January, the biggest increase in nearly two years. Homebuilder confidence jumped this month by the largest amount in almost 10 years.

On inflation watch, gas prices held steady overnight, now at $3.42 a gallon.

Weekly jobless claims and the critical Producer Price Index -- those are due out later this morning.

All right, President Biden's nominee to lead the IRS, Daniel Werfel, facing tough questions on Capitol Hill about how he plans to use $80 billion in newly allocated funds.


DANIEL WERFEL, NOMINEE, IRS COMMISSIONER: If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed the audit and compliance priorities will be focused on enhancing IRS's capabilities to ensure that America's highest earners comply with applicable tax laws.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: All right, let's bring in senior policy analyst at Tax Foundation, Garrett Watson. Nice to see you this morning, Garrett.

So you heard Biden's IRS nominee say that the IRS -- they're not going after small business and working-class Americans. This is about getting revenue from millionaires and billionaires who have a very, very small audit rate.

Will that calm any fears?

GARRETT WATSON, SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, TAX FOUNDATION (via Webex by Cisco): Right. Daniel Werfel, the IRS nominee, did go ahead and commit to not raising audit rates for those earning over 400 -- under $400,000 a year, though there is one caveat there. It's relative to historical levels and audit rates overall have fallen in half since 2010 for everyone overall, from one percent to about half a percent.

So that does leave a little bit of wiggle room for the IRS to change audit rates, at least relative to the recent past. But it is true that overall Daniel Werfel committed to maintaining and focusing on those over $400,000 -- those audit rates.


ROMANS: So we know that the Inflation Reduction Act is the vehicle that approved this $80 billion in new money for the IRS over 10 years. Already they've begun to use that money. They hired 5,000 new employees. There are software and technology upgrades that are on deck. I mean, anybody in the past couple of years who has tried to get through to the IRS in tax season knows that there are -- there are dramatic needs for some improvements there.

Do you think that will calm sort of the right-wing radio fears armed -- you know, armed agents coming after your money?

WATSON: Yes, I think there's two things here.

One is that there will be -- will be a little more clarity on exactly what enforcement will look like. Thankfully there is an implementation plan coming from Treasury in the coming months that should detail specifically what that enforcement may look like, and that may help with folks who are concerned about that issue.

The second is it's very -- it's a very pivotal moment right now for the IRS to course-correct when it comes to taxpayer services. We're seeing some mixed results there. Right now there's some evidence that call rates are going up early on relative to where they were last year. And although there are some mixed signals because the IRS has been dealing with some confusion related to the taxation of state rebates, for example.


WATSON: So a really important moment here for potential new leadership to course-correct coming out of the pandemic, and additional information to taxpayers and policymakers will be vital. ROMANS: Yes. We know that a lot of that hiring from that $80 billion

is going to replace an aging workforce. You've got 50,000 people who are going to be retiring or leaving, right, and so you need -- you just need bodies there.

President Biden's billionaire minimum tax -- this is a proposal that calls for raising taxes on households with net wealth over $100 million.

Is that -- is that a feasible move?

WATSON: So when it comes to the president's billionaire minimum tax the big challenge there is you're moving from taxing income when it's actually received and sold to income that's basically hasn't been realized yet and it's purely on paper. And while that is a major goal for the president to raise effective tax rates on higher earners it does come with some significant administrative challenges when it comes to valuing those assets and actually --


WATSON: -- taxing them properly.

And as we saw with the stock market swings over the past year that can very quickly change too where a lot of those paper gains became losses for a lot of these very high-earning individuals who had a very different 2022 than they did a 2021.

So a lot of those details would really have to be hammered out --


WATSON: -- in legislation and regulation for that tax to work well. And the question is, is that a more effective way to go than just changing tax rates or the structure of the income tax more broadly, which has been the more traditional way that folks trying to tax higher earners have tended to have gone?

ROMANS: Let me ask you about the Republican plan -- the 20 -- the Republican proposal that imposes a national sales tax repealing the current income taxes, payroll taxes, estate, and gift taxes. Just the Fair Tax Act. Just a national sales tax. Doable?

WATSON: So it's a huge change repealing all of the federal taxes and replacing it with one big sales tax, and it does come with some simplicity and efficiency gains. But it would be a huge change for taxpayers overall because you're shifting the enforcement from the IRS to the state level. And there would be a lot of questions about whether or not certain goods and services would be exempted from the tax, which comes with all sorts of challenges, too.

And finally, there's a big concern, of course, about the distribution of the tax burden and whether or not middle-earners and low-earners would be paying more.

So a lot of sort of details there that would need to be ironed out legislatively before that could get legs and traction. And that's probably the reason why we haven't seen that kind of shift happen yet --


WATSON: -- in the U.S. tax content.

ROMANS: All right, Garrett Watson talking taxes with us bright and early this morning. Thank you. Nice to see you.

WATSON: Great seeing you. Thank you.


A fiery helicopter crash in Tennessee leaving two National Guardsmen dead. New details on that next.



ROMANS: All right, our top of the morning, the top large employers to work for in America as ranked by workers themselves in Forbes magazine.

Here's number one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At MIT we tend to view the world a bit differently than most.


ROMANS: Almost 16,000 people work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Here's number two.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Houston Methodist, we're repairing major valves without opening the chest.


ROMANS: Houston Methodist has close to 28,000 working at its seven hospitals in Texas.

And here is number three.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Too often we forget to put our own care first.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: That's from the Mayo Clinic, home to 73,000 workers, mostly in Rochester, Minnesota.

Edison Med is on that list, right?

All right, 50 million Americans face the threat of storms from the Gulf states into the Ohio Valley. Blizzard conditions in North Dakota already leaving some drivers stranded for hours.

Meteorologist Chad Myers in the weather center. I grew up in Iowa. Those pictures of blizzards in the Midwest at this time of the year just -- oh, it's rough.


ROMANS: Multiple storms expected across the country today, yes?

MYERS: Yes. Too many memories for me --


MYERS: -- in Nebraska.

ROMANS: Exactly.

MYERS: So we were right across the river.

Tornadoes yesterday, zero. Today maybe more than that but not really a significant outbreak. There is a potential though for something still to spin today.

We've had a couple of spinners here, one near Paris, Tennessee and one near Bradford, Tennessee this morning. That's north of Memphis. The storms in Memphis have now kind of pulled away. Still, tornado watches though in effect. I expect more to be posted today as the day goes on.

This may be a 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 in the afternoon storm where we start to see the warmup. But the potential all the way from Columbus down to the Gulf coast.

Typical of spring. This really is more of a spring-type storm except for that part on the north that will see snow. Snow all the way to Manitowoc and into Madison, Wisconsin.

But this is where we're focusing here -- down across the Deep South where the storms will be the strongest.