Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Hollywood Actors to Join Writers on Picket Lines; Putin: Wagner Group "Simply Does Not Exist"; Chinese Hack Breached U.S. Government Emails Ahead of Blinken Visit; Secret Service: No Cocaine Suspect Due to Lack of Evidence; Today: 90M+ Under Heat Alerts Across 15 States; House Ethics Committee Reaches Out to Witnesses in Revived Investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz; International Criminal Court Opens New Probe in Darfur, Sudan. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 14, 2023 - 05:00   ET




FRAN DRESCHER, SAG-AFTRA UNION PRESIDENT: We are labor and we stand tall. And we demand respect.


RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the dramatic move by Hollywood actors joining writers now on the picket lines.

Plus, mercenary mystery. Vladimir Putin now says the Wagner Group, quote, simply doesn't exist. What exactly does that mean?

And --


REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life.


SOLOMON: Blowback. Some Republicans upset that the Secret Service cannot find the White House cocaine suspect.

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

No lights, no camera, and no action. On TV and movie sets today, after -- actors will start walking off the job and on to the picket lines, just hours from now. It is the first strike for the Screen Actors Guild in 43 years. It comes after talks with major studios and streaming services failed, anger about pay and artificial intelligence really at the center of the standoff, which has essentially shut down Hollywood.

CNN's Chloe Melas has more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHLOE MELAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hollywood essentially came to a complete halt on Thursday, when a union called SAG-AFTRA, representing over 160,000 actors announced that they were going to go on strike, as you know, currently the rioters union, WGA, represents about 11,000 writers and they have been on strike for about two months.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA, had this to say.

DRESCHER: I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they are losing money left and right, when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them.

MELAS: Friday, we are expecting to see both writers and actors taking to the picketing lines, in front of some of Hollywood's biggest studios. You know, we know that there was a letter that was signed by several of the top actors in Hollywood from Meryl Streep to Jennifer Lawrence, recently saying that they were going to be trying a hard line when it came to what they were asking of studios. It has to do with streaming, wanting to be paid higher residuals, and for studios to address artificial intelligence and how that plays into productions, and how our actors and writers going to keep their jobs safe.

So, we might see some famous faces on the front of those picketing lines and we will be bringing you all of that coverage.

Back to you.


SOLOMON: We know you will. Thank you, Chloe.

Now to legal drama and former President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, he is the latest member of Trump's inner circle to testify before the grand jury, investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Sources say that some of the questions were about whether Trump was told that he actually lost the election. Several key White House officials have testified before the grand jury, including former Trump aide Hope Hicks, who testified early last month.

Overseas now, some curious comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding to the mystery over the fate of the mercenary fighters that staged that failed insurrection on Moscow lost month. While Putin now says that the Wagner group, quote, simply does not exist.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz live in London with more.

Salma, what does that mean?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very eyebrow raising statement from President Putin, important to note that this is his -- President Putin's retelling of an event that took place just days after this armed insurrection against him led by a Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

And this meeting, according to the Kremlin, 35 Wagner bosses, including Prigozhin, were in attendance with President Putin, who offered these 35 Wagner commanders the opportunity to continue fighting for Russia, but under a different figure, one of their own commanders sign name Gray Man, that the men were nodding, those 35 commanders were nodding except for Prigozhin who seemed to speak up no, they don't agree to that.

President Putin now responding to the question on the retelling of this event, asking about the future of Wagner, President Putin simply responded, they do not exist.

Well, they exist but not legally.


We don't have legal frameworks to allow for a private army, and I am obviously paraphrasing here but President Putin seeming to split hairs and tell of this event where he was trying, maybe, to divide the Wagner group. What do we know of their future? Well, we know according to Russia's defense ministry that they have completed the handover of some 2,000 weapons, plus tanks, all of that now given to the Russian military.

But, what's so hard to read here, Rahel, is that you are hearing of a President Putin that seems a very unfamiliar to us. One who is sitting in a meeting, casually speaking to the very man who staged an armed insurrection against him, giving them options, opinions, taking their viewpoints on what to do next. Not exactly the iron-fisted man that we know.

SOLOMON: It continues to be just a very bizarre story and I think puzzles a lot of people who watch this space very closely.

Salma Abdelaziz, live for us in London, thank you.

Well, the Biden administration believes that the Chinese government gained some special insight from a recent China-backed hacking operation. The hack reached email accounts at U.S. government agencies, including the State Department. It came just days before Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's visit to Beijing to try to reset relations after months of tension.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has more.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration believes that China's hack of U.S. government agency provided the Chinese government with insights into the Biden administration's thinking ahead of the planned visit to China by the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. That's according to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

And we should note that Microsoft said that they learned about this hack on June 16th from their customers. And that's when they began investigating it. That is the same day that the secretary of state left Washington and headed to Beijing for those meetings.

Now, we should also note that this hack only was able to gain access to the games unclassified side of U.S. systems, so therefore, when you talk to U.S. officials, the amount that the Chinese officials were able to claim was quite limited. They did provide them with some insights leading into the secretary of state's visit, which could have contributed to how Chinese officials thought about deficit, which is significant.

We should also note that Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, who has also compromised in the hack, she is planning to visit Beijing in the coming months.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, Washington.


SOLOMON: The Secret Service says, case closed after an investigation into a small bag of cocaine found at the White House. This is after combing through security systems and compiling a list of 500 possible suspects. They say they were still unable to figure out who brought the drugs into the West Wing.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond has more.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Secret Service on Thursday closing the investigation into that baggie of cocaine that was found at the White House less than two weeks ago. They are closing it without a suspect being found. The Secret Service says in a statement, that they closed that investigation due to, quote, a lack of physical evidence. And now, this came after a nearly two-week-long investigation carried out by the Secret Service. They went through visitor logs of hundreds of individuals who locked in and out of the West Wing in the days of proceeding the discovery of that small, less than one gram baggie of cocaine.

They went through surveillance footage, they also collected, tried to collect DNA and fingerprints evidence from that baggie, but a source familiar with the investigation telling me that there was insufficient DNA and they were not able to pull fingerprints off of that baggy.

They, therefore, we're not able to identify who brought that baggy to the lower level entrance of the West Wing where this was discovered in a couple, which we should note is used for where individuals who come in for tours, where they would leave their cell phones. It's also where officials going to classified settings would leave their cell phones before going into there.

The Secret Service says in a statement, quote, there was no surveillance video footage found that provided investigative leads or any other means for investigators to identify who may have deposited the substance in the area. Without physical evidence, the investigation will not be able to single out a person of interest from the hundreds of individuals who passed through the vestibule where the cocaine was discovered.

Now, a source familiar with the investigation says that that discussion of surveillance footage is because, well, while there was -- there are surveillance cameras in that area, they were not directly trained on those cubbies where this cocaine was found.

Now, another source of familiar with the investigation says that the leading theory remains that this was left by a visitor who walked into the West Wing, for one of those tours over that weekend. But that is not the definitive conclusion of the Secret Service.

The White House, meanwhile, in a statement, they say they have been briefed by the Secret Service on the outcome of the investigation and that they are reviewing that information.


Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.


SOLOMON: Well, just ahead, new revelations on the autopsy report on Lisa Marie Presley.

Plus, a rocket test failed with spectacular fashion.

Also, more clues left in the woods by an escaped inmate who this morning continues to be on the run.

We'll be right back.



ROB MCDADE, PHOENIX FIRE CAPTAIN: This is a very dangerous heat wave. I think sometimes we're insulated in our homes, the air conditioning is on, we go in our air conditioned car, we go out, we travel across the parking lot for a minute and then we're inside the restaurant. But it is dangerous, and you -- it is fatal. It's fatal and it's something that you just can't brush beside.


SOLOMON: That's the fire captain of Phoenix Arizona, warning about the dangerous temperatures smothering the West and Southwest right now.

More than 90 million people are under heat alerts across 15 states, and Death Valley, which is already extremely hot -- well, that area could see an incredible 130 degrees on Saturday or Sunday. [05:15:09]

Let's bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Derek, it's July. It is summer, but this is something different than just a typical summer. What are you watching and what can we expect?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED BROADCAST METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, another laundry list of record high temperatures broken through the weekend. This is why we are jumping up and down about this heat wave, because it is different than just any old heat wave. You've got the dry heat in the Southwest, and you've got the very muggy heat in the Southeast. Both of them have their different kind of concerns, but as Rahel mentioned, it is about 90 million Americans feeling temperatures above 90 degrees, some even worse than that, especially when you factor in the humidity levels.

Check this out, Houston's upper 90s. Look at Del Rio, 107 degrees today. El Paso has had 28 degrees, excuse me 28 days, over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That's saying something, that's a record for them.

I just came back from Miami yesterday where we are recording on the oppressive heat here. Heat advisories continue right through the end of the weekend and into early next week, but it's the humidity across the area that has really been substantial and also helping raise our water temperatures in the shallow oceans across the Florida straits to near global record highs. This is just incredible to see what is happening.

Now, the heat dome that's building over the Western half of the U.S., this is a dry heat, but still, something that you need to take seriously as you heard from the fire marshal coming out of Phoenix. We have the potential here to break records in Death Valley, and then the other story that we're following is another flash flood threat across New England, specifically the Lower Hudson River Valley, the Weather Prediction Center.

This is new information, it has a level three. That is a moderate risk of flash flooding. We have storms overnight, bringing some flooding to this region once again, but another round of thunderstorms will develop this afternoon, particularly after 1:00 or 2:00 and that is when we anticipate another possibility of flooding. And remember what happened earlier in the week, with the flash flooding across portions of the Hudson Valley and into Vermont.

We don't want to see that again, it is saturated environment and any additional rainfall, of course, could add misery to the problems they have been dealing with across the Northeast.

So, Rahel, busy days from heatwaves to flash flooding.

SOLOMON: Yeah, lots of misery to go around, even our friends in some parts of Europe dealing with really terrible heat.

VAN DAM: We are not alone.

SOLOMON: We are not alone. They say misery loves company.

Derek Van Dam, thank you.

Investigators from the House Ethics Committee have started reaching out to witnesses as part of a recently revived investigation into Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. They're looking into allegations of sexual misconduct, illegal drug use, or other misconduct.

CNN's Annie Grayer has more.



The House Ethics Committee has quietly reopened its investigation into Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz. We know that they've spoken to one person in Florida over possible lobbying allegations and have plans to speak to more. This investigation into Gaetz is not new. It started in 2021 looking at multiple allegations, including sexual misconduct and illicit drug use.

But then that investigation paused when the Department of Justice started its own criminal probe. That criminal investigation wrapped up earlier this year and there was no wrongdoing of the Gaetz. That meant ethics could pick back up its work and, keep in mind, what Ethics and DOJ are looking for can be different. Throughout this entire time, the congressman has denied any wrongdoing and when I spoke to him for the story, Rahel, he said he is just focused on his work.


SOLOMON: All right, thank you.

Time for quick hits across America now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, approving the first birth control pill that can be bought over the counter without a prescription. The Opill is expected to be available early next year.

A Los Angeles County medical examiner's report revealing Lisa Marie Presley died of complications from weight loss surgery that she had several years ago. The 54-year-old died in January.

And police in Pennsylvania say that a hidden stash of food and supplies found in a wooded area is likely from escaped inmate Michael Burham. A manhunt has been underway since last Thursday.

And, still coming up for, us an unexpected explosion as Japan tested a rocket engine. And, a sweetener found in diet soda and sugar free gum under new scrutiny.

We'll be right back.


[05:23:58] SOLOMON: Welcome back.

The International Criminal Court opening a new investigation into alleged war crimes in Darfur, Sudan. This follows more than 90 days of escalating violence as two military groups continue to battle for control of the country. On Thursday, the U.N. reported at least 87 bodies were discovered in a mass grave.

CNN's Stephanie Busari joins us from Lagos, Nigeria.

Stephanie, what do we know about this new investigation?

STEPHANIE BUSARI, CNN AFRICA SENIOR EDITOR: Rahel, so the criminal -- the International Criminal Court has said that they are, that the situation in Darfur is a human catastrophe and that they are investigating allegations of war crimes. They are saying that attack on civilians is unjustified and that women and children are fearing for their lives in Sudan and in Darfur, in particular.

Now, it is 20 years since the genocide that happened in Darfur, that killed more than 300,000 people and displaced millions.


So, the ICC is particularly concerned that history does not repeat itself here and that they are quite keen to get to grips with this and start investigating to make sure that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to book.

SOLOMON: Yeah, with so many people leaving Sudan because of this conflict. Stephanie Busari live for us in Lagos, thank you, Stephanie.

Quick hits across the globe right now.

That would be Japan's Epsilon S space rocket exploding about one minute into an engine test earlier today. The latest failure and the country's space ambitions. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

An Italian court ruling that groping under ten seconds is not illegal, that ruling sparking outrage and a viral trend showing what ten seconds looks like. Judges had found a school janitor not guilty for groping a female student because the act lasted between five and ten seconds.

In the meantime, the World Health Organization has labeled aspartame as a possible cause of cancer. Although another WHO committee of experts deemed the popular sweetener as safe for consumption. For now, the guidelines stay the same.

Much of Europe is bracing for a blistering heat as temperatures soar in Spain, France, and Germany. Check this out, in Sicily, temperatures reached an unprecedented and record breaking 119 degrees this week. Now, the Italian health ministry has issued a red alert for cities including Florence and Rome.

And Rome is where we find Barbie Nadeau this morning. Barbie, a lot of people have never experienced heat like this. How

people there are coping?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, you know, it is blistering hot here. We have tourists from all over the world. There is more tourists since before the pandemic right now, but people cannot cancel their vacations if they already have them scheduled. We took a closer look, though, at what the city of Rome is doing to try to make it easier for the tourists to come here.


NADEAU (voice-over): Rome, the eternal city, lately is more like the infernal city. A deadly heat wave gripping southern Europe has made those a trying to enjoy a roman holiday rather uncomfortable.

CATHERINE HODGDON, TOURIST: I mean, it's hot. But yeah, it's a little disappointing. I was thinking today, like, because we are planning to not be out when it is the hottest, we are missing some hours to be able to do stuff. But ultimately, to be able to enjoy it the most, we are going to have to cut out those hot hours in the day.

NADEAU: Temperatures are climbing and expected to top 40 degrees Celsius, 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Rome. Italians have named the heat wave Cerberus, after a figure in Greek mythology that guarded the gates of hell. Officials say the best way to combat the heat is with water, and Rome has no shortage of that.

Rome has more than 4,000 public water fountains with drinkable water, and Rome's civil protection agency has an app that will help visitors locate the closest one.

The command center head Giuseppe Napolitano tells us that common sense is key, and staying hydrated is essential.

So is using water to cool off, he says. But, tempting as it may be to swim in a fountain, doing so runs the risk of a several hundred dollar fine.

SARAH SMITH, TOURIST: We can't stay out all day, that's for sure. Yeah.

ANDY SMITH, TOURIST: I think we have to take a lot of breaks and not try to over plan.

NADEAU: The heat wave is supposed to last at least through next week, and for most tourists, canceling is not an option, which means another week of not fit for a man or beast.


NADEAU: And, you know what is really hard about this is it is not cooling off at night either. It's just relentless, you wake up in the morning it's hot, it's hot at night, and air conditioning is not common here. Only 10 percent of homes across Europe even have air conditioning. So there is little relief at the moment and there is a lot more heat coming along the way.

SOLOMON: Oh, that's hard to hear. Barbie Nadeau live for us there in Rome, thank you, Barbie.

Just ahead, a Republican governor set to sign the latest abortion law.

And, why hire an actor when you can use artificial intelligence? This is one of the main concerns of talents in Hollywood. Coming up, we'll tell you how new technology is really looming over Hollywood's labor war.