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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Deadline Passes Without Deal Between SAG-AFTRA and Hollywood Studios, Setting Stage for Strike; Biden Capping Off High-Stakes Europe Trip in Finland; Federal Prosecutors Interview Michigan Secretary of State; GOP Lawmakers Grill FBI Director on Capitol Hill; Russia Dismisses Top General Who Voiced Concerns About Troop Levels. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 13, 2023 - 05:00   ET



RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, a real life drama for Hollywood actors as contract talks collapsed before the deadline, setting up a strike.

Plus, President Biden in Finland right now to welcome one and eventually two Nordic nations to the NATO alliance.

And federal prosecutors talk to the top election official in Michigan. What does she know about efforts to overturn the 2020 vote?


SOLOMON: We begin this morning, 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 a developing story out of Hollywood, California. That's where contract negotiations between the SAG-AFTRA actors union and the major studios and streamers broke down overnight. So, this now sets the stage for Hollywood's first big shut down in more than six decades.

The union leaders say that its national board will meet few hours from now to formally authorize a strike. SAG has about 160,000 members and if they go on strike, they will join Hollywood screenwriters who, remember, they walk off the job back in May. We're going to have much more on this story coming up in a few minutes.

But first, President Biden wrapping up his European tour with the meeting of Nordic leaders in Finland this morning. It follows NATO's decision to welcome Finland and, soon, Sweden into its alliance as it aims to provide an even stronger display of unity over the face of Russia's war in Ukraine.

CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz traveling with the president in Helsinki.

So, Arlette, what's the president looking to do at this visit? ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rahel, President

Biden is wrapping up his foreign trip here in Helsinki, Finland, the newest member of the NATO alliance. It's another effort to have a united show of force to signify the strength of the NATO alliance amid Russia's war in Ukraine.

Finland notably shares about an 800-mile land border with Russia and while the president is here, he will be meeting with the president of Finland, and then heading to a meeting with the leaders of five Nordic countries including Sweden. Of course, there's a big win for both Sweden and President Biden earlier in the week when Turkey made that surprise reversal to drop their objections to Sweden, joining the NATO alliance.

Now, President Biden told reporters as he was heading over here that he believed there was some cynicism about whether he would be able to convince Erdogan to, in fact, allow Sweden into the alliance. So the president has been viewing this as a big win.

Of course, Finland and Sweden both have -- were long non-aligned countries. But due to Russia's aggression against Ukraine decided to enter the alliance, especially since given their close proximity to the country of Russia. Additionally, one prospect that would still need to be figured out, ironed out when it comes to Sweden is that Erdogan says that this will still need to be voted upon by the Turkish parliament. He said that that vote may not happen until the fall.

So, Sweden may need to wait just a little bit longer to enter the alliance. But this is all capping off a week for President Biden that he said accomplished all of the goals that he set up to meet as he came to this NATO summit. Yes, they got Turkey to drop their objections to Sweden. But also the president left that summit in Vilnius with a more united front around the war in Ukraine.

There was some tension at that summit. They were not able to give President Zelenskyy the timeline that he wanted to enter the NATO alliance, but Zelenskyy did leave that summit with some secure -- long term security commitments from the U.S. and other G7 allies.

So the president will be wrapping up that trip here. He'll be ending the day with a press conference before heading back to Washington, D.C. -- Rahel.

SOLOMON: It's really been an eventful trip. We think about him starting in the U.K., and then heading to Lithuania and now in Finland.

Arlette, while he is in Finland, you pointed out that he will be meeting with several Nordic leaders. Are there specific practical items that you think he might be trying to accomplish with these meetings?

SAENZ: Well, I think that there's a few items that they're trying to touch on. There's issues related to A.I. technology, as well as climate issues. But a big focus for these leaders will also be the arctic region, especially as we've seen China and Russia really trying to build up their presence there and the Arctic has been becoming more accessible due to climate change.

Of course, the U.S. also has a keen interest in that. So that's one of the other issues that they're trying to touch on with these leaders today.


SOLOMON: A lot to watch.

Arlette Saenz, great to have you there. Thank you.

Back here in the U.S., Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson now confirms that she was interviewed by federal prosecutors in connection with their investigation into interference during the 2020 election.

She talked to CNN's Kaitlan Collins on "THE SOURCE" last night.


JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: It really underscores the depth through with the federal prosecutors are looking into everything. And the seriousness in which they're taking what occurred and the quest for justice to ensure it doesn't happen again.


SOLOMON: CNN's Zach Cohen has more from Washington.


ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: We can now count Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson among a growing group of state officials who have been interviewed by special counsel Jack Smith in his ongoing criminal probe related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Now, this is really another indication that Smith and his team are honing in on what former president Donald Trump and his allies were doing at the state level, as they try to overturn the presidential election results in 2020. Now, Benson has been one of the loudest voices in pushing back against former President Donald Trump's baseless case of voter fraud, in his efforts to file lawsuits based on those claims and also to put forward slates of alternate electors which Michigan as a state started a criminal investigation into before the Justice Department did.

So, Benson joining Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, joining Rusty Bowers, the former top GOP official in Arizona, as those who have gone into prosecutors for recent weeks. It remains to be seen exactly when or if a charging decision will come, but we do know that this remains a core focus of prosecutors in the special counsel's office.

Zach Cohen, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SOLOMON: FBI Director Christopher Wray on the hot seat on Capitol Hill. He faces a steady stream of attacks from Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee -- from the role of the FBI, the classified documents case, to the recent investigation of Hunter Biden where he tried to push back on accusations of partisan bias.

CNN's Sara Murray has more on the face-off.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FBI Director Christopher Wray --

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Thank you. Good morning, Chairman Jordan, ranking member Nadler, members of the committee.

MURRAY: -- pulling no punches in critiquing former President Donald Trump's sloppy retention of classified documents.

WRAY: I don't want to be commenting on the pending case, but I will say there are specific rules about where to store classified information, and that those need to be stored in a SCIF, a secured compartmentalized information facility. And in my experience, ballrooms, bathrooms and bedrooms are not SCIFs.

MURRAY: And insisting in the wake of Hunter Biden's plea deal on tax charges that the bureau is not protecting the Biden family.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Are you protecting the Bidens?

WRAY: Absolutely not. The FBI does not --


GAETZ: Hold on. You won't answer the question about whether on that --

MURRAY: He also disavowed some of the behavior outlined in the special counsel John Durham's probe, which documented missteps by the FBI in its investigation in the 2016 Trump campaign's ties with Russia.

WRAY: I consider the conduct that was described in the Durham report as totally unacceptable and unrepresentative of what I see from the FBI every day and must never be allowed to happen again.

MURRAY: Wray, however, stood by the search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate.

WRAY: I would not call it a raid. I would call the execution of a lawful search warrant.

MURRAY: And defended the FBI's rank and file amid a wave of threats in the wake of that search.

WRAY: We did stand up a whole dedicated unit to focus on threats to FBI individuals, FBI employees and FBI facilities because of the uptick that we saw over that time period.

MURRAY: Wray facing off against some of his toughest congressional critics on the House Judiciary Committee, where Republicans have threatened to slash the bureau's budget and accused FBI leadership of political bias.

GAETZ: People trusted the FBI more when J. Edgar Hoover was running the place more than you are.

MURRAY: Respectfully, Congressman, in your home state of Florida the number of people applying to come work for us and devoted their lives to working for us is up over 100 percent.

GAETZ: We're deeply proud of them and they deserve better than you.

MURRAY: All as Democrats took shots at their GOP colleagues.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D-GA): We are here today because MAGA Republicans will do anything to protect Donald Trump, their savior, no matter how unfounded or dangerous it may be to do so.

MURRAY: Democrats also needling Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, for once defying a subpoena in the House January 6th investigation.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Quite rich to me that you're hearing all these allegations from somebody who will even respond to a lawful subpoena.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, Republicans on this committee, particular the chair, Jim Jordan, have made a big deal of their belief that the leadership of the FBI is somehow biased against conservatives. And Chris Wray was asked about this during the hearing.


He said he is insane to him the notion that he would be biased against conservatives, especially given his personal background.

And his background is that he's a registered Republican, and he was appointed into this position by Donald Trump, a former Republican president.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

SOLOMON: Turning to overseas now, a senior Russian general has been dismissed. This is after he says he voiced concerns about the lack of support for Russian forces in southern Ukraine, something we have heard before from others. General Ivan Popov had been involved in that heavy fighting, in the Zaporizhzhia region specifically.

And he was also one of the most senior officers involved in the Russian campaign and Ukraine.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live for us in London. Clare, good morning to you. What more are we learning about this



Ivan Popov, the commander of the 58th army, is one of the top generals in charge of Russian efforts in Zaporizhzhia, occupied Zaporizhzhia, he, according to an audio message that was published on the Telegram channel of a Russian lawmaker has been making -- sort of raising questions about what he says is the lack of support for troops on those front lines.

Take a listen to that part of the audio message.


IVAN POPOV, RUSSIAN GENERAL (through translator): I had no right to lie. Therefore, I outlined all problematic issues that exist today in the army in term of combat work and support. I called a spade a spade. I drew attention to the most important tragedy of modern warfare. This is the lack of counter-battery combat. The absence of artillery reconnaissance stations and the mass deaths and injuries of our brothers from enemy artillery.


SEBASTIAN: So it's pretty jarring, Rahel, to hear a top commander talk about mass deaths. We know that Russia has tried to corrupt the skill of their losses in this war and he then says that, according to this audio message, we haven't verified the audio of that and we haven't reached out to the ministry of defense for comment on this and they haven't responded to that yet, but he said that this was seen by the senior commanders as a threat to the ministry of defense, and they dismissed him. And actually he describes as treacherously and via decapitating the army at the most difficult an intense moment, of course, referring to the counter-offensive.

Now, look, this clearly speaks to a level of chaos, perhaps incompetent in the Russian army, following on from that Wagner rebellion three weeks ago, which happened after months of Yevgeny Prigozhin himself complaining of the same issues and the Russian armed forces speaks perhaps to these issues continuing.

It also, you know, reflects a level of fighting in the Russian army that we have seen throughout this war, an intensifying after that Wagner rebellion amid reports that the army was being cleansed, picked over after signs of disloyalty. So I think, you know, it does paint a picture of the army fighting a war within itself -- Rahel.

SOLOMON: Yeah, another indication. Clare Sebastian live for us there in London, thank you, Claire.

All right. Coming up for us, exits stage right. Hollywood doctors are ready to walk off the job and on to the ticket line as contract talks have just collapsed.

Plus, cleanup underway after multiple tornadoes touched down in the Chicago area.

And investigators believe that the escaped inmate of Pennsylvania, well, they believe that he had help. Who they are questioning as the manhunt really ramps up?

We'll be right back.



ZOE SALDANA, ACTRESS: Our policies need to revolve as well so that it can better protect actors. I just hope that studios and streaming services are able to be as open and collaborative with the actors union, so that people can go back to work immediately.


SOLOMON: Your favorite actors and actresses may soon start hitting the picket lines. Union leaders say the national board will leave today to formally authorize a strike to book pressures on major studios and streaming services.

The contracts for SAG-AFTRA has expired and no deal was reached overnight.

Let's bring in Laura Zornosa. She's a cultural reporter at "Time Magazine".

Laura, good morning, and thanks for being with us.

So what are the issues here?

LAURA ZORNOSA, TIME MAGAZINE CULTURE REPORTER: Yeah. So, the main issues here that SAF-AFTRA striking over have a lot to do with the revised of the streaming bubble. And that means that there are shorter TV seasons and longer periods between them, which means that it's just tougher to make a living essentially. They're looking at trying to raise minimum pay rates, they are really concerned about the use of potential future A.I.

So, authorizing the use of actors like this, whether that's to act or training streamers programs and they're also authorizing the use of self tapes, and authorizing and regulating that new practice.

SOLOMON: Help me understand when you say the use of A.I., to use the actors like this. What that would practically mean?

ZORNOSA: So, there's two concerns. One is that the streamers would use A.I. essentially to replace actors and actresses on screen. The others said they would use A.I., they would train A.I. with existing portrayals and existing filmography to then eventually replace these actors and actresses. And if they would use A.I., these actors want to be properly compensated for the use of existing material.

SOLOMON: So this is happening, at the same time as we know the writers have already been on strike. How powerful do you think both of these groups striking at the same time? How powerful would that be to the industry?

ZORNOSA: Just extremely powerful. This hasn't happened since 1960 and when it -- when that dual strike did happen at the time, it essentially shut down Hollywood. That would essentially happen again. Somebody set some production and no rioters are stepping across the ticket line. But those that haven't stop, those that are trying to continue filming will essentially stop now given that no writers or actors will set foot on the set.


SOLOMON: So to be clear: some of already stopped. And the longer this drags on presumably, the longer and the more of an impact that viewers will actually experience?

ZORNOSA: Absolutely, and that would start to affect, essentially, the full cycle of TV and films. Though we will see more of a shift towards reality TV, reruns and just kind of a panic set in now that both are striking together in solidarity.

SOLOMON: Laura Zornosa, great to have you today. Thank you.

ZORNOSA: Thank you so much.

SOLOMON: Well, Pennsylvania officials are increasing the war to almost $20,000 for the capture of the escaped inmate, Michael Burham. State police believes sightings of the self taught survivalist in Warren County, Pennsylvania, well, they believe that those sightings are accurate as they now interviewed possible accomplices in the case?

CNN's Brian Todd reports.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new clue in last Thursday's prison escape in northern Pennsylvania.

LT. COL. GEORGIA BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: Just prior to the escape, there was a drone flying in that area. It could also be that it was somehow connected to his escape.

TODD: Officials also saying tonight they have found additional items between Tuesday night and Wednesday night believed to be associated with the fugitive, and they have had sightings that they believe to be accurate.

Michael Burham, aged 34, is considered armed and dangerous, and is wanted in cases involving murder, kidnapping, carjacking, and arson. Officials are convinced he is still in the area. They believe he is getting help and they are actively interviewing potential accomplices.

Police say he escaped last Thursday night through a hole in the prison's rooftop gym, rappelling down using bed sheets tied together. JEFF EGGLESTON, COMMISSIONER, WARREN COUNTY: The amount of time that

he got down of that roof was quicker than anybody could respond to get inside the room.

MARY CONARRO, LIVES NEAR PRISON: They did do a big search.

TODD: Mary Conarro lives next to the prison.

CONARRO: He must have come up this grass.

TODD: In the middle of the night, the police searched her home and her property with spotlights and dogs. They told her Burham had jumped her back wall and ran through her backyard.

CONARRO: I thought he would have been in high security. How could they let him do this? So, there was a mistake.

TODD: Burham has been on the lam once before when it took two weeks to capture him. He allegedly carjacked an elderly couple, but was finally caught in South Carolina. His ex, Nicole, says before he pled, he came to her door at 4:00 a.m., then set her car on fire.

She told CNN affiliate WICU, she is in protective custody while he is on the loose.

NICOLE, ESCAPED PRISONER'S EX-GIRLFRIEND: It's either going to end because he is exhausted, dehydrated and starving and he comes out because of that. Or it's going to end with a body bag.

TODD: Authorities describe Burham as a self-taught survivalist. How might he be caught?

JIM SCHIELD, FORMER HEAD OF FUGITIVES TASK FORCE, U.S. MARSHALS: Trying to communicate with someone he knows. Or if there is someone helping him or he's going to come upon a homeowner or someone who's going to take matters into their own hands if he tries to break into a residence.


TODD (on camera): County officials continue to say that the response from correction officers to Burham escape was as quick as it possibly could've been. But one county official says that while a corrections officer was watching him, on surveillance video at the moment of this escape, there were no correction officers physically present with him at that rooftop gym when he went over the wall.

Brian Todd, CNN, Warren, Pennsylvania.

SOLOMON: Quick hits across America now.

At least five reports of possible tornadoes touching down in Illinois. Videos show a pair of them, this is just northwest of Chicago on Wednesday. Downed trees and damaged roofs just part of the damage there. Abortion providers in Iowa file a lawsuit to block a law banning most

abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, the hearing is set for Friday ahead of the Republican governor signing the bill into law.

And Arizona Trump supporter Ray Epps who became the target of conspiracy claims on Fox News, suing the network for defamation. He says that Tucker Carlson made him a January 6th scapegoat.

And still ahead for us, coming up, a secret meeting later on today about the cocaine found at the White House.

And tomato turmoil right now in India. Why the red vegetable suddenly costs so much green. Oh, I like that.

We'll be right back.


SOLOMON: Right now, deadly storms, intense flooding, and landslides impacting parts of Asia, just part of the devastating effects of climate change. Climate experts warn that there is no escape unless we do more to lessen greenhouse gas emissions.

CNN's Anna Coren has more.


ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The rolling frontline of the global climate crisis right now stretches through Asia, from Japan and China to India.

Across the continent, stifling heat is giving way to torrential rain, swollen rivers, and mudslides. In northern India, dozens of people have been killed in raging floodwaters. Bridges, cars, and homes crushed in Himachal Pradesh. Roads flooded and washed away.

Survivors left to pick through the wreckage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There was so much rain and flooding. It was hard to evacuate our families to a safe place, because our area was inundated with water. All our belongings were swept away by the floodwater into the river.

COREN: Authorities across Asia and around the world are now being forced to treat the symptoms a climate emergency with no immediate cure.

SIMON BRADSHAW, CLIMATE COUNCIL: This is all a harrowing warning of what's at stake, and why it's so important we do everything possible to respond to the climate crisis.

COREN: In Japan, eight people have been killed in landslides and flooding just this month. Houses have washed away, hospitals have flooded. Electricity and water has been cut off.