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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Critical Dam in Southern Ukraine Destroyed; Trump's Lawyers Meet with Justice Department Officials; Former Gov. Chris Christie to Enter GOP 2024 Race Today; NTSB Begins Recovery at Private Jet Crash Site. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 06, 2023 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, a crucial dam just blown up in Ukraine's warzone. What both sides are saying about it.

Plus, a flood of questions after pool water soaks the surveillance records at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

And right now, live in Normandy, France, war veterans return to mark 79 years since the D-Day invasion that led to the Nazi's defeat.



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

We begin with this major dam in Russian occupied southern Ukraine destroyed just hours ago, the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River prompting evacuations and fears of large scale devastation.

I want to bring in CNN's Sam Kiley live in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Sam, what's happening here? Russia and Ukraine are blaming each other what looks like very serious destruction.

What do we know about what happened and what's being done I guess to save lives and property here?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the exact cause of a very substantial explosion that destroyed this hydroelectric power dam that holds up the Dnipro River remains under investigation. Of course, the Ukrainians blamed the Russians, saying that the Russians have pre-mined it, in other words set explosives on that dam. And that the Ukrainian side of the dam had been regularly subjected to shelling. And so -- rather the Ukrainian bank. So that had been under Russian control.

But nonetheless, 80 settlements the government here saying are being affected as this great -- vast amount of water is unleashed, all of the -- well, huge amount of the water of course that has been built up over the winter months, melt water building up the size of the Dnipro River now being unleashed downstream, likely to affect Kherson or elements, parts, districts of Kherson, the city recaptured by Ukraine from Russia last year.

But I have to say, most of the flooding is likely to be to the east of the river according to experts and that is where it is Russian-held territory, Russian occupied territory, until recently at least territory, used by gun emplacements, artillery placements by the Russians, to shell places like Kherson and other West Bank Ukrainian held parts of the river.

Now, the Russians are saying that it was not them that was behind this and another thing very crucially here, that the water supply for Crimea is for the time being secured. But that in the long term simply isn't the case. Once the dam is blown, there is a water -- a fresh water canal that links that dam to Russian occupied Crimea and over the long term, that, a various large region of occupied territory, will be very, very seriously struggling for water.

ROMANS: Fascinating. All right. Sam Kiley, bring us more when we have more details about who might have done this. Thank you so much.

A significant step in the Justice Department investigation of former President Trump for possible mishandling of classified documents and obstruction. Sources tell CNN special counsel Jack Smith personally took a meeting Monday with Trump's legal team in what appears to be the final stages of the probe.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz has more from Washington.


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR REPORTER, CRIME AND JUSTICE: The top federal prosecutor investigating Donald Trump and the way he handled classified documents after he left the presidency, that prosecutor took a meeting on Monday with a team of defense lawyers representing Donald Trump. They all met at the Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., along with a career official from the Justice Department who also sat down with Trump's lawyers.

This is the sort of meeting that appears to be coming at the final stage or in a final stage of this criminal investigation around the former president and around what happened at his estate in Mar-a-Lago, and potentially other places throughout his business empire. We don't know exactly what happened at this meeting at this time, but it is quite significant that people in the Justice Department would agree to meet with Trump's lawyers whenever they had requested this.

So there are potentially more people who could be brought into a grand jury investigation. We do know one witness is going to be speaking to a grand jury in south Florida this week. There may still be things happening in the investigation, but this is a significant moment for the Justice Department and for Donald Trump's legal team as they prepare for the possibility of a federal indictment against the former president. And then also, we at CNN were able to understand a little bit more about the obstruction of Justice part of the criminal investigation. That's because we have learned and were able to confirm of a flood

that happened at Mar-a-Lago, at the resort in October of last year, that flood flooded a room because there was the draining of the pool at Mar-a-Lago and the water from the pool went into a room that stored IT equipment, including some of the videotapes and surveillance system of the property.


The obstruction of justice investigation has looked at a lot of things over the course of the past year, but one of the things that they had pursued, that the prosecutors had pursued, what was happening and how was the Trump organization or Donald Trump himself responding to multiple requests for surveillance tapes. And we do also know that the maintenance worker that that decided to drain the pool at Mar-a-Lago, and then caused this flood in the room, that person was captured on surveillance tape moving boxes. So it is a moment that prosecutors have been asking about as they ask about many different things that have happened around the surveillance footage and also the moving of boxes at Mar-a-Lago in this ongoing criminal investigation.

Katelyn Polantz, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Some great reporting there. Thanks, Katelyn.

A raft of Republican presidential announcements coming in the next couple of days. Three sources tell CNN former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will jump in today, announcing his candidacy at a town hall at Saint Anselm College. Christie ran unsuccessfully in 2016 and has been an outspoken critic of the frontrunner Donald Trump.

Former Vice President Mike Pence filed paperwork Monday to enter the Republican presidential derby. He is set to formally announce his candidacy Wednesday ahead of a CNN town hall that event -- evening. That town hall, 9:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Another maybe less well-known name is also set to announce on Wednesday, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum released a teaser video that highlights the difference in temperament between himself and Donald Trump.


GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R), NORTH DAKOTA: Anger, yelling, in-fighting, that's not going to cut it any more. Let's get things done. In North Dakota, we listen with respect and we talk things out.


ROMANS: The video also takes aim at progressives saying woke is what you did at 5:00 in the morning to start the day.

All right. One Republican who will not be running in New Hampshire is New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. He told CNN's Dana Bash in an exclusive interview Monday that he didn't want to help Trump win the GOP primary by adding to this already crowded field. He also said he did not think that Trump could succeed in the general election.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: The math has shown Donald Trump has no chance of winning in November of 2024. He wouldn't even win Georgia. If Republicans nominate him, then we're saying a vote for him in the primary is effectively a vote for Joe Biden.


ROMANS: Sununu says he believes the Republican debates will be a critical test for whoever might beat Trump.

OK. An NTSB team begins recovery efforts today for what's left of the private jet that slammed into the mountains of Virginia Sunday after triggering an interception by fighter jets protecting Washington, D.C. A source tells CNN the pilot was seen slumped over in his seat. That is prompting investigators to focus on a loss of cabin pressure as a possible cause for the crash. Four people died including the pilot, Jeff Hefner, a mother, Adina Azarian, along with her 2-year-old daughter Aria and their nanny.

CNN's Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New details on the crash from that private jet in Virginia that prompted an emergency fighter jet response. A source telling CNN the pilot of the Cessna Citation was observed unresponsive and slumped over in his seat.

The NTSB is now on site in central Virginia going through what's left of the wreckage, with another source saying investigators are now most interested in hypoxia, lack of oxygen, as a possible cause of the crash.

The twin engine jet went hundreds of miles off course, including passing over the D.C. area into restricted airspace. Investigators describe highly fragmented wreckage in very mountainous terrains.

ADAM GERHARDT, SENIOR AIR SAFETY INVESTIGATOR, NTSB: The engines, the weather conditions, pilot qualifications, the maintenance records, all aspects will be of course items that we routinely look at.

TODD: The flight path shows a take off from Tennessee, at its destination on New York's Long Island, the plane turns but does not land. Instead, it keeps flying at 45,000 feet right into restricted air flay space near Washington, D.C.

The capital briefly placed on an elevated alert and Air National Guard pilots scrambled to intercept, causing a sonic boom heard around the Beltway.

But NORAD says the pilots got no response to flybys, flairs, or radio calls.

AIR NATIONAL GUARD PILOT: Air National Guard fighter on guard. If you hear this transmission, contact us.

TODD: Authorities say the plane was not shot down. But if it appear to be a threat --

MAJOR GENERAL SCOTT CLANCY (RET), FORMER NORAD DEPUTY COMMANDER: They do have the ability to shoot down a civilian aircraft, if that is required.

TODD: The plane was tracked until it crashed into the mountains of central Virginia. There were four people on board.

How might a lack of oxygen cause a crash?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Some sort of depressurization event, likely, rapid or maybe slow, which caused a pilot to be incapacitated and also render to the passengers unconscious.


TODD: First responders telling CNN there were no survivors, just a crater and small debris fragments and signs of human remains.

CHIEF GREG SCHACHT, AUGUSTA COUNTY FIRE AND RESCUE: Very hard to get to, a lot of overgrowth. They had areas where they actually had to get on their hands and knees to crawl to get under the brush to get into it.

PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: It's going to be very difficult to recover, certainly any avionics or any important wreckage information. And for the victims on the plane, we won't be able to tell whether they had any signs of oxygen deprivation.


TODD (on camera): Investigators at the crash site are looking to see if the plane had a black box with a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder. We're told that this particular jet is not required to have a black box but some are outfitted with them anyway. Discovery of a black box would of course provide invaluable information in this investigation.

Brian Todd, CNN, Vesuvius, Virginia.

ROMANS: All right. House Republicans are pushing forward with a plan to hold head of the FBI in contempt of Congress. That's even after the bureau allowed top oversight committee members to interview or to view, rather, the internal FBI document Republicans are seeking.

CNN's Sara Murray has more from Washington.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: House Oversight Chairman James Comer says he still wants to move ahead withholding the FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says he is willing to push this to a full floor vote. This is after on Monday, senior FBI officials came to a secure room at the U.S. Capitol and showed Comer, as well as the top Democrat in House Oversight, Jamie Raskin, an internal FBI document that Republicans say shows this unverified allegations that Joe Biden, while he was vice president, was involved in a bribery scheme involving a foreign national.

Now, here's what the top Democrat and Republican had to say when they came out of that briefing.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): At the briefing, the FBI again refused to hand over the unclassified record to the custody of the House Oversight Committee. And we will now initiate contempt of Congress hearings.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MID): I'm surprised that my colleagues want to try to litigate this in public much less hold the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in contempt for complying when their request when there's a whole process.

MURRAY: Now, Comer had subpoenaed the FBI for this document. It's clear he still wants a hard copy. The FBI says they have been very accommodating in allowing the lawmakers to view this, saying it contains uncorroborated information and that it is unwarranted for this committee to move forward with contempt proceedings.

The White House has said this is all a political stunt that's designed to hurt Joe Biden. One thing was clear after this briefing, though, Comer and Raskin came out with very differing views on whether the allegations in this document could still be part of an ongoing investigation. Comer says he believes some of these allegations it could still be part of an ongoing Hunter Biden criminal investigation based out of Delaware. Jamie Raskin said when the allegations first came to the FBI, they were checked out while bill Barr was the attorney general and the FBI could not corroborate them and essentially that was that.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Sara, thank you.

And this just in, the Department of Homeland Security announcing the number of daily Border Patrol encounters along the U.S./Mexico border has remained low nearly a month after the lifting of Title 42. Officials say they have averaged about 3,400 encounters per day. That is about a third of the 10,000 daily encounters before Title 42 was lifted.

DHS credits the improvement to stiffer consequences for unlawful entry, combined with expanded legal pathways, including an app for migrants to turn themselves in.

All right. Just moments ago, Prince Harry arriving at the London high court to testify in a phone hacking case. A CNN team is there, too.

Plus, taxpayer-funded religious charter schools are now a thing. More on this first in the United States. .

And right now, the last of America's greatest generation back in Normandy, France, to mark the assault that led to the end of Nazi Germany. We're looking at live pictures from Normandy.



ROMANS: New developments this morning into the special counsel's investigation into former president's handling of classified documents. In a CNN exclusive, sources tell CNN that an employee at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence drained the resort's pool last October which ended up flooding a room where computer servers containing surveillance video logs were kept. It's not clear if the room was intentionally flooded or this happened by mistake. The incident was one of series of events prosecutors found suspicious.

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

So nice to see you this morning, Dave.

A former Trump attorney, Timothy Parlatore, spoke with CNN's Erin Burnett last night regarding the timing of this incident in relation to the security tapes and logs. Listen.


TIMOTHY PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Reality is that all of the surveillance video that would have been relevant to the special counsel's investigation is the video that happened before the raid on Mar-a-Lago. All that was turned over to the DOJ before they got the search warrant, and for there to be any possible obstruct difference intent in October to destroy video, it kind of trains credulity to me, because it had already been given over.


ROMANS: So judging from that, does it make this a little bit -- the timing make this less suspicious in your view?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY FOR PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Well, good morning, Christine. Good to be back with you.

It is still suspicious. And by the way, it is fitting that Trump's legal defense would ultimately come down to blaming the pool boy. That's perfect way for this bizarre story to end. You know, as prosecutors, we're not keen on coincidences.


And so, I understand what Parlatore was saying about the timing, but it is suspicious that it's the same employee who drained the pool and flooded the computer server room, who also helped Trump's aide, Walt Nauta, move the document boxes before and after the feds came a calling. So only so many times that you can claim the dog ate your home work.

The same employee later asked an IT worker at Mar-a-Lago how security cameras worked there and how long the images are kept in the system. So you can understand why prosecutors are suspicious because when it comes to obstruction, you don't have to accomplish it, you just have to attempt it.

ROMANS: Yeah. You know, a source told CNN that at least one witness has been asked by prosecutors about that flooded server room as part of this investigation. So, how do prosecutors I guess separate coincidence from possible obstruction of evidence?

ARONBERG: Yeah, you just look at all the evidence. You talk to them.

When the prosecutors interviewed this maintenance worker, maintenance worker has come up with a bunch of excuses why he moved the documents. He said he didn't know about what was in it. He also said that he just asked these innocuous questions about how long the videos were kept on the system and he meant nothing by it. But prosecutors are rightly skeptical. You look at all the evidence, you say, come on. There are too many coincidences here.

And, you know, there is a reason why the Department of Justice empanelled a grand jury in the southern district of Florida. This was news to all of us. We just found this out. And it looks like perhaps the reason why they empanelled a grand jury down here, in addition to one of D.C., is that perhaps the prosecutors are targeting Trump's accomplices on the obstruction investigation.

That's why it's not surprising that Nauta, the valet, and this maintenance worker have their own legal counsel, paid for, of course, by Trump's entities.

ROMANS: I wonder, do you think the fact that this information is just coming out now, does it reveal that there is a lot more we don't know yet about the DOJ's investigations here?

ARONBERG: Yeah, I think that we're all surprised that there was a grand jury empanelled here. Feds are keeping things close to the vest. They didn't tell us state prosecutors, I can tell you that.

It shows you how far along they are and it shows you why Trump's lawyers had the meeting just yesterday with top prosecutors at the Department of Justice, because they know that an indictment of Donald Trump is imminent. And they try to demand to talk to the manager and they got some people at DOJ.

They didn't get the top dog there, Merrick Garland. But, look, when you have these meetings with DOJ brass, it's unlikely to work. This investigation has too much momentum, too much evidence at this point for it to be thwarted by a 90-minute meeting with prosecutors.

ROMANS: What do you think the goal of that meeting was? I mean, you know, meeting with DOJ officials, what did Trump's lawyers want?

ARONBERG: They wanted the investigation to be stopped. They wanted to avoid an indictment. That indictment is coming. I think the indictment is coming this week.

And, you know, prosecutors didn't have to grant the meeting. They got a meeting. And usually when prosecutors grant a meeting it is because prosecutors think that there is something that they could gain out of it, they could get information perhaps about the defense's trial strategy. And so, I think at this point, the meeting was never going to work to stop the investigation.

The best that they could get away with on the Trump side is to delay the indictment a couple days while the prosecutors evaluate the discussion from the meeting. But make no mistake, I think an indictment of Donald Trump for the Mar-a-Lago documents is happening later this week when the grand jury meets.

ROMANS: All right. We will watch and wait.

Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County prosecutor, thank you so much. Nice to see you.

ARONBERG: Thanks, Christine. Good to see you.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

The mother of a 6-year-old Virginia boy who shot his teacher will plead guilty to new federal gun charges, according to her attorney. She is also facing state charges.

Governor of Missouri denies clemency for Michael Tisius who is set to be executed by lethal injections tonight. He killed two jail guards in a plot to free his former cellmate in 2000.

An Oklahoma school board has approved an application for the first taxpayer-funded religious charter school in the country. It opens the door to the legal battle over the separation of church and state.

Coming up, Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny back in a Russian courtroom, facing new charges. And just hours from now, President Biden convening his cabinet after averting a debt default.



ROMANS: Any moment now, Prince Harry will be testifying in the U.K.'s highest court as part of his lawsuit against Britain's Mirror newspaper group. The duke is one of dozens of high profile celebrities accusing the tabloid press of phone hacking and other illegal methods of gaining access to private information.

CNN's Nada Bashir is live outside the high court for us in London this morning.

And, Nada, how rare is it for a senior British royal to be cross- examined in court, what kinds of embarrassing questions might he face?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Christine, this is the first time we've seen a senior royal giving evidence in court in over 100 years. So, this is hugely significant. We've seen Prince Harry in the past few months giving his side of the story. He's often spoken about wanting to reclaim the narrative. We've seen his memoir, his Netflix docu- series, interview with Oprah, this will be a different environment facing cross-examination from Mirror newspapers' defense lawyers, and, of course, there are some deeply personal details and issues which will be coming to the fore in court.

We got a little taste of that yesterday when we heard opening statements from Prince Harry's legal representative David Sherborne, going into details of the some 147 articles that they have submitted as part of Prince Harry's claim which they say show telltale signs of information being obtained illegally through phone hacking, through the inception of voice mails and --