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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Soon: Biden Meets with Leaders of "Bucharest Nine" in Warsaw; EPA Chief, Ohio Governor Visits Residents Near Toxic Train Wreck; Buster Murdaugh Testifies in Defense's First Full Day. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 22, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, President Biden focused on NATO's eastern flank after Russia suspends the last nuclear treaty the two powers have left.

Plus, a brand-new crackdown on the border. Tough rules just announced to keep most migrants from seeking asylum at the border.

And winter weather from coast to coast, 65 million people now under alert for ice, wind, snow, with blizzard conditions in some places.

Here we go. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

President Biden is just a few hours away from a key meeting with members of NATO's eastern flank in Warsaw. A show of support after Russia's Vladimir Putin suspended a nuclear arms treaty with U.S., and Biden pledged unwavering support for Ukraine.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I just come from a visit to Kyiv, and that can report Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall. And most important, it stands free.


ROMANS: CNN's Kevin Liptak live in Warsaw, Poland, for us this morning.

And, Kevin, nice to see. Today's meeting with a Bucharest Nine, more than symbolic, what are you expecting?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, and certainly, President Biden will want to reinforce that message that he delivered in a speech last night that the U.S. remains committed to the NATO alliance, he called it yesterday the most consequential alliance in American history. Certainly, these countries, many of whom share a border with Russia are watching the invasion of Ukraine very well. They are very anxious about where president Putin may have his sights on next, so President Biden will certainly want to reinforce his support for NATO.

But I think you will also want to steal these allies for what has to come in Ukraine. You heard him start to the south last night in his speech about better days ahead, and help these countries brace for what these officials say is going to be a much more uncertain complicated phase of this war as Russia begins its spring offensive, as Ukraine looks to regain territory, President Biden really making clear that the end does not really incite in this war.

So, as President Biden returns to Washington later today, after what has been quite a momentous visit to Europe over the last three days, that is the question that is still looming over everything here. How does this war and? What is the end game?

President Biden did not really offer any new perspective on that over the course of his visit. So, that is something, a big question, he will likely leave behind when he returns to Washington later today -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kevin Liptak for us in Warsaw, keep us posted, thanks, Kevin.

And the top Chinese diplomat is in Moscow and about to meet with President Vladimir Putin. He's already met with Russia's foreign minister.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong, monitoring this trip for us.

So, Kristie, what do we know about this meeting?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, well, look, China's top diplomat has been meeting already with Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia. We saw that photograph that was shared on telegram by a Russian foreign ministry spokesman showing the two leaders smiling and shaking hands. We have just learned from the Kremlin that China's top diplomat will soon be meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, that meeting will take place in less than an hour from now.

But during that meeting with Sergei Lavrov, we heard some interesting words from Wang Yi, double down on the China-Russia relationship. I want to share with you what he said. China's top diplomat saying, quote, no matter how the international political landscape changes, China is willing to maintain the good development of a new type of major power relations with Russia, unquote.

China's relationship with Russia is, of course, under major scrutiny. Just last weekend on Saturday, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wang Yi of consequences should China go for it and support material supplies towards the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. China is not doing that.

But since the Russian invasion in Ukraine, China and Russia urban edging closer and closer together on multiple fronts, economic front, political front, military as well, in fact joint military drills between Russia and China are taking place this week.

And one final note, Christine, we are keeping an eye on that "Wall Street Journal" report. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is planning to visit Moscow for a summit with Vladimir Putin. That meeting to take place in either April or May.


Back to you.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. We will follow that indeed.

Kristie Lu Stout, thank you.

We are now learning that Russia carried out an intercontinental ballistic missile test around the time President Biden was in Ukraine. U.S. officials say the test appears to have failed.

Let's bring in CNN's Clare Sebastian.

Clare, what more do we know about this test, and the timing and what it means?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, we tried to get confirmation of the sum of the Kremlin, they have referred our question to the ministry of defense who have not yet responded to it. The only real sort of comment, we had this one from that deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, and said do not believe everything you read in the media, and accused CNN of having discredited itself in various ways over the past few years.

What we know though from two U.S. officials speaking to our colleagues in Washington, is that the U.S. believes that Russia did carry out a test of its Sarmat missile. This is a new strategic weapon that Russia has that is capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads. It carried out a test earlier this week, around the time, or possibly even before president Biden's a visit to Ukraine.

That test, they, believe failed, because since then, we heard nothing about it. President Putin did not mention in his speech yesterday, and based on the president if it had succeeded. You can bet he would have made a lot of that. This is in course of terms of timing, a moment where Russia does want to project strength. We have seen the visit by Biden to Ukraine reaffirming that support in the war zone. It was coming up to the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

We have heard nuclear rattling with the suspension of its participation, in a recent speech yesterday to the new START treaty, the last run minute of the post cold war nuclear arms reduction architecture. So, this would fit that pattern, although of course failure of the test not so much.

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

All right. The Biden administration until the new restrictions that can prevent thousands of migrants are being able to seek asylum at the U.S. southern border. Under the proposed new rule, anyone who fell to request a salute from another country first while on route to the U.S. could be quickly reported. They would also after notify border authorities to a mobile up of their plans to seek asylum. The policy would apply to families and single adults unaccompanied minors would be exempt, administration officials say it will take effect May 11th, the same day Title 42 is expected to end.

All right. Major winter storm expected to impact millions from the West Coast to New England, heavy snow and blizzard conditions are forecasted in the upper Midwest. Look at this, Minneapolis bracing for its biggest multi day snowfall in decades. Let's get meteorologist Chad Myers.

Chad, it is cruel these last handful of weeks before we can even think about spring. Who will see the worst of this winter monster storm?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, I'm just looking at this map right, now but we built earlier. But from California to Maine, there are warnings in effect this morning. From ice storm warnings, wind warnings, there will be some major disruptions across the Upper Midwest.

Now we are talking about a snow event for Minneapolis, and the ice storm must be really focused on here. This is going to be a major ice event from Chicago, all the way across to Detroit, up in two London, Ontario, Hamilton, into Buffalo, New York.

The ice will be the problem. There will be snow, but you can shovel that. It is the ice that is going to bring down trees, power lines, branches, a major event. Some of these areas, Christine, will pick up three quarters of an inch of ice.

Yes, I know the focus is, snow and Minneapolis you will still yet 20 to 30. That is still the forecast all the way across into Wisconsin as well. Notice where the ice is just to the south of here, this is the problem. Chicago, Milwaukee, all the way across, three quarters of an inch -- that is going to bring down greater in some spots for sure.

To the east of there, 135 record highs for the next couple of days. Behind it, that is where the coldest, even the potential for some severe weather today, but really the threat is in the cold air coming in underneath the rain. This is always hard to put your mind around, why isn't it snowing, it is 31 degrees? Because it is 37 degrees about 3,000 feet above you. So when it rains, it comes down as liquid, it's the, ground and freezes up. It is really not a day to go anywhere today.


MYERS: This is coming in this afternoon, but your by this afternoon, you could be stuck at work. And I can't think of anything being worse than stuck at work.

ROMANS: Do not tell our bosses.


Okay. So, what you're saying, is be careful, it will be treacherous out there.


ROMANS: All right, Chad Myers, nice to see you.

California to Maine warning is amazing.

All right. The EPA ordering Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup of its toxic wreck in Ohio. On Tuesday, the head of the agency and the governor of Ohio tried to reassure residents still living with fear and uncertainty about what may be in their air, their water and their soil.

CNN's Miguel Marquez has more from East Palestine.


MICHAEL REGAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you for inviting us into your home.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly three weeks after the derailment, people in East Palestine, Ohio, still concerned.



BROWN: I mean, I don't even walk on my grass because I don't know what's in it.

MARQUEZ: Officials say, the air and water deemed safe, so far, but not everyone is convinced.

BROWN: So, it's safe to drink the water. I haven't even brush my teeth with it.

MARQUEZ: East Palestine resident, Carolyn Brown, hosted the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, and Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, in her kitchen. Both assuring her her municipal tap water is safe.

REGAN: We believe in science. We don't feel like we are your guinea pig, so we don't mind proving to you that we believe the water is safe.

BROWN: Okay, I really appreciate that.

REGAN: Cheers to Carolyn.


MARQUEZ: They say the village tap water testing will continue for years and anyone with a private well should have it tested as well. GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Norfolk Southern's corporate

greed, incompetence, and lack of care for our residents is absolutely unacceptable to me.

MARQUEZ: The governor of neighboring Pennsylvania announced his state made a criminal referral to investigate Norfolk Southern's handling of the derailment. This as the EPA announced it is ordering Norfolk Southern to complete all of the cleanup, or the agency will immediately take over and seek to compel the company to pay triple the cost.

REGAN: I expect with the next 48 hours, Norfolk Southern will begin working with the agency on the contents of the work plan. They have to put together a work plan that's going to be very prescriptive.

ALAN SHAW, CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN: We're going to be here tomorrow. We're going to be here a year from now, and we are going to be here five years from now.

MARQUEZ: And the CEO of the railroad says, it's already committed to doing what's right.

SHAW: We are going to invest in this community. We're going to do it in the right way, and we are going to do it at the right time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our presence be pointed in this direction.

MARQUEZ: At a church across town, eight new medical clinic opening up today to help people concerned about getting sick from the chemicals spilled and the derailment in controlled burn.

WES VINS, COUNTY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: We want to help get people on the right track, navigate through the health care system.

MARQUEZ: But there is much more to be done.

ANNE VOGEL, DIRECTOR, OHIO EPA: We are moving as fast as we physically can. Of course, time is of the essence.

MARQUEZ: While trains are running through the town again, the soil underneath the open tracks, still contaminated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know this oil is contaminated under there. They know it's contaminated. They know it's contaminated with, we've done that testing. There is a long term remediation plan that includes getting that soil out from under those tracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are at zeroes.

MARQUEZ: For now, it's all about building trust and getting people the help and answers they need.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: We are going to continue to follow the science. We will continue to listen to the experts who understand this.

MARQUEZ: But the toxicity, the cleanup, and the distrust is also political.

MAYOR TRENT CONAWAY, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: That was the biggest slap in the face.

MARQUEZ: The mayor of East Palestine on Fox News, criticizing President Joe Biden for going to Ukraine, instead of coming here.

CONAWAY: He can send every agency he wants to, but I found that out this morning in one of the briefings that he was in the Ukraine, giving millions of dollars to people over there, not us. And I'm furious.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So we're in the town of East Palestine, a mile and a half from the derailment site, two kilometers or so. This is what is happening throughout the town. This is a confluence of two creeks in town. Both of them are contaminated. They have masses whose is pulling the water out of one side, cleaning it up, and rejecting it into the creek system here. This is going to go on for quite some time.

The mayor here also trying to lower the heat on some of the politics here, saying that if President Biden wanted to visit this area, he was happy to have him here. Back to you.

ROMANS: Politics aside, growing criticism on Norfolk Southern and buybacks the company brought back $4 million of its own shares last year. Critics say as plenty of money to make this community heal and quickly.

All right. Still ahead, a Supreme Court showdown from Google, Twitter, and the world of social media.

Plus, a suspect behind bars in the killing of a prominent Catholic bishop in Los Angeles.

And, Alex Murdaugh's only surviving son testified that his father's double murder trial.


BUSTER MURDAUGH, ALEX MURDAUGH'S SON: I spoke to my mom every day. Multiple times a day. And, my dad, and my brother as well.




ROMANS: Court is set to resume this morning in the Alex Murdaugh's double trial, the only serving center they witnessed and Tuesday. Buster Murdaugh telling the jury, as father could not be the gunman, because the murders of his mom and brother destroyed him.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more.


BUSTER MURDAUGH, ALEX MURDAUGH'S SON: My name is Buster, 26 years old.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Buster Murdaugh, Alex Murdaugh's only surviving son, sharing how he first heard his mother and brother had been killed.

B. MURDAUGH: My dad called me. He asked me if I was sitting down. Then he told me that my mom and brother had been shot.

KAYE: Key for the defense, Buster's testimony about how often his father showered. Given the state has suggested that Alex Murdaugh washed up and changed his clothes after allegedly killing his wife and son.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How frequently would your dad take a shower or bath?

B. MURDAUGH: He could take him a lot.

KAYE: And what about Alex Murdaugh's police interview, where one investigator testified he thought Murdaugh said, I did him so bad, regarding his son Paul. The defense has argued their client said they did him so bad.


Buster weighed in in court after the video played.

ALEX MURDAUGH, KILLED WIFE AND SON: I did him so bad. I did him so bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What your dad say?

B. MURDAUGH: He said they did them so -- they did him so bad.

KAYE: Given that Paul Murdaugh was shot with a shotgun using both a buckshot and a birdshot, the defense seemed to lean on Buster to convince the jury that his father would never have loaded a shotgun like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen any guns on your property loaded in that fashion?

B. MURDAUGH: No, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Buckshot with some sort of bird shot right behind it?

B. MURDAUGH: No, sir.

KAYE: After Buster finished, this forensic engineer testified for the defense. He told the jury, based on his crime scene analysis, a person shorter than Alex Murdaugh, who is about 6'4", likely killed both Maggie and Paul.

MIKE SUTTON, FORENSIC ENGINEER: It puts the shooter, or whoever fired the weapon, if they were that tall, it puts them in an unrealistic shooting position.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What, if any, opinion do you have as to whether that person could be Alex Murdaugh shooting into that quail pin?

SUTTON: It can't be.

KAYE: This expert also testified about how the sound of gunfire travels.

SUTTON: If you were in the house, even if you were walking around, you wouldn't hear that.

KAYE: That's that's key for the defense. Because if Murdaugh didn't do this and was napping in the main house at the time of the murders, as he said, it could explain why he didn't go and check on his family at the dog kennels.

And remember the state's witness, a GPS expert who said Murdaugh slowed his car down on the night of the murders in the same area where Maggie Murdaugh's cell phone was later found? The state suggested Murdaugh tossed the phone out of his car, but this witness disagreed with that.

SUTTON: So he's speeding up from, you know, 42, 43, 44, 45 miles per hour as he goes through that area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any indication he stopped or slow down?


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


ROMANS: All right, let's bring in trial attorney and former prosecutor Imran Ansari.

So nice to see this morning, riveting testimony, really Murdaugh's own son Buster testifying in his father's defense, we're counting the day of the murders when he said is they're looked destroyed.

How significant was Buster Murdaugh's testimony for this jury to hear?

IRMAN ANSARI, TRIAL ATTORNEY: Christine, Mr. Murdaugh's testimony was extremely important. We know that this jury, along with the public, had been waiting for buster runoff to testify in this trial. The defense really coming forth, poking holes in the prosecution's case with the defense case, was there when asked testimony is going to be something that the jury is going to latch onto.

He testifies and paints a different picture of his father Alex Murdaugh, and of course the defense putting on Buster Murdaugh to sort of pick apart, some of the parts and the prosecution was trying to hit home on an evidentiary basis during their case. That includes the cell phone, the statement that I did them so bad, and Buster Murdaugh testifying they did him so bad, along with the evidence about Alec Murdaugh, about the day of the murders, I think this may be a key point in the case where the jury are looking at this case, and, saying can we convict, is there reasonable doubt?

And of course, Christine, the defense wants to drum up as many points a reasonable doubt as they can, so that jury does not convict.

ROMANS: Yeah, at this point, friends and engineer saying he could not have been the shooter because of his height, he is too tall, this is one of just a few scientific analysis the jury has heard in this trial. Does that bring up a reasonable doubt?

ANSARI: Christine, this is a classic case in a trial of the battle of the expert. So the prosecution of course called their own force and witnesses to testify about the shooting, and here we have this expert for the defense say, at six foot four, Alex Murdaugh, there is no way he was able to shoot and the forensic data, or analysis, that is not a, and it was a much shorter person who has taken the shot.

That is also going to be another point of reasonable doubt. So I think this expert witness, this testimony could be something again that the jury is going to be looking at. Of course when the cases are wrapped up, and there is a jury, you know that Dick Harpootlian, the defense attorney for Alex Murdaugh, is going to argue, you can't convict my client because there's so many points of reasonable doubt.

ROMANS: And so much of this is circumstantial evidence, right, the prosecution still does not have direct evidence, no DNA, no witnesses, no so-called smoking gun. But you have Alex Murdaugh lying about an alibi, right, you have him there in close proximity, minutes before these two were killed. You have all this other stuff going on in his life including prescription drug addiction he struggled with, and financial crimes.

I mean, how do you make a circumstantial -- how do you tell that circumstantial story enough to convict Alex Murdaugh and the prosecution?


ANSARI: Yeah, when you have a circumstantial case like that, Christine, it is all about connecting the dots. So the prosecution put on their case, the introduced evidence before this jury, now it is their job at the end of this trial to connect the dots, and of course, as the defense present their witnesses, cross examine effectively, so that they can go and make that argument, at the end of the day, although this is circumstantial case, there are still be unreasonable doubt that he did those murders.

Of course in your circumstantial case, the prosecution does have all the more of a tough job, but it is going to be interesting to see now that the prosecution has rested and the defense expects the case to wrap, up possibly by early next week, or even in the end of this week, how this all plays out before the jury in summations.

ROMANS: All right. Imran Ansari, thanks so much for walking us through, fascinating trial so far. Thank you.

ANSARI: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hands across America now.

The suspect in the shooting death of Los Angeles Catholic Bishop David O'Connell is being held on $2 million bail. Police say the suspect Carlos Medina is in the husband of O'Connell's housekeeper.

A really close call for a state trooper in Wyoming. Dash cam video shows him narrowly escaping a runaway semi truck while helping another vehicle. Highway patrol warning drivers to slow down in these icy conditions.

Democrat Jennifer McLaughlin winning a special election to become Virginia's first Black congresswoman. She defeated Republican Leon Benjamin in Virginia's fourth congressional district.

Just hours so now, First Lady Jill Biden's mission to Africa begins. And, some of Venice's famous canals run dry.