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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin
Pennsylvania Man Accused of Trying to Check Bag with Explosives Onto Florida-Bound Flight; Biden Admin Approves Potential Sale of Missiles For F-16s to Taiwan; At Least 46 Killed in Head-On Train Collison in Greece. Aired 5-5:30a ET
Aired March 02, 2023 - 05:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.
We start with Pennsylvania man arrested by federal agents for trying to check a suitcase packed with explosives onto a flight to Florida. According to court documents, an alarm went off alerting TSA officials that a bag belonging to a Marc Muffley contained explosives. Security cameras allegedly caught him leaving the airport.
More now from CNN's Evan Perez.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: According to the FBI, he checked the bag and in the routine screening that was happening by the TSA, they found explosives in this checked bag. According to the FBI, this is what they found -- they found powder that was in a plastic wrap. They found fuses. The powder appears to be from commercial grade fireworks. And so, the question is what was he doing with this?
The airport tried to page him while he was still at the airport. He left, and he was later arrested, later that evening on Monday, by the FBI.
Now, the court documents that were released today by the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia don't mention any indication of extremism or his ties to terrorist groups or anything like that. This is something that obviously the FBI was focused on over the last couple of days. Nothing like that appears to have occurred in this investigation.
This is a very serious thing, obviously. If you read the court documents, the FBI says that this powder that was included in this compound was susceptible to ignite from heat and friction, and posed a significant risk to the aircraft and passengers.
ROMANS: All right, Evan Perez, thank you for that.
Seven passengers saying to the hospital after significant turbulence on a Lufthansa flight. The Airbus A330 out of Austin, Texas, bound for Frankfurt was diverted to Dulles Airport in Virginia overnight. A passenger tells CNN, it was like free falling from the top of a rollercoaster at one point, with plates and glassware hitting the ceiling, the airline says injuries were minor.
All right, the Biden administration has approved potential $670 million arms sale to Taiwan. That includes missiles for F-16 fighter jets. The decision will likely further inflame tensions between the U.S. and China, the State Department calls the move, necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.
Kristie Lu Stout joins us live from Hong Kong this morning.
Are we getting any reaction from the Chinese government, Kristie?
KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, we did get reaction from the Chinese government. As expected, China firmly opposes this deal. On Wednesday, the Biden administration approved this potential $619 million arms sale to Taiwan. This includes hundreds of missiles for F-16 fighter jets, the principal contractors include Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, two American companies that have previously been sanctioned by China for previous weapons sales to Taiwan.
A couple hours ago, we heard reaction from the ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing, they slim to this deal, adding this, quote, stop arms sales to Taiwan and military contacts with United States, and stop creating tensions across the Taiwan Straits. China will continue to take firm and forceful measures to safeguard its sovereignty and its security interests.
We also heard from Taiwan's ministry of defense earlier in the day. Of course, they welcomed this purchase, while adding this, quickly quote, the depression of defensive -- is the basis for preserving regional peace, unquote. Some key context for you, this is not the largest U.S. arms deal to Taiwan. That was -- that took place in September of last year, in a deal that surpassed $1.1 billion. The last U.S. arms deal to Taiwan took place in December of last year, the latest one announced on Wednesday, will certainly continue to drive a wedge between the U.S. and China.
Back to you, Christine.
All right. Kristie Lu Stout for us, thank you so much.
Rail workers at the site of a toxic train derailment in Ohio report they are getting sick. Union letter accuses Norfolk Southern wrote of putting workers at risk in the latest fallout from that East Palestine disaster. Quote, they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect they were willingly exposed to these chemicals.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met Wednesday with a federal railroad administrator, and leaders of 12 unions to ensure rail safety improvements. A railroad worker arrested, the transport minister resigning after a
deadly head on collision between two trains in Greece. Rescue teams are losing hope of finding any more survivors.
At least 46 people were killed, scores more injured, raising questions about the countries less than stellar track record with railway safety.
Nada Bashir live from Tempi, Greece, for us.
Nada, have investigators made a final determination about what caused this crash?
NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the investigation is still very much ongoing. At this stage, authorities have said they have arrested one man, the manager of a nearby rail station. On allegations and has been charged with negligence and mass death.
There is now a focus on human error as the key cause behind this deadly collision, of course, as you said there, there's still questions around the safety measures in place, around the country's rail network. Take a look.
BASHIR (voice-over): A fire ball ignites. A passenger train in Greece carrying more than 350 people colliding head on with a freight train, killing dozens. In the aftermath, debris and carriages scattered across tracks.
KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER (through translator): What we are experiencing today is very, very difficult as a country. We are talking about an unspeakable tragedy. Our thoughts today are first and foremost with the relatives of the victims.
BASHIR: The crash happened shortly before midnight local time. When the passenger train on its way from Athens to Thessaloniki changed lanes and switched to a cargo track before colliding with the freight train. A train station manager has now been arrested, charged with mass deaths and causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.
Firefighters, meanwhile, worked through the night to find and identify victims. Rescued passengers described the ordeal as a nightmare.
STERGIOS MINENIS, TRAIN PASSENGER (through translator): We heard a big bang. It was ten nightmarish seconds. We were turning over in the wagon until we fell on our sides, and until the commotion stopped. Then there was panic, cables everywhere. Fire -- the fire was immediate as we were turning over, we were being burned.
BASHIR: More than 70 people were injured and are now receiving treatment in hospital. Most of the passengers were young. The head of an intensive care unit at a local hospital told state media.
Meanwhile, rescue workers continue the desperate search for more survivors.
MITSOTAKIS: One thing I can guarantee, we will find out the cause of this tragedy and do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.
BASHIR (on camera): Christine, the operation is still ongoing. You can see the rescue workers behind me, the first two carriages of this train, completely engulfed by flames upon that collision. They are still trying to recover bodies here, of course, no more survivors. But dozens of people injured in hospital, family members still waiting for news of their loved ones.
ROMANS: Just a tragedy there in Greece.
All right. Nada, thank you so much.
Back to the U.S., the defense of the Alex Murdaugh double murder trial set to wrap its case today. Prosecutors deliver their closing arguments Wednesday, after jurors visited the Murdaugh family property. The place where Murdaugh's wife and son were murdered.
CNN's Randi Kaye has more.
CREIGHTON WATERS, LEAD PROSECUTOR: On June 7, 2021, at the Moselle property and Carlton County, Maggie Murdaugh and Paul Murdaugh were brutally and maliciously murdered at the kennels by Alex Murdaugh.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Just before closing arguments, the jury visited those kennels, the crime scene, up close for the first time.
Video of the scene not the jurors was allowed to be recorded by the media. The jury saw this small feed room where Paul Murdaugh was killed.
WATERS: He takes that shot, balk shot to the chest and it didn't kill him. Alex darted. As Alex is putting down that shotgun to pick up the blackout and is startled by Paul, that's why the angle is like that and catches Paul like that and goes up into the ceiling as you've heard the testimony from Kinsey. He blows -- he blows his brains out.
KAYE: Paul fell to the concrete after the second fatal shot, his brain hitting the pavement. As the jury could see at the scene, all of that was within sight of where Maggie Murdaugh's body was found on the grass near the shed.
The pool reporter measured the two shootings were just about 12 steps apart. Listen, as the prosecutor recreates the alleged events, including the use of the second gun, the blackout rifle.
WATERS: Because Maggie sees what happens and she comes running over there, running to her baby, probably the last thing on her mind thinking that it was him who had done this while he's gotten picked up the blackout and opens fire.
Then she takes those two shots and it crumples her over.
KAYE: In his closing, the prosecutor zeroed in on how Murdaugh lied to investigators about being at the kennels with his family around the time of the murders. The video later found on Paul's cell phone was recorded at 8:44 p.m., minutes before prosecutors say they were killed.
Alex Murdaugh can be heard talking in the background, though for 20 months, he denied being there.
WATERS; Why in the world would an innocent reasonable father and husband lie about that and lie about it so early? Because he didn't know that was there.
KAYE: Prosecutor Creighton Waters reminded the jury today that the State's ballistic expert determined it was a family weapon, a 300 blackout rifle that killed Maggie. He based that on the fact that shell casings found near Maggie's body matched casing scattered all over Murdaugh's hunting property.
In other words, the gun had been used there many times before.
WATERS: A family blackout killed Maggie. It was present just a couple of months prior to the murders and it is gone now. A family weapon, the defendant cannot account for killed Maggie.
KAYE: The prosecutor left the jury with this --
WATERS: We couldn't bring you any eyewitnesses because they were murdered, but common sense and human nature can speak on behalf of Maggie and Paul.
When you look at this in its totality, common sense and human nature can speak for them and they deserve a voice.
KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Walterboro, South Carolina.
ROMANS: All right. Now to the war in Ukraine, Russian troops laying siege to the Donetsk region, pounding the eastern town of Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers about to stand their ground. Both sides suffering severe losses, even the chief of Moscow's Wagner group admits Ukraine has ferociously defended its land.
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YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN, WAGNER PRIVATE MILITARY COMPANY: Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are fiercely repelling attacks. Bloodshed increases every day.
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ROMANS: CNN's Clare Sebastian joins me live from London right now.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine's biggest challenge is defending Bakhmut. Why?
CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, it seems, certainly this morning, if you judge with the account from the Ukrainian general staff, the momentum is on the Russian side. They said the Russians are continuing to advance, assaulting the city, that was backed up by the institute of the study of war, which is a think tank that tracks these movements on the front line. We know, according to Ukrainian military, that Wagner is still deploying, they say, some of its best trained units in the city.
For Russia, we know this untold resources into this battle, for a city which, by the way, was not even a city, a town really, population of around 70,000 before the war. Not even particularly strategically placed, but has become something of huge significance for both sides. Ukraine has said this, week, they believe the town is not encircled. They say they've fortify the west of the town, which even if Russia does take Bakhmut, should prevent them advancing to quickly further west.
There's another wildcard, Christine, the weather here. The spring is starting at this moment in Ukraine, the ground that was frozen breaking up, and the mud that creates could potentially slow down Russian tanks as they try to advance. That may be why we see Ukraine holding on, even as they face questions around the merit of doing that, given the scale of the losses they're taking.
ROMANS: All right. Clare Sebastian for us, thank you so much, Clare.
All right. Sirhan Sirhan making another plea for parole, and the decision is in for the notorious assassin.
Plus, the U.S. Air Force cleaned house after a failed expansion at a key nuclear base.
Lift off for the latest mission pairing NASA with SpaceX.
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ANNOUNCER: Five, four, three, two, one, and power, and lift off --
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ROMANS: SpaceX and NASA just launched a new crew to the International Space Station, two NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonaut, and the first astronaut from the United Arab Emirates are right now streaking to the ISS. A problem with the ground system delayed this launch earlier, this week. All right, the Senate passing a resolution to overturn a Biden
administration retirement investment rule that Republicans call too woke.
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SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): The ayes on this vote are 50, the nays are 46 and the joint resolution is passed.
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ROMANS: The role allows retirement plan managers to consider climate change and other social factors when picking investments, Republicans accuse investors of trying to force companies to follow a liberal agenda at the expense of profits. The bill now moves to the president's desk. He has vowed to issue his first presidential veto.
Now, this consider, this is the size of the House of Representatives remains unchanged over the past century, with 435 voting members. That is, of course, despite a growing U.S. population.
So, deep thoughts here, would Congress be better if it were bigger?
Danielle Allen, contributing columnist at "The Washington" Post here this morning, you are writing a series of columns over the, year looking at things and democracy that have been pulling us apart, right, and trying to find solutions and putting us back together, is one of these solutions I guess more voting members in the house to better represent the people?
DANIELLE ALLEN, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST OPINION: Good morning Christine, thanks so much for opening up space for us there is so much news, so I appreciate the chance to really look forward.
I know it sounds crazy, but yes, a bigger house would help us a lot. The house was always supposed to grow the population, how Swiss was to get flexibility, dynamism, it is contained as the population changes, backs them in stark for 100 years is probably why we have some rigid frozen system.
ROMANS: You say that House members today represent roughly 750,000 people, that number is on track to reach 1 million by the end of the century. So, one of the reasons between more people in this ranch.
ALLEN: Well, it is really important to remember where we started -- 30,000 people, so think about that standard, it meant it was actually possible to know your representative, they had to be directly accountable to the people. Odds are we can't get back to anything like that ratio, but still we can bring it down and that should give us the chance for more direct connection between representatives and their constituents, better constituency services, more connection directly to the people, so the people who drafted the constitution called do dependence of the people, ordinary voters, not special interest owners and the like. Smaller districts will be cheaper to campaign, and also therefore bring down the impact of money in politics.
ROMANS: I wonder, though the flipside, could it make it harder to pass bills and get things done? Would it be unwieldy?
ALLEN: It's certainly the case that it is possible to operate on a bigger scale, so the British parliament is larger than we, are the German -- Bundestag is larger than our lower house, so lots of places around the world are already operating at a higher scale, even though their populations are somewhat smaller than ours.
ROMANS: You write in your piece, quote, lack of proximity to representative sleeves constituents in an information vacuum about all -- easily filled by polarizing national narratives, and misinformation. I wonder, would an expanded house mean we have more voices spreading misinformation?
ALLEN: It doesn't actually mean, that it really means because they will be closer to their constituents, you get more from a first and second-degree connection, so more local knowledge that is actually well informed and direct the conversation. Right now people are so removed, they have to rely on national, sources. It is that vacuum that prevents the distorting of misinformation to get traction and full sway.
ROMANS: All right. Danielle Allen, thank you so, much we look for to reading more of your pieces this year. You can read Daniels new piece on "The Washington Post".
Nice to see you. Thank you.
ALLEN: Thanks, Christine.
ROMANS: All right, quick hits across America now.
Murder charges against the man for killing in St. Louis earlier this week that was captured on video by a witness. It shows a man being shot at close range, while sitting on downtown sidewalk.
Six U.S. Air Force members fired this week for failing a nuclear safety inspection. Defense officials tell CNN, officers failed to comply with safety regulations for vehicles, and equipment.
Parole denied for Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Governor Gavin Newsom also rejected a recommendation to free him back in 2021.
All right just ahead, protesters try and confront the prime minister's wife in Israel. Plus, Harry and Meghan get the royal boot from King Charles.
ROMANS: All right. Growing alarm in Iran this, morning hundreds of school girls falling, sick some even hospitalized. Symptoms include muscle, weakness, nausea numbness, shortness of, breath some senior officials say they suspect deliberate poisoning of these school girls.
CNN's Nima Elbagir joins us from London.
This is just awful. Why do Iranian officials believe that this is deliberate?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is actually taken at the Iranian officials sometime to reach this point, Christine, officially many of the pants we were speaking to were communicating with inside Iran made very clear that in the initial days as recently as last week, Iranian officials were in essence gaslighting some of these girls and their parents by saying this was some form of contagion of hysteria that people were falling prey to rumors.
You can see some of the images that we are showing our image there, that does not look like people following prey to rumors. There has been a real domestic outcry internally, and real concerns that this is about hard-liners, and young women and girls trying to scare them into giving up their fundamental and free rights to education. I think this really important to contextualize this for our audience, this comes against the backdrop of young women, school girls, taking to the streets, protesting the restrictive hijab and head covering rules for the last few months.
So together, it is an incredibly worrying and toxic miasma for so many of these people, people who we were able to communicate with inside Iran said they were actually not allowed initially to seek treatment so while it may seem now on some level Iranian officials are publicly making some of the right statements, there is also a real concern that this could be Russian hard-liners themselves, and in this context, the proliferation of fierce and concerns and people are really worried Christine.
All right. Nima, thank you so much for that. Keep us posted.
All right. Quick hits around the globe right now. Hundreds of protesters gathering outside a Tel Aviv hair salon, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara was having her hair done. Demonstrators are angry about the government's plan to curb the judiciary's power.