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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Former VP Pence Testifies to Grand Jury Probing Trump & January 6; Seven Reported Tornadoes Hit South, Destroy Florida Homes; Prosecutors: Leak Suspect has Arsenal, History of Violent Threats; At Least Dozen Killed in Ukraine in Russian Missile Attacks. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, Mike Pence's secret testimony to grand jurors. What did he tell them about Trump and the 2020 election?

Plus, a deadly barrage of missiles strike Ukraine, leaving raging fires and at least a dozen dead at the hands of Russia.

And destruction after a tornado rips through a Florida town, parts of the South bracing for more severe storms today.


All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Happy Friday, everybody. I'm Christine Romans.

We begin with Vice President Mike Pence testifying before the grand jury looking into former President Trump's efforts to subvert the 2020 election. Grand jury testimony is, of course, secret, but we have a very good idea of what Pence was likely asked about his former boss, now his Republican rival.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has more from Washington.


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR REPORTER, CRIME AND JUSTICE: Former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a federal grand jury on Thursday for more than Thursday for more than five hours. That testimony would have been what happened after the 2020 election leading up to January 6, all of those conversations he directly would have had with Donald Trump, the president at the time, at a time when Donald Trump was pressuring him to overturn the vote, Pence refused to do so.

Pence has also spoken about those conversations publicly. He has written about them in his would being that is he is on a tour about now. He is talking about them really regularly, but never before has an investigation, has a grand jury and has prosecutors gotten Pence under oath to reveal exactly what he thought, what he felt, and what was said between him and Donald Trump on those crucial days part of this investigation.

So this is a really significant moment in the January 6 criminal investigation being led by special counsel Jack Smith at the Justice Department. It is also quite a momentous moment in history, there has never before been a vice president called to testify under subpoena about the president they served alongside. That didn't happen in Watergate with Richard Nixon, it didn't happen in Whitewater with Bill Clinton which both had very active grand juries.

So this is different. It also has a very crucial moment putting Mike Pence here because the Justice Department had to fight for this testimony. They went to court over this. Donald Trump tried to block the testimony. He tried to limit what pence could say about the direct conversations. He lost those court battles.

Mike Pence also went to court to fight on this and did not want to testify under subpoena, but he did get a bit of leeway from the court being able to protect what he was doing when he was the presiding officer on January 6.

But today, that federal grand jury did hear from Mike Pence for more than five hours one-on-one. The grand jurists would have been able to ask him questions. They would have been able to piece him into the investigation, a very active investigation that they have heard from many, many witnesses on and now the prosecutors will take that testimony and see how it fits, try to fit it into potential charges as they look towards the future. It will become at least part of the record of what will now be known about January 6 to the Justice Department and to potentially to the public later on.

Katelyn Polantz, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Devastation this morning after seven reported tornadoes tore across the South, including this one on the Florida panhandle. Officials say it destroyed a dozen homes, damaged about 20 more. No injuries were reported thankfully. Repair crews working through night have the number of customers without power down to about 7,000 now.

Our meteorologist Derek Van Dam live in the weather center for us this Friday morning.

Derek, more storms in the Southeast and flooding in the Midwest seem to be the main concerns for today.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, several different weather headlines to discuss. But let's talk about what happened in Hosford, Florida. This is just west of Tallahassee. I've seen this time and time again. It doesn't take long and much to spin up a brief tornado in the panhandle of Florida because we get the friction with the lands, the storms moving off of the Gulf of Mexico and they were able to literally topple trees and power lines like they were tooth picks.

We had seven tornado reports, the majority of them in the Florida Panhandle, with the exception, one tornado report in southern Georgia. Plenty of wind reports and hail as well. That has been the story. Here is the storm system, just rain across the mid-Atlantic, severe threat died down for the moment across the panhandle, but that will change, marginal risk for this area through the course of the day today.

And then we start to focus our attention across central Texas, Austin to Dallas. That is the area we need to keep weather aware. There is an enhanced risk and you see the line of thunderstorm that's coming through with a powerful, fast-moving cold front, it's going to help trigger off a few stronger storms and we could see an isolated tornado across that region today.

So, keep an eye of the sky. Here is a look at the wet weekend outlook across the east coast. Heads up D.C. to New York, you've got rain in your forecast. And then our flood warnings continue across the Mississippi river as our slow moving disaster continues to move further and further south of lacrosse heading toward Davenport and Dubuque, Iowa, region. That is where we anticipate a cresting Mississippi River by later this weekend and early parts of next week. You can see some of the flooding impacting homes and businesses -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah, absolutely. They are bracing for near record levels there in Mystic River and the Quad Cities, I know.

All right. Nice to see you, Derek Van Dam, thank you so much.

And prosecutors in Massachusetts are urging federal magistrate to hold a suspected leaker in jail without bond. They say the national guardsman charged with posting highly classified documents to social media has a history of violence threats and owns an arsenal of weapons.

More now from CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira in custody after appearing in court for his detention hearing. Prosecutors portrayed the suspected leaker of classified documents as a risk to flee, incapable of trust he promised to uphold as a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

There is no integrity in Teixeira's character because there can be none when there's a profound breach of trust, said Nadine Pellegrini, from the U.S. attorney's office.

In a dumpster at Teixeira's home, authorities found a tablet, laptop and Xbox, they've all been smashed. Prosecutors said it was a way of them to stopping understanding the seriousness and scale of Teixeira's conduct.

BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: The department is looking not only at our intelligence processes and procedures as it relates to security or sensitive information and who has that information, but also looking at the process by which we clear and vet individuals for security clearances. And that work is ongoing.

LIEBERMANN: Authorities say he had an arsenal of weapons just feet from his bed, including rifles, AR and AK-style weapons and bazooka, his room decked out in military camo and paraphernalia.

In a recent online chat uncovered by investigators, Teixeira said he would kill an expletive ton of people culling the weak-minded and he wanted to make an assassination van. He also asked another user what type of rifle would be good to conduct a shooting in a crowded urban or suburban environment.

Teixeira's lawyers argued in court he poses no danger and is not unique in collecting weapons. Some people are car guys. Some people like boats. And some people like guns, his attorney said in court, defending his client as the Pentagon defended the process that led here.

The leaked documents have exposed classified U.S. intel including about the war in Ukraine. Documents revealed the limitations of Ukraine's air defenses and manpower, while also detailing Russia's efforts to recruit more troops to plug its military's ranks, valuable info the prosecutors say other countries would covet.

And authorities warned Teixeira may still have more sensitive intelligence hidden away and could still be capable of causing extraordinary damage to U.S. national security.


LIEBERMANN (on camera): Teixeira remains in custody at this point. The judge didn't rule on whether he would be kept in custody yet. That ruling expected soon. But the judge may have given an indication which way he was leaning when he said he found the prosecution evidence, quote, fairly compelling.

Oren Lieberman, CNN, in the Pentagon.

ROMANS: All right. At least 12 people are dead in Ukraine this morning, in a series of Russian missile attacks hitting cities across the country. President Zelenskyy announcing that ten residential buildings were hit in the city of Oman, destroying an entire block.

CNN's Scott McLean covering this for us from London.

What do we know about this morning's strikes, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Christine, look, Ukrainians say that their air defense system did remarkably well in this barrage of missiles, 21 out of 23 incoming Russian missiles were shot down, including two drones or two drones in addition to that, I should say.

And yet, they are still a heck of a lot of damage. So, in the city of Dnipro, in eastern Ukraine, authorities there say a 31-year-old mother and her 2-year-old child were killed in an attack there. They're in near Kyiv, and in a suburb called Yukrinka (ph), fragments hit an apartment building injuring a teen there. But the most dramatic pictures we're seeing are these ones from Uman,

that is where a missile made a direct hit on an apartment building. It seems to have dropped straight down out of the sky and taken out all of the floors on its way down.


Ten people we know are dead so far and there are also injured and it is likely that the death toll is going to climb considering that there are people in the hospital, one of them we know is in critical condition. And they continue to pull bodies out of the rubble as well. We are getting live pictures in from the site, but we're not going to show them to you because of that precise reason.

It is difficult to imagine from looking at those pictures that they could have possibly been able to pull anyone out alive at this point. It looks more like a recovery operation just given the scale of the damage. It is just a smoking pile of rubble that you see there.

What is also interesting to note here, that the types of missiles that the Ukrainians say that the Russians actually used are relatively accurate, talking about a radius of maybe 50 yards, 25 yards or so. And so it is difficult to know what possibly the military target could have been in that small space when we're talking about a residential area that was hit.

President Zelenskyy responded to this barrage of missile attacks saying that the Russian terror must face a fair response to Ukraine and it will. The foreign minister also said that this was Russia's response to peace initiatives saying the real way to bring peace was to rid Ukraine of Russia and he renewed his calls to get modern fighter jets from the west, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Just a really tough morning there in Ukraine today. Scott McLean, thank you so much.

All right. The woman suing Donald Trump claiming he raped her in 1996 and defamed her years later when she went public is expected to be back on the stand on Monday. On Thursday an attorney for Trump pressed E. Jean Carroll about why she didn't scream for help.

CNN's Paula Reid has more.



PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): E. Jean Carroll grilled on her allegations that Donald Trump raped her in a department store in the 1990s. This on the third day of her civil battery and defamation lawsuit in a federal court in Manhattan.

Trump defense lawyer Joe Tacopina cross-examined Carroll for hours today about her story and her motivations.

Using your own words, the facts that you have alleged in the story you have alleged here are odd, Tacopina said. Carroll responded: Certain parts of this story are difficult to conceive of, yes.

The exchange becoming heated when Tacopina repeatedly asked Carroll why she didn't scream during the alleged assault. I'm not screamer. I was too much in panic to scream. You can't beat up on me for not screaming.

Tacopina shot back, I'm not beating you up. I'm asking you questions, Ms. Carroll.

Through tears, Carroll asserted, I'm telling you he raped me whether I screamed or not. I don't need an excuse for not screaming.

Tacopina, an experienced trial attorney, also currently defending Trump in an unrelated criminal case being brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, is known for his brash style of defending clients.

JOE TACOPINA, TRUMP DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, no, no, it can't be. This was a federal presidential election. The allegation here in some Twilight Zone sort of scenario.

REID: Outside court, a Trump spokesperson said the case is entirely political and Trump himself accuses Carrol of lying, saying her case is, quote, a made up scam.

Tacopina pressed Carroll on why she waited until 2019 to go public with her story. She said she was mourning her mother's death. And then, I thought this may be away to change the culture of sexual violence. The light dawned. We can actually change things if we all tell our stories. And I thought, by God, this may be the time.


REID (on camera): Tacopina told the judge he is about halfway through his cross-examination. Now, there is no court on Friday, so Carroll is expected to be back on the witness stand Monday to face more questions from Trump's attorney.

Paula Reid, CNN, New York.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, videos circulating of a prank video chat involving the Fed Chief Jerome Powell and who he thought was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy back in January.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIR: It is a great honor to speak to you today. I'm glad you made time to speak to me. And it is just great to be with you today.


ROMANS: A Federal Reserve spokesperson acknowledged Powell did participate in a call with someone who pretended to be Zelenskyy but the clips had been edited and they can't confirm their authenticity. They say no sensitive information was discussed. "The New York Times" reported that pranksters were Russian supporters

of Vladimir Putin who pulled similar stunts with the likes of former German chancellor Angela Merkel.

All right. It's the end of the line for a conflict on the run after a prison break. Where the law caught up with him, coming up.


Plus, no driver no problem for a 7th grader who grabbed the wheel to save a school bus.

And former Vice President Mike Pence's testimony about the 2020 election, should Donald Trump be worried right now.


ROMANS: All right. For the first time in modern history, a vice president has been compelled to testify about the president he served beside. Former Vice President Mike Pence testified before a grand jury for more than five hours in the criminal probe investigating Trump's actions after the 2020 presidential election. Pence's testimony marks the end of a long drawn out legal battle by Trump to block Pence's testimony citing executive privilege.

Let's bring in state attorney for Palm Beach County, Dave Aronberg.

So nice to see you, Dave.

So, what does Pence's testimony signal about where they are in this investigation?


Yeah, five hours, I've heard reports of seven hours. Wouldn't you love to be a fly on that wall or even a fly in Mike Pence's hair?


Even that, because you know he has got to bring the good stuff within that time. The problem is that I think most of the stuff is already known to the feds. He wrote a book where he talked about January 6, he talked publicly about it in multiple TV interviews. And his aides spoke to the grand jury and the January 6 Commission.

Now, the importance of this, though, is that this is the first time that prosecutors have heard from Mike Pence directly and under oath and got a chance to question him. I think it is probably safe to say that he's going to be one of the final witnesses here, because generally, prosecutors work from the bottom up and they won't subpoena Trump to testify.

He is the target of the investigation. They won't offer him immunity in exchange for his testimony, so I expect the department of justice to make charging decisions soon. ROMANS: OK. So, Pence has said previously that he believes that

history will hold Donald Trump accountable for the January 6 Capitol account. But this is a criminal investigation that he testified in. What do you investigators were looking to hear from Pence?

ARONBERG: Intent. That is the key value to Pence's testimony because they want to establish Trump's intent to obstruct an official proceeding and conspire to defraud the United States. Those are the two most likely charges against Trump if he is charged under January 6, mainly that they want to know if Trump admitted to Pence that he knew the election wasn't stolen. They would want to know Trump knowingly told Pence to violate the law. Did Trump know that the Eastman memo was legally bogus?

Now, I'm convinced, Christine, that the Department of Justice will seek an indictment against Donald Trump and the Mar-a-Lago documents. This is a direct tie between Trump and alleged criminality there. When it comes to January 6, I'm not so sure because there's multiple layers between Trump and the violence on that day, so I think it is 50/50 whether he gets charged over the attempted insurrection.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. So, this actually, this testimony marks the end of what was a pretty lengthy legal battle that President Trump waged to prevent this from happening, you know, citing executive privilege, and Trump lost. Should he be worried I guess the president that Pence finally testified?

ARONBERG: Yeah. Now, there is a reason why Trump fought it so hard. He wouldn't be fighting it so hard if he wasn't worried about it. Pence even fought it somewhat. I thought it was more performance art. I always thought Pence wanted to testify. This is a little payback for everything that Trump did to him.

But he had to pretend to fight the Department of Justice in court to placate the MAGA base because Pence wants to run for president and he doesn't want to be seen as a willing accomplice in the supposed persecution of the leader, Donald Trump.

So I think Trump has something to be worried about. In the end, Jack Smith, the special counsel, got everything that he wanted from the court because the whole speech or debate clause Pence was trying to invoke, yeah, that doesn't stop him from testifying about what Trump told him before and around the time of January 6. That is going to be powerful testimony. Five to seven hours, that will be a lot of good stuff.

ROMANS: Yeah. All right. Palm Beach County prosecutor Dave Aronberg, so nice to see you. Have a great weekend, Dave.

ARONBERG: Thank you, Christine. You as well.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now. One of four inmates who escaped a Mississippi jail has been captured. Jerry Raynes was arrested in Texas one day after the body of Dylan Arrington was pulled from a burnt home in Hinds County following a two hour standoff with police. A manhunt is under way for the remaining two escaped inmates. A trail derailment in southwestern Wisconsin has injured at least four

people and sent two containers into the Mississippi River. No word on what cause the accident.

A 7th grader from Warren, Michigan, is being called a hero after he saved a bus full of kids by taking charge after the driver passed out.


UNIDENTIFIED KID: Somebody call 911 now!


ROMANS: Wow. Dylan Reeves jumped in to steer and gently pump the brakes to stop the bus, calmly told his classmates to call 911.

Coming up, high drama on the high seas as an oil tanker bound for Texas is seized by Iran.

And soon, an astronaut about to make history, something we've never seen before in space.



ROMANS: Deadly clashes continue in Sudan despite an agreement by two warring generals to extend this shaky ceasefire another three days.


ROMANS: The violence between the Sudanese army and Rapid Support Forces, RSF, has led to critical shortages of food and medicine, and we're told, water. Witnesses tell CNN the RSF has taken over at least one water station.

CNN's David McKenzie joins me live from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he is covering the story.

David, we're also hearing that engineers trying to get to the plant are being targeted by snipers.

What can you tell us about the state of play at this hour?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a general state of chaos in the capital. And despite the U.S./Saudi backed ceasefire to extend it for another 72 hours, eyewitnesses telling there has been a barrage of attacks overnight and into this morning in Khartoum in different parts of the capital.

And as you describe, there have been armed men who have stopped distribution of aid, of water and even medical supplies in the last few days. Now, the U.S. government has come under significant criticism from U.S. citizens in the U.S. who say that their family members have not had the level of assistance that they should be getting from the government. But there is a sense of danger when coming in by air. A lot of nations

have managed to get people out by aircraft. And just this morning.