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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Election Interference Grand Jury Expected to Meet Today; Tornado Damages North Carolina Pfizer Plant; New Zealand Man Kills 2, Injures Others In Rare Mass Attack; Russia Fires Missiles at Odesa for Third Straight Night. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 20, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START: indictment watch with the grand jury in Donald Trump's January 6 case meeting just hours from now.

Plus --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of damage here in the county at this time.


ROMANS: More tornado destruction as the summer of severe weather continues in the U.S.

And Russia launching new strikes in Ukraine's grain ports. Is Vladimir Putin trying to weaponize wheat prices?


ROMANS: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

We begin today with this -- the grand jury in the special counsel's election interference probe is expected to meet today, as team Trump scrambles to learn whether there is more to the investigation than they know. They are concerned we're told possible charges listed in special counsel Jack Smith's letter to the former president, suggests he plans to prosecute a bigger case than they expected.

CNN's Kristen Holmes has more from Bridgewater, New Jersey.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I spent the day on the phone talking to Trump advisers, Trump's lawyers. All of them told me they were trying to figure out if there was any sort of evidence or witnesses that they did not know about in this case, particularly that would boost up Jack Smith's case.

Now, a lot of this has to do is the target letter and that's potential charges. I'm told that when they saw those potential charges, is more robust and became much more clear that Jack Smith, the special counsel, had a bigger case he was trying to prosecute against the former president than what Trump's team had believed in the first place.

And you have to keep in mind, Trump's team has been watching the investigation carefully. On top of that, there are a number of witness who've gone before the grand jury in the January 6th investigation who the lawyers were paid for by Trump world. That has given them a unique amount of insight into the investigation. Yes, still they are taken by surprise.

So, clearly, here again, trying to figure out if there is a sort of evidence or witness they did not know about that has led to this.

The other part of this, they're telling me this is going to be business as usual. If he's, indicted it will be the third indictment. I will continue campaigning. The thing to remember again is that he is a candidate for president once more. This is his third White House bid, and these legal issues have actually been bolstering his campaign, both the fundraising and polling.

But I am told by advisers that they still did not know the long term effect of these legal issues. Obviously, we are in unprecedented territory.

Kristen Holmes, CNN, Bridgewater, New Jersey.


ROMANS: All right. In a separate legal case for the former president, Donald Trump's attorneys are vowing to appeal after a federal judge denied efforts to move the Stormy Daniels hush money prosecution to federal court. The case is set to go to trial in New York state court in March 2024. The judge rejected Trump's claim that the hush money was paid in his official capacity as president.

The judge said that Trump reversed Michael Colbert for advancing hush money to Stephen Clifford, Stormy Daniels real name, cannot be considered the performance of a constitutional duty. The judge says it was a purely personal item, covering up an embarrassing event.

All right. Repairs and cleanup underway in North Carolina today after a tornado Wednesday afternoon seriously damaged a Pfizer plant and other buildings. It shut down a major interstate, and injured more than a dozen people.

CNN's Jenn Sullivan has the latest.


JENN SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A trail of destruction left behind after a tornado tore through parts of North Carolina Wednesday.


SULLIVAN: One driver capturing the twister as it ripped through Nash County, 45 miles northeast of Raleigh. Dark clouds and lightning billowed the sky.

It is estimated to have been at least an EF3, with wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. The powerful tornado pummeling homes and buildings. Roofs torn off. Trees flattened.

BRIAN VARNELL, FAMILY'S HOME DAMAGED: Totally destroyed my aunt's home right here. That's -- that's pretty much gone as well. My dad's residence took a pretty big hit.

SULLIVAN: Part of the Pfizer plant collapsed. Sections of the roof and walls crumbled. Officials say that 50,000 pallets of medicine were damaged. Fortunately, no one inside was hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a lot of damage here in the county at this time.

SULLIVAN: At least four people suffered minor injuries and a portion of Interstate 94 were shut down in both directions. It's since reopened. But the cleanup is far from over.

JACKIE VICK, MAYOR OF DORTCHES: I never see anything like it again because it went from sunshine to pitch black.


And I guess the storm lasted probably less than a minute. And we've seen what it does.

SULLIVAN: I'm Jenn Sullivan reporting.


ROMANS: All right. Kentucky's governor has declared a state of emergency after extreme rainfall triggered widespread flooding. This is the western Kentucky town of Mayfield, which saw just over 11-1/4 inches of rain in just 13 hours Wednesday. If confirmed by the weather service, that will be the all-time 24 record for the state by nearly an inch.

Thankfully, there were no reported injuries or shelter check-ins. Most of the roads had reopened by nightfall.

All right. Police in New Zealand are investigating a rare mass shooting there. Officials say that three people died, including the gunman. Several others were injured in the attack, on Auckland's central business district.

CNN's Angus Watson is tracking the story for us from Sydney, Australia.

All this happened, Angus, just hours ahead of the opening of the Women's World Cup. What do we know?

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: That's right, Christine. Opening match began with a moment of silence for the two people who were killed, and several others injured when a gunman went to his place of work early morning Thursday, armed with a shotgun and began firing. It was a construction site. He went long before, shooting as he went.

Police were praised for the heroism, for arriving at the scene quickly moments after he began into their efforts to neutralize the shooter. One police officer was injured before the gunman was found in an elevator shaft with a bullet wound.

Now, gun control rules in New Zealand has become stricter since 2019, when a white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch. This attack today is very different. It's not as the police have an ideological motive. It's not a terror related attack. It doesn't have a national security situation around it, so that authorities believe that the match tonight was good to go.

A moment of silence. Fans around Auckland were canceled for a moment of silence. This World Cup, a historic one in which ticket sales have been strong, 32 teams competing beginning, Christine, with a bit of a dark cloud over it as this horrific mass shooting took place Thursday.

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

Russian forces targeting the south Ukraine city of Odesa for the third night in a row now. That's according to Ukraine's military. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is accusing Moscow of trying to cripple Kyiv's ability to export grain by attacking port infrastructure.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us from London.

Wheat prices already soaring after Russia dropped out of the grain deal. All of this threatens the global food supply. Is that -- is that Russia's objective here?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, I think whatever Russia's objective is, it's hard to see how the outcome could be avoided. Ukrainian officials said (INAUDIBLE) that way, and we've images coming from official sources in Ukraine showing destruction of ports, not just Odesa but Chornomorsk, which is down at the Black Sea coast.

The agriculture ministry coming out on Wednesday and saying that most of the ports of Chornomorsk which is, by the way, one of the three that was included in that grain deal that Russia pulled out of, that much of that is now out of commission. It would take about a year, they estimated, to rebuild it.

In addition, 60,000 tons of grain were also destroyed, they say, in the overnight air strikes into Wednesday. That grain destined to have been shipped through what were once a safe maritime corridors that Russia now says it will interpret any ship that is in that region as a potentially carrying military cargo. So, this will make it very difficult for any kind of semblance of this

deal to be reinstated. President Putin also saying on Wednesday that the deal in its current form is pretty much dead, if the actions haven't already spoken to that. Obviously, that affects supply.

Prices is the other thing. Wheat prices up again this morning, futures -- corn futures as well, that's on top of the 9 percent rise we saw in wheat futures on Wednesday, all of that, of course, heading in the wrong direction when it comes to fighting food insecurity around the world.

But I wanted to show you, because when we see the ports in the overnight strikes coming into Thursday, they hit civilian areas coming under fire with 90 missiles launched on Ukraine's air force only managed to shake down five of them.

We have footage coming out of Mykolaiv which shows that residential building on fire, 19 reported to be injured there. The regional chief saying fatalities as well but we do not have more information on that.

And in Odesa, the region of Odesa itself now eight people confirmed injured in one death confirmed there by the regional chief, Christine. So this was another very destructive night.

ROMANS: Dangerous and terrifying I'm sure for people there.

OK, Clare, thank you so much for that.

Testimony from two IRS whistleblowers about the Hunter Biden criminal probe, reigniting Republican claims of politicization of the Justice Department.


At a House Oversight Committee hearing, one veteran IRS special agent publicly identified themselves for the first time as Joseph Ziegler. He and his boss, fellow whistleblower Gary Shapley, testified that IRS investigators recommended charging Hunter Biden with far more serious crimes than those in the plea deal the DOJ worked out with the president's son.


JOSEPH ZIEGLER, IRS SPECIAL AGENT, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION DIVISION: It appeared to me based on what I experienced, that the U.S. attorney in Delaware in our investigation was constantly hamstrung, limited and marginalized by DOJ officials, as well as other U.S. attorneys.

GARY SHAPLEY, IRS SPECIAL AGENT, OVERSAW PARTS OF THE HUNTER BIDEN PROBE: I watched United States attorney Weiss tell a roomful of senior FBI and IRS senior leaders on October 7th, 2022, that he was not the deciding person on whether charges were filed. That was my red line. I'd already seen a pattern of preferential treatment and obstruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Hunter Biden's lawyers have said the whistleblowers are, quote, disgruntled agents with an ax to grind.

All right. Just ahead, the wife of an accused serial killer New York now taking legal action of her own.

Plus, violent unrest in Kenya. Protesters there refused to give up.

But first, the case against Donald Trump. Do customers know something his defense team does not?



ROMANS: All right. The grand jury in the special counsel's election interference investigation is expected to meet today. This comes as Trump team scrambles to learn if there's more to the investigation than they know, with a reported possible charges suggesting a bigger case than they may have expected.

Let's bring in Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney.

Always nice to see you bright and early in the morning, Joey.

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

ROMANS: OK. So, with the grand jury expected to meet today, what happens next?

JACKSON: Yes. So, there's a lot that will happen. So, a grand jury just to be clear consists of 23 members. And those 23 people are not there to decide guilt or innocence. They don't do that.

They have to decide two things, and that is, was a crime committed, or is there reasonable cause to believe a crime was committed, and that the subject of the proceeding were looking at if Donald Trump commit that. And so, the bars are pretty low in the grand jury to make that decision, and upon doing that, it's not even unanimous, right? Only 12 of 23 have to reach an accord as to whether it happens.

And so, what grand jurors do is they generally indict people. They are an armed of the prosecutor. The prosecutor presents evidence and information. And after that evidence and information in a form of witnesses, in a form of documents, in a form of surveillance, in the form of anything else, then prosecutors then ask, Christine, that grand jury to vote out an indictment.

So, what happens next is more process, meaning more information presented to the grand jury until ultimately they're confronted, that is the grand jury, with the specific charge prosecutors want to bring. And then they are asked to vote on those charges. I think based upon the target letter, of course, that Mr. Trump received, I think an indictment certainly should be forthcoming and would be forthcoming soon. ROMANS: Yeah, Joey, listen to Republican presidential candidate and

former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Chris Christie, with Wolf Blitzer yesterday.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to see the indictment first. The key to what evidence he really has, and what the bases of all this will be contained in that indictment. I never sent a target letter if I was not completely sure that I had put enough in front of the grand jury for them to return an indictment.


ROMANS: Yeah. So, he's saying, safe to say, an indictment is coming.

JACKSON: Yeah, and I think that's right. And remember what his job was prior to being governor of New Jersey. He was a prosecutor for a long time and a very effective one.

And so, I think if you're sending the target letter, and just to be clear, that's simply a letter as we look there at the special counsel interference investigation, all of that includes. But the target letter certainly the essence of it, is informing the person who is the subject of the proceeding that, hey, you know, we have evidence that you may have committed crimes, and these are the various statutes we think you committed crimes on and we invite you, right, the subject of -- the target here being Mr. Trump to come testify before the grand jury.

We defense attorneys never like to do that, because of course anything you say can and will be used against you. So, we generally don't know the grandeur. But you have an invitation to come and I -- certainly Trump will declined that invitation, and the grand jury will then proceed to issue an indictment I think pretty soon.

ROMANS: You know, Joey, according to multiple sources, Trump's team is trying to figure out if there's evidence and witnesses and that they are unaware of in the investigation into those efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

How do you think lawyers are preparing? What are they watching here?

JACKSON: Yeah, so there's a lot to be watched, but no matter what you watched, no matter what you stressed about, no matter what you're anxious about, the reality is, is that until you are indicted, you don't know. You don't know what you don't know.

And so, what ends up happening, Christine, is there's a process called discovery. That process consists of eventually after your client is indicted, the indictment itself is Chris Christie was alluding to, and that will delineate specific charges that you're facing and will delineate the evidence there, right? And that's what the legal team is waiting for that indictment and then much more than that, what ends up happening is that you are entitled to everything that the prosecutors have relied on, what reports, what documents, what emails, what text messages, what witnesses, what type of investigation.

So, eventually, you receive everything but right now, you're just shooting in the dark --


JACKSON: -- because you could presume, you could assume, you could suppose, but until you get in your hands, you are just not clear.

ROMANS: Yeah, that's what Christie was saying, until I see that, and I want to see that indictment, I want to see what's in there.

All right. Joey Jackson, thank you so much, lot of legal developments in the president's team to continue to cover. Thank you.

All right, a lawyer for the wife of the suspected New York serial killer tells CNN that she filed for divorce. Rex Heuermann was already charged in the murders of three young women and could be linked to a fourth.


CNN's Jean Casarez has the latest developments in this case.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the investigation into the Gilgo Beach serial killing suspect continues, more people coming forward to talk about their interactions with Rex Heuermann.

NIKKIE BRASS, CLAIMS SHE MET HEUERMANN IN 2015: I had a really, really bad feeling, like, my gut was like, telling me I needed to get away from him.

CASAREZ: Nikkie Brass telling "Good Morning America" Heuermann solicited her online in 2015 when she worked as an escort and that he talked about the Gilgo Beach murders.

BRASS: When he talked about it, he would, like, speak in a "they" and hypothetical. But he had this, like, smile on his face. I mean, it made me really uneasy. And, like, he had this glossed over look in his eye.

CASAREZ: The investigation now spans the country. Authorities in South Carolina searching property owned by Heuermann for any evidence to link the 59-year-old architect to the murder of three young women in New York in 2009 and 2010.

Sources tell CNN a Chevy Avalanche was seized from the property and is being combed for evidence.


CASAREZ: Those living next to the property were stunned.

CASTON: We have an adjoining property to a serial killer, which is, like, I never put that on my bucket list.

CASAREZ: And over 2,000 miles away in Las Vegas, law enforcement officials tell CNN they are looking at cold case homicides to see if there could be any links.

According to property records obtained by CNN, Heuermann and his wife purchased two timeshare condos in Las Vegas in 2003 and 2005. On Long Island where Heuermann lived, crime scene investigators continue to collect and process potential evidence from inside his home and his nearby storage unit.

Also searching for possible connections, the remains of eight other people found along that beach.

SHERIFF ERROL D. TOULON, JR., SUFFOLK COUNTY: Does it tie into any other victims, any other victims that we may not even know where the bodies are, you know, people who may have been reported missing?

CASAREZ: Heuermann remains in jail on a routine COVID restriction protocols and suicide watch. Law enforcement tells CNN he isn't talking and has had no visitors.

Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

The Justice Department is looking into the treatment of migrants at the Texas border after reports of state troopers pushing them back to the Rio Grande and denying them water under extreme heat under Governor Abbott's policies.

New Hampshire Republican Governor Chris Sununu says he will not seek reelection for a fifth term, leaving open a critical gubernatorial seat in the swing state ahead of the 2024 elections.

One winning ticket matching all six numbers in last night's Powerball drawing sold in California. The jackpot is worth an estimated $1.08 billion.

All right. Coming up, new details about how U.S. soldier fled to North Korea. And violent clashes intensifying in Kenya.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This running battles between police using water cannons and tear gas and you men throwing rocks has been the order of the day.



[05:27:39] ROMANS: All right. We are learning new details this morning about how a U.S. soldier entered up in North Korea. Officials say Private Travis King texted his military handlers it was boarding a plane to the U.S., but then told airline staff his passport was missing. They allowed him to return to the departure area of Seoul airport.

The next day, he went on a tour of the demilitarized zone and sprinted across the demarcation line into North Korea.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us live from Hong Kong.

And, Kristie, you can see in that area here, he's on a tour, black shirt and cap. Just before witnesses say that he bolted across the border. We don't know why he didn't but what are you learning?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and that's what we are trying to figure out. U.S. officials are scrambling to piece together why. You know, why did Army Private Travis King cross into North Korea willfully and its authorization?

The White House says it is trying to figure his whereabouts, his condition as well, and the U.S. military has tried reaching out to North Korea but they have yet to receive a response. Now, King, as you can see there in that photograph, he was not uniform, and he was at the border, he was on a tour of the joint security area when he suddenly dashed across the border.

That photo was taken on Tuesday. Right before he broke away from the tour. He is right there in the bottom left and the black shirt, black and photos taken by another tourist who was there, a tourist from New Zealand. Her name, Sarah Leslie.

And she said an American soldier shouted "get him" as King ran across the border. She was shocked when he did it. That one point thought it was a stunt, a TikTok stunt.

We also learned what is happening to Travis during his time in South Korea. He spent 50 days in front of a detention facility doing hard labor for assault charges. He was released early last week on July 10th. He checked into an American airlines flight to Dallas on July 17th, but he did not board the plane, saying that he had a missing passport.

Of course, Christine, all this comes at a time of high tension on the Korean peninsula. Yesterday, North Korea fired more missiles to short range ballistic missiles, and that happened just after a nuclear capable U.S. submarine made its first report called the South Korean decades. So, we have a lot of open questions, and a lot of high tension at this moment.

Back to you.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right. Kristie Lu Stout for us following that story from Hong Kong. Thank you, Kristie.

STOUT: Thank you. ROMANS: All right.