Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Eastern U.S. Faces Another Day of Hazardous Smoke; DOJ Has Told Trump He is Target of Special Counsel's Probe of Possible Mishandling of Classified Documents; Former VP Mike Pence Announces White House Run. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 08, 2023 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, that unhealthy haze of smoke still lingers over New York, Baltimore, and D.C. You're next.

Plus, the Justice Department straight out tells Donald Trump that he is the target of a special counsel investigation. Could indictments come next?

And --


MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He was asking me to choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution.


ROMANS: Mike Pence not holding back on the man he says should never be president again.


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


Good morning.

Dawn is about to break on the second day of smoke from Canadian wildfires shrouding the Eastern U.S., from the eastern Great Lakes down to the Carolinas. This is a look at New York's skylines, 75 million Americans under air quality alerts this morning. That's almost a quarter of the U.S. population. Many schools across the region have suspended outdoor activities.

Air travel was disrupted by low visibility, yesterday. And the same could happen today and some hospital emergency rooms reported an uptake in respiratory symptoms.

And just when you could put your COVID mask away, officials are inviting you to put them back on to protect you from the smoke. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us from the CNN weather center.

And, Derek, yesterday, my middle schooler, the doors were open at school, the smoke came in, the fire alarms went off. That's how bad the smoke was yesterday.

How will it be today?

That is -- that is incredible. You know, you've heard the term -- you wait a couple of minutes, the weather changes -- well, this is literally a 15-minute time lapse. And you could just see the smoke that inundated New York City. The skyscrapers here just becoming a Martian landscape.

Everybody saw it. Social media was lighting up. It was incredible to see. But it was also very dangerous. And, we've got yet another day of the smoke and haze across many of the major population areas of the east coast.

Now, in New York, we still have haze and smoke present, but it's not nearly as bad as what it was last night. Now, I'll show you that in just a moment. The majority of the thickest smoke has actually drifted a little further south. So, Washington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, those areas are going to wake up to almost choking like air, and hazardous air as the smoke continues to settle in.

That stretches across much of the Ohio River Valley, towards the Great Lakes as well. And, at one point on Wednesday evening, we had hazardous air quality index alerts for Philadelphia, New York City, even Trenton, New Jersey. See that purple coloring? That is the air quality index.

And, we talk about it so much and, of course, you start getting into those 300 and 400 range, it becomes extremely unhealthy to breathe that type of particular matter. Now, when will we get some relief? Everybody's been asking us. We've just got such a snag and weather pattern because of the upper letter pattern that we've seen. Now, we still have at least another 44 to 48 hours up the smoke.

And, of course, that will start to add flow because these wildfires in Quebec are not going to be extinguished anytime soon. It's a gargantuan effort by firefighters there -- Christine.

ROMANS: Just amazing. We'll be ready for today. Thank you.

VAN DAM: Okay.

ROMANS: Millions of Americans have been surprised by the heavy smoke, suddenly blanketing their cities, and in many cases, they're altering their plans. But they're figuring out how to cope here.

CNN's Athena Jones has more.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From New York -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never experienced anything like this before.

Never to this degree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It did shock me how quickly it came in last night.

JONES: To Cleveland, Ohio, and even as far south as Raleigh, North Carolina -- unhealthy air, blanketing a large swath of the United States from over 400 active wildfires burning in Canada, more than half of them determined to be out of control, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: Last year and this year, the worst wildfire season that we've ever had right across the country.

JONES: Canada's wildfire season got off to an unusually early and intense start in May, picking up aggressively this month, largely in Quebec. More than 9 million acres have burned in Canada so far this year, 15 times the normal amount. Smoke from those fires shelving within 500 miles to blanket New York City.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: From that gloom over Yankee Stadium to the smoky haze scarring our skyline. We can see it, we can smell it and we felt it. And it was alarming and concerning.

JONES: The air quality index reaching levels that could be harmful for everyone. New Yorkers being urged to stay indoors as much as possible, or wear a high quality mask.

ADAMS: This is not the day to train for a marathon or to do an outside event with your children. Stay inside closed windows and doors. Use air purifiers if you have them.

JONES: Wildfire smoke contains particulate matter or PM2.5, among the tiniest and most dangerous pollutants. It's able to infiltrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream and has been linked to conditions like asthma and heart disease.

public School districts in central New York, not far from the fires in Quebec, among the first to cancel all outdoor activities. Public schools in New York City and Montgomery County, Maryland, doing the same.

Officials warning the smoke will continue to impact much of the East Coast until at least the weekend.

ZACHARY ISCOL, COMMISSIONER OF THE NYC EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We expect this to be a multiple day event. So, we expect that advisory to remain in place for the next few days.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: All right. New signs this morning that a grand jury indictment against Donald Trump is a strong possibility and could come at any time now.

CNN's Paula Reid has the latest from Washington.



PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Former President Donald Trump has been informed that he is the target of a federal investigation into possible mishandling of classified documents. This is a sign that prosecutors could be moving closer to indicting Trump, that he was informed about this through what is called a target letter that his lawyers received. Multiple sources have had that letter described them, but not of our sources have personally seen this target letter.

Now, most the time when you receive a target letter, it means that you can, if you would like, appear before a grand jury, though it's unclear if the former president would avail himself of that option.

We know the former president's lawyers met with the Justice Department earlier this week, and he has repeatedly insisted that he has done nothing wrong. The fact that he has been informed that he is a target of this investigation, it's clear that the prosecutors are looking not just at the people around him, but they are specifically looking at the former president.

Now, in the other special counsel investigation into the events surrounding January 6th, we have learned that longtime Trump ally and former White House advisor Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to testify in that probe. Though it's unclear how cooperative he'll be as a witness. He's currently facing prison time for being held in contempt of Congress.

Now, for a more cooperative witness, we've also learned that Alyssa Farah Griffin has been talking to investigators. She sat for a voluntary interview where she was questioned at length. We have learned from former President Trump's state of mind, the extent to which he truly believed the lies he was pushing in around January 6th.

It is a sign that investigators are still focused on Trump's mindset in and around January 6th. It also shows that the January 6th investigation is likely not quite as far along as the other special counsel investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence says he hopes the Justice Department does not obtain an indictment of Donald Trump. The former VP announced his run for the White House Wednesday, ahead of a CNN town hall.

He told CNN's Dana Bash that he believes an indictment would be, in his, words terribly divisive for the country.


PENCE: I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world. And we're the emblem of democracy, we're the symbol of justice in the world, and a serious matter, which is already happened once. New York from indicting a former president of the United States sends a terrible message to the world, I hope that the DOJ thinks better of it and resolve these issues with an indictment.

DANA BASH, CNN MODEROTOR: Sir, I just want to clarify. What you're saying is, that you think if they believe he committed to, crime they should not go forward with an indictment? You just talked before about committing to the rule of law.

PENCE: Let me be clear. No one is above the law. But I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States.


ROMANS: Pence was also asked about another burning issue among conservatives, transgender young people, and the growing number of red state bans on gender affirming medical care for minors.


BASH: What would you say to a transgender kid? And their family who say that this is how I feel more comfortable? I don't feel comfortable in another way. And they feel that you are targeting them.

PENCE: I would tell them that I love everybody. I put my arm around, and their parents. But before they had a chemical procedure, I would say wait. Just wait. I mean there's some, people maybe there's an exception, but most people, before your 18 -- there's a reason we have that cut off, for all kinds of categories in our society.

You just don't really know what you want in life. You don't know who you really are. It takes time to become an adult, and figure that out. And I just -- I put my arm around, them I tell them I love them and I just wait. Just wait. And that's how we put the interest of our kids first.


ROMANS: Pence was asked by a number of the audience who also happens to be on the AARP Executive Council, what he would do as president to protect Social Security for older Americans and future generations?


PENCE: A lot of people, say it is not political to do. It but, for me, I think we've got a moral obligation to ensure the long term solvency of Social Security and Medicare. And, that means saying to Americans, over the age of 40, we are going to keep the system that we have. But, for Americans under the age of 40, we've got to work on the kind of reforms that will lessen the burden of debt, and change these New Deal programs into a better deal for younger Americans.


And we can do it.


ROMANS: He floated two possible ideas for Social Security reform, raising the eligibility age and, allowing younger Americans to invest part of the payroll taxes in mutual funds.

All right. The prime suspect in Natalee Holloway's mysterious disappearance, about to be extradited to the U.S.

Plus, Pope Francis just hours after going under the knife. How's he doing right now?

And, next, the Justice Department tells Trump he's the target of the special counsel's classified documents investigation. What does that tell us?


ROMANS: New developments in the ongoing classified documents probe of Donald Trump. Federal prosecutors have informed the former president's legal team that he is a target in special counsel Jack Smith's investigation. Sources tell CNN that Trump's team received a so-called target letter which may be, maybe a precursor to an actual indictment.


For more context, let's bring in Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney.

Good morning.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, Christine.

ROMANS: So, Joey, explain to us, what exactly is a target letter? And what exactly does that indicate to you about the timing and where they are in this investigation?

JACKSON: Yes, Christine, so what happens with the target letter, it's important to find what that is and how it differentiates from other things. When there's an investigation, a grand jury is convened. A grand jury generally consisting of 23 people on a majority, a majority, right, that means 12, are needed to vote out an indictment.

The grand jury process is not predicated on proof beyond a reasonable doubt and you just have to establish in the grand jury that there's reasons to believe a crime is committed and the subject or target of that investigation committed it, and therefore, as a prosecutor, you put forth various facts, evidence by virtue of witnesses, documents, et cetera. And then you move to have the grand jury generally hears from. The grand jury is here from witnesses on one hand, those people who are possessive of knowledge and information relevant to that grand jury inquiry.

On the other side of that is a specific target to your question of the investigation. That is the person about whom you believe you engage in criminality. So, a target means that there's substantial evidence, which would indicate that a crime would be committed. In the middle of that, you have a subject of the investigation and so, although he's the target, they can be multiple targets, right?

The issue is, if you are subject to the investigation -- are you a witness? Are you a target? We're not sure. So those are three categories, the target being the worst. That's the person who we are looking to indict and move forward again.

So, if you've got that target letter, Christine, what it essentially means that you could be indicted. We know the Trump lawyers have met with the Department of Justice as a very significant development.

ROMANS: So, once informed, once the legal he team is informed that Trump is indeed the target, target of an investigation like this then has the opportunity to present evidence to testify to the grand jury if they choose. Do you expect Trump's legal team to do that?

JACKSON: I don't think that there's any way that that's really happening in my view, right? As a defense attorney, what you have to do is to assess the realities and whether or not you should put your client before a grand jury.

The first thing you do, is what the Trump team did, and that's the going to try to convince the Department of Justice that, hey, maybe there's another way. Our client is not guilty of these crimes. There have been prosecutorial misconduct, was the alleged accusations that they have been making. We have known specifically what occurred. There were reports of that occurred.

I believe that, so far, that's been unpersuasive, and if you have any other information, you would give that to federal prosecutors. They would consider. Thereafter, however, you certainly have a right to appear before the grand jury, but you waive immunity. Remember, Christine, we have a Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination. That means, generally, defendants don't say anything at all. Of course, Trump is on record having said a number of things pertaining to this.

I think when you're in a hole, the conventional wisdom is you stop digging, and I think his attorneys will stop digging right now and not put him before a grand jury.

ROMANS: The former president, Joey, told Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times", yesterday that he has not been told he is getting indicted, saying it's not true. Adding again that he doesn't -- he hasn't done anything wrong. We've heard from him many times.

But what could be the reason beside a possible indictment that Trump would be informed he's the target in the probe? JACKSON: Yeah. I think that is the essence of it. I mean, the reality

is, is that the Department of Justice has specific guidance as it relates to informing people that they are targets and permitting to have the opportunity to testify before grand jury. And so, really, a target letter which gives the indication that you are a target speaks to the issues of concerns, and the government is really a precursor, Christine, to an actual indictment.

Again, indictment, not proof of, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but it is proof that the department of justice believes that you're guilty of a crime, beyond reasonable doubt, and it would seem to me that if evidence have been presented, right, to the special counsel since November of last year, you know, the indictment may very well be imminent and or on the verge of significant history here.

ROMANS: All right. Joey Jackson, we know you'll be there explaining it to us all along the way. CNN legal analyst, nice to see, Joey.

JACKSON: Nice to see you, Christine. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

Prosecutors calling their first witness as the trial for ex-Parkland school resource officer Scot Peterson begins. He's the accused of failing to act as the deadly shooting unfolded. One student testified that waiting for police felt like an eternity.

Missouri's governor approves a ban on gender affirming care for trans minors, and restricting trans athletes from playing on girls and women sports teams. The law is going to affect August 28th.

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts spectacularly on the big island, spewing lava, and ash, early Wednesday for the second time this year.


Officials say populated areas are not threatened.

Coming up, thousands of Ukrainians are reeling from catastrophic floods and the caped crusader defeats another foe.


ROMANS: Pope Francis, awake and doing fine this morning after undergoing three-hour of surgery to repair a hernia on Wednesday. It's the latest health concern for the 86 years old who went through colon surgery two years. Doctors say he will remain in the hospital for another ten days.

CNN's Jim Bittermann joins us live from Rome.

Good morning, Jim. Walk us through what happened and what we know about the pontiff's condition today.



Yes, in fact, the pontiff went through the night well, according to Matteo Bruni, who is the Vatican spokesman. That's all he said for the moment, but he's expected to give us a more detail in about an hour so, something like that, as we find out more and more about what's going on with the pope.

We had a fairly extensive briefing from the surgeon who took -- took charge of the pope yesterday, and he told us -- Dr. Alfieri, told us that, in fact, the pope responded to the anesthesia just fine and to the operation and came out of the operation joking. He said, the pope at one point said, that he was -- felt well, and the doctor told me that he wouldn't be lifting weights anytime soon. The pope said in response, I don't lift weights. So in any case he still has a sense of humor after the operation.

And I think, you know, this is the kind of thing that doctors are watching carefully, the Vatican has just -- as a matter of precaution has basically canceled all people events for the next ten days till the 18th of June. Then after that we will see, they're concerned because the pope has a busy schedule come up in August, including a trip to Portugal for the World Youth Days, it's a very demanding schedule, and later on a trip to Mongolia.

So, we'll see if the recovery goes well but for the pope it seems to be -- Christine.

ROMANS: By all reporting the, hernia was giving him some discomfort so hopefully they can get that fixed and he can get on with his very busy schedule.

Nice to see you, Jim Bittermann. Thank you.

Rescue operations are underway in southern Ukraine's Kherson region this morning after that devastating Nova Kakhovka Dam collapse on Tuesday, at least 1,500 residents have been evacuated, more than 230 square miles flooded, and there are some entire communities underwater, according to military. It also has spurned fears of a ecological disaster in the making.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us from London.

And, Clare, we're hearing three people are believed to have drowned in the Russian occupied town of Oleshky. What can you tell us?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Christine, this is according to the Ukrainian mayor of that town, speaking to CNN this morning. He said three going to have died. He believes that there could be many more because although the population of this town is much depleted because of the war, only 3,500 to 4000 people left, he said many of them are pensioners or bedridden, just not able to get unto the rooftops or climb up to higher land.

So, he's certainly worried there may be more. But this is Russian occupied territory on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, we're talking about. President Zelenskyy, by the way, is in Kherson today on the visit to survey the damage has been warning about the rescue efforts on those areas, worried that the Russians are not doing enough, or abandoning people.

We have this extraordinary footage of the Ukrainian military using a drone to drop bottled water, to residents in the region of Oleshky there on the rooftops, on waiting to catch the water bottles drinking water is a major concern.

And I We want to tune out to see the situation of that town as a whole, entire areas are submerged. Here are the before and after of that Russian-occupied town of Oleshky. You can see on the left on May 15th and the right, it looks like pretty much every street there, is submerged.

As I said, Zelenskyy very worried about the occupied areas. And this is not the only town, of course, all along the banks of Dnipro River, they're extremely worried. But the governor -- Ukrainian governor of the Kherson region saying this morning that the Russian occupied areas are worst affected. He said 68 percent of the flood zone is in Russian occupied territories, overall, 600,000 square kilometers -- 600 square kilometers rather of territory.

ROMANS: Clare, military officials say floodwaters have risen an average of 18 feet. Do you have any idea how long will take for this to recede?

SEBASTIAN: So, the prediction that we got, Christine, which is on the first day from the head of the Ukrainian of electric power company, was that the peak would've been yesterday morning, Wednesday morning in the early hours, in terms of the level of the water at that point, he said it should stabilize for a few days, on the fourth day starts to fall, but it would take 8 to 10 days runoff completely into the Black Sea.

Of course, when it does, I think we will get a greater picture of the damage here, half the high water levels, we are getting warnings of things like land mines being dislodged and floating in the water. They're lot of hidden hazards out there in situations like this.

ROMANS: Wow. All right. Clare Sebastian, thank you so much. Keep us posted.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

Police in the French Alps just apprehending a man they say injured several people with a knife a short time ago. That injured include children.

Prince Harry not in court today after giving two days of historic testimony in a lawsuit against a U.K. tabloid publisher. He is suing the Mirror Newspaper Group for hacking his private information.