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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Biden Meets with Congress' Leaders on Debt Limit; Durham: FBI Should Not Have Launched Full Trump-Russia Probe; Virginia Congressman's Staff Attacked at District Office; Ukraine Hit By 18 Missiles Overnight in "Exceptional" Attack. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 16, 2023 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, time and money both running out as direct talks on the debt limit resume in person today.


Plus, Russia launches drones and missiles at Ukraine's capital as intelligence suggests that Moscow may not have the firepower for large-scale attacks.

And John Durham's long-awaited report on the Trump Russia investigation is here. Does it deliver the goods for the GOP?


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

In just hours, President Biden's is set to meet for the second time with the four top leaders in Congress. They are trying to avoid having the federal government to default on its bills, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen confirmed could happen as soon as June 1st.

CNN's Manu Raju has the latest.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been pessimistic as talks have occurred on the staff level for the past week to try to avoid the nation's first ever debt default. McCarthy's been calling for talks for sometime, the White House has resisted, calling for the national debt limit, which is more than $31 trillion to be raised without any conditions whatsoever to avoid the prospects of the United States not being able to pay its bills.

McCarthy has rejected that approach, called for spending cuts to be attached with raising the national borrowing limited hosted possibility do just that, including a host of Republican priorities. The Democrats in the White House say that is dead on arrival, so where does it go? There is not much time left in order to get a deal by the June 1st deadline to avoid the default. The default could occur in the first couple of weeks of June, according to the Treasury Department, or as soon as June 1st.

But, as he spoke to reporters earlier in the evening on Monday, McCarthy made clear that there is a long way to go.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I appreciate the president finally willing able to talk, but there is no movement. We are only a couple of weeks away, the timeline to pass something in the House and pass something in the Senate. You've got to have something done by this weekend and we are nowhere near any of that.

RAJU: Now even if they were to get some sort of deal it would take some time in order to put it on paper, under the drafted into legislative tax, in order though through the House and the Senate, all that takes a significant of time which is raising a lot of concerns about whether or not they will be able to get them. They are discussing measures like plentiful move changes to land provisions to expedite energy projects that are greenlight it by the federal government whether that is included as part of the fact remains be seen.

They're also talking about capping discretionary spending. So the Republicans have pushed for long term caps on discretionary spending it something the White House has pushed back on. Can they find a middle ground on that issue?

There's also discussion about pulling back on already enacted COVID aid as part of this effort to raise the debt limit.

But, can they get an agreement on, that and can they sell the wide Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, all major questions as debt default looms over Washington.

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ROMANS: All right. I was on the meetings today.

All right. Police in Farmington, New Mexico, investigating a crime scene that they called wide and complex following a shooting rampage on Tuesday that killed three people and wounded six others, including two officers. Officials say the 18-year-old gunman used an AR-15 style rifle with two other guns and was ultimately killed by responding officers.

Farmington's police chief says -- detectives are talking to the suspect's family members and piecing through evidence trying to understand his motive.


CHIEF STEVE HEBBE, FARMINGTON POLICE: There were no schools, no churches and no individuals targeted during the course of the event. The suspect roamed throughout the neighborhood up to a quarter of a mile. At least six houses and three cars were shot in the course of the event, as the suspect randomly fired at whatever entered his had to shoot at.


ROMANS: Community members held a vigil at the scene for the victims and their families Monday evening. Authorities have not yet identified the shooter or any of those victims. They've scheduled a news conference for this afternoon.

All right. This now, special counsel John Durham's long awaited report released Monday concludes the FBI never should have launched a full investigation into connections between Donald Trump's campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Durham's 300-plus-page report also suggested that the FBI used a double standard with a lower threshold for launching the Trump-Russia probe compared to alleged election interference by Hillary Clinton's campaign. Durham even reveals in a footnote that he interviewed Hillary Clinton herself last May as part of his investigation.

More now from CNN's Evan Perez in Washington.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Special counsel John Durham released his final report casting doubt about the FBI's decision to launch a full investigation into connections between Donald Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.


The 300 plus-page report sharply criticize the FBI and the Justice Department throughout but does not recommend any new charges against anyone, or any wholesale changes to the weight politically sensitive information investigations are being handled.

The report falls well short of expectations that were set by former President Trump and his allies who have long claim that it would prove that the FBI's investigation was a political witch hunt.

Nonetheless, Donald Trump claims vindication, posting on his social media platform that it was evidence of a scam. Durham's report finds many mistakes by the FBI, including what he called confirmation bias. He concludes that the FBI discounted or willfully ignored material information that did not support the narrative of a collusive relationship between Trump and Russia.

The Republicans in Congress have already called for Durham to come up to the Capitol for a hearing to discuss more about his investigation.

Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Evan, thank you.

Current and talk and former top FBI officials pushing back against special counsel Durham's conclusions. CNN senior law enforcement analyst Andrew McCabe, then an FBI deputy

director, points to a 2019 investigation by the Justice Department inspector general. It found mistakes by the FBI and the Trump Russia probe, but says that the FBI's investigation was justified, in part by the huge trove of doubt of that Russian hackers stole from Democratic headquarters and then weaponized against Hillary Clinton.


ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: We knew what the Russians talk, we knew how the Russians used, it and then we learned that the Russians offered to do exactly what they had done before they did it to the Trump campaign. So, with that information, not unverified intelligence, actual information, we open to a full investigation and everyone who has looked at what we did other than John Durham determined that that decision was absolutely appropriate.


ROMANS: The current head of the FBI Christopher Wray, sending it out to all employees Monday that he highlights the 40-plus reforms implemented by the agencies in the wake of the inspector general report to, quote, a solidify the importance of doing the right thing in the right way every time.

Wray writes: What distinguishes great organizations is whether they learned from prior failures and use them as opportunities to improve.

All right. Two staffers for a Virginia congressman recovering this morning after a man wielding a metal baseball bat attacked them in the congressman's Fairfax field office.

Democrat Gerry Connolly says police arrived within minutes and arrested the man.


REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA): He was engaged in an altercation, apparently with the police, and had to be tasered, and one of the police had a minor injury in the course of trying to subdue him.

RAJU: What was this person's motivation?

CONNOLLY: I don't think that there is a motivation. I think we're talking about real mental illness.

RAJU: He just walked into the office --

CONNOLLY: Enraged, in a rage state.


ROMANS: The 49-year-old suspect faces two malicious wounding charges. His father says he suffers from (AUDIO GAP).

Yesterday, morning that same man chased a screaming woman through his neighborhood with a baseball bat. Another neighbor's security camera captured the attack. I want to warn you, the video is disturbing.


ROMANS: The two staffers in Connelly's office were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. One of the victims was an intern. It was her very first day at work.

All right, turning now to the war in Ukraine, officials say overnight at the country was hit with 18 missiles of various air, land, and sea- based types. In Kyiv, city officials say the capital was hit by an exceptionally dense attack involving UAVs, cruise missiles, and likely ballistic missiles as well.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in London.

And Kyiv's air defense is able to knock most or all of these out of the sky?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christine, it was clearly a pretty epic night for Ukraine's air defenses. They were able to according to the head of the armed forces himself, who came out and talked about those, they were able to shoot down all 18 missiles of different types that were launched at Ukraine from air, land, and sea.

These included as well, Christine, six Kinzhal missiles. These are Russian ballistic missiles much touted by the ministry of defense. The Kremlin, even by President Putin himself, as part of their next generation of weapons and previously, even just a few months ago, Ukraine had said that they had nothing that could intercept that kind of missile.

Then, just over a week ago, they claimed that they had shot down one of them using a Patriot battery, which U.S. officials later told CNN that that very missile was targeting the Patriot battery, and instead the Patriot battery managed to shot down.


So, look, we don't know with the targets this time. We don't know if the Patriot batteries or imply, but clearly this shows that, with the help of these Western weapons, Ukraine 's air defenses are becoming more effective, and that may change the calculus a little bit for Russia.

We know that this is now a pattern of these overnight barrages. Ukraine has warned that Russia is trying to wear down its air defenses ahead of a possible counter offensive. But, if Ukraine's air defenses are able to shoot down six of these Kinzhal missiles in just one, night I think that really is a bit of a game-changer -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah. All right. Clare, thank you so much.

All right. Just ahead here, Florida's Ron DeSantis moving closer to officially running for president.

Plus, the heart stopping moment that a shark job down on a man's kayak.

But, first, new debt-limit talks now just hours away. Will the two sides emerge any closer?



ROMANS: President Biden meeting with top congressional lawmakers today to hash out a deal on the debt limit. The White House has expressed confidence that deal can be done, but that the optimism cautious optimism I would call it was not shared by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.


MCCARTHY: We have no agreement on anything and that's why I'm so concerned. Here we are, sitting on a Monday, we really have this all done by the end of the week. You know how these things go. They go up, they go up, they come down, but this is something so big and so important. It's not something you can ignore.


ROMANS: Joining us now, Greg Valliere, chief U.S. strategist at AGF investments, someone who's ever plugged in on what's happening with Washington and what the expectations are here.

OK. So, you got different degrees of optimism. I would call it cautious optimism on a deal getting done. And Kevin McCarthy who's still, of course, keeps going back to why did the president take so long to start to talk to us, and, you know, the president is not really -- is not working here. Can they get to yes?

They both need to be able to say that they won, right? So, what does that look like?

GREG VALLIERE, CHIEF U.S. POLICY STRATEGIST, AGF INVESTMENTS, INC: First of all, Christine, good morning. I think the chances of a deal today are close to zero. I think they can get a deal done. They made progress over the past weekend.

But the issue is when do they get a deal done? I think it could be weeks or months away. Almost half has to be an extension lasting through the summer?

ROMANS: So, they're doing -- there's two things happening here. They're talking about that limit and the spending. And there seems to be some movement in the staff level conversations where future spending caps and maybe they are on the table or maybe climb back to some of that unspent COVID aid, and maybe that's on the table.

Rolling back at the presidents climate initiatives and the Inflation Reduction Act, not on the table, at least for Democrats.

What does compromise look like on the spending side and can they agree to kick the can down the road until the fall while they keep talking about spending?

VALLIERE: Well, I talk to someone yesterday and said that maybe half of the deal is sort of done and they agree and principle. The other half is really difficult though. Some of the spending cuts that you mentioned, deep caps on spending, are not in agreement yet. I think getting the other half of the deal done is going to take many weeks.

ROMANS: There is an awareness among these negotiators that failure is not an option, that the debt ceiling must be raised and quickly?

VALLIERE: Not necessarily. I've talked people who pooh-pooh it. They point out of the stock market has been a fairly calm over the last few days, the bond market is starting to get jittery as you know. But I think a lot of people are so complacent and still a thing that this will get down even though that we are only a couple weeks away from the deadline.

ROMANS: I mean, I think the stock market is telling us that companies are making a lot of money, and that they think that this will get resolved, that it simply must get resolved. Could we be in a situation where it takes small business owners calling and telling their congressman I can't make payroll, and the stock market getting cut in half before they really see the urgency in Washington?

VALLIERE: I hate to say this, Christine, but I think things have to get worse before they get better. Worse than the markets, worse than the economy, there's going to have to be an uproar and we're not there yet.

ROMANS: All right. It becomes an uproar when mainstream Americans lose their money before Congress could do its jobs. That seems so backwards, Greg.


ROMANS: That's where we are.

Greg Valliere of AGF Investments, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

All right. The state of Florida is investigating a fifth grade teacher for showing a PG-rated Disney cartoon because the film includes a gay teen character with a crash on another boy.

CNN's Isabel Rosales has the story.



ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First-year Florida teacher Jenna Barbee is under fire for showing her fifth grade class a Disney movie "Strange World."

Her intent, she says, was to teach the class about the environment. The film features a family of explorers banning together to navigate the world. BARBEE: So, I thought that was just a beautiful message to send to my

kids, working together, chasing your dreams, compassion.

ROSALES: Instead, it led to the ire of a school board member, Shannon Rodriguez, also a parent of one of Barbee's students.

SHANNON RODRIGUEZ, PARENT: I'm not going to stand by and allow this minority to infiltrate our schools. God did put me here.

ROSALES: And Barbee says that triggered an investigation from the Florida Department of Investigation. Barbee showed CNN this letter she says is from the state saying: This office has determined an investigation is warranted into allegations that you engaged in inappropriate conduct.

CARTOON CHARACTER: You must be Diazo. He talks about you all the time.

CARTOON CHARACTER: Not all the time.

ROSALES: "Strange World" features a gay character and may violate Florida's Parental Rights and Education Act signed into law last year by Governor Ron DeSantis. The controversial bill bans certain instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.

Hernando County School sent this announcement home to parents: While not the main plot of the movie, parts of the story involves a male character having and expressing feelings for another male character.


In the future, this movie will not be shown.

The school district confirms to CNN the state is investigating Barbee.

Rodriguez claimed Barbee broke school policy because she did not get the specific movie approved by school administration.

RODRIGUEZ: It is not a teacher's job to impose their beliefs on a child, religious, sexual orientation, gender identity, any of the above, but allowing movies such as this assists teachers in opening a door -- and please hear me -- they assist teachers in opening a door for conversations that have no place in our classrooms.

ROSALES: Barbee insists she did the follow the rules, telling CNN every child had a previously signed permission slip from a parent approving for PG movies to be shown in a classroom.

BARBEE: Nobody had a process in place where individual movies got approved. Now that I had this situation happen, there's a whole process in place where you have to get every single movie approved at the letter to the admins, to the parents back.

ROSALES: Teachers who violate the Florida parental rights bill can be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked. BARBEE: I don't want them to terminate me right now.

ROSALES: Isabel Rosales, CNN, Atlanta.


ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

North Carolina's GOP -controlled state Senate set to hold a vote and overriding Governor Roy Cooper's abortion ban veto today. The bill prohibits abortions after 12 weeks.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expected to launch his White House bid by the end of the month. Already on the campaign trail, he appeared to one up and Donald Trump in Iowa this weekend. DeSantis rolled out a slew of endorsements and made an appearance in Des Moines where Trump had cancelled due to weather.

Shocking video shows the moment a fisherman's kayak and Hawaii was attacked by a tiger shark.


ROMANS: Whoa! The man was able to kick away the shark and keep fishing. He said he's counting blessings.

All right. Just hours from now, the boss of a failed bank heads to Capitol Hill to say, I'm sorry.

And a modern day Rosie the Riveters at work in Ukraine's underground.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Plenty of traditional male only workplaces are finding women stepping up and taking jobs that before the war would have only gone to men.




ROMANS: China sentencing an elderly U.S. citizen to life in prison on spying charges. Seventy-eight-year-old John Shing-wan Leung, who is also a Hong Kong permanent resident, has been detained since 2021. He's among a growing number of foreign nationals caught up in Beijing's sweeping espionage crackdown.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout live in Hong Kong with more.

Good morning, Kristie. How are the officials in U.S. reacting to the sentencing?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we did hear from the U.S. State Department, Christine, and it say it is aware of the sentencing. It adds that details are scant because of privacy issues. But the spokesperson also added this. Take a listen.


VEDANT PATEL, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: When a U.S. citizen's detained overseas and the department works to provide all appropriate assistance, including relevant consular access, the department has no greater priority than the safety and security of the U.S. citizens overseas. But just given privacy concerns, I don't have anything else to offer.


STOUT: Now the sentencing of this elderly U.S. citizen comes as tensions continue to simmer between these two superpowers at the U.S. and China over trade, over tech, over geopolitical issues from Ukraine to Taiwan. But also comes as China and the U.S. are trying to stabilize this rocky relationship as we saw and reported on last week. When China's top diplomat Wang Yi met with a U.S. national security adviser and his team for two days for talks to spend eight hours in Vienna and during those talks, Jake Sullivan raised concerns about U.S. citizens detained in China and he added that this was a personal priority for the U.S. President Joe Biden.

Now there are at least three other Americans known to be in prison in China. And I want to know their names on your screen. You'll see on your right, that's Kai Li. He's a father detained in China since 2016 on spying charges. He denies those charges.

And at your left, that is a Mark Swidan, an American businessman who was convicted in 2019. He was arrested 2012 and has been held ever since.

Unfortunately, we don't have the photograph of David Lin. He's an American pastor detained since 2006 and now, John Leung, we also don't have a photograph of him, joins that list, that growing list of Americans detained in China -- Kristie.

ROMANS: Okay. Kristie Lu Stout, thank you so much. We'll be on that, keep on that.

All right. Another terrifying night in Kyiv as a missile defense systems swat down 18 different kinds of bombardments from Russia. As this war rages on, the man of Ukraine ordered to fight but women are stepping up and filling traditionally male-only jobs. Some of them come with inherent dangers, but these women are doing courageous work without hesitation.

CNN's Nic Robertson has more.


ROBERTSON (voice-over): In a man's world, war is changing everything. Tatiana is at the vanguard, shattering Ukrainian coal mining history, a woman on her way to work, 1,000 feet underground.

It's normal, it's okay now? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

ROBERTSON: Yes? It's good. Is it good? You like it, huh?


ROBERTSON: You wanted to be a miner.


ROBERTSON: Your family, your grandfather and father --


ROBERTSON: Yeah, yeah.