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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

NYT: Manhattan Prosecutors Signal Trump Criminal Charges Likely; Trump Says He Won't Drop Out Of 2024 Race If Indicted; Norfolk Southern CEO Apologizes For East Palestine Accident; Xi Secures Unprecedented Third Term As China's President; Police: Seven Killed At Jehovah's Witnesses Center In Germany; Secy Austin Makes Case For Independent Judiciary In Israel. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 05:00   ET




CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on Early Start, the hush money investigation that's coming to ahead, could it see former President Trump indicted. And out of Florida and into the heartland. Governor Ron DeSantis heads to Iowa today, his first big test of a potential White House run.

Plus --


CHERYL ORANG, FRIEND OF MEXICO KIDNAPPING VICTIMS: I dropped the phone. My body clenched up. I dropped the phone. My stomach was in knots. And I just began praying. I just began praying for to return of them.


ROMANS: A friend of the four Americans kidnapped in Mexico describing the moment she knew something was terribly wrong.

All right, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans. This is Early Start. Let's begin with one Trump investigation that could be close to a dramatic end. The New York Times reporting that the Manhattan DA's office has offered to let the former president testify next week before a grand jury.

The Times saying it's a signal that criminal charges are likely. This all has to do with that $130,000 in hush money paid to Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election. The adult film star claimed she had an affair with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies. Investigators are looking into whether that payment for her silence broke campaign finance laws. Trump has also denied knowing about that payment.

I want to bring in David Aronberg, he is the state attorney in Palm Beach County, Florida. Good morning. OK, so would the DA have asked the former president to testify if an indictment wasn't close?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good morning, Christine. No. It looks like an indictment is upon us. And I'm surprised by it. I didn't think that my counterpart Manhattan would go this far, because after all, he dropped the financial crimes investigation against Donald Trump a year ago. But this looks like it's for real. And if I were Donald Trump, I would be where the Ides of March because it looks like an indictment is imminent.

ROMANS: So would he actually testify you think before a grand jury?

ARONBERG: There is a 0 percent chance he will testify. There's no upside for him. He is not going to get immunity before the grand jury because he's the target of the investigation. Plus, the testimony can be used against him later in a future trial. And if he lies under oath, that would bring him a perjury charge.

You know, I do think this case is likely to be brought because this has been around for five years or starts and stops. It's been called the zombie theory, because it's been an investigation that's been impossible to kill. And when the district attorney, they're allowed these leaks out there, if he was just going to drop the investigation. After all, he got a lot of criticism last year when he dropped the investigation into Trump's financial crimes. So I don't see history repeating itself now.

ROMANS: Trump has said that even if he were to be indicted, he would still run for president in 2024. What are the legal implications for that?

ARONBERG: Well, he can do so. There's nothing in the law that says he can't. I mean, so prepare for it. Plus, I think the reason why he is running for president is because he thinks it's a Get Out of Jail Free card. Because remember, he escaped this very charge that sent Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer to prison for a campaign finance related crime, because he was the sitting president, and there's an internal policy within the Department of Justice not to indict a sitting president.

And the problem, though, for Trump is that two of the investigations out there, the Fulton County investigation would -- Fani Willis, about election shenanigans. And this investigation, which is a state investigation, would both be pardoned proof a future Republican president would not be able to pardon the former president. So that's why these investigations are so important, regardless of what Merrick Garland does at the federal level.

ROMANS: I think it's important to remind people that there are multiple cases swirling here. You talked about the New York financial crimes when it was dropped. But wouldn't indictment in this case change anything in those other investigations that Trump is involved in?

ARONBERG: No, I don't think so. Because this is a very different case than the others. Now, if it was the same matter as the federal investigations, and perhaps, but you'd be surprised, Christine, how little goes on between the state and the feds. There's not a lot of discussions when it comes to this stuff.

Now, there are some deconfliction discussions when it's the same investigation. But what's going on in Manhattan really has nothing to do with what's going on in Fulton County, which really has nothing to do with this -- with what is going on at the federal level with Merrick Garland and Jack Smith.

And personally, I think, the strongest case against the former president is not Manhattan, but it's -- when it comes to the Mar-a- Lago documents, a direct tie between Donald Trump and the criminal activity that's alleged there. I think the Manhattan investigation was actually fourth out of four behind July -- excuse me -- January 6 and Fulton County and the Mar-a-Lago documents matter.


ROMANS: All right, Dave Aronberg, thank you so much. Have a great weekend. Thanks for dropping by so early this morning for us.

ARONBERG: Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is taking his book tour to the key presidential testing ground of Iowa today. It's renewing speculation the Republican is testing the waters for a White House run. The declared Republican candidate Nikki Haley has also been in the Hawkeye State this week. Donald Trump makes the first iOS app of his 2024 run next week.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has the latest on the political comings and goings in Des Moines.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. The Iowa caucuses are less than a year away and Republican voters here are beginning to size up the field, a big day today. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis not officially in the race, of course, but on his book tour, and choosing to make his first trip ever to the state of Iowa during this season.

Of course, he's inching ever closer to a formal announcement of a presidential campaign, which is likely we're told to come in either May or June. But I can tell you, talking to voters here throughout the week, there's high anticipation for his arrival and former President Donald Trump also coming to Iowa on Monday. This is his first visit of the cycle of the year.

And this is really one of the central questions hanging over this race. How much devotion remains to the former president versus what is the mindset and appetite for moving on to a new candidate? Now former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, she's been in the state for three days on a three-day tour hitting western Iowa and Central Iowa.

She has been spending more time here than other candidates. Of course, others have been visiting as well. But talking to voters there, of course, are Trump true believers who say they will stick with him. But there is a sense of Trump fatigue, even among people who proudly voted for the former president back in 2016. Even in 2020, there is an inclination that there's time for a new generation of leaders.

So this is what must be sorted out here. The bottom line, of course, is will voters stick with Trump or move on to new generation? And talking to Republican leaders or they believe the Iowa caucuses this year could be even more significant than ever before and this is why. If Trump wins here, that could catapult him of course to other states like New Hampshire, South Carolina, and it could stop others potential rise.

If he does not win here, that could give a sense that the Republican party is ready to move on. So Christine, as you know very well, in your home state here of Iowa, these caucuses are so important. Republican voters take a measure of these candidates and to their relief, for many of them, it's starting now. Christine?

ROMANS: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much for that, Jeff.

All right, a spokesperson says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell likely will stay in the hospital for a few days, so doctors can keep an eye on him. McConnell being treated for a concussion after he tripped and fell Wednesday during a dinner at a DC Hotel. Sources say the 81-year-old was totally on point before the fall. His colleagues on the Hill wished him a speedy recovery.

All right, the CEO of Norfolk Southern apologizing to a Senate committee for last month's train derailment, a toxic fire in East Palestine, Ohio. Alan Shaw, the CEO repeatedly promising to make the community hold while committing to fast tracking safety culture at his company. But Shaw stopped short of backing the Senate's bipartisan rail safety legislation bill.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more. We have provided.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christina. As cleanup efforts continue in East Palestine, here in Washington, there was a public apology from Norfolk Southern Alan Shaw, the CEO of that company, acknowledging Mistakes were made and promising to do more.

But those promises falling far short of specific commitments that many on the ground and senators on the committee really wanted and that really underscored in this moment between Senator Markey and Alan Shaw on Thursday.


SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): When you say, do the right thing, will you again compensate these families for their diminished lost property value for homes and small businesses?

ALAN SHAW, CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN: Senator, we've already committed $21 million and that's a downpayment.

MARKEY: That is a down payment. Will you commit to ensuring that these families, these innocent families do not lose their life savings in their homes and small businesses? The right thing to do is to say, yes, we will.

SHAW: Senator, I'm committed to doing what's right for the community.


SERFATY: Shaw also refusing to commit to pausing stock buybacks, offering paid sick leave for all Norfolk Southern employees, and to outright commit to the legislation on the Hill that attempts to hold railways more accountable. Now for the residents of East Palestine who watched this hearing, Shaw's evasions, they said, felt very hollow to many. One resident saying of Shaw, I think he's full of it. Christine?

ROMANS: All right. Thank you for that, Sunlen.


A friend of the four Americans who were kidnapped at gunpoint in Mexico is speaking out. Cheryl Orange says she didn't go with the group across the border because she didn't have her ID. She was waiting for three of them to return to their Texas motel after dropping off Latavia McGee for cosmetic surgery. But after hours passed and she hadn't heard from them, she contacted police.

Orange told CNN's Anderson Cooper what happened after she learned about the attack.


ORANGE: I dropped the phone. My body clenched up. I dropped the phone. My stomach was in knots. And I just began praying for the return of them. Because I have spoken to Tay. It put me at ease a little bit. It was music to my ears to hear a voice. This lady was facing death damn near and she said I was worried about you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: She said she was worried about you?

ORANGE: I love her. She's the best. Right.


ORANGE: She's a beautiful person.


ROMANS: Sadly, two of Orange's friends, Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard died in that attack. The Mexican cartel believe be responsible has also issued an apology letter and handed over five of its members to local authorities.

All right, still ahead on Early Start, an unprecedented third term for Xi Jinping. How China's President is securing his grip on power? Plus, the search for a motive in Germany after seven people were killed at a religious center.



ROMANS: All right, this just in from the country of Georgia, the nation's parliament has formally withdrawn its controversial foreign influence build. It follows international outcry and widespread protests there. Demonstrators likened the measure to laws in Russia that authorities there have leveraged to silence Kremlin critics. The bill was voted down by a margin of 35 to 1 in its second reading.

All right, China's Xi Jinping sworn in for an unprecedented third term as president this morning. The Chinese Parliament unanimously reappointed him for another five years. The vote largely seen as a formality here.

CNN's Selina Wang is live for us in Beijing this morning. So what does the title of president actually mean here, this historic third term? Why is this significant?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine. So the role of president in China it's actually largely ceremonial, but it is still symbolic, and it's important. This is a reminder that Xi Jinping has this iron grip over the country. It solidifies his control, and makes him the longest serving head of state of Communist China since its founding in 1949.

Now back in 2018, Xi scrapped the two-term limit on the presidency, meaning, he can stay on as head of state for life. But for Xi Jinping, his true power comes from being the head of the party and the military. These are rules he was already reappointed to at the Communist Party Congress back in October.

So really what we saw today was political theater. He was reappointed by more than 2,900 unanimous votes from China's rubber stamp legislature then they got up for a standing ovation. At this ongoing big political event where Xi was reappointed, we'll also see reshuffles in leadership roles and state organizations. All of those changes will further increase Xi Jinping's power.

On Saturday, Li Qiang, one of Xi Jinping is most trusted proteges, he's expected to be chosen as China's Premier. He was a former party secretary of Shanghai and oversaw that brutal two-month COVID locked down last spring.

ROMANS: What is expected to be Xi's main focus do you think in his third term here?

WANG: So we should expect to see increasing communist party control at home and abroad. We should expect this continued assertive, more aggressive foreign policy which Beijing really sees as trying to restore China's rightful standing in the world as a great power.

It looks like as well there's not going to be any easy off ramp to U.S.-China tensions. It's clear that Xi's view of the relationship between the U.S. and China is turning very pessimistic. Earlier this week, he made a rare move in directly calling out the U.S., accusing the U.S. of leading a campaign to contain and suppress China. Then the following day, China's new foreign minister warned that conflict with the U.S. is inevitable if the U.S. doesn't change course. So to the people in China, the message is that the U.S. is trying to choke off the country. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, interesting. Selina Wang, thank you so much for that.

All right, to Germany now, seven people are dead after a shooter opened fire in Hamburg. It happened Thursday at a Jehovah's Witnesses center. Many others were injured in this attack, some seriously. Police believe the shooter is also dead. A witness describe what he saw.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): We heard gunshots and there were 12 continuous shots. We saw people being taken away in black bags.


ROMANS: Investigators are urging people with information to come forward. Let's go to CNN's Jim Bittermann live in Paris. He's following these breaking developments. Do the police know what the motive may have been for this shooting, Jim?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, I think that's exactly what they are looking for. And we may hear more about it in about an hour from now. And we hear from the police themselves with the interior minister said this morning, the German interior minister said they are basically working flat out to try to determine what the background on this shooting is.

The fact is that Jehovah's Witnesses have been discriminated against kind of across Europe for years, including right here in France that was in the 90s, a movement against them to get them classified as a sector. And as a consequence, they lost their tax exempt status, which they had to go to the European Court of Human Rights to re-establish.

In any case, they have faced discrimination that could be part of the model, but it's unclear at this point if that's really the case. There's about 170,000 members of Jehovah's Witnesses, congregations across Germany, including this one at the Kingdom Hall last night, where the shooting took place shortly after 9:00, just after a meeting at the Kingdom Hall. Christine?

ROMANS: All right, Jim Bittermann, we'll be looking for more details in another hour or so from police. Thank you.


All right, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's pushed to weaken Israel's judiciary system. Austin was in Tel Aviv to meet with Netanyahu and his Israeli counterpart. He has stressed the importance of an independent judiciary. Austin's remarks come as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for what was billed as a day of disruption.

CNN's Hadas Gold live in Jerusalem with the latest. Are there any signs of Netanyahu backing down?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As of right now, Netanyahu does not seem and his government do not seem ready to back down this despite the push we're seeing from the Americans now. I have to say it was rather unusual to see the Secretary of Defense from the United States, speaking out against an issue of internal Israeli politics that doesn't necessarily have much to do with what Lloyd Austin is usually concerned about, which is about security issues.

But that goes to show you I think, how important the Americans think these potential judicial reforms would be, which amongst them would essentially allow politicians, the Israeli parliament to overturn Supreme Court decision among other changes.

Now, potentially why Lloyd Austin was even remarking on this is because his own visit was actually affected by these protests. He was -- the Pentagon said that the Israelis asked them to essentially change and delay his scheduled visit, because the protesters were planning to not only block the streets, the roads leading up to the airport, but also right around the defense ministries office in Tel Aviv.

So essentially, instead, Lloyd Austin arrived to the airport, met all the officials, including Netanyahu and the defense minister at a complex just off of the airport and then headed out. Meanwhile, a few hours after the protests ended, the Israeli President Isaac Herzog made an impassioned public speech on television saying that essentially, he believes the country is at a point of no return. And for the first time himself speaking out against the proposed legislation, saying that it was a danger to the Democratic foundations of Israel.

ROMANS: And then also, there was some sort of a shooting last night, what happened?

GOLD: Yes. So actually, just as the protests were wrapping for the evening, and not far away along, one of the main nightlife streets in Tel Aviv full (ph) bars and restaurants. Police say that a Palestinian man shot and wounded three Israeli men who were just walking down the street. Surveillance video shows that he essentially walked up to them from behind and shot at all of them.

Now, passerbys including some off duty police officers shot and killed the attacker. Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip has claimed responsibility saying that the shooter was one of their members. Christine, it's a reminder of the ongoing continued deadly violence --


GOLD: -- that's been gripping both Israelis and Palestinians now for months.

ROMANS: All right, Hadas Gold, thanks for that.

All right, there's no love lost between the Golden State Warriors and the Memphis Grizzlies, but one of the players says that doesn't make it a rivalry. The war of words coming up.

Plus, the action ramps up in college basketball with a full slate of conference tournaments all leading up to Selection Sunday. Andy Scholes and the Bleacher Report next.



ROMANS: All right, things got chippy in last night's Warriors- Grizzlies game but Draymond Green says the two teams aren't rivals. Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, Christine. So, you know, Draymond Green said the Grizzlies have to actually win something that matters to be rivals with the Warriors. And he and Dillon Brooks, they've been trading barbs in the media for weeks. The latest coming when Draymond said on his podcast that Brooks was an idiot and question whether his teammates even liked him.

Well second quarter, Brooks gets the steal and lays it in over Draymond and then he just gets right up on him. Draymond keeps his cool as Brooks had some words for him. The Grizzlies would win in a blowout in this game 131 to 110 and well, the conversation continued afterwards.

DILLON BROOKS, MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES FORWARD: You should give that mic to Draymond. And then talk about me.


BROOKS: Make him keep talking about me so I can play better.

DRAYMOND GREEN, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS FORWARD: Rivalries are created by. You and I win. Clearly, we won four times and I think their organization has zero championships so I can't consider that a rivalry.


SCHOLES: All right, some rough news for the Phoenix Suns. The team announcing that superstar Kevin Durant will be sidelined for at least three weeks due to a sprained ankle. Durant rolled that ankle during pregame warm ups on Wednesday and what was supposed to be his home debut against the Thunder.

The 13th time All Stars played in just three games since joining the Suns in a blockbuster trade from the Nets a month ago. Suns right now in fourth place in the western conference standings.

In college basketball, North Carolina started the season number one in the country after reaching the 2022 national title game. Well, now the Tar Heels might not even make it to the NCAA tournament. Virginia beat UNC 68-59 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals last night. The Tar Heels now look like they will now become the first preseason number one team ever to miss the tournament.

All right, the defending champs meanwhile, Kansas with a successful start to the big 12 tournament feeding West Virginia 78 to 61. But they did so without Head Coach Bill Self, who went to the emergency room Wednesday night for what doctors say was a standard procedure. Self is now going to miss the remainder of the big 12 tournament.

He said in his statement that he is grateful for all the well wishes and he's excited to get back with team in the very near future. So thankfully, it sounds like Coach Self is doing well.

All right, finally, you know, we've seen a lot of strange delays for all sorts of reasons in games but this one during the Baylor-Iowa State game definitely unique. A nail poked up from the floor? Had to be hammered back down before play could resume. And very nice pink Mohawk that handyman right there was rocking.