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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Fox Settles Dominion Defamation Suit for $787.5 Million; Russian Court Rejects Reporter's Appeal for Pre-Trial Release; Ceasefire in Sudan Crumbles Amid Chaos, At Least 270 Killed; Soon: Ceremonies Mark 80 Years Since Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 19, 2023 - 05:00   ET




Fox's defamation settlement. What could it mean for other lawsuits about election lies?

Plus, the deadline fast approaching for abortion pills in America? Will the Supreme Court step in in the hours ahead?

And just minutes from now, ceremonies begin to mark 80 years since the Warsaw ghetto uprising against Nazi Germany.


ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world this Wednesday morning. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with Fox News settling the huge lawsuit Dominion Voting Systems filed against it at the very last second before trial was set to start in Delaware. The $787 million settlement is by far the largest publicly disclosed media defamation settlement in U.S. history. It's nearly 4.5 times what ABC News paid back in 2017 to a meat processor in the so called pink slime case.

The settlement does not require Fox to apologize, correct or retract the many falsehoods and lies that broadcast about Dominion. But Dominion's lawyers say their clients have been traumatized by the experience and the money in court rulings in their favor are enough.


STEPHEN SHACKELFORD, ATTORNEY FOR We got into this case with two goals, accountability and justice and we achieved accountability when we exposed everything that had been going on at Fox News through the discovery process and the motion papers we had the last couple of months and we got justice for our client for Dominion today.


ROMANS: CNN's Danny Freeman has more from the courthouse in Wilmington.


DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just after the judge announced that there was going to be a settlement. In this case, I got to say the dominion attorneys were all smiles today as they left the courthouse and then left the press and they left the press conference, telling us that this was a good day for Dominion and a good day for democracy.

Now, this incredibly large settlement of $787 million was actually just less than half of what the meaning was initially asking for, that $1.6 billion figure, but, of course, still a sizable number. And I should say there was a lot of lead up actually to this settlement. The jury was sworn in Tuesday morning, opening statements were ready to go 130 in the afternoon.

But then after a mysterious 2-1/2-hour delay, finally, the judge came back and said that there would be a resolution to this case. The parties came together and they settle and the judge even said to the jury. If you weren't there, the party's probably would not have been able to reach a settlement in this case. The judge made that announcement and the Dominion came out.

And take a listen to what some of their attorneys had to say.

JUSTIN NELSON, ATTORNEY: The truth does not know red or blue for our democracy to endure for another 250 years and hopefully much longer, we must share a commitment to facts. In contrast, the attorneys for Fox News, they did not take any questions from the press. They just walk down the street here in Wilmington, but they did release a statement later on saying in part, we are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the court's rulings, finding certain claims about Dominion being false. This settlement reflects Fox's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.

So, again, we're still waiting for certain details about the settlement. But, as of now, we do know that Fox does not intend to make any statement on its air about these false claims about Dominion. But again, we'll wait and see if that changes in the future.

Danny Freeman, CNN, Wilmington, Delaware.


ROMANS: All right. The 84-year-old White man accused of shooting a Black Kansas City teenager is out on bail this morning after turning himself into place yesterday. The 16-year-old nearly paid with his life after mistakenly ringing the elderly man's doorbell instead of going to a house one block away where he was supposed to pick up his little brothers.

More now from CNN's Lucy Kafanov in Kansas City.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Andrew Lester, the 84- year-old White homeowner charged with shooting Ralph Yarl, a 16-year- old Black teenager turned himself into authorities and was released on $200,000 bond and a prohibition on him possessing weapons.

Community leaders and Yarl's attorneys speaking out --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A charge does not mean justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want him out, but we understand that's part of the process.

KAFANOV: Yarl's mother spoke with CBS News about the events of that night when Yarl went to pick up his younger brothers from a friend's home.

CLEO NAGBE, RALPH YARL'S MOM: His brothers were supposed to run outside, get in the car, and they and they come home and that was what was supposed to happen. And why he was standing there. His brothers didn't run outside, but he got a couple of bullets in his body, instead of a couple of twins coming up -- out and giving them a hug.


KAFANOV: Lester faces two felony charges in the shooting, assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.

The incident unfolded on the front porch of the home behind me. The homeowner telling police that Ralph Yarl came up to his front porch. He rang the doorbell. But Ralph had made a mistake. This home is located 115th Street, the home he was supposed to go to is one block away, right there, 115th Terrace.

According to the probable cause statement, Lester told investigators he was in bed when he heard the doorbell ring, then picked up his gun before responding to answer the door. He said after opening the main door, he saw a Black male, approximately six feet tall and he believed someone was attempting to break into the house and shot twice within a few seconds of opening the main door.

He also told investigators that no words were exchanged and is quoted as saying he was scared to death by the teenagers' size and by his inability to defend himself.

LEE MERRITT, RALPH YARL'S ATTORNEY: He had to face an ugly reality here in the states, that the color of his skin is often seen as a threat in and of itself./

KAFANOV: According to prosecutors, there is no evidence ever crossed the threshold into Lester's home.

FAITH SPOONMORE, RALPH YARL'S AUNT: You just cannot wrap your head around it from being shop for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

KAFANOV: Yarl told investigators he fell to the ground after being shot in the head and was then shot in the arm. He said. The man who shot him said, don't come around here.

Yarl then went away, going to multiple homes, asking for help.

Investigators say they observed blood on the front porch, blood on the driveway and blood in the street after the shooting.

NAGBE: Ralph was shot on top of his left eye that I will say in the left frontal lobe. And then he was shot again in the upper right arm. That injury is extensive, and the residual effect of that injury is going to stay with him for quite a while.


KAFANOV (on camera): Another condition of Lester's release is that his phone is subject to monitoring. He is not allowed to have any contact with Ralph Yarl or his family. It's unclear when he will appear in court for an initial hearing. This as protesters take to the streets of Kansas City for a second time on Tuesday to demand justice and action.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Kansas City, Missouri.

ROMANS: Lucy, thank you.

Midnight tonight is the deadline for the Supreme Court to act before nationwide restrictions on the abortion -- of the abortion pill go into effect. A group of anti-abortion doctors asked the court Tuesday to keep in place a Texas appeals judge ruling partially reversing FDA approval of the drug, in effect restricting access to it.

At any moment, the Justice Department is expected to file its response, asking the high court to block that appellate decision keeping the abortion pill available until there is a final ruling in this case.

All right. A senior U.S. official tells CNN it could take a long time to bring detained "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich home from Moscow. He was arrested last month on espionage charges, which he and "The Journal" vehemently deny.

On Tuesday, a Russian court rejected Gershkovich's appeal to be released to home detention while this case plays out.

CNN's Nada Bashir live in London.

It was just so -- such a relief to see him yesterday, at one point with a smile on his face. So you know, we know he has got a long road here. What is the U.S. trying to do to get Gershkovich out, and why might it take such a long time?

NADA BASHIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL REPORTER: Well, Christine. We know that this is a top priority for the U.S. government. We've heard from a senior administration official telling CNN that the government is looking at creative and potentially quite challenging options on the table to bring Evan Gershkovich back home, that this could take some time, but they are exploring and re-exploring all options on the table.

Over the last year, we have seen the U.S. government successfully bring home two wrongfully detained American citizens by a prisoner swaps, and it's unclear whether this is on the table just yet. We have heard from that Biden administration official telling CNN that in the past, Russian officials have preferred to exhaust all legal options to go through the court proceedings, which the U.S. government does not view to be legitimate before broaching any sort of negotiation with the U.S. government on that front. So it could certainly take a long time before those court proceedings are exhausted.

Now, of course, we saw Evan Gershkovich, which his appeal for that pre trial detention to be carried out under house arrest was denied by the Russian court, which means he will be remaining at Moscow's notorious Lefortovo prison until the 29th of May.

He has not met with the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, but it is unclear whether further consular access will be permitted before his next hearing -- Rosemary.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that. Nice to see you this morning.

All right. Just ahead, the harrowing moments after a parking garage came crashing down in New York.


Plus, the teen who tragically died after a dangerous TikTok challenge.

And next, no trial but also no end to Fox's legal worries after its huge defamation settlement.


ROMANS: Quick hits across America now.

One person died and five others were hurt when a four story parking garage collapsed in Manhattan on Tuesday. Officials say the building pancaked into its basement after a structural collapse.

A thirteen-year-old in Ohio has died after taking part in a dangerous TikTok challenge, according to a CNN affiliate and his family's GoFundMe account. The teen overdosed on the antihistamine Benadryl.

A Virginia grand jury has indicted three tiki torch carrying marchers from the 2017 Charlottesville White nationalist rally. The panel ruled they burned an object with, quote, the intent to intimidate.

All right. Fox Corporation will now pay more than $787 million to settle the defamation suit filed by Dominion Voting Systems.


A Fox News host read out a statement from the network after the settlement. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWIE KURTZ, FOX NEWS "MEDIABUZZ" HOST: I do have a statement from Fox, Neil. We're pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the court's rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. The settlement reflects Fox's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.


ROMANS: That deal, very big deal, historic deal reached right before the trial that would have detailed Fox News's spread of disinformation and election denialism, potentially creating further high profile embarrassment for the network.

Let's bring in former prosecutor and host of the Law and Crime Network, Robert Bianchi.

So nice to see you this morning.

This case, this deal -- I mean, it is so big. Why do you think Fox News chose to settle this?

ROBERT BIANCHI, FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, I think Fox News is in a very difficult position. They had some pretrial rulings where the judge basically said they're going to argue very little defenses here, and they gave the minion an incredible opportunity when they went to trial to prove less than what you typically would have to prove in a defamation case because they're saying it's already been proven. There's no reason to bring this before the jury. The evidence is that strong.

So that was a very, very powerful thing for Dominion. The only question, I think for the Dominion attorneys would be and in any civil case, you have to worry about this. You could have win the case. You can lose the war. How much damage is, how much would the jury actually award Dominion was the big question that was left open for both sides. But Dominion had Fox on their back, and that's why the settlement discussions started to take place.

And you know what ? There is nothing unusual that when the jury is being picked, and sometimes even after the trial begins that one side says, you know what? We got to settle this case.

ROMANS: This is a very large settlement. There's no question I mean much has been made about how it's half of the $1.6 billion that Dominion was originally seeking, but this is a lot of money.

But what about the full accountability? Did Dominion get the apology? The accountability that maybe it was necessary here?

BIANCHI: Well, listen, most -- again, we had to put things in context of most civil suits and in most civil suits, there's not a requirement that there's a, quote/unquote, apology. What Dominion did here with that they had, which most people don't have is during the discovery process, that isn't a place where you could take sworn depositions. They had all of these individuals come in. They got damning text, damning emails, and basically, they were allowed to ask any question those depositions. Sometimes you get more information from a deposition because you're allowed to ask anything that a judge would actually allow it to trial.

So demeaning already had a tremendous amount of data. In fact, it could maybe have gotten worse at trial, so they both had the ability to go to the court of public opinion and say, look at the something we've been covering this for weeks. Look at all these bad texts. Look at all these bad messages and emails.

The only other point at that point was how much money are we going to pay here? I don't think the trial would have made it any better for diminishing in terms of the facts. So yes, there's a level of a counter building that occurred here and occurs in every single case when a whopping amount of money has to be paid in order for Fox, in this instance, they get out from under what was already developed and likely, not much more would have been developed during the trial.

ROMANS: Let me ask you -- there are pending lawsuits against right wing channels, Newsmax, OAN, and Trump allies, including Rudy Giuliani and others.

How does this settlement maybe with Fox affect these other lawsuits, if at all? I mean, I don't know that particular facts of those lawsuits, but basically the claims that were being made with those other stations are the same. So I think it's going to send a message to the lawyers for those other individuals and those other companies to say, wow. In fact, Fox had a collapse in the middle of this and pay that kind of money, we're going to have a problem here ourselves, and you know what they have a lot less money to defend themselves than Fox had.

So while it may not have a direct impact, I think it's got a lot of phones are going to be burning today with those lawyers saying, we got to get out of this.

ROMANS: And you make a very good point. You know, there's reputational damage and there's financial damage and the reputational damage here to fax is hard to measure. But it is also quite, quite large. Just like that settlement.

Robert Bianchi, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

BIANCHI: My pleasure.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, a dire warning from a top airline official. Her message for lawmakers today and dozens killed in hospital fire. Who's responsible?



ROMANS: The 24-hour ceasefire in Sudan is crumbling with clashes and looting intensifying this morning as these two rival generals remain locked in a struggle for power.

Explosions and gunfire erupt in Khartoum in the fifth day of violence. Students trapped for days at the University. Diplomats assaulted in the chaos the U.N. reporting at least 270 people have died, 270 deaths, thousands of injuries.

CNN's Larry Madowo is following events for us from Nairobi, Kenya.

Larry, according to this U.N. document, armed gunmen raided the homes of their staff and other aid organizations, sexually assaulting the women in looting homes.


What can you tell us? What's happening there?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. It appears to have been targeted specifically at workers of the U.N. and other international NGOs in Sudan, where gunmen raided their homes, stole property, including cars and sexually assaulted women. At least one rape was reported in these incidents.

We're supposed to be right now in the middle of a 24-hour ceasefire, but it fell apart almost immediately. Both sides accusing the other of violating it first. A short while ago, the Rapid Support Forces, this powerful paramilitary group that's locked in the battle with the Sudanese army, claiming that the Sudanese army has been bombing water and power supply lines to further and trends to suffering of the poor Sudanese people who've already been through so much.

I want to play for you this little video we got from one Sudanese- British author and activist who's been stuck in Sudan.


ROZAN AHMED, SUDANESE AUTHOR & ACTIVIST: I'm terrified for myself, my family. I'm for this country. I -- I woke up this morning to blast (ph) day five. Yesterday, during what's supposed to be a 24-hour ceasefire, a missile hit my neighbor's home.


MADOWO: That home has been completely ruined, burns to the ground, and mediation efforts so far does not appear to be working. So far, one country has been become the first to say to be evacuating its citizens, Japan. No injuries, but food and water is running out so you can see why this might be a trend. Other countries might follow, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Larry Madowo, thank you so much.

All right. Quick hits around the globe right now. At least 29 people are dead, dozens injured in a Beijing hospital fire. Officials say the accident was sparked during renovation work at the site. Twelve people were detained for negligence. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to prepare to

launch the country's first spy satellite. Kim said the acquisition of these satellites was indispensable.

India's Supreme Court is hearing final arguments in historic case to legalize same sex marriage. The ruling could mean an overhaul of laws over inheritance, alimony and divorce.

All right. Moments from now, ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising begins in Poland, where when Jewish people launched a month long revolt against the Nazis during World War II. Eighty years corresponds with this week's Holocaust remembrance honoring survivors, their families and the millions who were systematically killed.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash join me live from Warsaw this morning.

So nice to see you on this very emotional day for many people eight decades later. You both have a personal connection. Tell us what this day means for you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, for me, and I'll start, Dana.

For me, it's very, very personal, because all four of my grandparents were murdered during the Holocaust and I would -- yesterday, we were over at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and both of us actually saw some of the gas chambers, the crematorium, where my -- two of my grandparents, my father's parents were actually murdered, and it was just very, very emotional, very personal, very powerful.

And I'm glad that today here at the Polin Museum, which is dedicated to the 1,000-year history of Polish Jews, they're going to have this ceremony marking, as you point out, Christine the 80th anniversary of the worst ghetto uprising.

It will be very emotional. The president of Poland, the president of Germany, the president of Israel all will be here to mark this very, very special occasion.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Christine, the key here is that it's been 80 years and that, as Wolf said, there is still a very intentional commemoration of this and that it's not just Jews coming here, it is the heads of state from the countries who were affected, Poland, and who were -- who was the perpetrator, Germany. I mean, that says a lot.

And the fact that you have so few Jews left here because 2.5 million I believe were murdered, 2.5 polish Jews, including most of Wolf's Polish family were murdered here. There's so few Jews who are currently living here and yet you're seeing and you're going to see this with the ceremony later today, people walking around, absolutely no personal connection to Judaism but walking around with these and these are daffodils.

And these are daffodils. And the daffodils are symbols of hope and of rebirth, and this comes from the time of the Warsaw ghetto, and they wear it like this, which is also intentional as a sign in the memory of what Jews had to do during Nazi occupation.