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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

President Biden Meets with Japanese Prime Minister; New Evidence in Classified Docs Probe May Undercut Trump; Both Sides Claim Advances in Battle For Bakhmut. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Christine Romans.

You are looking live pictures right now where President Biden has just arrived in Japan for the G7 summit of world leaders. You can hear the shutterbugs out taking pictures of the two leaders. Any moment now, we expect them to speak, both of them.

CNN's Kevin Liptak is alive for us this morning in Hiroshima.

Kevin, what can we expect to see and hear in the next few minutes? I see it's kind of a rocky shot as they're all trying to get -- get the picture of the two leaders walking down the hallway, Kevin.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, they're walking into the room where they will have this bilateral meeting. This is at a hotel here in Hiroshima, the president, you saw him there, shaking the prime minister's hand.

And this is really an important moment. U.S. officials say that American-Japanese ties are what they call high watermark. They are -- they do view Prime Minister Kishida as really kind of a critical ally. And those in no small part because of the surprising role he's taken in joining the West in the war in Ukraine and applying sanctions on Russia that hadn't necessarily been a guarantee. And so, I think you do hear a lot from American officials how pleased they are how strong this relationship has become.

Now, Prime Minister Kishida, he is the host of this year's G7. Japan is the only Asian member of the G7. So the summit only takes place in Asia every seven years. And for that reason, I think you will see China playing quite a significant role in the talks this week.

Of course, President Biden wants these leaders to coalesce around a plan to counter Beijing's military aggressions, economic aggressions.

And you have seen Chinese warships actually sailing quite close to Japan in the lead up to this summit. And so, the backdrop there is quite significant. That hasn't always been an easy task for President Biden. There are, Christine, significant differences between American allies and European allies and how they want to approach China. And so, heading out of this summit, President Biden will really want to emerge with sort of a sense of cohesion among their group and American officials say they won't be what they call arm twisting. They do certainly want to ensure that everyone is on the same page as tensions in this region really are at an all-time high, Christine.

ROMANS: You know, he was committed to this trip, wasn't he? I mean, he's got the debt ceiling drama at home, but the president and his team really committed to talking to America's friends and being there in really this time of uncertainty vis-a-vis China.

LIPTAK: Yeah. And all the discussions about how this trip would proceed, the G7 was the stop that they really did want to maintain. The president really wanting to get around a table with these other leaders to ensure that they're on the same page, whether it comes to Ukraine, when it comes to China. Certainly, the debt ceiling issue is going to come up. There is no more pressing issue on global stability at the moment that the threat of an American default, that would send the global economy into a complete tailspin.

So you can expect that the president who will be talking about that with the other leaders when they sit around the table. But the president, of course, places quite a premium on these face to face meetings.

The G7 really has emerged as the most sort of critical block in maintaining Western unity amid Russia's aggression. It has been a very important summit for the president for the last two years. This is his third G7 as president, and so, he really did want to maintain this stop.

The other stops he was able to cancel, but this one is he really did want to come to here in Hiroshima this week.

ROMANS: And I think it's worth reminding people that wasn't very long ago, less than a decade ago, it was called the G8 because Russia had been invited as a courtesy to this group so that Russia and Russia's concerns could be heard by the West and, of course, after that invasion of Crimea, Russia was expelled from the G8 and it became the G7 again.


ROMANS: Let's listen in for a minute. We got the Japanese prime minister making some remarks. Stick with us, Kevin.

FUMIO KISHIDA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): -- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the MIT, one of the leading universities of the United States has commenced by gaining cooperation from the United States, we will materialize that vision.

Today, we -- Joe and I will go over what we intend to discuss at the G7 Hiroshima summit and engage in last-minute coordination and at the summit, I am confident that the G7 will demonstrate our unwavering will to uphold free and open international order based on the rule of law, a concept that we will share.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, Mr. President, it's wonderful to see you again, and here in your own home town.


And thank you for hosting the G7 summit here.

Under Japan's leadership, we've already delivered progress on the G7 agenda this year. And I'm looking forward to our meetings in the days ahead. As you said back in January when you were at the White House, I think the quotas that we face, the most -- one of the most complex environments in recent history, security environments.

And I couldn't agree with you more, but I'm proud that the United States and Japan are facing together. And, you know, we stand up with a shared values including supporting the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty territory and holding Russia accountable for its futile aggression.

And we are tracking the global challenges from strengthening our community and our commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. That's at the heart of all this. And, you know, we're -- it seems to me that we're deepening our cooperation on emerging technologies, including -- including new partnerships between United States and Japanese companies, and as you mentioned, universities as well, in areas like quantum computing and semiconductors. And I want to thank you for Japan's commitment to increasing investments in these areas.

The bottom line, Mr. Prime Minister, is that when our countries stand together, we stand stronger, and I believe the whole world safer when we do.

So thank you again for having me here today and we look forward to the next several days.


ROMANS: I'm sorry, just lingering to see, Kevin, if the president was going to take any questions from reporters, but it sounds like that was a pretty tightly choreographed walk down the hallway, a couple of opening remarks from the prime minister and the president, and now, they will close the doors and have a -- and have a meeting together.

What do you think will be the president's top priorities in this summit, Kevin?

LIPTAK: Yeah, I think he doesn't want to emerge with some consensus about that China issue, and now, we are talking about that before. But I think that that -- because we are in Asia, because of the concerns that have grown even since the last time that the summit convened, that will be sort of the president's primary goal.

Now, they are -- the leaders are expected to talk about Ukraine as well. They're expected to announce new sanctions, really trying to close some of the loopholes that exist that have allowed certain Russian entities to evade this -- that they'll be talking about. They're also going to talk about the situation on the actual battlefield in Ukraine as Ukraine prepares for this counteroffensive.

The real hope among these leaders is that Ukraine will be able to regain some territory that will provide it some leverage at an eventual negotiating table. Of course, where that happens, when that happens, remains to be seen. That's something that the president really does want to ensure that these leaders are on the same page on.

So, Ukraine, China, the two main sort of global political -- geopolitical issues that the leaders will talk about. But, of course, this debt ceiling that is threatening global stability also on the agenda, sort of looming over these talks as the president receives these continual updates from back in Washington about how those negotiations are going between his aides and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

ROMANS: Yeah, there's a team and as McCarthy -- McCarthy said, House Speaker McCarthy, that there's a format in place here, there's discussions happening.

All right. Thank you so much for -- we're going to talk more about that. Kevin Liptak, thank you so much.

Before leaving for Japan, President Biden told reporters he'll being in constant contact with his team negotiating with Congress over the debt ceiling and with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as well.

They are now just two weeks until the earliest day that the treasury has estimated the government runs out of money to pay all the bills which would trigger a catastrophic default.

President Biden underscoring the White House view that a deal to lift the debt ceiling is separate from negotiations over budget cuts.


BIDEN: And to be clear, this negotiation is about the outlines about what the budget would look like. Not about whether or not we're going to in fact pay our debts. The leaders have all agreed we will not default. Every leader has said that.


ROMANS: Speaker McCarthy says he also believes negotiating teams can come to an agreement before the money runs out.

Now to this CNN exclusive, the National Archives has informed former President Trump it is set to give special counsel Jack Smith 16 records that could undercut Trump's claim that documents that he took to Mar-a-Lago were, quote, automatically declassified.

CNN's Paula Reid has more from Washington.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: According to this letter from the National Archives obtained exclusively by our colleague Jamie Gangel, these 16 records that the special counsel wants to obtain reveal communications, some from top Trump advisers, explaining the how, why and when you would declassify certain documents.


Now, that's significant because the special counsel is looking at several crimes, including possibly mishandling classified information.

And if the special counsel could use these records to establish, that Trump was on notice about the process of how you declassify materials and the fact that it applied to him. That could help inform prosecutors as they decide whether they want to bring a case.

Now, the former president's lawyers have given various explanations for how and why he brought these classified documents down to Mar-a- Lago. The former president has suggested he automatically was able to declassify these documents. He's also said that he had a standing order to declassify them, and his lawyers though have argued that part of this was about the process being flawed, and things were inadvertently packed up at the end of the administration.

So, these records will help clarify the extent to which Trump was aware of how you declassify items.

Now, special counsel may have to wait to get their hands on these documents because the former president's legal team, they may file a legal challenge. They have not been successful in preventing prosecutors from getting much of the evidence, but they have tried to obtain, I'm told by a source familiar with their thinking, they may still file a challenge because they want to try to protect constitutional and presidential privileges.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Turning now to the battle for Bakhmut in Ukraine. Both sides now claiming they are making advances around the eastern city. The head of the Wagner mercenary group claims his troops have advanced about 280 yards amid fierce fighting, while Ukrainian officials say their forces are holding on to about eight square miles they have liberated from Russian hands.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in London.

It just sounds like such a meat grinder. Holding on for yards. Trying to hold on this city that's just been decimated. Conflicting claims like this, by the way, not unusual in a war. Do we have any idea of what's true or what's plausible?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think that's a really important question, Christine, because obviously, misinformation is always a risk in this war but both sides have an agenda. But this is also very instructive west of the type of fighting that we are seeing in Bakhmut. It is not a linear front line. Prigozhin advance, he seems to suggest that within the city, which

Wagner and the Russian forces control almost all of, whereas the Ukrainian advance, which they say they are holding on to him to be more around the outskirts, the deputy defense minister said earlier this week, that Russia had taken around eight square miles to the north and south in those suburbs, and are holding on to those as of Wednesday. The fighting continues according to the spokesperson for the armed forces this morning around the flanks.

That's why Ukraine is still set to be advancing. So Russia within the city just a small amount, according to Prigozhin, and Ukraine around the outskirts. And all of this ll maybe even murky, of course, by the fact that Prigozhin continues to take aim at the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday, accusing them of retreating and doing so essentially thwarting his efforts to take over the whole city.

But I think one thing is very clear and that is the level of destruction. We have some new satellite images that really show just how the city has been leveled in some places, buildings essentially race to the ground, schools, theaters, all sorts of things like that. You could see these images here as well.

And I think, there you go, that's he before, with all the greenery around it, and then we are about to say the after even smoke rising from some sections where attacks and explosions continue. It does beg a question for the city of a prewar population, not even really a city, a town of 70,000, that has been leveled to the ground in so many places, what real strategic use it has, and why this battle continues. I think it's clear that for both sides now, it is symbolic.

ROMANS: Yeah, symbolic, maybe more symbolic than strategic, but certainly, just -- just what a fight is happening there.

Okay. Clare Sebastian, thank you so much.

A setback Wednesday for abortion rights advocates. A federal appeals panel tearing into Biden administration lawyers who were defending FDA approval of the most commonly used abortion pill.

More now from CNN's Jessica Schneider in Washington.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: These three judges on a Fifth Circuit panel, they were extremely critical and they questioned lawyers for the FDA and the drugmaker very aggressively. Notably, these three judges were all appointed by Republican presidents, two of them appointed by Donald Trump, and those two had been very critical of abortion rights even before they joined the federal bench.

One of those judges in particular, James Ho, he led this critical questioning against DOJ lawyers Sarah Harrington. In fact, he pounced within seconds of these arguments starting. Take a listen.

JAMES HO, JUDGE: I hate to cut you off so early, but you've said unprecedented. [05:15:01]

We had a challenge to the FDA just yesterday.

SARAH HARRINGTON, ATTORNEY: You had a challenge to the FDA, yes, but I don't think there's ever been any court that has vacated FDA's determination that a drug is safe to be on the market.

HO: Didn't the FDA just withdraw a Subpart H drug just last month?

HARRINGTON: FDA can make that determination based on exercising its own scientific expertise. But it's not a court's role to come in and second-guess that expertise and no court has ever done that.

HO: I guess I'm just wondering why not just focus on the facts of this case rather than sort of "FDA can do no wrong" theme?

SCHNEIDER: So Judge Ho in particle are very critical of the idea that courts can't second-guess the FDA or its scientific findings. So based on his harsh questioning, it's very likely that these three judges will side with the antiabortion doctors bringing this case, and perhaps block access to the abortion pill mifepristone. But even if you do that, the Supreme Court has already done that any restrictions or blocking the drug will not take effect until the Supreme Court has had time to consider the case.

So, a ruling on this issue could take separate from the Fifth Circuit and even then even that court decides won't immediately go into effect.

The Fifth Circuit is considered the most conservative federal appeals court in the country. It's repeatedly ruled against the Biden administration. And now, it has this case that could impact the availability of the abortion drug mifepristone which, of course, is used for the majority of abortions in this country.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. TikTok to be banned in Montana. Governor Greg Gianforte signing a bill that makes Montana the first day to ban the social media app for all users. It goes into effect in January, imposing a $10,000 a day fine violators, including app stores that distributive TikTok.

TikTok, of course, trade groups and the ACLU blasting this law for trampling on Montanans' free speech rights. The ban is expected to face a court challenge, of course, and there are questions about whether it's even technically feasible to ban an app in just one state.

All right. The fate of embattled New York Congressman George Santos is now in the hands of the House Ethics Committee. The House vote Wednesday to refer a resolution to expel Santos to the ethics panel, allows Republicans to avoid a tough up or down vote on their truth challenged colleague, at least for now.

After the vote, Santos thanked GOP leaders for allowing the maneuver.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): If the Ethics Committee finds a reason to remove me, that is the process. This isn't about politics, this isn't about this body silencing 145,000 people who voted for me to come here and taking a voice away from 700,000 people that I represent.

So, this is the appropriate way to do this. I think that this was the right decision for all of us, and I look forward to continuing to defend myself.


ROMANS: The huddle with reporters broke up when Democrats and Republicans started loudly heckling each other on the steps of the Capitol.

All right. Just ahead, the case against a man accused of killing four Idaho college students takes a big step forward.

Plus, four children found alive more than two weeks after a plane crash.

And Harry and Meghan's chaotic encounter with the paparazzi on the streets of New York.




BIDEN: But I'm proud of the United States in Japan are facing it together. And, you know, we stand up for the shared values including supporting the very people of Ukraine as a defender sovereign territory and holding Russia accountable for its futile aggression.


ROMANS: President Biden moments ago kicking off a meeting with the Japan's prime minister which is underway right now.

The president is in Hiroshima to meet with world leaders at the G7 summit.

Let's bring in CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's also a White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times".

So nice to see you.

You know, from your perspective there, what did in the president's top priorities are here at the summit? DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I

think you're going to see three things come up, three big items in the summit discussion. Two of them are unsurprising. One of them is a little surprising.

The two unsurprising, obviously, continued support for Ukraine. The G7 has been, if anything, unified about the Ukraine war. But there is an emerging difference on the question of whether to send the F-16s and other weapons and echo of debates that we have seen play out over the past year or so with the Europeans pushing harder and President Biden being concerned about escalation.

You'll see a lot of discussion about China, no surprise there. And some concerns that the United States and China are hitting on a downward spiral but only recently the U.S. has been trying to see if they can get reversed.

And finally and I think most interestingly is that there is going to be discussion of generative artificial intelligence. Something that is never been discussed before among the leaders of this group.

ROMANS: Yeah, something that, you know, people have described as a new industrial revolution for what it will mean for jobs and for economists around the world.

You know, David, the president shorten the ship because of the urgency of debt ceiling negotiations at home. The White House making clear he can do both, he can send the message of unity with allies in Asia, and he can also at home be negotiating the debt ceiling.

How has that hanging over this event?

SANGER: You know, I think the part that hangs over here is sort of the opposite of what you are hearing in the criticism that the president for being away. His trip down to Papua New Guinea was going to be the first trip by a sitting American president to the Pacific islands, an area that the Chinese have been very active in trying to invest in, put together security pacts and so forth. There was a negotiation underway with security pact with Papua New Guinea, for the same reasons that Papua New Guinea was critical in World War II, which is the sea lines that run in and around it.


He was going to meet 17 Pacific leaders there. That got scrapped. I wouldn't be surprised at all if you see Xi Jinping, the president of China, go down for a third time in recent years to try to say hey, we are here even if the Americans can't manage to show up.

ROMANS: You know, I was talking with Kevin Liptak, just a few minutes ago about who this used to be the G8 because as a courtesy, Russia was invited to this group of world leaders so that -- so that Russia had a seat at the table and then, of course, the invasion of Crimea, it was basically kicked out.

And so, now, this G7 group is trying to I gastric a consensus on how to proceed in the Russia-Ukraine war. If you can hear me, what do you think the hope is there on a unified front on Russia and Ukraine?

SANGER: That's absolutely right. You know, Russia joined in 1997. They started being at this group in 1994 so they had nearly 20 years of being at the table. And the whole idea was to integrate them with the Western economies, and by doing so prevents exactly this. They were suspended after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

But it is pretty remarkable that we thought for 20 years that by bringing them into this G7, making them part of the decision-making process, we would be like to leave Russia in a position where it felt like it didn't really need to go pursue territorial ambitions. That really tells you how far this has fallen.

ROMANS: Yeah, it really does, doesn't it?

All right. David Sanger, thank you so much, it's nice to see this morning -- this afternoon there.

SANGER: Good to see you.

ROMANS: A quick hits across America now.

The suspect in the fatal stabbing of four University of Idaho students indicted by a grand jury on murder and burglary charges. Bryan Kohberger may face the death penalty if found guilty.

Federal reports accused U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Rachel Rollins, of trying to influence an election by leaking information to a journalist. She has announced she will resign at the end of this week.

Elizabeth Holmes is being ordered to turn herself in by May 30th. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied her last minute bid to avoid starting her 11-year prison sentence for defrauding investors while running the failed blood testing start-up Theranos.

All right. Dozens are now feared lost at sea after a fishing craft capsizes. And Italy's deadly flood disaster forcing thousands from their homes.