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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Soon: Biden to Address Alliance at NATO Summit; Russia Lashes Out At Turkey Over "Provocative Decisions"; Catastrophic Flooding in Parts of Northeast; U.S. Attorney Refutes Whistleblowers' Claims; Ukraine Looks to New Weapons as NATO Summit Begins. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 11, 2023 - 05:00   ET



RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, President Biden about to join the high stakes NATO summit, with a big victory already in hand.

Plus --


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the road, but check this out -- it's washed out just over here.


SOLOMON: More destruction as relentless rain pounds parts of the Northeast.

And, for the first time today, U.S. senators get a classified briefing when artificial intelligence, what they could learn about bots and national security.


SOLOMON: Good morning and welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Rahel Solomon, in this morning for Christine Romans.

We begin this morning with President Biden preparing to address fellow alliance leaders as the two-day NATO summit gets underway in Lithuania.

Biden's remarks will likely have an added sense of purpose after scoring a major win overnight. Turkey making an about face and agreeing to support Sweden's bid to join the alliance.

CNN's Melissa Bell live at the summit and joining us with the latest.

So, Melissa, this one really coming at the 11th hour here for the president, for President Biden. What do we expect him to say?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORESPONDENT: Well, it was wrangling into the very last minute that brought to the end the deadlock that had, for over a year, prevented Sweden from becoming the member of NATO as it wished to do. What it means, Rahel, is that essentially the security architecture of Europe is transformed, with now not just Finland with that huge border issues with Russia inside the block, but Sweden as well, and that profound division within NATO, with Turkey's blocking it behind them as they head into this two-day summit, a summit which is, coming as it does here, 20 miles from the Russian border, partly about the geography but a great deal about the future of NATO and what happens next.

Have a listen to what President Biden had to say during that initial bilateral meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart and host.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first time that NATO leaders who would meet, 31 together and looking forward to meeting very soon with 32 members, with the addition of Sweden.


BELL: So substantial win, already, as you suggested, Rahel. The next question, perhaps the thornier one, as they gather for the official opening of the summit later on is, how they deal with a question of Ukrainian accession.

We understand that President Zelenskyy will be here tomorrow, tremendously important. Of course, that family photo, the optics of it, have at the heart of planning of the summit for a long time. But the thornier question is exactly what promises and pledges they can give to Kyiv.

What we heard a short while ago from the secretary general of NATO is a very confident tone about possibly the strongest signal that Kyiv could have hoped for, essentially paving its way for membership by removing, for instance, one of the lengthier components for normal accession, which is the membership succession plan.

Jen Stoltenberg earlier suggesting great confidence that when the leaders meet a little later, this is something they will agree on, a very serious, deliverable that they are going to have had Zelenskyy when he arrives tomorrow, Rahel.

SOLOMON: Well, it's a great point, Melissa, because we heard Zelenskyy say that he didn't want to travel to Lithuania for fun. I think it was the word he used. And so, very interesting to see what those deliverables will actually look like.

Melissa Bell, thank you.

And now to a developing story on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Russia accusing Turkey of turning into a, quote, unfriendly country after what it calls a series of provocative decisions.

CNN's Clare Sebastian live in London. So, Clare, Turkey had been trying to walk this line between the two

sides, essentially playing a bit of a powerbroker. Walk us through what seems to have upset Russia.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Rahel, as you see the background of this is that Turkey has treading that very delicate balance. It has maintained dialogue and trade with Moscow. It has not joined Western sanctions.

Erdogan even suggesting that Putin could travel to east Istanbul soon, that is, of course, a NATO country and what it would be extraordinary development. The Kremlin is not confirmed that would happen.

But, of course, he has maintained support for Ukraine and Ukraine's been using Turkish drones. As I said, a NATO member, that is the elephant in the room here. So there are two developments that really upset Moscow, even before we saw it Turkey's about-turn on Sweden's NATO membership.


One of them was the fact that when Zelenskyy traveled to Istanbul last week, he brought home with him five commanders who helped defend the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol last year. They had been sent to Turkey as part of a prisoner swap with Moscow. Moscow was very upset that they had seen it, Ukraine essentially broke those terms and send those commanders home.

Second thing was comments from Erdogan saying that Ukraine deserves to be in NATO, as we know NATO expansion of any kind is a major problem for Moscow. So this is where we get these comments now from a Russian senator calling Turkey an unfriendly country. That is the background of that.

As to how this plays out, I think we may be getting signs that Turkey is prioritizing its NATO membership, its position in that alliance. We know it also prizes future E.U. membership, it may be prioritizing that over relations with Moscow, that would be a blow to Russia. But it is also not good news for any of the diplomatic initiatives that Turkey is brokering.

It has been playing a role as a peace broker, a diplomatic broker within this conflict, notably the Black Sea grain initiative, that expires on Monday, next Monday. Russia has said that it is not particularly keen to extend it. So, if its relationships with Turkey are turning sour, that does not bode well for any progress there, Rahel.

SOLOMON: Absolutely not. We know that those grains that come out of the Black Sea are crucially important for developing countries around the world. You know, to say the least.

Clare Sebastian, live for us in London, lots to watch. Thank you, Clare.

Turning to severe weather now, intense rain triggering catastrophic flooding in parts of the Northeast. Officials in Vermont warning that two dams are expected to breach today, multiple people have already been rescued from their homes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my home, that is my garage.

MARQUEZ: What have you lost?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know yet.


SOLOMON: Roads remain closed, and President Biden approving the state from urgency there from the NATO Summit.

And New York, meantime, drivers clinging to each other as they are evacuated from their cars. A woman died, she was swept away in floodwaters on Monday.

Let's get right to meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Derek, good morning. So, this is being called a once in a millennium rainfall. Why is this happening?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED BROADCAST METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, good morning, Rahel. Basically, it's a combination of very moisture-laden air, getting stuck in a weather pattern that just does not want to move all that fast. It's a satellite loop, you kind of see the scroll in the cloud cover, that is the slow-moving low pressure system that brought nearly five and a half inches of rain to Montpelier, Vermont.

And this has shattered previous daily record. And keep in mind that Vermont has got a lot of mountainous terrain, so that water needs to seek its own level. It is going to write down into the valleys below and that is where we see the water accumulate and, unfortunately, impact the communities at the base of these mountains.

Now, we have considerable river flooding as well, in fact, the second highest crest with the Winooski River. This is in Montpelier, and you can see that it has crested within the past couple of hours, it's on its way down, but it is incredible because the benchmark storm was Hurricane Irene back in 2011 that brought flooding to that area as well. This has surpassed that particular flood event.

So we're going to monitor that very closely. Not much in terms of additional rainfall over the next 36 hours, but something to keep in mind. More rain will add more misery to the flooding, a saturated environment across the region.

You can see the radar turning in the slow-moving storm system, but it just on its way out. A more pressing flash flood situation is actually unfolding across Oklahoma City. This is actually taking place within the past few hours. We just started to notice interruption of thunderstorms, some of which have been severe, bringing 60 mile per hour winds just outside of the Oklahoma City area. But I want you to note, we do have flash flood warnings with a

considerable tag for Oklahoma County, where Oklahoma City is located. And we have nearly 1 million people impacted by this flash flood warning at the moment and you can see just the rainfall totals. This is estimated from radar, about one to three inches of rain has fallen just in the past couple of hours since the storms erupted on to the scene.

Now, the good news about this, as opposed to going across the Northeast, that slow-moving thunderstorm, this is actually a quick- moving batch of thunderstorms that will move very, very fast this morning. So, that will limit the amount of rain that we see in Oklahoma City.

But for the next two hours, we are going to keep a close eye on what's happening there.

SOLOMON: We know you will.

Derek Van Dam, thank you.


SOLOMON: David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, is refuting the IRS whistleblower claims that suggest that there is political interference in the Justice Department investigation of Hunter Biden. The pushback coming to light in a letter sent to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

CNN's Sara Murray has more now from Washington.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware who has been overseeing the Hunter Biden criminal probe is refuting allegations from two IRS whistleblowers.

Now, these are big claims from these IRS whistleblowers, saying that there had been political interference in the Hunter Biden investigation and two of their concerns is that Weiss had been asked to be named special counsel and then that had been rejected, and then he had tried to bring charges and other jurisdictions and the U.S. attorneys in those jurisdictions would not go along with that.

Well, why is he shooting down both of those claims in this new letter to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina. He says that he had never asked to be a special counsel, he also says that he would never block from bringing charges in the Hunter Biden case when he wanted to.

Now, ultimately, there is an agreement for Hunter Biden to plead guilty to two tax-related charges, but this is not going to be enough to satisfy a number of Republicans on Capitol Hill. They still want to get testimony from Weiss. They still want him up on Capitol Hill to answer questions on the record, something that's not likely to happen, at least until Hunter Biden's plea deal formally goes through later on this month.

We also heard from an attorney from one of the IRS whistleblowers who said it doesn't really matter if Weiss asks to be a special counsel or not, what matters is that there are Biden's political employees who are involved in the investigation and should not have been.

But again we should say, David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware who has been overseeing this probe is a Trump appointee.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


SOLOMON: Just ahead for us, the judge's new decision for the suspect in the murder of four Idaho college students.

Plus, a small plane, take a look at this video, sticking out of a roof, how the pilot here seems to have defied the odds.

And learning to use Western weapons on the frontlines in Ukraine.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This exercise is designed to bring together troops fresh from the front around Bakhmut, with new recruits to show them how it's done.




SOLOMON: Welcome back.

Germany is expected to announce new support packages for Ukraine, at today's critical NATO summit. Meantime, Ukrainian troops continue their slow counteroffensive against Russian forces, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pushes for more Western weapons.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has more from eastern Ukraine.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): This is practice.


Preparing for a battle just a short drive away on Ukraine's eastern front. For an army long trained in the use of Soviet-era weapons, it's a time for transition to the latest arms to arrive from the West -- an American made grenade launcher, an American made 50 caliber machine gun.

This exercise is designed to bring together troops, fresh from the front around Bakhmut, with new recruits to show them how it's done. Veteran soldier Denys explains the fire points of a machine gun to

recruits fresh, but not all young.

On the eve of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, with a counter offensive here moving ahead slowly, Ukraine is pressing for more help and the troops here have some ideas.

DENYS, GUNNER, 57TH BRIGADE: We need many weapons, armors and vehicles.

WEDEMAN: This commander call sign Martsin puts it this way.

The Russians have an immense amount of old Soviet weapons, he says. They just throw a massive metal at us, we can't overcome them this way, we need quality and precision.

Nearby, other recruits are rehearing an assault, jumping out of an old Soviet-era armored personnel carrier, it venting under the watchful eye of their sergeant.

Nikola served in the Soviet army, and then drove a tractor for decades before joining the Ukrainian army a year ago.

He says NATO should provide something newer than his old Soviet workhorse.

It's as old as the two of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe it.

WEDEMAN: Nikola has simple advice for the new troops. Move fast and stay low. And for NATO, just move fast.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, eastern Ukraine.


SOLOMON: A major hurdle has been cleared in Sweden's bid for NATO membership.


JENS STOLTENBERG, SECRETARY GENERAL OF NATO: This summit is an historic summit because we are all made an agreement that ensures that Sweden will become a full fledged member of the alliance and this is good for Sweden, it is good for Turkey. It's good for the whole NATO alliance.


SOLOMON: Now, the sudden reversal by Turkey to support Sweden's ascension in NATO caught many by surprise, it's all happening as the NATO summit is underway.

So let's bring in Ben Hubbard. He is the Istanbul bureau chief at "The New York Times". Ben, welcome. Good morning.

So, I just -- you know, for someone who covers Turkey and President Erdogan very closely, I'm just curious what your reaction has been to the last 24 hours.

BEN HUBBARD, NY TIMES ISTANBUL BUREAU CHIEF: Well, he is known to be quite an unpredictable leader. Someone who has quite often in his career done U-turns and switches and completely turns around and acts like nothing happened and we should all have known that this was happening anyways.

So it's very much what happened. I mean, yesterday, it started with the surprise of him suddenly bringing in the idea of Turkey joining the E.U., which is an issue that has been around for decades, but it has been frozen for a little less than a decade, brought that in and basically said we need to see progress on that before we can see progress on Sweden joining NATO.

So everybody expected this was raising the stakes before the summit, and then he has a meeting with last night, NATO comes out last night and say that we have a deal, Sweden is in, Turkey has agreed to drop its objection.


So, it's unclear exactly what changed but what we have seen is that there are lots of reasons to believe that this kind of political brinkmanship, where Turkey would've gotten much more dangerous if Erdogan had hold out on this position through the summit and after the summit. He is the head of the only country in NATO that it has not apply to sanctions on Russia, he is trying to get the U.S. Congress to approve the sale of F-16 fighter jets, which he would very much like.

And so there is a lot -- if you were to continue to be seen as a problem, as other leaders of NATO as holding up expansion and the united front against Russia, that could spill over into these other issues. Member of Congress have made it very clear that they do not want to push through that f-16 deal without movement on Sweden, and there are lots of other things that European countries could have done around sanctions issues if they had kind of wanted to find other ways to put pressure on Turkey.

So we have this announcement and not everybody can go into the summit and declare a grand sum, united front against Vladimir Putin, including probably soon Sweden.

SOLOMON: Well, before we get to Sweden, I just want to circle back to Russia, which you mentioned there. Erdogan has a sort of walked this line between, you know, being between the West and Russia. And I'm curious, he has played this role of power broker thus far in the war. What do you think this, backing Sweden out, does that relationship between Turkey and Russia?

HUBBARD: He's always had this very complicated relationship. I mean, he refers to Vladimir Putin as my friend. He has expanded, while most European countries were trying to reduce trade ties with Russia and impose sanctions on various things, he is actually increased their trade with Russia during the war. At the same time, you know, Turkey has supported Ukraine, he condemned the invasion, but he is always occupied it is somewhat ambiguous middle ground that has caused a lot of other NATO leaders to wonder where his true allegiances were and what side he was on.

I think holding out on Sweden for so long really exacerbated those concerns. Everything has moved so quickly, I think we should all hesitate to sort of draw definitive conclusions. I think the immediate sense is that he does want to align himself a bit more closely with NATO, he also recently allowed the return of the fighters to Ukraine, which was something that made the Russians, very angry they say it violated an agreement that they had, these people are not supposed to return to Ukraine.

Some of the analysts are reading these indicators and saying this show is that he is sort of moving from this middle ground, slightly away from Russia and closer to NATO in the last, I think it is pretty premature to do that. But certainly at this moment, he seemed to find that it was much more to his benefit to sort of throw in his lot with the NATO camp with Sweden.

SOLOMON: Well, to that point, Ben, we don't have a lot of time, but you could really quickly let me know how this is being viewed locally there in Istanbul? Does this look like a win for Erdogan?

HUBBARD: Well, the government has tremendous influence over the local media and so, they -- most of the local news media will celebrate anything as sort of a win for Turkey, or a coup for Erdogan. And that is what we have seen.

Yesterday, there is a bit of conclusion because people didn't expect it to come, but today there was a lot of saying Erdogan succeeded, he is a tactician, a strategist, eastward up to the west, he lay down what Turkey's red lines, were he caused Sweden to change this or that. There is a certain amount of truth to that. You know, he did actually get Sweden to change some of its laws and to amend its constitution, which to force another country to change its laws as a pretty big deal.

SOLOMON: Yeah, Ben Hubbard will have to leave it here, great to have you, thank you.

HUBBARD: Thank you.

SOLOMON: And time for quick hits across America right now.

Indianapolis sheriff's deputy has died after being assaulted by an inmate. This happened during transport from a hospital. Officials say the inmate stole and crashed the van, but he is back in custody.

An Idaho judge is giving the man accused of stabbing to death of four University of Idaho students more time to review evidence. Bryan Kohberger was given a 37-day stay. The judge says this will not delay the trial start date in October. And how about this? A pilot escapes with only minor injuries after his

small plane nose dived into the hangar roof of the Long Beach airport. You see that video there, investigators now working to determine what caused the crash.

And, coming up for us, Israel bracing for more protests today as the government moves forward with a controversial plan to overhaul its courts.

And, gas from an Icelandic volcano threatening toxic pollution.

We'll be right back.



SOLOMON: Welcome back.

And turning to the Middle East. Those protests over Israel's plan to overhaul its judicial system picking up a notch. Opponents are planning strikes across the country today as part of what's being called a day of resistance. It comes as a key part of the legislation itself clears another hurdle in the Knesset.

CNN's Hadas Gold live just outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.

So, Hadas, what are you seeing so far in terms of this day of resistance?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rahel, it's already been a busy day of protest from the border across the country and they're planning to go all night long. We're here just outside the Supreme Court. This is, of course, the center of these protests of these judicial overhauls, and protesters have been coming in and out of here all day.

At one point, they even unveiled a giant red ribbon representing a red line around the Supreme Court.