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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Negotiators Move Closer to Deal That Would Cap Spending; South Korean Jet Lands Safely After Door is Opened Mid-flight; WaPo: Aides Moved Boxes One Day Before FBI Visited Mar-a-Lago; Oath Keepers Leader Stewart Rhodes Gets 18 Years in Jan 6 Plot. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, debt limit talks creeping closer to a deal with a default deadline coming up fast.

Plus, plane crazy. A jet full of terrified passengers lands safely after someone opened the door in midair.

And, anywhere but here. It's getaway day for the busiest holiday travel season since COVID kept everyone home.


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

There are signs of movement this morning in the negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. There are just six days to go until June 1st, the earliest estimated date the Treasury may not to be able to pay all the government's bills.

Now, two sources tell CNN that White House and Republican negotiators are moving closer to a deal.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We've been talking to the White House all day. We're going back and forth. And it's not easy. We want to make sure this is an agreement worthy of the American people and so, it takes a while to make it happen and we're working to make it happen.


ROMANS: All right. CNN's Jasmine Wright is live for us this Friday morning in Washington.

So, Jasmine, do we know what the outstanding issues are the Democrats and Republicans are still far apart on? It sounds like they are talking about a two-year deal here with spending caps and raising the debt ceiling for two years. Is that -- is that the parameter? JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, Christine. I think

those are kind of where negotiations are heading. But in terms of how far apart these two sides are, I think it depends on who you ask. But reality is, Friday morning, that there is no deal in principle yet. And it's unclear whether or not there will be one as lawmakers had to leave the city for the holiday weekend.

There are a series of outstanding issues, some of the things that you kind of just pointed to, with both sides pretty far apart on some of the very major issues to kind of get a deal in place.

Now, sources tell us that under a potential agreement, there are several things that are happening. First, debt ceiling would be raised for two years while also capping federal spending except for defense spending and veteran spending. That is kind of up to debate according to sources. Some tell us that the spending caps are still under discussion under this potential agreement. We talked about they would be in place for two years, as long as that debt ceiling is raised.

Now, also nondefense discretionary spending levels would be cut to levels slightly below what they are right now. And it would be allowed to kind of raise 1 percent in the second year. Those are specific details, but they are important when we're talking about exactly what is happening in those rooms as they try to really negotiate a deal.

Now, of course, both sides remain really far apart on a key issue that we've talked about these last few weeks, which is work requirements. Obviously, Republicans want stricter work requirements for folks who are on programs like SNAP and other programs really help people less fortunate, as well as Democrats want less work requirements in these type of areas. So that remains a very big issue.

Now, people in these rooms continue to tell CNN that progress remains slow, that they are really trying to deeply work through all of these issues. But again, time is of the essence and it is not on their side, Christine. So, of course, yesterday we heard McCarthy not be able to promise that deal would be made by June 1st, that X date.

ROMANS: Yeah, time is not on their side. I mean, they are running out quickly here. The clock is not favorable.

WRIGHT: Exactly.

ROMANS: All right. Jasmine, thank you so much.

Turning now to a moment of terror in midair. A door opening on a South Korean jet while the plane was still in flight. You can see wind scouring the cabin while the sky is visible through the open door.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul.

What happened here? We understand someone is already under arrest.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. This would have been terrifying to be on board, but miraculously, it landed safely. There were nine that had minor injuries and that was it. So what we've heard from Asiana is when the flight was two to three minutes before landing, so 700 feet in the air, they say a man in his 30s sitting in the emergency seat opened the emergency door. You can see what happened from that video, the strong gusts of wind coming through the aircraft itself.

But what we're hearing from many experts is that this technically should not have been allowed to happen.


GEOFFREY THOMAS, AVIATION EXPERT: It seems implausible that the door could be opened in the first place and then against the air stream technically impossible. But somehow or other, it has happened, possibly some malfunction.


HANCOCKS: So according to police, the man has confessed that he did this, but has not given them a reason, at this point, as to why he did it.


There were 200 people on board this flight. And as I say only 12 had hyperventilation, nine did go to hospital, but with minor injuries.

Of course, the question now that is being asked of Asiana, of Airbus, is how was this able to happen, not only being able to open a door while you are still in the air, but also appearing to be able to open the door against the air stream. Now, the experts also say that it was very lucky, it was so close to ground because everybody had their seatbelts on at that point, Christine.

ROMANS: It's just -- what a terrifying experience.

All right. Paula, thank you so much for that.

All right. Speaking of travel, Memorial Day is upon us, the unofficial start of summer. AAA after the predicts a whopping 40 million Americans will travel over the three day weekend.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us from the CNN weather center.

OK. So, Derek, what conditions will all those travelers and backyard barbecuers face this weekend?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Okay. Well, hold on, going from that previous story, that was frightening, 3.5 million Americans expected to travel by air this weekend. So you can imagine that, yeah, how I'll be protecting that door when I'm getting on my flight this weekend.

Well, scary stuff. Okay. So, if we're talking about the U.S. right now, this is the area that we're concerned about, the Southeast. That is an area that has the potential for some kind of I'll call it tropical mischief. Not tropical storm, not a hurricane, but definitely some mischief.

And what I mean is it will be a wet and very windy weekend for places like Wilmington, all the way up towards Hilton Head, for instance, if you are traveling there or vacationing there. And look across the nation's midsection, this is where we have the chance of severe weather.

Let's break it down for you. If you are in New York, looking good. Down to Orlando, not bad. Washington, D.C., you will stay dry. A few showers and thunderstorms to end off the Memorial Day weekend from Dallas to Denver.

The West Coast looking cool still from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And here is our severe weather threat for today near the border of Texas and New Mexico. But getting back to the rain threat across the Carolinas and into Virginia, look at how much rain from Charleston into Wilmington that will dampen your barbecue plans for the weekend, unfortunately.

This is the 10 percent probability of tropical development so that is why I call it drop tropical mischief from the National Hurricane Center. And speaking of National Hurricane Center, NOAA released its 2023 Atlantic hurricane season outlook, and we're anticipating more or less an average a hurricane season this year, but something to watch -- Christine.

ROMANS: Yeah. When average is -- average is good. Average is what we'll take it.

VAN DAM: Yeah, not above average. That's right.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much, Derek. Have a great weekend if I don't see you again.

VAN DAM: You, too.

ROMANS: All right. "The Washington Post" is reporting that two employees of Donald Trump moved boxes of papers at Mar-a-Lago one day before federal investigators showed up there to collect classified documents. "The Post" says investigators view the timing as a sign of possible obstruction.

"The Post" also reports the former president kept classified documents in a visible place in his office and that he allegedly conducted a, quote, dress rehearsal with his team for moving sensitive papers before they were subpoenaed in May of last year.

Two leaders of the Oath Keepers handed significant sentences for seditious conspiracy in a plot to keep then-President Trump in power. The judge describing one defendant as still an ongoing threat and peril to our democracy.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR REPORTER, CRIME AND JUSTICE: Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison on Thursday. That is a sentence, the largest among any January 6 Capitol riot defendant, and the reason Rhodes is receiving that much time is because the judge decided that he was the reason the members of the Oath Keepers came to Washington, D.C. on January 6 and decided to move into the Capitol in their riot gear in military-esque gear, as a unit.

Now, Rhodes spoke to the judge today and said that he had no remorse at all, that he still believed that the election of 2020 was illegal, that this was and I will legitimate government governing the United States. And so, the judge responded to that quite harshly telling Rhodes that his crimes of seditious conspiracy and other crimes amounted to domestic terrorism in his sentencing, and also, that he believed Rhodes poses a continuing ongoing threat to the American republic, to American democracy.

There was another person sentenced today, too, a deputy who was working with Rhodes on January 6, a man named Kelly Meggs from Florida. Meggs was a very different defendant, in that he did express remorse. He said that he was sorry to be involved in an event that put such a black eye on the country. But the judge also gave him quite a significant sentence believing it too amounted to a crime of domestic terrorism, seditious conspiracy, and the judge gave him 12 years.

Kelly Meggs, whenever he was receiving his sentence, was crying.


But the judge also took a step back and told him quite sternly that violence was not the answer and is not the answer for people who disagree with the political process in the United States.

Judge Mehta, he also said: We have a process. It is called an election. You don't take to the streets with rifles. You don't hope the president invokes the Insurrection Act so you can rush into the streets. You don't rush into the U.S. Capitol, with the hope to stop the electoral vote count. We will slowly but surely descend into chaos if we do.

More sentences for Oath Keepers to come. But these were the most significant sentences so far in the January 6 seditious conspiracy cases.

Katelyn Polantz, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Coming up, what could be evidence of Tehran's secret weapon shipments to Moscow.

Plus, the moment a thief stole an SUV with a baby inside.

And the rise of the sea creatures. Why are killer whales sinking boats in the ocean? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROMANS: Negotiations to raise the debt ceiling centered on Capitol Hill and the White House, but outside the seat of power, in the rest of the country, that is where a government default will hurt the most. Hundreds of millions of Americans would suffer directly or indirectly if no agreement materializes in the next few days.

CNN's Gabe Cohen has that part of the story.


GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From a construction site in Baltimore --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get really frustrated by that.

COHEN: -- Brendan McCluskey (ph) is imploring Washington lawmakers to hammer out a deal and raise the debt ceiling before the U.S. government runs out of cash to pay its bills.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, for crying out loud, just show up to your job and stop putting everybody at risk.

COHEN: He says 60 percent of his firm's revenue comes from construction contracts and they just started another project.

What could a default mean for your business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, we're doing millions of dollars worth of work over the next 30 to 60 days. When will we get paid for that? I also have a great backlog the second half of this year as long as we don't have an economic catastrophe.

COHEN: Here now, what goes to your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scares the heck out of me.

COHEN: So workers like Chris Church (ph) are anxious for deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have four people dependent on you.

COHEN: You're talking about your family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family, yeah. Who knows what's going to happen? You think about it and you're going to have roof over their head, or food in their bellies, you don't know.

COHEN: Tens of thousands of small businesses work on government contracts. But a default would even strangle the ones that don't. It would drive up borrowing costs making it harder to get loans and credit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether they are trying to grow or just survive, it will be very tough for them if the government defaults.

COHEN: Are you worried this could push many of them out of business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Potentially, if it's sustained default.

COHEN: How stressful is this time then?

ANITA CAMPION, CONNEXUS CEO: Oh, it's been stressful.

COHEN: At Connexus Corporation, a consulting firm that helps developing countries increase incomes for the poor, CEO Anita Campion says 80 percent of their revenue comes from government contracts.

You are already making adjustments.

CAMPION: Yes, definitely. We've stopped hiring. We have made plans to kind of limit spending, we are not being aggressive in our new business, in our new proposals that we're going after. We're just treading water and waiting to see what happens.

COHEN: A long term default could erase by one estimate about 8 million jobs and $10 trillion in household wealth. It would also stall payments for federal programs like Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits and food stamps.

(INAUDIBLE) who runs three markets in D.C. says more than half his revenue comes from customers using SNAP funds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have big reductions on the sales into our businesses.

COHEN: What would you have to do as an owner to adjust to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's going to be very bad. I'm going to end up cutting employees.

COHEN: So some grocery stores are already cutting back on expensive or specialty items in case a deal isn't reached in time and sales go south.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they need to consider the people, the American people. They need to consider that. They need to consider the low income peoples, how they will be impacting.


ROMANS: Sources telling CNN that White House and Republican negotiators are nearing a possible deal to raise the debt ceiling while also capping spending. All this as the deadline to overt default quickly approaches here.

Let's bring in Rachel Siegel, economics reporter at "The Washington Post".

Nice to see you this morning. I'm sure you've been pulling your hair out like I have over the past few weeks as we've been looking at this calendar. I mean, the calendar here is very, very brutal.

I mean, treasury -- the cash balances dip below $50 billion and we only have a few days left here for the Treasury to try to limp along.

RACHEL SIEGEL, ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is getting really tight. You've got two timelines here. You've got the Treasury Department trying to figure out how to keep enough money in the system to make sure that the country can continue to make all its payments by early June. And at the same time, we're running out of days for the White House and Congress to come to a deal to make sure we don't default.

We're really ticking days away here. We have just a couple more days to get through the weekend for the House and Senate to come to a vote even once there is an agreement in place. That gets us really, really close to Thursday which is the X date for the Treasury Department.

ROMANS: I think it is so interesting to hear that small business owner in that piece talk about already people are pulling back, grocery stores for example pulling back on what kinds of things they are buying. We're already seeing an economic I guess preparation for this event whether it happens or not.

SIEGEL: This is just another version of what we've often talked about before, which is uncertainty. This is another layer of so much unknown that could really bring absolutely catastrophic consequences. It is no comfort to small business owners or employees or families to know that we are now six days away from a date that could bring tremendous consequences not only to the domestic economy but the global economy, and this all hinges on a deal that has not been able to come together yet.


There is plenty of uncertainty already in the system with inflation, fears of a recession, add a potential default, and it's no wonder that there's really no comfort there.

ROMANS: I know the Treasury Department isn't laying out exactly what it would do, and what game plan it would have, but I guess we can assume first thing treasury would do, they would pay the principal and interest on our debt, right, and then after that, paying investors but not paying grandma. I mean, that's the kind of choice the treasury is left with if Congress doesn't do its job here.

SIEGEL: It is really difficult to know what playbook they would be playing by because here we are without any playbook to refer to. My colleague Jeff Steiner reported earlier this week that Treasury has begun asking federal agencies about payments that they could possibly put off a little bit. They haven't directed that definitively, but they have been looking for ways to try to spread out their cash balance a couple more days.

But, again, there is no part of what the Treasury Department is saying that suggests that June 1st is a flexible date. There is a lot of pressure for the GOP and for the White House to come together on a agreement very soon because that date is not just one that you want to play with.

ROMANS: Well, originally, you're hearing those, and some Republicans who are not negotiating this deal, but some Republicans are saying, oh, Janet Yellen, she can find money. I mean, June 15th, there is a bunch of tax receipts coming in. It is not as simple as that.

SIEGEL: It's not that simple. And that is not a message picked up by Speaker McCarthy, Patrick McHenry, Garrett Graves and the other GOP negotiators. They are still deferring to Janet Yellen on the June 1st date, in part to make sure that this is something that moves through urgently. But that is an interesting call that has emerged from some who are at risk of perhaps not voting for a final deal or make the math complicated for Speaker McCarthy once it's actually go to a vote.

ROMANS: All right. Rachel Siegel of "The Washington Post", thank you very much. It's going to be interesting days ahead. Thank you.

All right. Quick hits across America now.

The governor of South Carolina signed a bill to limit most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The entire U.S. south other than Virginia has moved to curtail abortion rights over the past year.

Video from a doorbell camera captures the moment a teenager in Philadelphia stole a car with a 14 month old baby still inside. The suspect didn't get too far before ditching the car and a taking off on foot. The baby was not hurt.

A statehouse committee in Texas voted Thursday to recommend impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton. They have been investigating allegations Paxton abused his office to benefit a major donor. Paxton denies all wrongdoing.

All right. Just ahead, attacks at sea, but no signs of any navy. It's killer whales at work.

Plus, the high seas secret that Moscow doesn't want you to know. .


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN was able to identify eight vessels that exhibited suspicious behavior in the Caspian Sea.




ROMANS: Ukrainian officials say Tehran is helping replenish Moscow's arsenal of weapons ahead of the highly anticipated counteroffensive. CNN uncovers how these transfers are possibly made via the Caspian Sea, a direct link between those two countries.

Experts say there is little Ukraine's allies can do to stop it.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz live in London with more.

Salma, what did you find?

SALMA ADELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ukraine accuses Russia of firing some 1,200 Iranian made drones on its territories since the start of this conflict, some 30 of them fired just overnight across multiple cities in Kyiv, wreaking damage and wreaking havoc. We ourselves, CNN teams, have seen remnants of these drones on the ground.

The question is aren't there sanctions in place, how are drones from Iran making it to Moscow?

Take a look.


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): These calm waters are home to a secret Russia doesn't want you to know. Experts say Iran is quietly sending weapons on ships like this one across the Caspian Sea to replenish arms for Moscow's war on Ukraine. Concealing movement at sea is considered nefarious and potentially a violation of international law.

But in the Caspian Sea, there is a growing number of gaps in vessels tracking data known as AIS, with a more than 50 percent increase in ships hiding their movement between August and September of 2022, according to maritime trafficking data. Most of the vessels going dark are Iranian or Russian flagged tankers.

The timing is suspicious, too. This practice picking up last summer just as White House officials revealed that Russia had purchased hundreds of drones from Iran.

So why would these ships want to hide their movements?

Maritime security analyst Martin Kelly tells us it is likely because of what these vessels are carrying.

MARTIN KELLY, LEAD INTELLIGENCE ANALYST AT EOS RISK GROUP: There is a correlation between Russia requesting drones from Iran and an increase in dark activity. And that is a key indicate that these three aspects combined, that something was going on probably the export of Iranian drones to Russia.

ABDELAZIZ: This heat map from Lloyd's List shows where most of those gaps in AIS are concentrated, mostly near Iran's Amirabad port and Russia's Astrakhan port where ships appear to be turning off their data on approach and going dark for extended periods of time.

Now, using data like this and expert analysis, CNN was able to identify eight vessels that exhibited suspicious behavior in the Caspian Sea. This is one such vessel. It is a Russian flagged tanker that was seen in early January leaving Iran's.