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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Appeals Court Ruling Will Keep Abortion Pill Available For Now; South Florida Experiencing Once-in-a-Half-Century Rainfall; Washington Post: Person Behind Leaks Worked on a Military Base, Posted Documents in Discord Chat Room; Florida Man Dies After Volunteering to Fight in Ukraine; Today: Jury Selection Starts in $1.6B Defamation Suit Against Fox; Today: Biden to Meet Irish Leaders and Speak to Parliament; Police Release 911 Calls from Kentucky Bank Shooting; EPA Tests Toxic Smoke for Chemicals as Recycling Plant Burns. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans. This is EARLY START, a busy morning.

We begin with breaking news. A short time ago, a federal appeals court took action to keep the abortion pill mifepristone on the market. The court blocked the parts of a Texas judge order that would have suspended FDA approval of the drug. Now the FDA approval will stay in effect, while the court considers an expedited appeal.

But important here, the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court is leaving in place parts of the ruling that will, in effect, make the pill harder to get. The FDA tried to ease access in recent years by allowing the drug to be mailed and by approving a generic version. For now, those changes that make it easier for people to get the drug, those changes remain suspended.

This medication has been approved as safe and effective for uses an abortion pill for more than two decades. But it's possible removal from pharmacies could affect every American.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has more on that.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Over the past 23 years, millions of American women have taken the drug called mifepristone, in combination with another drug for miscarriages and also for abortions.

Let's take a look at how those numbers have climbed. As you can see, the numbers have gotten much larger over the years. Right now, more than 53 percent of abortions in the U.S., they're done with medication. They're done with pills. They're not done by surgery.

And if we take a look at safety, these pills have an excellent safety profile. If you look at mifepristone, for every million women who take it, there will be five deaths. If you look at penicillin for every million people who take it, there will be 20 deaths. If you look at Viagra, for every million patients that take it, there will be 49 deaths.

If the ruling from the Texas judge stands, that means that women across the country will lose access to this medication.

In addition, there could be another effect. If the judge's ruling stands, pharmaceuticals companies might say, wait a minute. We're investing millions and millions of dollars into research and development for drugs. The FDA looks at it, their outside advisers, all these scientists look at it, and now, we need to worry that a single judge, not even a scientist, that a single judge can just pull it off the market.

It could definitely discourage them from investigating and from researching new drugs, and that could affect us all.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right. Repeating the breaking news overnight, an appeals court has partially frozen that Texas judge's order. It keeps mifepristone available while the full appeals process plays out, but the judges blocked the drug for being sent to patients through the mail, blocks some aspects that make it easier to get this drug.

Right now to severe flooding overnight in south Florida that has shut down Fort Lauderdale's airport until noon today. The National Weather Service calling it a once in 50-year event, declaring us a flash flood emergency for the Fort Lauderdale holiday area. Low lying streets, which is a lot of places all across the region are impassable, undrivable as you can see there with waist deep water.

The city of Fort Lauderdale, declaring a local state of emergency, trying to trying to actually. The process of declaring a state of emergency is made more difficult by the fact that the city hall has no electricity at this hour.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is in the CNN Weather Center this morning.

Good morning, Derek.

The thunderstorms are not finished of -- with Florida, we understand.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, that's right. The chance for more rain exists today, but 20 to 25 inches of rain in a 24-hour period is historic. It is extremely rare for southern Florida and this is the type of rainfall you could get with a high end hurricane over multiple days. So, to see this occur in such a short period of time, no wonder we're seeing the pictures of flooding across the greater Fort Lauderdale region.

You're looking at radar estimated rainfall total and you can see that bright spot. That is a lot of pink. And we zoom in.

Here is the airport. That's the area that's been impacted so heavily, including downtown Fort Lauderdale, and we've got reports of over 20 inches of rain. We're still calculating them and the potential for more rain to add to the misery exists.

I just got off the phone with a meteorologist from the National Weather Service coming out of the Miami office, and they explained this as the potential of a one in 1,000-year event.

Now, that doesn't mean that this will happen every one in 1,000 years.


It means that the likelihood, the probability of this occurring is extremely unlikely, to use an analogy. It's like winning the lottery today. Yes, it could happen. Will you win the lottery again tomorrow? Yes, it could happen, but it is incredibly rare and incredibly unlikely.

So, very rare event. We have flash flood watches with our flood warnings in and around Fort Lauderdale. Currently, good news, the radar is quiet, but there is a warm front that's going to lift north. It's all associated with this storm system.

That's actually centered across the Alabama and Florida panhandle. This is going to bring more chances of rain to south Florida today, but certainly nothing is heavy as what we've experienced. But, Christine, any additional rainfall on top of this extremely saturated environment will allow for more flooding.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Continue to follow that for us, Derek. Nice to see you. Thank you.

All right. New details now about who might be behind the leak of highly classified documents from the Pentagon. "The Washington Post" reports they were posted in a chat room by someone who worked at an unidentified military base. The newspaper describes him as a lonely young man and a gun enthusiast went by the nickname "OG". The documents were shared during a period of pandemic isolation, with about two dozen people on the social media platform Discord, which is popular with a video gamers.

"The Post" cites an interview with a young friend of the alleged leaker, who was also a member of the chat group.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The documents were often listed as Ukraine versus Russia at first. However, it's slowly spiraled into just intelligence about everything.

When I first found out that these were public, made public, it felt like my heart was beaten out of its chest and my legs were buckling and I could not believe that this was happening. We didn't realize the sheer just immense nature of these leaks until a bit later. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Now, CNN cannot independently verify "The Washington Post" report. The source refused to name the alleged leaker. The documents posted online revealed U.S. efforts to spy on a number of its closest allies.

All right. An American has died fighting for Ukraine. He is Edward Wilton, 22 years old from Florida, according to his family.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins me live this morning.

Clare, what else do we know about Wilton and his time in Ukraine and just what happened?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine, he had just turned 22, according to his half brother, speaking to CNN. He had actually just spent a week in Poland with his mother who visited from Florida and he was killed, according to his half brother on April 7th, Good Friday.

We don't know exactly where. We don't know exactly where he was fighting or what he was doing, but we know that he had been in Ukraine, according to his half brother for almost a year, and had joined according to him to see -- that he chose to fight for democracy, freedom and righteousness versus evil. So he clearly felt a calling to go and join up with Ukrainian troops.

The State Department on Wednesday, Christine, confirming the deaths of U.S. citizens, plural in Ukraine. We don't know anymore about anyone else who was killed, but we know that a number of American citizens have thus far in this war, been killed in combat, and one aid worker, Pete Reed, was killed in February in Bakhmut.

At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, estimated at around 20,000 foreign fighters had come to join their troops. We don't exactly know how many are left. But clearly, this is a mission, which, if anything, is becoming more and more dangerous. Edward Wilton's family say they have not yet got his body back, so they can't yet plan a funeral -- Christine.

ROMANS: Clare Sebastian, so sad. Thank you so much for bringing us that.

All right. Jury selection begins today in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News filed by Dominion voting systems. Opening statements are expected to start Monday. The judge in the case rejecting a last minute request from Dominion to split the case into two trials. Dominion says it was put at a disadvantage because Fox withheld key information about Rupert Murdoch's official role at Fox News.

More on that now from CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Stinging setbacks for fox news in the defamation case against the network by Dominion Voting Systems. Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis says he plans to appoint an outside attorney, a so-called special master, to investigate whether Fox News lied to the court and withheld key evidence in the case.

Dressing down Fox's, attorneys from the bench, Judge Davis said, quote, I am very concerned that there have been misrepresentations to the court. This is very serious.

PROF. RONNELL ANDERSEN JONES, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH COLLEGE OF LAW: No one wants to head into a trial, particularly a trial where $1.6 billion is on the line with the judge upset with them. You especially don't want to head into a trial that is about knowing falsity with the judge thinking that you have engaged in misrepresentations.

TODD: Judge Davis also today imposed a sanction on Fox over that same matter. The judge has expressed frustration over Fox not being forthcoming over Chairman Rupert Murdoch's role at the company.


Fox lawyers had long claimed Murdoch doesn't have an official role at Fox News, that he was only an officer at Fox Corporation. It was only clarified recently that Murdoch is also an officer at Fox News.

ANDERSEN JONES: Dominion is quite upset to be learning at the last minute that that role might be different than it was told. You can see that the judge here agrees.

TODD: Fox denies wrongdoing and says it properly disclosed Murdoch's roles.

Also this week, another reveal of the enormous scope of internal debates at Fox News that Dominion has been able to uncover in this case. Dominion played previously undisclosed audio, not on air, of Fox News Host Maria Bartiromo interacting with former Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell in November 2020.

In one clip, Bartiromo asked Giuliani if then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was tied to Dominion. Giuliani replied, quote, I can't prove that yet. In another clip, Sidney Powell asked Bartiromo if Fox could steer viewers to Powell's legal defense fund. Bartiromo seemingly agreed to do it, but her producers rejected the idea.

Bartiromo was being deferential to Sidney Powell at around the same time that court papers say other Fox hosts were slamming Powell and Giuliani privately.

Laura Ingraham texting Tucker Carlson saying, quote, Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.

Fox News is being sued for $1.6 billion for allegedly promoting false claims about Dominion machines rigging the 2020 presidential election. PROF. JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: There

is probably going to be a lot of fallout from this no matter what. They can't put this back in the bottle and say, we didn't tell you a lie. They did.


TODD (on camera): Overall, Fox says it didn't defame anyone and shouldn't be held liable for the assertions of guests on its air. Fox says the Dominion lawsuit is a violation of its First Amendment rights and an attempt to, quote, publicly smear Fox for covering Donald Trump's election claims. The trial is expected to last about five to six weeks.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right, thank you, Brian.

Former President Trump will be back in New York today. Multiple sources tell CNN he'll be giving another deposition in the civil suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, seeking $250 million. The state A.G. alleges Trump, his children and his business were involved in a wide-ranging scheme to defraud lenders with false financial statements. Trump sat for a deposition in the case back in August 2022 when he took the fifth more than 400 times. It's unclear whether he will be more cooperative today.

All right. President Biden has a busy day ahead in Dublin. He'll be meeting with Ireland's president and prime minister, delivering remarks to the Irish parliament and attending a banquet at Dublin castle.

International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson live for us in Dublin, following the president's trip.

Sounds like a relaxing schedule, Nic. A lot to do. Yesterday, he was in Northern Ireland. Today, he's in the Republic of Ireland. Different country, different mission?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR. You know, I think -- yes, definitely a different mission. I mean, here, it's about roots. It's about his connection, the United States connection to those roots in Ireland. And I think we've seen the president be a little bit more relaxed, a lot of people here picking up on a small gaffe that he made, meeting the crowds yesterday, visiting the -- some of his family roots, mentioning the Black and Tans when he meant the all blacks rugby team, the Black and Tans, of course. Irish paramilitary that sided with the English as island struggled for its independence last century.

But today, he'll be doing what any three other presidents, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton have done ahead of him, which is address a joint session of the Oireachtas, the parliament here. We're outside the Taoiseach, the prime minister's office right now.

So present will be members of the Dail, and the Seanad. That is, of course, the upper and -- lower and upper houses of Ireland's parliament.

So a speech expecting to again emphasize those roots, emphasized the connections and maybe focus back a little bit on the importance of that Good Friday agreement that he was really focused on with perhaps slightly more diplomatically tough stuff yesterday in Northern Ireland.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much. Nice to see you and a lot for you to cover today. It's like the weather is nice, too. Thank you.

All right. Police have released frantic 911 calls from Monday's mass shooting at a Louisville bank that left five people dead. You want to warn you, these calls are disturbing.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus brings us the story.


CALLER: We have an active shooter in our building.

DISPATCH: Do you have a description of the person?

CALLER: Get here now! We need somebody now!

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The desperate calls from employees who were trapped inside the Old National Bank during Monday's mass shooting in Louisville that left five people dead.

CALLER: I'm in the closet with one person.


Yeah, I hear, I hear gunshots.

DISPATCH: Has anybody been shot?


DISPATCH: How many people?

CALLER: I don't know. Probably eight or nine.

BROADDUS: One woman can be heard describing the scene as she watched it unfold remotely from another location.

DISPATCH: How do you know you have an active shooter on the site?

CALLER: I just watched it on a Teams meeting.

DISPATCH: On a Teams meeting?

CALLER: Yes, we were having a board meeting.

DISPATCH: Did you see the suspect? CALLER: Yes.

BROADDUS: Minutes after the first calls came in, the shooter's mother called 911.

MOTHER: Yes, ma'am, my son might be (AUDIO REDACTED) he said he has a gun and he's heading toward the Old National on Main Street here in Louisville.

DISPATCH: Main Street Old National?

MOTHER: Yes, (INAUDIBLE). This is his mother. I'm so sorry. I'm getting details second hand. I'm going through it now. Oh, my Lord.

DISPATCH: Okay, and what exactly is going on with him? What he is saying he's doing?

MOTHER: I don't know. I'm getting this information from his roommate he apparently left a note. He's never hurt anyone. He's a really good kid. Please don't punish him.

His roommate called me. His roommate was concerned. Please, he's -- he's not violent. He's never done anything. He's -- he's --

DISPATCH: Okay. And you don't believe he owns guns?

MOTHER: I know he doesn't own any guns.

BROADDUS: In another call, you can hear a woman inside the bank describing the shooter.

CALLER: He's probably six feet tall. He's a young male.

DISPATCH: How do you know the person?

CALLER: He works with us.

BROADDUS: The release of the calls comes one day after police released body camera footage from the first two officers who responded to the scene.


POLICE OFFICER: Back up, back up, back up! Back up.


POLICE OFFICER: I think I got him down. I think he's down.

BROADDUS: Investigators say 25-year-old Connor Sturgeon was employed by the bank at the time of the shooting.

A former classmate telling CNN he was a varsity athlete in high school and played basketball and ran track, saying, quote, I never in a million years would expect him to be capable of such a monstrous act. Sturgeon attended the University of Alabama, and in 2018 college essay

posted to the website Course Hero. He wrote, quote: My self-esteem has long been a problem for me. As a late bloomer in middle and high school, I struggled to a certain extent to fit in, and this has given me a somewhat negative self image that persists today. Making friends has never been especially easy, so I have more experience than most in operating alone.

His family says he struggled with depression, but they had no idea he was planning an attack.

In a statement to CNN affiliate WDRB, the family says, quote, no words can express our sorrow, anguish and horror at the unthinkable harm our son Connor inflicted on innocent people, their families and the entire Louisville community.


BROADDUS (on camera): And we now know that 25-year-old shooter bought the gun legally from a local shop six days before the shooting. Meanwhile, Officer Wilt is still in critical condition, and doctors say the next 4 to 5 days are crucial for him -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Adrienne Broaddus, thank you for that.

Just ahead, echoes of Captain Sully and the miracle on the Hudson. Tragedy averted after a plane hits a bird near JFK.

Plus, toxic smoke is still spewing from that fire at an Indiana recycling plant. Who is to blame?

And a medical scare for Jamie Foxx. What his daughter says about his condition now.



ROMANS: The EPA is evaluating the toxic smoke still billowing in the air from that enormous fire at an Indiana recycling plant that sparked on Tuesday. It has forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 people in that area, and it will likely burn for days to come. Officials have now placed the blame on the owner of the business.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has more from Richmond, Indiana.


LAWRENCE MCCRACKEN, RICHMOND RESIDENT: Well, I've always said that place is going to go up in flames one day and it sure did.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This massive fire at a large recycling plant, putting out toxic smoke could burn for days. Officials say 14 acres of plastics stored on the property. But with this site, especially, it wasn't a matter of if, but when, with city officials aware the operations were a fire hazard. CHIEF TIM BROWN, RICHMOND FIRE DEPARTMENT: Issue was an unsafe building and unsafe grounds.

JIMENEZ: And putting the blame squarely on an owner of the recycling plan.

MAYOR DAVE SNOW, RICHMOND, INDIANA: That business owner is fully responsible for all of this. We have the unsafe building order and the recorded court documents. And everything that's ensued here -- the fire, the damages, the risk that our first responders have taken, and the risk these citizens are under are the responsibility of that negligent business owner.

JIMENEZ: And evacuation order is in place for a half mile radius. Around 2,000 residents ordered to evacuate, including one who lives at the heart of it.

BRENDA JERRELL, RICHMOND RESIDENT: I can see from the debris that some of it was on fire and it hit the trees, the tree line, and the trees immediately ignited.

JIMENEZ: When she got the evacuation order, she didn't hesitate to leave her home.

JERRELL: And when they said evacuate, I didn't have shoes on. I had socks on and I left my purse, my shoes. I left a lot of things, personal things, you know, at the house and just got in the car and drove away.

JIMENEZ: For health officials, their key concern now is hazards from the smoke.

CHRISTINE STINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WAYNE COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT: These are very fine particles, and if they're breathed in can cause all kinds of respiratory problems -- burning of the eyes, tightening of the chest, it could aggravate asthma, cause bronchitis and all kinds of things.

JIMENEZ: The EPA monitoring particulate matter, looking for toxic chemicals.


Residents are being told to stay indoors, but the uncertainty is causing concerns and frustrations.

MCCRACKEN: It's hard to say what's going into the city there right now.

WAZIR MOHAMED, RICHMOND RESIDENT: We would like to know that it is safe to be able to breathe the air and to drink the water. So, we want to hear from the officials.


JIMENEZ (on camera): Now, we've reached out to the previously mentioned owner of the burning property behind us, but we haven't heard back. Meanwhile, EPA teams are on the ground here, testing the air quality. And so far, they've seen no evidence of toxins in the air quality on the ground. They believe those toxins are going into the air through those plumes of smoke behind us, but high into the air.

That said, that is a situation that could change and it is why those officials have said they are testing continuously to try and make sure that if that changes, they know immediately -- Christine.

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

CNN reached out to the owner of that recycling plant. We did not immediately hear back.

Quick hits across America now:

Jamie Foxx suffering a medical complication. He's been in Atlanta filming a new movie. No word on what exactly happened. Foxx's daughter says he is already on his way to recovery.

Take a look at this video showing the moments before a bird strikes a Delta Airlines engine, forcing the plane to land safely shortly after takeoff from New York's JFK Airport.

E-cigarette maker Juul Labs will pay $462 million to six states and the District of Columbia for marketing nicotine products to kids. It's the largest settlement the company has paid so far.

Coming up, a convicted rapist caught living it up with his celebrity girlfriend after faking his own death and escaping from the South African jail.

And Harry's going to the king's coronation, but no Meghan.