Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: House Votes on Bill to Suspend Debt Ceiling, Cut Spending; U.S. Condemns Failed North Korean Launch for Using Missile Tech; U.S. Slams Chinese Jet's "Aggressive Maneuver" Against Spy Plane; A.I. Leaders Sign Statement Warning of "Extinction" Risk. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, no time to spare. Lawmakers vote in the coming hours on the deal to avoid a U.S. debt default.

Plus, failure to launch. North Korea admits its attempt to put a satellite in orbit did not go as planned.

And the chilling new warning about artificial intelligence. Could A.I. one day be the death of us all?


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

A crucial day ahead as Republican and Democratic leaders race to overt a government default. The first votes begin mid-afternoon on the compromise bill to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts.

The timing is very tight to pass the measure by June 5th, the first day the Treasury says it may not be able to pay all it bills. Progressives Democrats aren't happy with the shape of the final day. Conservative Republicans even more so, threatening to try to unseat Speaker Kevin McCarthy if he doesn't keep a promise to pass a bill with the majority of Republicans on board.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I'm still undecided. I mean, I'm angry that we are being held hostage and we are continuing to be held hostage because we don't have a choice. I think to a Democrat, none of us believe that we can default on the debt ceiling.

REPORTER: How much -- I mean, how much confidence do you have in the speaker right now?

REP. DAN BISHOP (R-NC): None. Zero. What basis is there for confidence?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is the speaker lying about the way he is characterizing this bill?

BISHOP: Yes, he's lying.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Yes, there would be a departure from that specific commitment, to have a majority of the majority. I think that would be trouble for the speaker.


ROMANS: Even so, both McCarthy and the White House are projecting confidence that they can get this measure passed.

More this morning than from CNN's Phil Mattingly at the White House.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: White House officials entered the week keenly aware that the deal they struck, the deal to raise the debt ceiling until 2025 was one that not everyone would like. There would be conservatives that had major issues but there would also be progressive Democrats that were upset about certain elements, progressive Democrats.

White House officials knew they needed to explain why they did what they did and what the potential ram ramifications would actually mean, and that has been the biggest part of their approach behind the scenes over the course of the last couple of days, and according to officials will continue to be their approach going forward. Basically, briefing after briefing, phone call after phone call, all taking place behind the scenes, letting Democrats know that they need their support because the alternative is simply unthinkable.

This was Office of the Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young put things.

SHALANDA YOUNG, OMB DIRECTOR: My job is to tell members what is in the bill. You get into trouble when you try to tell members what their opinion is. Every member is -- should have whatever opinion. Our job is to say this is what is in the bill. This is how some of the worst things Republicans wanted were mitigated.

MATTINGLY: To some degree, this bill as they try to move it through both the House and the Senate represents a balancing act, one in which neither White House officials nor the Republican counterparts got everything that they wanted. Certainly, there are plenty of issues they wish could have been different.

But when you talk to White House officials, they make clear to some degree, this is just the reality in divided government, and part of their pitch beyond not defaulting is what could have been in that simply is not because they had these negotiations. How critical that is given what House Republicans started with. Whether or not that is actually enough to get it across the finish line, in large part that is up to House Republicans where Democrats make clear they are not involved in the whipping process trying to get votes on their side. For now, White House officials are keenly focused on House Democrats,

on Senate Democrats, trying to make the pitch this is the deal the president wanted and what the president got and while it certainly isn't the deal everybody dreamed of going into this moment, there is a reality and one that portends no default, which is probably more important than anything else.

Phil Mattingly, CNN, the White House.


ROMANS: Thanks, Phil.

The U.S. and South Korea condemning a North Korean rocket launch Tuesday. Pyongyang called it a reconnaissance satellite launch, admitting the rocket crashed in to the sea after an engine failure. But the U.S. said it was a ballistic missile launch that was a brazen violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

CNN's Paula Hancocks live in Seoul for us this morning.

Paula, what do we actually know about this launch? Satellite, missile or what?


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, we know that North Korea was trying to put a satellite into space. It says it needs a military satellite to try to counter what it calls, quote, the dangerous acts of the U.S. but what we do know is that it did fail. North Korea admitted that. It's a rare admission and also a speedy admission that they said that they had a problem with the engine in the second stage.

But they are not deterred. They said that they will try this again soon. So there is concern that this would happen again soon. We know the South Korean military found what they believe to be some of the debris in the waters off the west coast of Korea, and so they are analyzing that. But there is also political fallout here in Seoul.

There was an air raid siren about 6:30 a.m. followed by an emergency text alert telling easies to evacuate in Seoul. Two minutes later, they said it was sent in error and that has some people concerned.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I thought it was an urgent situation and soon it turned out to be false so I was very confused. Such important issue must be delivered cautiously, but this time it wasn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): At the moment, the Korean government seems to have a backwards system on issues as warnings and disasters. So it needs to be improved. But it seems it's not going well.


HANCOCKS: There is some concern of trust in this kind of emergency alert being eroded in a country that is still technically at war with its northern neighbor. But what we are expecting at this point, Christine, is North Korea will try to launch this satellite into space once again. It has been condemned and will be in the future.

ROMANS: All right. Paula Hancocks for us in Seoul, thank you so much for that.

China is defending the actions of a Chinese fighter jet that flew directly across the flight path of a U.S. spy plane in international air space over the South China Sea last week. The U.S. military denounced it as unnecessarily aggressive. But the Chinese foreign ministry said overnight that U.S. reconnaissance against China is provocative and dangerous and the root cause of the Chinese jet's maneuver.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more from the Pentagon.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This latest encounter between the Chinese fighter yet at a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft happened on Friday over international waters in the South China Sea, according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. That's when a Chinese fighter jet, a J-16, approached very close to U.S. RC-135 Rivet Joint. That's the type of reconnaissance aircraft.

And U.S. Indo Pacific Command, INDOPACOM, for short, put out video of this intercept, this encounter, from inside the cockpit of the U.S. aircraft. You can see the Chinese fighter jet off to the right, that it cuts or slices in front of the U.S. aircraft and you see shaking inside that U.S. aircraft.

According to Indo-Pacific Command, that is when the wake turbulence of the Chinese fighter jet disturbed the flight path of the U.S. aircraft in what the U.S. is calling an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver to carry out this intercept. The U.S. goes to great lengths to point out it happened in international air space in the South China Sea.

This is not the first time we've seen this sort of aggressive behavior from Chinese aircraft. We saw something very similar back in December. That's when a Chinese navy fighter jet, a J-11, came within 20 feet of the nose of another RC-135 Rivet Joint, according to the Indo Pacific Command, forcing a larger, heavier U.S. aircraft with some 30 people on board to carry out evasive maneuvers before the two got too close. The U.S. sees this as a pattern of more aggressive behavior coming from Chinese aircraft.

It is worth noting the broader context in which this is all happening with a tremendous amount of tension between Beijing and Washington. In fact, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in the Indo-Pacific Region right now, in a couple of days about to attend what's known as a Shangri-la dialogue, a meeting of some of the important countries in the region, including the U.S. and China. U.S. had been trying to set up a meeting between Austin and his

Chinese counterpart, the minister of national defense, Li Shangfu, but the Chinese after essentially not getting back to the U.S. for a while rejected the offer of a meeting and that gets at the broader tension between China and the U.S., between Beijing and Washington right now.

It is worth noting that President Joe Biden said earlier in May that he said he would eventually meet President Xi Jinping of China, but it's worth asking how, where, when and under what conditions such a meeting might be possible.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, at the Pentagon.


ROMANS: All right. Oren, thank you for that.

A no-win situation for officials in Davenport, Iowa trying to decide when to demolish what is left of a six-story apartment building that mysteriously imploded Sunday. Now, no deaths were initially reported and eight people were quickly rescued.

Plans to demolish the building Monday were scrapped after a ninth person was found alive and five people are still unaccounted for. Family members are divided on what the city should do now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Y'all want to tear down the building and you know you got five people still unaccounted for. Help me understand that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I plead with our community just to let the city do their job. They have given us their word that they are going to treat that already collapsed area with sensitivity. This is the best plan of attack and we don't want anyone else hurt.


ROMANS: The cause of the collapse remains under investigation.

All right. Jurors in Pittsburgh face weeks of harrowing testimony in the federal death penalty trial of the man accused of killing 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue back in 2018. The trial began Tuesday with opening statements and just a terrible 911 recording that featured one of the victim's terrified last words.

CNN's Danny Freeman has more from Pittsburgh.


DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four and a half years after the deadliest antisemitic attack in modern U.S. history, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting trial finally began this morning. Loved ones of the victims arriving with police escorts and hugging each other in front of the court.

STEPHEN COHEN, CO-PRESIDENT OF NEW LIGHT CONGREGATION: Today is another chapter, and hopefully, almost a final or closing chapter of what happened four and a half years ago.

FREEMAN: Defendant Robert Bowers accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers and wounding several others in October 2018 sat in the courtroom wearing a collared shirt and olive sweater, actively speaking with his attorneys. All while the government graphically laid out the deadly rampage he's accused of committing.

Federal prosecutors said in the months leading up to the shooting, Bowers looked up Jewish organizations and posted antisemitic and anti- immigrant rhetoric online. Then that Saturday morning, Bowers armed herself several handguns, an AR-15, and a shotgun, and drove to the synagogue.

The prosecution said Bowers then methodically went through the synagogue, and hunted Jewish worshippers, sometimes shooting victims at such close range they had singe marks on the rifle that killed them.

Ninety-seven-year-old Rose Mallinger was shot through the head while hiding behind a pew. Her daughter hid from Bowers under her body.

WENDELL HISSRICH, PITTSBURGH'S PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR: It's a very horrific crime scene. It's one of the worst that I've seen.

FREEMAN: After a shootout with members of the Pittsburgh police SWAT team, Bowers surrendered. An officer asked him why he had done this, prosecutor Sue Song (ph) told jurors he responded in part: All Jews need to die. The Jews are killing our kids.

In her opening statement, Bowers defense attorney Judy Clark called her client's actions incomprehensible and inexcusable, saying there will be no doubt asked who shot 11 congregants and wounded several others. But Clark said the jury must determine if his quote, irrational motive and his misguided intent applied to the federal charges Bowers faces. Twenty-two of the 63 charges against Bowers are eligible for the death penalty.

Steve Cohen is the co-president of New Light, one of the three congregations attacked at the synagogue that day.

STEPHEN COHEN, CO-PRESIDENT, NEW LIGHT CONGREGATION: It's like, today is a beautiful day. And there's not a cloud in the sky, it's sunny, it's warm. But there is this huge cloud that sits over our head. It's an ugly gray, rainy, sleep filled cloud.

And we want that cloud to go away. This is the beginning of that process.

FREEMAN: Danny Freeman, CNN, Pittsburgh.


ROMANS: All right. Up next, like a sci-fi nightmare come true, A.I. experts with a blunt warning about the rise of the machines.

Plus, Joran van der Sloot fighting in prison but no longer fighting extradition in the Natalee Holloway case.

And later, deep cover. Is this white whale really a secret Russian sea spy?



ROMANS: On Tuesday, dozens of artificial intelligence leaders and academics, even some celebrities, signed a statement that calls for reducing the risk of global annihilation due to A.I.

Now, the statement was brief and to the point, quote, mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority alongside other societal scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.

Let's bring in Sultan Meghji, a Duke professor and venture capitalist, plus former chief innovation officer for the FDIC.

Good morning. Thanks for being here.


ROMANS: Major industry names signed this, including the so-called godfather of A.I., Geoffrey Hinton, top executives and researchers from Google DeepMind, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

OK, extinction, that got a lot of attention. Is that going a little too far?

MEGHJI: That is going really far. It's sort of saying we invented the car and now, we're terrified about interstellar travel. There's a big gap between the very small, specialized algorithms we have today and artificial general intelligence or Skynet, or the rise of the machines, or whatever you're terrified about.

ROMANS: But we're really on the cusp of something -- I mean, I've heard it called the new industrial revolution. You just mentioned to me, Galileo and the printing press for how historically important this is.

Give me some context.

MEGHJI: Well, we fundamentally are changing for the first time ever how we do things. You no longer can govern economic output by the number of people in the workforce. You're now governing output by number of Nvidia's GPUs you've got, which is why they're a trillion dollar company now.

ROMANS: Right. I know that's amazing when you just look at the potential, you know, for investors, potential for consumers, for health care, for all kinds of different industries. And here is what OpenAI CEO Sam Altman told Congress earlier this month.


SAM ALTMAN, CEO, OPENAI: It is essential that powerful A.I. is developed with Democratic values in mind and this means that U.S. leadership is critical. I think if this technology goes wrong, it can go quite wrong and we want to be vocal about that, we want to work with the government to prevent that from happening.


ROMANS: OK. So how do we regulate this?


I mean, is this industry self regulation? Is it government, U.S. government? Is it -- do we have a model?

MEGHJI: We don't really have a model. The closest model we have in modern history is what we did with the internet where the governments of the world, the private sector, academia, all got together and created a network of regulatory educational and developmental systems.

They even changed the U.N. They created nonprofits. They created foundations. They created new regulatory regimes. That's the level of effort it's going to take to create regulatory regimes that work for this.

ROMANS: And you could still argue the internet has been the tool for ill as well though. I mean, in terms of regulations, there's still a lot of bad things that happen on the Internet.

So look forward ten years, what happens? What are the risks and the promises I guess?

MEGHJI: I mean, everything from health care to safety in travel, to every single function where there is a human doing their job and there is a possibility for error, we will be able to create a safety net around that to make it better. So, whether it's radiologists not -- you know, missing things that we current will I have to deal with, all the way to discovering new diseases or having airplanes not run into each other on runways.

You know, all those will get better, but the other side of it, we're already seeing it with deep fakes and offensive cybersecurity activities, people are using these technologies in very nefarious ways. I mean, I got deep faked a few months ago.

ROMANS: Did you?

MEGHJI: I did, yeah.

ROMANS: And would you say is happening right now -- this A.I. is not -- this is just a specialized algorithm. And we haven't unleashed the potential yet?

MEGHJI: Not even close. We're at a millionth of 1 percent of what these technologies are capable of doing.

ROMANS: Amazing.

All right. Sultan Meghji, thank you so much. Nice to see you this morning.

All right. The disgraced founder of Theranos wakes up today in a Texas federal prison. It's a first full day of her sentence for defrauding investors.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on Elizabeth Holmes.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a light brown pullover and jeans, Elizabeth Holmes reports to the federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas, a far cry from when Holmes, sporting black turtlenecks, was compared to Steve Jobs, and dazzled at one media event after another.

ELIZABETH HOLMES, FOUNDER, THERANOS: I've always believed that the purpose of building a business is to make an impact in the world.

TODD: Holmes is starting to serve a sentence of more than 11 years after being convicted of multiple charges of defrauding investors while she ran her Silicon Valley company Theranos.

JEFFREY SONNENFELD, SENIOR ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR LEADERSHIP STUDIES, YALE SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT: We've seen frenzies, hoaxes throughout American history. This one ranks in the top 1 percent for the speed of the rise and the speed of the fall.

TODD: In 2003, Elizabeth Holmes dropped out of Stanford University at only 19 years old to run Theranos, a startup that claimed to have created new technology that could accurately test for a range of physical conditions using just a few drops of blood.

HOLMES: So these are the little tubes that collect the samples in. We call them the nanotainer. They're about this big.

TODD: Part of the problem, analysts say, was that Elizabeth Holmes was never really qualified in the field.

SONNENFELD: She was not a hematologist. She was not a biologist. She was not a biochemist.

She was a beginning engineer who dropped out of school at the very beginning of her career. She had no scientific or engineering background or know-how to do this. So this whole thing was a scam.

TODD: Yet she was still able to sell the idea to several high-profile investors. Theranos was valued at about $9 billion at its peak. It all began to unravel in 2015 when a "Wall Street Journal" investigation revealed that Theranos' claim that it conducted hundreds of tests using its unique proprietary technology was false. JOHN CARREYROU, UNCOVERED THERANOS FRAUD FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:

The Theranos proprietary device was only used for 12 tests -- 12- finger stick tests, and that all the other 250 or so tests on the Theranos menu were processed on commercial machines, you know, off the shelf machines that anyone can buy, that any lab uses.

TODD: And John Carreyrou's investigation found, the few tests that were conducted on Theranos' own unique technology were not accurate.

Investors backed out. Theranos dissolved in 2018. Holmes pleaded not guilty to fraud charges, but she and her ex-boyfriend, former Theranos COO Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, were convicted.

Carreyrou once described Elizabeth Holmes as a chameleon who got caught up in the heady culture of Silicon Valley.

CARREYROU: I think the cause of her downfall is that she courted the press too much. She raised her profile too much, and she courted publicity too much.


TODD (on camera): Despite having fallen so far, Elizabeth Holmes told the "New York Times" she plans to work on health care related inventions while she's in prison. She said, quote, I still dream about being able to contribute in that space.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

A federal appeals court grants Sackler family immunity in a $6 billion opioid settlement. The ruling clears the way for a bankruptcy deal for Sackler owned Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin.

A South Carolina gas station owner accused of fatally shooting a 14- year-old boy in the back makes his first court appearance on a murder charge.


Police say Rick Chow thought the boy had stolen four bottles of water.

Minnesota becomes the 23rd state to legalize recreational marijuana after months of review. The state officially decriminalized the possession used of cannabis on August 1.

All right. Real flying saucers or fake science fiction. NASA's UFO task force tackles that in a matter of hours.

And why did a woman who accused Joe Biden of assault suddenly turn up in Moscow?


ROMANS: Ukraine taking the fight to the Russians once again. Officials in the occupied Luhansk region say Ukrainian shelling has killed five and injured 19. The governor of the Belgorod area in Russia says shelling has injured four people.