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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Chicago Mayor Lightfoot Loses Reelection Bid; FBI Director: COVID Pandemic Likely Caused By China Lab Leak; Two Trains Collide in Central Greece, Dozens Killed; Chip Makers Must Provide Child Care Plan to Get Funding. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 01, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. It's Wednesday, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

There will be no second term for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She lost her bid for re-election last night failing to finish in the top two in a runoff election. It is the first time in more than three decades that Chicago has voted a sitting mayor out of office.


MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: I'm eternally grateful to everyone who gave us their time, support and money and prayers. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God bless you. God bless this incredible city.


ROMANS: Long time public schools chief Paul Vallas ran a tough to crime campaign. He will face Brandon Johnson, a cook county commissioner backed by progressives and the teachers union in an April runoff to replace Lightfoot.

FBI Director Christopher Wray says the bureau believes the COVID-19 pandemic was likely the result of a lab accident in Wuhan, China. Wray's first public comments on the origin of the virus comes just days after the Department of Energy's low confidence assessment that COVID most likely originated from a lab leak in China.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan. We step back for a second, the FBI has folks -- agents, professionals, analysts, virologists, microbiologists, et cetera, who focus specifically on the dangers of biological threats, microbiologists, et cetera, who focus specifically on the dangers of biological threats including things like COVID and concerns that in the wrong hands some bad guys, hostile state, a terrorist, a criminal, threats that those could pose.

So, here, you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab that killed millions of Americans. And that is precisely what that capability was designed for.


ROMANS: Still, there's no consensus within the U.S. intelligence community about the origins of COVID. In fact, there is a divide. The office of the director of national intelligence issued a 2021 report concluded with low confidence that the pandemic was most likely caused by natural exposure to an infected animal.

Two trains colliding in Greece, at least 36 people killed, dozens more are hospitalized.

Eleni Giokos is tracking the developments for us. What can you tell us?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As you say, 36 people lost their lives. We just heard from the transport minister who teared up during his announcement saying that he doesn't really know what the final number will be, that anything that he says is premature. He teared up and saying that there will be no effort spared to figure out how it happened.

To give you an idea, there was a cargo train that was coming down from Thessaloniki and passenger train from Larissa. The National Broadcaster reporting that the passenger train at some point changed lanes traveling on the same line as the cargo train. Going at high speeds and then colliding head-on. The two first carriages caught light, major efforts to try to put out those fires. The third carriage is where most of the fatalities occurred. There are 66 people that are hospitalized. Seven of whom are currently in intensive care.

From what we also know, authorities are saying difficult to identify the victims of this crash. What we also know is that there are many people lining up to donate blood to assist those injured. There was a three day holiday period in Greece, a lot of the university students that would be traveling were said to be on the passenger train. And we've seen incredible response from many European leaders extending their condolences.

But right now, not only search and rescue, but also how and why it happened. National broadcaster saying the two trains were traveling on the same line for many kilometers without any indication or warning systems kicking in.

ROMANS: All right. Eleni Giokos, thank you so much. Keep us posted.


It's a tragedy there in Greece.

All right. The Biden administration arguing that it has the power to forgive student loan debt in a high stakes hearing before the Supreme Court. In an email set to get cancellation applicants, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says, quote, today made clear that opponents of the program lacked standing to even bring their case to court. But the conservative justices may not see it that way. There's a lot of skepticism among conservatives.

Jessica Schneider has more.


DEMONSTRATORS: Cancel student debt now!

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Big stakes for more than 40 million student loan borrowers, as the Supreme Court decides whether a program eliminating up to $20,000 in debt per borrower can go into effect.

ELIZABETH PRELOGAR, SOLICITOR GENERAL: To provide a measure of loan forgiveness to make sure that this unprecedented pandemic does not leave borrowers worse off in relation to their loans.

SCHNEIDER: The Biden administration is defending their student loan program, arguing it is necessary in the wake of the COVID pandemic. But the conservative justices repeatedly zeroed in on the program's $400 billion plus price tag to question whether the president by way of his education secretary has the power to enact this kind of relief.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE: I think most casual observers would say if you're going to give up that much amount of money, if you're going to effect the obligations of that many Americans on a subject that's of great controversy, they would think that's something for Congress to act on.

SCHNEIDER: The solicitor general responded that federal law allows for the education secretary to waive or modify loan obligations in the wake of an emergency, and the ongoing financial effects of the pandemic justifies the administration's stepping in.

PRELOGAR: Without this critical relief for debtors, we are going to have a wave of default across the country with all of the negative consequences that has for borrowers. I think it is precisely the type of context where the executive should be able to implement those emergency powers.

SCHNEIDER: The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down programs implemented by the Biden administration under COVID, including the eviction moratorium and the testing or vaccine mandate for large employers. This student debt program uses the pandemic to justify forgiving $10,000 in federal loans for people making under $125,000, or $20,000 in loans for those with Pell grants. About 20 million borrowers could see their remains balances entirely wiped out.

But Justice Neil Gorsuch asked whether that undermines basic fairness.

JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: What I think they argue that is missing is cost to other persons in terms of fairness, for example, people who have paid their loans, people who plan their lives around not seeking loans, and people who are not eligible for loans in the first place. And that half a trillion dollars is being diverted to one group of favored persons over others. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (on camera): So a lot on the line for millions of borrowers. If the Supreme Court upholds this program, debt cancellation could come pretty quickly because the Biden administration has already approved 16 million applications. But based on the questioning of this conservative court, it does appear the court is set to strike down this program and of course that would end debt relief at least for now for millions of Americans.

At the Supreme Court, Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Today, the jury in the Alex Murdaugh trial set to visit the defendant's property where his wife and youngest son were murdered. Jurors last heard from a forensics expert who disputed key testimony from the defense.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more.


ALAN WILSON, SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Is it your expert opinion that a 6'4" shooter cannot be excluded from the murder of Maggie and Paul?

DR. KENNETH KINSEY, CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION EXPERT: I see nothing that could exclude a 6'4" shooter.

KAYE (voice-over): Dr. Kenneth Kinsey, an expert in Crime Scene Investigation and recreation called back to the stand by the state to dispute key testimony. A forensic scientist testified for the defense and told the jury whoever killed Maggie and Paul Murdaugh was likely much shorter than Alex Murdaugh, who was about six, four, but the prosecution's expert disagreed.

WILSON: Can a person be an -- on their knee and get the same angle and be standing and get the same angle?

KINSEY: Yes, sir.

WILSON: Can a 6'4" person and a 5'4" person still shoot the same angle just at different distances?

KINSEY: Absolutely.

WILSON: Can you exclude a 6'4" defendant like Alex Murdaugh, or anyone for that matter at that height from shooting that shotgun at that angle?

KINSEY: Absolutely not.

KAYE: In one of the most dramatic moments of the trial, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson pointed a shotgun at Kinsey to illustrate another defense theory the state also believes is flawed.

WILSON: You'll give me permission to point this to you, correct? KINSEY: I have.

KAYE: A defense witness said Paul Murdaugh's fatal shot was a downward facing contact wound, meaning the barrel of the shotgun was up against his head. But this court demonstration was designed to show why prosecutors say that just doesn't make sense.


WILSON: OK, Paul has just been shot.

KINSEY: Yes, sir.

WILSON: And in the defense's theory, you tell me what to do, and you act this out. And I'm going to do what you told me to do based on the defense's theory of the case.

KINSEY: The defense agreed with the assessment that Paul stood there for a moment bleeding down his injured left arm, and he slowly walked toward the door.

WILSON: OK, and what is the shooter do?

KINSEY: The shooter's coming in the door.

WILSON: And then what does the shooter do?

KINSEY: He shoots Paul in the back of the head after he passes him.

WILSON: OK. And then shoots Paul in the back of the head like this.

KINSEY: I think the theory is preposterous, in my opinion.

WILSON: The shooter is shooting down. How do pellets get embedded into the doorframe up here? How's that possible?

KINSEY: I think it's impossible myself. It -- physics don't work that way. They will turn around because of the pressure. Go back the opposite direction. 180-degree direction at enough velocity to damp a steel exterior door and embed in the doorframe. That doesn't happen.

KAYE: The defense did its best to push back.

JIM GRIFFIN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: So you believe that this pellet that's in the door jamb came through his shoulder there was that out the top of his head and ended up at that location?

KINSEY: Well, they didn't turn around and come back out of the top of his head. Yes, sir. I do --

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


ROMANS: All right. Randi Kaye, thank you.

Kobe Bryant's widow just settled her lawsuit against Los Angeles county over crash scene pictures.

Plus, federal money for computer chip makes comes with strings attached.

And instead of dodging bombs on the battle field, they are looking for them.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This was a Russian position, Russian trenches. And now he's guys are working through here methodically looking for mines, for booby traps.




ROMANS: All right. Historic new investment in domestic manufacturing of computer chips is under way. This was invented in the United States and outsourced overseas. The White House now dangling cash to get companies to give workers affordable child care as they build plants in the U.S.

The CHIPS Act includes $39 billion in incentives for manufacturers, but there are strings attached. They can only access the funds if they provide affordable child care among other things, promise to use domestic sourcing for iron and steel, use union workers, the list goes on and on.

Let's bring in Emily Peck, market correspondent for "Axios". So nice to see you.

First of all, a step back. This is a really big investment, an industrial policy in the United States that was heralded as bringing semiconductor manufacturing back to the United States. We have really low unemployment rates. There's some concerns about being able to attract workers in fact to some of this big investments from the Biden administration. Is this attaching child care provisions for example meant to attract workers to this industry?

EMILY PECK, MARKETS CORRESPONDENT, AXIOS: Yes, exactly, you nailed it. The commerce department said this is a math equation basically. Unemployment is extremely low. And if they want to get more workers essential will he off the sidelines back into the workforce, what they need to do is ask companies to provide some kind of child care assistance. And they are not saying that you must provide child care. They are requiring companies to submit a plan essentially saying how workers are going to access affordable child care, whether it is on site, whether subsidized off site, et cetera.

ROMANS: Right. It depends on where you are. For example you could build your own child care center which is something that manufacturers in the past have done. You point out that care for one child is 14 percent to 18 percent of a typical construction worker's gross wages. Wow.

PECK: Wow, yes. And it is not even that unusual. They shared with me a presentation where they went through some of the areas that plan to have sites built there. And numbers are roughly similar. 14 percent, 15 percent, 18 percent of salary and it is not workable for a lot of families. The idea is to bring that number down.

ROMANS: So here is the criticism from people who oppose the Biden administration and that is that this is a back door way to get his "Build Back Better" components into things that didn't pass Congress into the economy, right? That paid child care is something that is very important to this administration. This is a back door way to g in.

PECK: Yeah, it really looks like that. I put that to the Commerce Department and they said no, that is not what we're doing, this is about the labor shortage and getting more workers to build the plants on time. But you can't help but think, okay, the legislation didn't make it through Congress, here is a way that we can change corporate behavior and we can shuffle the economy without passing any laws. And they are already getting pushback from conservative economists, maybe some private grumbling from CEOs, but nothing public.

ROMANS: And here is the Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo stressing the importance of this new requirement.


GINA RAIMONDO, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: As President Biden said in his state of the union, this will create over 100,000 good jobs in these facilities, technicians, engineers, designers. We have to up skill people including women which means child care.


ROMANS: So is this a way to get more women in the construction industry?

PECK: I mean, that is the intention. It will be interesting to see if it works. Construction is not an industry that employs a lot of women. But child care is a powerful incentive, affordable child care.


There is still a shortage of workers in the country and it is keeping women, parents, primarily women, out of the workforce. And so that is the theory and we'll see if it holds.

ROMANS: Yeah, affordable child care helps the guys too, I got to say.

PECK: Of course.

ROMANS: Really one of those things that -- you know, you've got child care costs that can be as much as college. So it really is a problem.

And that is if you can get it. It is like getting in to Harvard in some areas, the shortages are bad and wait lists are really long.

So then there is the other child care worker shortage, another conversation for another day.

Emily Peck, really nice to see you. Thank you for dropping by this morning.

PECK: Thanks a lot.

ROMANS: Quick hits across America. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine heads to East Palestine for an update on the hazardous waste removal operation after a toxic train derailment there. And he will visit two contaminated locations.

Vanessa Bryant is settling her claims against Los Angeles county for nearly $29 million. She sued other photos taken and shared by deputies at the site of a helicopter crash that killed her husband and daughter.

Mississippi's governor signing a bill banning transgender procedures for minors, it includes surgeries and also hormone therapy.

And within the hour funeral services begin for an American Israeli killed in a wave of West Bank violence.

And teams in Ukraine diffusing deadly mines left behind by the Russians.


MARQUARDT: After the war, soldiers get to go home, but your work will continue for years.




ROMANS: A dual American Israeli citizen killed in the West Bank is about to be buried north of Tel Aviv. The 27-year-old Elan Ganeles was fatally shot Monday night in an apparent terror attack on a highway between Jericho and the Dead Sea.

CNN's Hadas Gold is live for us.

Hadas, we know he lived in the United States. He went to Columbia University. He was in town for a wedding and going to see a friend?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: yeah, he was just visiting from friend to friend. He is originally from Connecticut. And that is where they will be sitting Shiva for this young man. He was shot and killed on a normally relatively quiet set of highway. And that goes to show you how far spread the latest wave of violence has become.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Elan Ganeles was in the wrong place at the wrong time, his friends say. The 27-year-old Connecticut native the latest victim in the uptick of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Moved to Israel several years ago, studied Hebrew at a kibbutz before joining the Israeli military. One of his former teachers telling CNN he was the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to date. But in 2018, after he completed his service with the Israeli army, he moved back to the U.S. to attend Columbia University where he studied sustainability.

ELAN GANELES, CONNECTICUT NATIVE: Hi, guys. Hi name is Elan. I want to talk about how we measure sustainability.

GOLD: Returning recently for a friend's wedding. But as he drove along a popular route that cuts through the occupied West Bank, often used by tourists on the way to the dead sea, an attacker shot at several cars. Ganeles was struck in the upper body, medics say, the attackers fleeing to nearby Palestinian villages, burning their cars in the process.

Echoing a similar attack that killed two Israeli brothers on Sunday near the Palestinian town of Huwara south of Nablus, followed by revenge attacks by dozens of Israeli settlers that killed at least one Palestinian man and left dozens of homes and cars burned.

The U.S. government expressing alarm over recent events.

NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We condemn the horrific killing of two Israeli brothers near Nablus and the killing today of an Israeli near Jericho, who we understand was also an American citizen. We express our deepest condolences to all of the victims' families and their loved ones.

GOLD: Now a massive manhunt under way for all the attackers. And the Israeli military is sending an extra battalion, placing checkpoints in the nearby Palestinian city of Jericho, as the region remains on edge, worried about what will come next.


GOLD (on camera): And, Christine, in regards to the alarming Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians, Israeli military major general in charge of operations in the West Bank last night if an interview on Israeli TV called those actions by the Israelis a loaded term here in Israel and police say that they have arrested several more individuals in connection to those attacks. This, of course, after the Americans put public pressure on the Israelis to hold people responsible -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Hadas Gold, thank you so much for that.

To Nigeria where there is a new president, in Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The electoral commission declared the 70-year-old the winner with nearly 8.8 million votes.

Let's go to CNN's Larry Madowo live for us in Lagos.

And, Larry, we understand there's growing outrage with both opposition parties over allegations of a rigged vote. What do they want?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Christine, they want a fresh election and resignation of the chair of the independent national electoral commission because they say what happened last Saturday was rape of democracy and the process was filled with fraud and, in fact, the results were registered not immediately transmitted means that it was open to manipulation.

But here's what's happening -- right now, life is back to normal in Nigeria, and back to the regular inconveniences of living in this country such as what you see here.