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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Kremlin: Xi & Putin to Discuss "Strategic Cooperation" Next Week; Poland Becomes First NATO Country to Send Ukraine Fighter Jets; Big Banks Rescue Frist Republican with $30 Billion Infusion; CNN: Servers, Aides Among Trump's Mar-a-Lago Staff Subpoenaed. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the big meeting in Moscow just announced. Putin and Xi face-to-face in a matter of days.


CAROLINE OUKO, MOTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: Mental illness should not be your ticket to death.


ROMANS: Three more people charged with murder after a Virginia man died in custody, his family calling for justice after seeing a video of his last moments.

And the growing legal problems for Donald Trump, now dozens of staffers at Mar-a-Lago are receiving subpoenas.

Here we go, Friday, St. Patrick's Day. Welcome to our viewers in the United States, and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with China's President Xi Jinping set to meet with Vladimir Putin in next week in Russia. The Kremlin says the two leaders will discuss strategic cooperation, this comes amid fears that Beijing might provide weapons to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong for us.

And, Kristie, what else more do we know about this meeting with the two leaders?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be traveling to Russia to meet with Volodymyr Putin from March 20th, to the 22nd, according to a spokesman, Wang Wenbin, he spoke earlier today, Xi will discuss with Putin bilateral relations, major international regional issues, while drawing a blueprint for the two countries' relations.

Now, he also added that Xi will urge peace and promote talks, and in regards to the relationship, he said this. The relationship is completely different from the approach of certain countries that cling to the cold war mentality, gang up on, each other and engage in small circles in confrontations, and hegemonize and bully others, unquote. So, striking around the defensive tone there.

Now the two last-minute face-to-face in Uzbekistan at a summit last September, and the timing of that meaning was significant because it took place just weeks before the Communist Party Congress, when Xi secure that unprecedented third term as party leader.

And so, when Xi meets with Putin again in Moscow next week, it will be after the National People's Congress, during which Xi secure that unprecedented third term as president. The China-Russia relationship of course is under intense scrutiny, the U.S., accuses China of considering sending lethal aid and support to Russia for its war effort in Ukraine, Beijing continues to push back on those claims, and counter uses the U.S. of supporting Ukraine, and China claims to be initial party to the Ukraine conflict despite the no limits relationship it has with Russia, despite the fact it refuses to condemn the invasion.

As you recall, last month, China released that 12 point peace plan position paper, but that plan was criticized by Western leaders who accused China of already taking sides, already being on side with Russia, and, Christine, that view will likely be very much reinforced with the optics of this visit to take place early next week -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Kristie Lu Stout for us in Hong Kong, thank you for that.

Poland has become the first NATO country to pledge fighter jets to Ukraine. The State Department welcoming the move.


NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The polish know on an almost visceral level history, recent, events that we have to stand up to the Russian, and recognize that Ukrainian partners are incensed fighting this war for all of us.


ROMANS: Four MiG-29 fighter jets are said to be handed over from Poland to Kyiv in the coming days.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is in London with more.

Salma, does Poland's move, I don't know, does it force the hand of other NATO countries to do the same?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely the question, because you could argue that four MiG fighter jets aren't exactly going to make a huge difference on the battleground, where they do make an impact is the pressure they put towards the West, towards Europe, towards NATO, and the United States, to potentially supply the same.

President Zelenskyy has repeatedly made progress for fighters. President Biden, just a few weeks ago, had to publicly respond to those demands, saying the U.S. military had assessed that he did not need F-16s from the United States at the time.

Now, top U.S. officials saying despite Poland's move, they will continue to remain to stick to that calculus they are not going to provide these planes right now. But what we found throughout this conflict is that what was considered dangerous or escalatory like jets, tanks at the beginning of this war, may now be considered necessary and required by battlefield demands.

So don't dismiss it outright. What we are finding is that allies are continuously flexible when it comes to the demands of Kyiv, there are no closed doors.


And for Poland to make this move, first, yes, it is quite natural in some ways. It is Poland that's on the front lines of this war. It is Poland that had missiles landing right up near its border. It's Poland that had to welcome millions of refugees and feels deeply threatened of course by Russian aggression and Russian expansion.

So it is really trying to set a precedent here for other allies, but for now, the rules remain the same, their calculation remains the same for the United States, but that doesn't mean there is wiggle room.

ROMANS: All right. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you for that.

On this St. Patrick's Day, First Republic Bank is counting its luck after 11 major U.S. banks pulled it back from the brink of collapse. A $30 billion cash infusion from the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and others, that will help First Republic meet customer withdrawals, and also reassure anxious markets and boost confidence in the wider banking system.

CNN's Rahel Solomon has more.


RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUINESS CORRESPONDENT: Two major developments Thursday on the banking front, helping calm the nerves of investors. Eleven banks now stepping up to provide financial lifeline to First Republic Bank. Regional U.S. bank facing significant challenges over the last week, similar to those that led to the demise of Silicon Valley Bank, including customers Russian to withdraw their money.

The ranks now stepping up include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo, who announced Thursday they are each making a five billion dollar uninsured deposits into the bank.

Also stabilizing markets today, news that Credit Suisse will be boring 50 billion francs from the Swiss Central Bank. That sent its shares surging. Now this is a major development for the larger economy, because Credit

Suisse is considered a systemically important bank for the global markets. That just means it is too important, and too big to fail.

Since SVB's trouble began last week, markets have been on a wild ride, pushing volatile swings. So what is ahead?

Brian Levitt, a global market strategist for Invesco, that's an independent investment management firm, tells me, we may not be out of the woods with regards to potentially seeing other bank challenges, whoever policymakers stand ready to provide support, and decline in inflation, and rate hike should provide some optimism.

Rahel Solomon, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: All right, three hospital workers are now facing murder charges after a 28-year-old Black man died in custody. They join seven sheriff stipulates already charged with second degree murder in this case.

CNN's Brian Todd has more from Henrico County, Virginia.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three more people charged with second degree murder in the death of 28-year-old Irvo Otieno, in custody, all three are employees of Central State Hospital mental health facility in Virginia, where Otieno was taken on March 6th. That's in addition to seven sheriff deputies already charged with second degree murder.

CAROLINE OUKU, MOTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: He was my blood. He was my blood, the breath out of my baby. That was my baby.

TODD: His family now seen video of the fatal incident.

LEON OCHIENG, BROTHER OF IRVO OTIENO: At what point do we start preserving life? At what point do we consider mental illness a crime?

TODD: Prosecutors say Otieno died of asphyxiation after being held down for 11, or 12 minutes.

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR OTIENO FAMILY: Restrained to brutally, were knee on his, in fact, the weight of seven individuals on his body while he's face down, handcuffed, with leg irons.

TODD: Otieno was arrested on March 3rd after police say they responded to a burglary call next door to his home and took him to the hospital for evaluation where he became physically assaultive.

His mother says she pleaded with the police.

OUKU: They've called him off treatment, took him to jail, didn't take him down there with any medicine. TODD: After a weekend in jail, where prosecutors say video shows

Otieno was pepper-sprayed, punched and mistreated, he was brought at the Central State Mental Facility on March 6, where authorities allege he became combative.

CRUMP: In the videos, are never confrontational with them. He is not posing a threat to them. He's not violent or aggressive with them.

TODD: In court this week, an early glimpse of deputy's potential defense, one lawyer citing this.

EDWARD NICKEL, ATTORNEY FOR DEPUTY BRADLEY DISSE: The ongoing issues that he had been, they had been having with this individual with regards to his disorderly conduct, with regards to his aggression, with regards to his resistance.

TODD: But his family says what he needed was help.

What do you want to see happen to these deputies, either of you?

OUKU: Justice, I would like them put away if you ask me for life.


That they don't see the light of day again. What they did to my son was horrific. Horrific.


TODD (on camera): We've reached out to the Central State Hospital Mental Health Facility for their response to three of their employees been charged with second degree murder, we have not heard back.

We have also reached out to the attorneys identified so far for the seven deputies discharged, we have heard back in detail from the lawyers for just one of them, Deputy Bradley Disse, who told us their client looks forward to being vindicated in court.

Brian Todd, CNN, Dinwiddie County, Virginia.


ROMANS: All right. Brian, thank you for that.

Just ahead, hot pursuit, fighter jets chasing down a North Korean missile in-flight.

Plus, could new indictments loom for 2024 presidential candidate Donald Trump?

And, the American city that just moved to get rid of gas furnaces for good.


ROMANS: All right. CNN has learned dozens of workers that Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate have been subpoenaed to testify before grand jury,


It's part of a special counsel's investigation into a former president's handling of classified documents.

CNN's Paula Reid says it is the latest twist as the legal was appeared to deepen for the 2024 presidential hopeful.


REPORTER: Mr. President --

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Trump facing increasing legal jeopardy and criminal investigations in multiple jurisdictions.

In Washington, D.C., a former White House aide, Margo Martin, who followed Trump to Mar-a-Lago, appeared before a grand jury as part of the special counsel's investigation into classified documents found at the Florida estate.

And his former fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen, appearing twice this week before a grand jury in New York investigating hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: It was like -- it was like being on trial.

REID: Cohen had already met with investigators 20 times to share what he knows.

COHEN: What I can tell you is that their questioning of me started out at like 35,000 feet. By the time that I hit the 20th interview, we were down to like three feet, ready to land. The grand jury was the actual takeoff back to, we'll call it accountability-ville.

REID: Cohen helped facilitate $130,000 in payments to Daniels right before the 2016 election. Daniels also spoke with investigators Wednesday via Zoom.

The Manhattan district attorney's office invited the former president to testify, as is the right of potential defendants in New York, but he declined, and his lawyer says if he is indicted, that would actually catapult him back to the White House.

JOE TACOPINA, DONALD TRUMP'S PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I think it will ultimately embolden him and embolden his supporters and give him more strength because it will be proven to be wrongly accused.

REID: And down in Georgia, "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" spoke with five jurors who served in the Fulton County special grand jury, investigating Trump's actions in the state after the 2020 election, revealing they had heard a previously undisclosed recording of a conversation between Trump and the late former Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, where Trump pushed for him to call a special legislative session to overturn Joe Biden's win in the state. A source confirmed the existence of a recording to CNN.

One of the jurors called Ralston basically cut the president off, telling Trump, I will do everything in my power that I think is appropriate. Ralston has since died and the recording has not been public. But it echoes the now infamous call made to Georgia's secretary of state around the same time.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: All I want to do is this -- I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


REID (on camera): And CNN has learned that special counsel Jack Smith has subpoenaed dozens of Mar-a-Lago staffers, in his investigation into the possible mishandling of the classified documents. We have learned from sources that he has subpoenaed everyone from close aides, to housekeepers, groundskeepers, even servers at the resort.

They want to know if anyone has, seen or heard anything related to classified documents, or boxes that could have can turn classified materials.

Paula Reid, CNN, New York.

ROMANS: Paula, thank you for that.

I want to bring in now, Dave Aronberg, state attorney in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Dave, okay, there is, you know, we started with more than a half dozen investigations into the president, there is four big ones we are watching now. Let's start with the investigation into the former president's handling of the cost find arguments.

After about a year of investigating, what do these new subpoenas mean to service and with staff and people who work at Mar-a-Lago?

DAVE ARONBERG, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: Good morning, Christine. It shows that special counsel Jack Smith is a pit bull. You are seeing an investigation with a lot more urgency now that he is in charge amid. A lot of us were wondering where was this the last couple years, but it also shows who the subpoenas that this matter is about the obstruction not about the position of the documents, not what Biden and Pence did really does not matter as much as what Trump did after he was asked to return the documents.

Did he try to obstruct? Did he instruct his staff to hide the documents? That is what they are asking staff. Did they see anyone move the documents upon the former president's orders? And what did they, see what a day here at Mar-a-Lago, that is why it is important, that is why when we talk about what Biden and Pence did, that is a red herring. This is about obstruction under section 18 USC 5019 which could get some one up to 20 years in prison.

ROMANS: So let's turn to the New York case of the hush money payments. Listen to what Michael Cohen, the former president's former attorney, said yesterday after testifying Wednesday.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Having spoken and met with him so many times, do you believe and indictment is imminent?


COHEN: I do.

LEMON: OK, and do you -- when do you think it could happen, sooner, rather than later?

COHEN: Let's all hope it sooner rather than later because everyone needs to be held accountable. Everyone needs to be held to the same standard of the law, that includes former presidents.


ROMANS: Dave, what -- do you think there is an indictment coming soon?

ARONBERG: I do. I think it is going to happen by the end of next week. You know, this case is referred to within the DA's office and Manhattan as the zombie theory, because it just won't die. It can go back and, fourth it starts and, stops it has been around for around five years.

But I think they are really serious, now because they invited Donald Trump to testify before the grand jury. That is something you know only at the very end of an investigation and only when you are planning to indict the target. I mean, look there could be exceptions, but I'm telling you, an overwhelming number of cases, this shows there will be an indictment, and the fact that Michael Cohen has already testified, to me it is a punctuation Mark.

That is why I expect indictments come soon, I still think this investigation, this case will be the fourth strongest out of the four out there, and we will see what happens, there could be a lot of surprises out there after we find out what the indictment says, because based on reports that it is about an election crime, altercation a business record, it does seem a little bit like small ball. So, we will see if there are surprises.

The fact that Jennifer Weisselberg, Allen Weisselberg's former daughter-in-law testified, means maybe there's some financial crimes that will be added on. Hell hath no fury like an ex-daughter-in-law scorned.

ROMANS: Dave Aronberg, it's so nice to see you this morning. Have a great weekend. Thank you.

ARONBERG: Thanks for having me, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now. Utah's Republican Governor Spencer Cox has signed a bill banning abortion clinics in the state starting next year. Abortions will still be allowed out hospitals until 18 weeks of pregnancy.

The military has ruled out foul play in the death of a female soldier at Fort Hood, and investigators are still looking at allegations of sexual harassment. This comes three years after the harassment and murder of another female soldier on the Army post.

The San Francisco area will face out natural gas powered for and water heaters to eliminate nitrogen oxide emissions. Air quality regulators voted for the new rules to begin by 2027.

All right, could North Korea hit a U.S. city with a nuclear missile right now? What the experts say, next.

Plus, that sea of seaweed, now threatening a vacation paradise.



ROMANS: North Korea confirming its long race intercontinental ballistic missile launch on Thursday because of its willingness to, quote counter attack enemies. Pyongyang says the launch was a response to this week's joint military drills, by South Korea and the U.S.

CNN's Will Ripley has more on what kind of threat and missile like that poses to the U.S.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the skies near Japan, F15 on the hunt for a suspected North Korean intercontinental ballistics missile capturing what could be last seconds in flight. This rare video released by Japan's military, experts say the burning object resemble as ballistic missile boost rocket reentering the atmosphere flying about an hour at hypersonic speeds.

TIANRAN XU, ANALYST, OPEN NUCLEAR NETWORK: If there's no interception, or if the interception fails, an ICBM launched from North Korea would take a little bit more than 30 minutes to reach the homeland U.S. and also becoming -- if it's the west coast, or the east -- the east coast will take slightly more time.

RIPLEY: Chinese scientists simulated a North Korean nuclear attack. According to "The South China Morning Post", the simulation shows 33 minutes from the time of launch until the time of impact, if U.S. missile defenses fail to shoot down the ICBM.

MIKE PENCE, FOMER VICE PRESIDENT: Missile defense begins mere.

RIPLEY: For years, U.S. leaders have reassured the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nation should be very confident RIPLEY: And America's allies

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Easily shoot them out of the sky.

RIPLEY: Missile defense systems can keep them safe. But virtually, all ballistics missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound, sometimes faster.

LAURA GREGO, SENIOR SCIENTIST AND RESEARCH DIRECTOR, GLOBAL SECURITY PROGRAM: It's been described as hitting a bullet with bullet, trying to hit a warhead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one -- ignition.

RIPLEY: A report last year finding America's missile defense system the nation's best perhaps only line of defense only succeeds about half the time.

FREDERICK K. LAMB, PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN: If North Korea were to fire a nuclear armed ICBMs at the United States, we could not essential our defense system would prevent it.

RIPLEY: A U.S. Missile Defense Agency report last year said the missile defense system demonstrated a measured capability to defend the United States deployed forces and allies from a rogue nation's missile attack.

That rogue nation has a fast growing arsenal. Kim Jong-un's military is mass producing ICBMs. He knows a barrage of ballistic missiles could be too much for the U.S. to shoot down.


RIPLEY (on camera): With each ballistic missile launched, the United States goal of denuclearizing North Korea seems to rocket farther and farther into outer space frankly. North Korea wants to become a nuclear power like China, like Russia, with an arsenal so big that it would be impossible to shoot all of the nuclear weapons down. That essentially gives Kim Jung-un the legitimacy that he has been working so hard to get by launching so many of these missiles over the years.

Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.

ROMANS: All right. Terrific analysis from Will. Thank you.

All right. Happening today, Turkish and Finnish presidents are meeting in Istanbul. Both leaders have suggested that Turkey will ratify Finland's bid.