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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Slams Special Counsel After Receiving Target Letter in 2020 Election Interference Investigation; Trump Lawyers, Federal Prosecutors Meet with Judge on Setting Schedule for Classified Documents Trial; Michigan Charges 16 Participants in Fake Electors Plot; Army Identifies Soldier Who Crossed into North Korea. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired July 19, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, former president and current candidate, Donald Trump, on the verge of the third criminal indictment.

Plus, 16 fake Trump electors now facing felony charges in the state of Michigan.

And, a diplomatic emergency with a U.S. soldier being held in North Korea after willfully crossing the border from the South.


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

We begin with both of the special counsel's Trump investigations taking big steps forward in the last 24 hours. The former president announcing that he has received a letter from the special counsel Jack Smith informing him he is a target of the investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump talked about the letter on Fox last night.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: It bothers me, it bothers me with everybody in this incredible sold out audience. And it's -- it bothers you.

I got the letter on Sunday night, think about it. I don't think they've ever sent a letter on Sunday night. And they're in a rush because they want to interfere -- it's interference with the election. It's election interference, never been done like this in the history of our country and it's a disgrace.


ROMANS: Now, the letter is a sign that Trump may be charged in the election interference case, although it's by no means a guarantee. Now, the letter also shows prosecutors are focused on Trump's actions and not just those of his aides and his allies.

Meantime, Trump's lawyers and special prosecutors met with the judge in the classified documents case to talk about when Mr. Trump might actually face a jury.

CNN's Paula Reid has more.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, early Tuesday, former president Donald Trump announced that he received a target letter for the investigation into January 6. And this announcement came just hours before his attorneys were expected in court, in Florida, for the special counsel's other investigation into the mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Now, it's interesting that this hearing in Florida was the first time that prosecutors and defense attorneys appeared before Judge Aileen Cannon. She's the Trump appointed judge, who will oversee the prosecution and all eyes were on the judge to see just how receptive she was going to be to the Trump team strategy of trying to delay any possible trial until after the 2024 election.

I was in court for about two hours for this hearing and it was clear that Judge Cannon was amenable to the strategies that she thought that the special counsel suggestion. Could they do this case? Put this case on trial in December? That was a, quote, compressed timeline. She said, look, cases like, this they take more time.

Now both sides were arguing about Trump's status as a candidate for the presidency. At the extent to which that impacts the timing of a possible case and now his lawyers insist that the case is unusual. It would only be fair to do it after the election. But prosecutors said, look, he's not president just because he's running for president doesn't mean he should be treated any differently than any other, quote, busy, important American.

But notably, the judge, she didn't seem interested in getting into this issue of his candidacy. She was focused on how long it was going to take the lawyers to do the work necessary to get this closer to trial. And you can expect, that if the former president is charged in Washington in connection with January 6th, they will likely pursue a similar strategy trying to delay any possible trial at least into the 2024 election.

Paul Reid, CNN, Fort Pierce, Florida.


ROMANS: All right. To Michigan now where 16 prominent Republicans are now talking to their lawyers after the state attorney charged them with multiple felonies and the 2020 fake electors plot.

More from CNN's Jessica Schneider in Lansing, Michigan. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the first time these alleged fake electors have been charged criminally by a state prosecutor, the attorney general here in Michigan, Dana Nessel, charging 16 people with eight different counts, including a conspiracy to commit election law forgery.

Now, this all stems from December 14th, 2020, when those fake electors a try to force their way into the state capital here in Lansing, with fake certificates, falsely proclaiming that don Trump had won the election and that they, as Republicans, were the rightful electors. When, in fact, Joe Biden had won this state by 154,000 votes.

Dana Nessel's investigation has been ongoing since January, and she is now charging those 16 individuals will be expected to turn themselves in.

Now, this is all happening while investigations into fake electors' plots are ongoing in the six other states, where those fake electors plots happen, including Arizona, and Georgia. At the same time, the special counsel Jack Smith, he has been investigating the efforts to overturn the 2020 election with some of these fake electors of his testified to the grand jury.

So there's potentially a lot more charges to come in other states, but, for now, the Michigan attorney general, Dana Nessel, being the first to charge these so-called fake electors with serious crimes that could amount to decades in prison if they are convicted.

In Lansing, Michigan, Jessica Schneider, CNN.


ROMANS: And yet another development in the special counsel investigation, as sources confirmed to CNN that Jack Smith's team has reached out to former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who Trump pressured to overturn the 2020 election. Trump lost Arizona to Joe Biden by just under 11,000 votes. Now, Ducey has told associates that Trump called him pressured him to find fraud in Arizona's vote, with Trump believed could help him overturn the national results. Ducey refused, he certified Arizona's results on November 30th, 2020.

All right. We are learning more about the U.S. army private who crossed the line of demarcation between North and South Korea and is now being detained by the North. We now know his name, Travis King, and that he was said to be discharged from the military after being facing discipline for an assault in South Korea.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong.

Kristie, we have now heard a number of twists and turns in this story and there's still a lot we don't know. Bring us up to speed here.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Christine, we now know that the mother of the detained soldier is speaking out, in an interview with ABC News, Claudine Gains (ph) of Wisconsin said she was shocked that her son would cross into South Korea. It was on Tuesday when her son, Army Private Travis King broke away from a tour group and crossed into North Korea willfully and without authorization.

The U.N. command says it is working with the North Korean military to resolve the incident and, earlier today, North Korea fired two more ballistic missiles.

Now, King was not in uniform when he crossed into North Korea. He earlier spent some 50 days in a detention facility in South Korea for assault, involving at least one South Korean national and he was facing disciplinary action by the U.S. military. He was said to be separated from the U.S. army. A U.S. official told CNN that King was being escorted to the airport to go back to the U.S., but because the escorts could not go through customs, he was able to leave the airport.

That is how later, on he crossed into North Korea, it was during a tour of the joint security area, or the JSA. This is the footage the JSA that you're looking at your screen right now. It's located inside the DMZ, the highly fortified border between the two Koreas and, the tour is open to the public.

But, while there are checkpoints to get to the JSA, the actual border between North and South Korea is only those small raised behind that is on the ground. I believe we have this photo for you.

You may remember this. A couple of years ago, the former U.S. president, Donald Trump, when he met with the North Korean leader at the JSA in June of 2019, he stepped across that very line.

During a JSA tour, though, participants -- they are kept away from the line, some 20 yards away. Now, this incident comes at a time of high tension, you know what North Korea has fired about a dozen missiles earlier today. This morning, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles and now, North Korea has a U.S. soldier in its custody, the mother of the soldier says she just wants her son to come home.

Back to you.

ROMANS: Wow, what a story. All right. Kristie Lu Stout, thank you so much for that.

Just ahead, a heat wave in the American West just shattered a temperature record that has stood since disco was king.

Plus, new developments in the murder mystery of Tupac Shakur.

First, what we learned from the judge in the Trump documents probe.



ROMANS: Any judge handling the prosecution of the once and possibly future president would draw national spotlight. But the judge now presiding over the Trump classified documents case, Aileen Cannon, faces an extra level of scrutiny, all thanks to her history with the defendant.

CNN's Brian Todd explains.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This 42-year-old judge from South Florida faces enormous scrutiny because of her history with former President Donald Trump. Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon has been assigned, at least initially, to oversee the criminal trial against Trump in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think everybody has fundamental concern of whether she's going to call the balls and strike right down the middle of the plate for both parties or whether she's going to issue decisions that favor the former president.

TODD: The concern stemming not only from the fact that Donald Trump appointed cannon to the bench when he was president but also from her earlier involvement in the Mar-a-Lago documents probe. Last year, she approved Trump's request to block Justice Department access to the recovered documents, until a special master could review them for potential privilege issues.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her ruling. One concern now that Cannon will go along with Trump's request to delay the trial.

JENNIFER RODGERS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: She only has to take really small steps in order to throw this thing off track for the Justice Department by delaying it until we're past the election and Trump, of course, hopes that if he manages to get himself elected again, this case goes away, as he would direct his Justice Department to drop it.

TODD: But attorney Michael Sherwin, a friend of Cannon, disputes the notion that she favors Trump.

MICHAEL SHERWIN, FRIEND OF JUDGE CANNON: I still truly believe that she is going to ensure that there is a fair trial, and she is not going to inject politics into this equation, to any degree.

TODD: During her confirmation hearing, Cannon thanked members of her family including her maternal grandparents who she said had to flee Cuba in 1960, and her mother.


AILEEN MERCEDES CANNON, FEDERAL DISTRICT JUDGE: To my loving mother who at the age of 7 had to flee the repressive Castro regime in search of freedom and security. Thank you for teaching me about the blessing of this country.

TODD: There is also concern tonight over Judge Cannon's lack of experience. A "Bloomberg" database analyzed by "The New York Times" last month showed she had only taken four criminal cases to trial.

FREDERICKSEN: She's never tried a white-collar criminal case with all the complications that go with intent and with evidentiary rulings, let alone classified documents.


TODD (on camera): We reached out to Judge Cannon's chambers to ask for a response to the criticisms that she's been biased in favor of former President Trump, and for response to concerns that she has a lack of experience in criminal trials. We don't hear back. During her confirmation hearings, she was asked if he'd ever had any discussions about loyalty to Trump. She decisively responded no.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you, Brian, for that.

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

Dave, so nice to see you this morning.

Let's start with that classified documents case that you just heard Brian reporting. Do you think that there are sound legal reasoning to push back the start of this trial beyond the mid-December date that the DOJ wants?

DAVE ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Good morning, Christine. I actually do. I think the number of documents that have to be reviewed, plus the required clearances you have to get, you have this federal law, CIPA, that's involved makes it likely that it is going to get pushed back beyond December. Now, whether it gets pushed beyond the 2024 election is another thing.

I think Trump overplayed his hand by asking for an indefinite postponement beyond the election. Judge Cannon knew that was a bridge too far. She knew she granted that, she would be reversed by the 11th Circuit, possibly even taken off his case. And she knows the world is watching, especially after everything that happened with her rulings last year.

So I think what she could do here is to give Trump what he wants, but not all at once. Bit by bit, piece by piece. Essentially, a slow bleed.

ROMANS: And then there's new developments in the federal January 6 investigation. This target letter, Trump's legal team received on Sunday, it apparently caught this team off-guard.

Shouldn't have? What happens next?

ARONBERG: It definitely should not have caught him off-guard. I mean, it wasn't a big secret that the walls were closing in on Trump. You have people around him getting subpoenaed. You had fake electors in other states getting immunity to testify. So I think what happens next as he will be indicted. Now, the last

time Trump got a letter like this, he was indicted within three weeks by the feds. I expect the same timetable here. So that is going to be a big deal because this is going to be the first time that the former president will be indicted over his conduct while president. That's something our country has never had before.

I think these charges, although not as strong as the case of the Mar- a-Lago documents, because in, there you have a direct tie between Trump in the criminality, alleged criminality. In this case, on January six, it's more attenuated, the more layers between him in the violence that day. But for the public's interest, I think this is really important because this is the attempted overthrow of our democracy. And everyone watched it unfold live on TV.

ROMANS: What potential charges do you think prosecutors could be considering against Trump?

ARONBERG: There is obstruction of an official proceeding, there is conspiracy to defraud the United States. Both of those charges, which are very serious, they were mentioned by federal judge, Judge Carter. It's more likely than not the Trump violated those statutes.

So I think we're going to see that, there could be other surprises. For example, you have the fund raising the Trump did to raise $250 million to his PACs, supposedly for his legal defense fund, but it went elsewhere.

So I still think there's evidence and maybe some charters that we're not aware of yet at this point.

ROMANS: So, we're also waiting to see what might happen in Georgia, with its state level investigation into the 2020 election interference. Talk to me about the interplay between the federal investigation, the state investigation, their own parallel tracks, do they affect each other?

ARONBERG: Well, this one is different than the case in New York, where the feds are investigating Stormy Daniels anymore, but they are investigating January six and attempts to overturn the election. So, there is bit of a conflict between what the fed is doing in the state.

But Jack Smith takes things close to the vest. That's what we learned about this Department of Justice. So, I don't know how much cooperation and communication that has been going on between the feds and the state. I think one reason that Fani Willis, my counterpart in Fulton County, give so much time between her initial announcement in January that charge were imminent, and now what we think will be charges in August.

I think she gave a runway for the feds to act. She's like opening the door and say, hey, guys, if you want to go, go first, and they are going to go first.


And then it's on.

But I think when it comes to the state charges, it's really important because those charges are part in proof, Trump cannot pardon himself for those charges. No one can pardon him for state charges. He could not order his Department of Justice to drop that investigation, or that case against him.

ROMANS: Yeah, David, it's been remarkable. The last 24 hours of legal developments for this president. There's half a dozen investigations here. You've heard him say on Fox News last night that all of this is election interference.

What do you make of the president's defense of, you know, what he would call the witch hunt against him?

ARONBERG: That's his plan all along. Remember how he planned the fact that he was going to call the election fraudulent even before votes were counted. Well, he planned in advance that he was going to claim that prosecutors were engaged in election interference. And he did that because he announce for president way early, because he wanted to dissuade Merrick Garland for filing charges against him.

And what Merrick Garland did, was he appointed Jack Smith as special counsel. So Trump should've been careful what he asked for, because instead of Merrick Garland, who is known for being a bit timid, he got a pit bull put on his case. So, we all knew Trump was going to frame this in political terms.

But in the end, it's going to be up to a jury in Washington, D.C., when it comes to the January 6th case, to just follow the evidence and the law. And in Washington, D.C., Christine, Trump only got 5 percent of the vote. You can see why he's so nervous right now.

ROMANS: Dave Aronberg, always nice to see you. Thank you for getting up early for us.

ARONBERG: Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: All right. Donald Trump and his Republican allies on the Hill, they're working on a plan to protect the GOP front runner after Trump announced he is the target of a criminal investigation into January 6th.

CNN's Annie Grayer has more on that.


ANNIE GRAYER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Christine, it did not take long for Donald Trump to start strategizing with some of his key allies on Capitol Hill. Sources tell us that Trump spoke with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and conference chair Elise Stefanik on Tuesday to discuss how House Republicans can use their majority to help the former president in light of the Department of Justice informing him that he is now a target in their criminal investigation into January 6th. Some Republicans are already starting floating ideas about cutting the

budget of the special counsel who is investigating Trump, both in January 6th, and on the classified documents case. That's where Trump is already indicted. This playbook from Republicans is not new. We've seen from previous two indictments that a number of House Republicans quickly came to Donald Trump's defense before knowing any details about the case itself.

Listen to what Congressman Byron Donalds and Troy Nehls told my colleague Manu Raju yesterday.

REP. BYRON DONALDS (R-FL): If the Department of Justice is going to have a two tier system about how they choose to investigate and prosecute, then maybe they don't need that much money.

REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Donald Trump is a leader of our party. And Donald Trump is going to be Joe Biden in 2024 for a second time.

GRAYER: Now Christine, part of the strategy for Republicans here is going to be about going on offense, talking about their own investigations into the Biden family, and their business dealings. And that starts today. The House Oversight Committee is holding a hearing with two IRS whistleblowers, who claim that the Department of Justice mishandled the criminal investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son.

These allegations have caused a firestorm on Capitol Hill, with some going as far as calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Merrick Garland.

But, Christine, we're going to onna have to see what comes out of the hearing later today.


ROMANS: All right. Andy, thank you so much for that.

Quick hits across America now.

Phoenix breaks its own heat record, 19 days of temperatures above 110 degrees. That record stood since 1974. Scientists say human caused climate change, and a new El Nino are combining to shatter records globally.

Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that ending the cash bail system is constitutional. They have sided with supporters who argued the poor, they wait in jail for trial, while the rich, they are released. The new law goes into force September 19th.

Police confirmed they have served a search warrant in Henderson, Nevada, related to the unsolved murder of Tupac Shakur. The rapper was fatally shot in 1996 after leaving a Las Vegas boxing match.

All right. Russia launching a second night of missile attacks in Ukraine's southern port city. And just like a movie, this time a real castaway is rescued. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ROMANS: Welcome back.

Kenya bracing for three days of anti-government protests starting today. Schools in Nairobi and two other major cities are being closed over fears the protests could turn violent.

CNN's Larry Madowo live for us this morning in Nairobi.

And these protests, Larry, it's -- this is about -- the core of this is unpopular tax hikes?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's correct. It began as cost of living protests of tax sites that have led to a huge spike in cost of food, fuel, and basic commodities. But they have devolved into full on anti-government protests and what we see back here is the constant battle between officers and youth here.

They have been all morning almost provoking the cops to try to use tear gas, and which they deployed in some cases. There's been a lot of throwing of rocks for these young men, for these officers who, I got to say, have been showing a lot of restraint.

This is one of the neighborhoods in Nairobi where the opposition leaders have promised to hold a gathering. The government of Kenya has said that these gatherings, these demonstrations, are illegal.