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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: 21-Year-Old Arrested in Leak Probe Appears in Court; Ft. Lauderdale Hit By 1-in-1,000 Year Rain Event, Severe Flooding; French Constitutional Council Rules Today on Government Pension Reform; DOJ Asks Supreme Court to Restore Mifepristone's Full Approval; Biden to Focus on His Irish Heritage for Final Day of Trip. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 14, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the national guardsman accused of spilling some of America's top security secrets about to face a judge.

A South Florida airport still closed by floodwaters after the rainiest day in Fort Lauderdale history.

And new restrictions on abortion pills kick in just hours from now. Will the U.S. Supreme Court step in?


ROMANS: Good Friday morning.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

Today, an Air National Guard IT specialist will make his first court appearance after his arrest in connection with a major leak of top secret defense documents. The exact timing for Jack Teixeira's arraignment in a Boston courtroom has not yet been announced.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more on the investigation and the arrest from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A 21-year- old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard is in custody, arrested in connection to the massive leak of classified documents online, the FBI swooping in on Dighton, Massachusetts, a tactical team moving in to arrest Jack Teixeira after surveilling him for a couple of days, a U.S. official said.

The plan was to arrest Teixeira when he left the house, away from the stash of weapons they worried he might have.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today, the Justice Department arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information.

LIEBERMANN: The arrest comes after a fast-moving search by the U.S. government only one week after President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. leaders were briefed about the leak that exposed the trove of top secret documents. The documents were accessible to thousands of people, military and civilian. But the digital trail of information led investigators to a small group for closer scrutiny, allowing the FBI to home in on a suspect.

The Pentagon having to explain how such young members of the military have access to such national secrets.

BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: You received training and you will receive an understanding of the rules and requirements that come along with those responsibilities, and you're expected to abide by those rules, regulations and responsibility. It's called military discipline.

LIEBERMANN: According to "The Washington Post", the men behind the leaks posted the national security secrets for a group of his online acquaintances to see which CNN could not independently verify. The documents were leaked on Discord, chat and messaging platform often used by gamers.

"The Post" spoke with a friend of the man who claimed the leaks began last year, long before they were first made public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was first made aware of these documents, I want to say about six to eight months ago, I was in a Discord server by the name of Thug Shaker Central, and in this channel, there was classified documents being posted by a user who I refer to as OG from this point.

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

LIEBERMANN: The Pentagon has begun a damage assessment and has already begun to limit who receives highly classified intelligence briefs, after the information exposed us spying on allies like South Korea and Israel, critical information about Ukrainian military capabilities and top secret intel about Chinese weapons development.

GLENN GERSTELL, FORMER NSA GENERAL COUNSEL: If indeed it is true that it's a military base, then there's certainly going to be a lot of military officials who have to be called for account.

LIEBERMANN: The Biden administration has downplayed the consequences of the leaks. But the question of how to stop someone with top secret access determined to spread secrets remains unanswered.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The concern here is people and people if they are bent on exposing classified information, they'll figure out a way to beat the administrative procedures.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): According to Teixeira's service record, he joined the Air National Guard 3.5 years ago, in September 2019. His job, cyber transport systems, would require him to have seven half weeks of basic military training, and that 136 days of technical training. It is that job that led him to be in a position where you can have access to some of these classified documents that were leaked, and that certainly is one element of the Pentagon investigation and look into all of this, and the consequences of it that will be under severe scrutiny.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.

ROMANS: Thanks, Oren.

He will face a judge later today.

All right. Fort Lauderdale Airport still closed by flooding at this hour, after the rainiest day in Fort Lauderdale history -- get this, nearly 26 inches in 24 hours. Officials don't expect the airport to reopen until 9:00 a.m. today. Weather forecasters call yesterday's deluge a one-in-1,000 year rainfall event.

Torrents of water closing streets, pushing cars around, trapping people in their homes and vehicles.


Fort Lauderdale fire and rescue crews received more than 900 calls for assistance. The city says 600 people were taken to shelters.

CNN's Derek Van Dam live in the weather center.

The pictures just really tell the story. The rain, though, Derek, is mostly over around Fort Lauderdale, but what about the flooding?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's going to take several hours, if not days, for that water to completely start to be removed from the roadways in downtown Fort Lauderdale. But this is what it looks like when you get 26 or nearly 26 inches of rain in less than 24 hours.

And keep in mind that about 20 inches of that rain fell within a six- hour period. I mean, stranded vehicles. This aerial drone shot just really speaks volumes to what they have had to deal with. That was again on Wednesday night.

But, of course, we still have our flood warning in place for Fort Lauderdale. This includes the airport. That is valid through 8:00 a.m. this morning. The current radar generally quiet, there are a few pop up showers starting to form just east of the coastline there.

But when you look at the rainfall totals, this is interesting because we have to put an asterisk next to Fort Lauderdale. Climatologists are out kind of assessing the rain gauges that are in and around Fort Lauderdale, and they're going to determine whether or not a 24-hour state rainfall record was actually shattered by over two and half inches, previous record set back in 1980 Key West.

So that really puts this into historical context, right? That is a lot of rain in a short period of time. No wonder we saw the flooding.

Look at the storm system responsible. It's pulling away kind of weakening. There are a few showers that will pop up later today. They could cause locally heavy rain in Fort Lauderdale, maybe adding to some more misery, won't take much for that saturated ground to start to see rapid rises in rivers and ponding.

Across the Northeast, I want to end on a good note, Christine. We've got one more day of very, very warm, spring-like weather. Enjoy it while you can get outdoors, Philly, New York, Boston.

ROMANS: That was remarkably yesterday. Really remarkable. Okay, another day of that for the Northeast.

Thanks, Derek Van Dam.

VAN DAM: Right.

ROMANS: All right. Former President Trump's business empire on the line here as he answers questions in a high stakes civil suit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The suit alleges Trump, his family, his company were involved in a long running scheme to defraud lenders and others with false financial statements. The state is seeking $250 million and a ban on the Trump's operating a business in New York.

The fact that Trump answered questions at all was a departure. In an earlier deposition in the case, he took the Fifth more than 400 times.

All right. To France now, counting down to a high stakes ruling on the government's widely hated pension reform plan. After months of protests, some violent and frequent general strikes, the country's constitutional council is set to deliver its verdict, just hours from now.

CNN's Saskya Vandoorne live in Paris for us.

Just what are we expecting, the wise men of the council as they're called, to decide on here, Saskya?

SASKYA VANDOORNE, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, exactly, Christine. We're waiting for that decision from the nine wise men and women today. They have been deliberating for the past four weeks and they will decide on the constitutionality of the law.

Now, we expect that decision later this evening, and they could either green light the entire thing ordering that some parts of it are unconstitutional and suggest perhaps some changes to some bits, or they could throw the entire thing out. But we think that is highly unlikely.

Now, Christine, we saw more protests yesterday, 380,000 people took to the streets. You know, it was overall, quite peaceful, but we did see some violent flare ups throughout the day. And the question now is after this ruling this evening. Will we see more protests? Take a listen to what this protester told us yesterday.


FANNY FERRERO, POLITICAL STUDENT IN LYON, FRANCE (through translator): I think the movement will continue in any case because the pension reform is a bit of a straw that broke the camel's back. There are many things, there were many of the problems before they were already the yellow vests before the pension reform. So there has been anger for a long time before.

I think there are many things to change other than the pension reform, but if we manage to go back on that, it would already be a huge step forward.


VANDOORNE: So, Christine, there you have it. They will continue to protest and we've been hearing that from the trade unions. So expect to see flare ups again this evening.

And if you look at the constitutional council today, there are barricades that have been erected in front of it. We have never seen this before. It goes to show just how charged this decision is just how important it is. And as I said, we do expect to see some violence after that ruling is handed out handed down later this evening -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. Keep us posted.

All right. A federal appeals court decision partially preserving FDA approval of the abortion pill mifepristone does not go far enough for the Biden administrations, with just hours to go until new restrictions are put in place. The Justice Department is taking the dispute to the Supreme Court. It is asking the justices to report -- restore full FDA approval while the matter goes through the lower courts.


CNN's Jessica Schneider has the story.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The clock is ticking as access to the abortion pill, Mifepristone, could soon be restricted.

GARLAND: The court's unprecedented decision --

SCHNEIDER: Attorney General Merrick Garland saying the Justice Department will ask the Supreme Court to step in to stop a ruling from the Fifth Circuit from taking effect, pledging to defend the FDA's scientific judgment and protect Americans access to safe and effective reproductive care. KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe again the law is on our side, we're going to prevail, we're going to continue to fight, that is the commitment that we're going to make.

SCHNEIDER: While the Fifth Circuit's ruling guarantees Mifepristone will stay on the market, it will also significantly restrict its use unless the Supreme Court steps in by midnight tomorrow. Doctors will now be instructed to only prescribe Mifepristone up to seven weeks of pregnancy instead of the 10 weeks now.

However, doctors typically do have discretion to ignore those instructions, and it will get harder to access the pill. Women will have to see a doctor in person and pick it up instead of talking to a doctor online and receiving it by mail.

According to a newly published study, nearly one in ten abortions obtained last year after the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade used Mifepristone subscribed during a telehealth visit with a doctor.

DR. JANE HENNEY, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: The safety profile on this drug is good, if not better than when it was originally reviewed, because now it's been out in the marketplace. It's been used on some 5 million patients. And so it has been extraordinarily well-studied.

SCHNEIDER: The mainstream medical community has been in an uproar since Texas Federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled last Friday night to halt FDA approval of Mifepristone, effectively taking it off the market.

MATTHEW KACSMARYK, DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL, FIRST LIBERTY INSTITUTE: I follow the law as it is written, not as I would have written it.

SCHNEIDER: The Trump appointees ruling has been significantly watered down by the Fifth Circuit, leaving FDA approval in place and it may be completely put on hold if the Supreme Court decides to pause the entire ruling while the appeals process plays out. But in the meantime, some Democratic members of Congress are already talking about measures they might have to take to protect access to abortion.

REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): If it doesn't get overturned by a court, then I think it's going to be on Congress to act, and I think we're going to have to do that.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): Now, the Justice Department still needs to file its motion to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court would need to step in before midnight on Friday. In the meantime, Washington federal judge is doubling down on his ruling from last week, saying that under his order, the FDA must not change any of the rules surrounding mifepristone in 17 states, plus D.C., which, of course, will likely lead to even more confusion and how this will all play out in the coming days.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right, Jessica. Thank you.

President Biden is wrapping up his Ireland trip today, spending time focusing on his Irish roots. Biden will spend the day in County Mayo, making trips to historical sites like the Knock shrine, a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site.

Biden will end the day making remarks outside St. Muredach's Cathedral.

International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live in Dublin following the president's trip.

Nic, on Thursday, the president told Irish parliament that he had returned home. Today is his last day there. The focus seems to be about learning more about his Irish heritage.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: And he told those parliamentarians as well that he wished he could stay longer and his day will stretch out right late into the evening here. Ballina is the town where the Blewitt, his family came from, his great, great grandfather born there in 1803, actually sold the bricks to the cathedral, outside, of which the president will be giving a speech late in the evening.

Interestingly, he was paid for those 27,000 bricks about $25,000. And that was the money that Edward Blewitt was able to use to buy the tickets for the whole family, including the son, Patrick, who is the great-Great grandfather of President Biden to be able to emigrate to the United States in 1851. So a huge amount of history.

And so, for the president really connecting with the roots, connecting with the crowds because there were lots of people out there but not shrine, important for this very Catholic of American presidents, and it is a shrine of pilgrimage, an apparition of the Virgin Mary seen there in 1879. A hundred years later, the now St. John Paul II, the pope at the time, visited the shrine five years ago. Pope Francis visited the shrine, a personal journey, and he'll be escorted through that personal journey, according to Knock shrine officials by Father Richard Gibbons.

So, the president will get some real reflection time reflecting on his faith there as well.

ROMANS: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much. Final day of the president's trip. You'll be following all that for us. Thanks, Nic.

All right. Still ahead, the surprising twist in the killing of a tech boss found stabbed on a San Francisco street.

Plus, the convict who faked his own death to escape from prison into the arms of his celebrity girlfriend.


And $100,000 worth of dimes stolen in broad daylight.



RYDER: We do have stringent guidelines in place for safeguarding classified and sensitive information. This was a deliberate criminal act of violation of those guidelines.


ROMANS: The Pentagon spokesman there, condemning the alleged leaker of highly classified U.S. intelligence. Today, 21-year-old Air National Guardsman Jake Teixeira will appear in court for the first time after his arrest at his Massachusetts home. The Defense Department sent a memo to all hands with a reminder that the responsibility to safeguard classified information is a lifetime requirement to each individual granted security clearance.

Let's bring in former FBI special agent and criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven, Ken Gray.

So nice to see you this morning, Ken.

You know, the FBI still coming through to Teixeira's home, we're told.


Now, what are they looking for do you think?

KEN GRAY, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: So good morning, Christine. The thing that you would be looking for at his home is to look for his computer because he's past his material through his computer. Any type of documents he may have there in the house and any type of communications that may prove that he actually passes information through his computer to these members of Discord server that he was using.

ROMANS: Here's the Pentagon's spokesperson yesterday. Listen.


RYDER: We entrust our members with a lot of responsibility at a very early age. Think about a young ah, combat platoon sergeant and the responsibility and trust that we put into those individuals to lead troops into combat.


ROMANS: So, again, the suspect Jack Teixeira is 21-years-old. He is, you know, relatively low ranking, Should there be stricter guidelines to who can access such sensitive documents? Why did a young low- ranking you know airmen have access to this material?

GRAY: Well, Christine, I think the reason he had access to this was that he's not an analyst, so he should not be using this kind of material, but he is a specialist setting up computers and computer networks, especially mobile computer networks. Therefore, he would be in the same room that these type of documents would be available.

And so, while he had access to it because he was in the military and in the same room, he really should not be using these documents. It's not part of his job description.

So, this shows that these documents were being made available to people that really should not have had access to it.

ROMANS: What -- the suspect will appear in court today. What charges? How serious of a punishment should we be expecting here?

GRAY: So what he has done is violation of a United States Code Title 18 USC Section 793, which carries with it a penalty up to 10 years. So he's probably looking at 10 years in federal prison for this violation.

ROMANS: Just remarkable. The whole -- the whole series of events.

Ken Gray, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

All right. Quick hits across America now:

San Francisco police take Cash App founder Bob Lee, who was fatally stabbed last week, knew the suspect arrested on Thursday. Nima Momeni is expected to be arraigned on a murder charge today.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing a new law that bans abortions after six weeks. That makes the state one of the most restrictive in the country since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

Diamond dash. Officials say thieves stole about $100,000 in dimes after breaking into a truck in Philadelphia parking lot. The driver had just picked up the coins worth about $750,000 from the mint.

All right. Coming up, office no shows are on notice. Attendance could soon be tied to your pay.

And a convicted killer, his celebrity girlfriend and the dead body they used to stage a prison break.



ROMANS: A man serving a life sentence for murder and rape was somehow able to fake his own death, escaped from jail and then lead a life of luxury on the run with his celebrity girlfriend.

Here's CNN's Larry Madowo.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A man believed to be Thabo Bester speaks virtually at a fancy event in Johannesburg in 2018, claiming to be in New York, but he was in prison. He was promoted as Tom Motsepe, one of the aliases police attribute to him. Thabo Bester was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for raping and murdering model Nomfundo Tyhulu. But in May last year, he faked his death and escaped from this maximum security prison in a bizarre tale that has shocked South Africa.

Officials of the British private security firm G4S, who managed the prison, can't explain how Bester fakes his own death and almost got away with it.

GLYNNIS BREYTENBACH, SOUTH AFRICAN MP: Just days prior to this incident, a vehicle made an unauthorized entry into the prison facility, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's correct.

BREYTENBACH: How come? Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's currently being investigated.

MADOWO: G4S denies any wrongdoing and has dismissed three employees were in duty.

Bester who was nicknamed the "Facebook rapist" by local media for luring his victims on the social network, had asked to be moved to solitary confinement, claiming his life was in danger. Three days later, he escaped during a fire in his cell, living an unidentified burned body.

There's no security camera footage during the crucial hours of the escape because of a power failure, G4S officials told South African lawmakers.

ANTHEA RAMOLOBENG, SOUTH AFRICAN MP: There's no accountability to say here with it, here it's our mistake.

MADOWO: While Bester was reported to have died in the prison fire, he was actually living with his girlfriend, a celebrity doctor and entrepreneur, Dr. Nandipha Magudumana.

When South African investigative newsroom brought up reporting questioned his death, government DNA analysis revealed that the body in the cell was not Bester and the person had died before the fire. An embarrassed South African government was forced to launch a manhunt for Bester.

Bester and Dr. Magudumana was arrested on Friday in Tanzania, 10 kilometers from the Kenyan border and deported back to South Africa. In parliament, an apology.

RONALD LAMOLA, SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTER OF JUSTICE & CORRECTIONAL SERVICES: I also want to take this opportunity chairperson, to apologize to the victims of the convicted rapist, and Mr. Thabo Bester.