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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Russian Strikes in Odesa Hit Grain Warehouses; China-Based Hackers Breach U.S. Ambassador's Email; Gilgo Beach Murder Investigation Expands to Other States; RFK Jr. Grilled by Dems on Past Vaccine Comments; Third Indictment Looms As Deadline Passes for Donald Trump to Respond to January 6 Target Letter. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 21, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, Vladimir Putin's payback for Ukraine's attack on the Crimea bridge. Russia declaring open season now on the world's food supply.

Plus, the suspected serial killer accused of dumping bodies on the beach, detectives now say his home may be where the gruesome murders took place.

And the Donald Trump grand jury still hearing from witnesses. When could a vote take place on an indictment in the January 6 case?

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

We begin with air raid sirens in southern Ukraine.


ROMANS: Russian missile strikes near Odesa for the fourth night in a row. Ukrainian officials say the strikes destroyed grain warehouses containing tons of barley and peas.

CNN's Scott McLean is following these events for us from London.

So, Scott, a quieter morning now for Odesa, but more evidence that the Ukraine air defenses are struggling to keep up?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, that's right, Christine. It doesn't seem like anything was shot down by Ukrainian air defenses today. Yesterday, they managed to shoot down barely a quarter of the incoming fire. And the difficulty Ukrainians say is the type of missile that Russians are actually using. These are missiles that are normally meant to sink ships.

And because of the speed that they travel at and trajectory and altitude, they are extremely difficult, sometimes impossible to shoot down they say.

And today's strike on that grain silo is a perfect example of that as well. They say -- the Ukrainians say that it came in at such a low altitude that its air defenses didn't even detect it, sirens doesn't go off until basically that missile was actually striking its target.

Ukraine says that the patriot air defense system made by the United States could detect and could shot down these types of missile, but they only have two and they are not all that mobile and they're not easily moved. So that's why President Zelenskyy says frankly his country needs a lot more of them.


JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: They are using them appropriately, they are using them effectively and they are actually having an impact on Russia's defensive formations and Russia's defensive maneuvering. I think I can leave it at that.


MCLEAN: So, Christine, my apologies, that sound bite that you're hearing there from the White House official John Kirby is actually him talking about another big news item today and that is the fact that the Americans have confirmed that Ukraine is now using the cluster bombs that they have sent to them. And as you heard John Kirby say there, he says that they are being used appropriately, meaning we presume not in civilian areas and they're already being somewhat effective.

The Ukrainians had said previously that these could -- these types of weapons could radically change the battlefield. But, of course, they are also very controversial as well.

ROMANS: Clearly. All right. Scott McLean, another tough night in southern Ukraine. Thank you.

Federal authorities are investigating after the discovery that China- based hackers breached the email account of U.S. ambassador to China, Nicholas Burns. Three U.S. officials tell CNN the hack was part of a recent targeted intelligence gathering campaign that also included accessing emails of assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Microsoft says the breaches began in mid-May when hackers used a stolen sign-in key to burrow their way into those accounts.

All right. We're learning more about the Gilgo Beach murder investigation as detectives dig for evidence that could link to other cold cases in other states. Officials believe suspected serial killer Rex Heuermann's Long Island home is the crime scene for some of those killings.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has more.


SHERIFF ERROL D. TOULON JR., SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK: He's laying on his bunk. He's been extremely quiet, not really talkative to staff. BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Accused serial killer Rex Heuermann alone and under suicide watch behind bars as the investigation into his alleged killings expands.

ANTHONY CARTER, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK POLICE: I think in the coming days as we continue to gather evidence, anything's possible.

GINGRAS: His wife of more than 27 years now filing for divorce. In a statement, her attorney said: The sensitive nature of her husband's arrest is taking an emotional toll on the immediate and extended family.

COMMISSIONER RODNEY HARRISON, SUFFOLK COUNTY, NEW YORK POLICE: If you ask me, I don't believe that they knew about this double-life that Mr. Heuermann was living.

GINGRAS: A week after his arrest, the investigation spans three states.


Authorities are searching not only his Long Island home, but also his office and nearby storage facilities. Two Las Vegas condos he purchased and in South Carolina where he owns land.

Sources tell CNN there agents towed Heuermann's truck, which they say connects him to one of three murders he's charged with committing more than a decade ago. Authorities are combing through evidence.

HARRISON: So what we're looking for -- potential trophies, souvenirs, jewelry, anything that could be attached to the four women or other women that he might have been involved with.

GINGRAS: Several departments are also reviewing cold cases to see if Heuermann is connected. This, as more women are coming forward saying they too, were solicited by him.

NIKKI BRASS, FORMER SEX WORKER: I had a really, really bad feeling, like my gut was like telling me I needed to get away from him.

GINGRAS: Heuermann's phone logs and his DNA, police say, are smoking guns in a case that ran cold for years. Court paperwork describes how he used burner phones to taunt victims' families and researched this case as recently as last month.

HARRISON: It tells me that he was concerned, trying to take a look at, you know, where do we stand as a investigative team? Did we have someone that we may be possibly looking at it? I'm sure that would have probably scared him.

GINGRAS: The 59-year-old New York City architect has pleaded not guilty, but a friend of one of the victims believes police got it right.

CHRIS BIRD, KNEW VICTIM AMBER COSTELLO: It just makes me mad because he's such a big monster.

GINGRAS: Brynn Gingras, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: All right. The FBI and the White House sharply criticizing a move by Senator Chuck Grassley. The Iowa Republican releasing an internal FBI document with unverified claims from 2016 that President Biden and his son Hunter reportedly received bribes from the CEO of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Now, Grassley says he's able to release that document, it's called a form 1023, because of, quote, legally protected disclosure by Justice Department whistleblowers.

But the FBI says Grassley's release of this information, unverified information at a minimum risks the safety of confidential sources. And the White House sharply criticized Republicans for pushing long- debunked claims.

One of America's leading anti-vaxxers, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told a House committee Thursday he has never been anti-vaccine, racist or anti-Semitic despite ample evidence to the contrary. Republicans called Kennedy as part of their probe into alleged censorship against conservatives by big tech companies.

CNN's Brian Todd has more from Washington.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Democratic presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. today issued several questionable defenses of his own conspiratorial claims, claiming the Biden administration has been trying to silence him, telling a House panel this about his campaign against vaccines.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've never been anti-vaccine. Everybody in this room probably believes that I have been because that's the prevailing narrative.

TODD: An assertion that is false.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: This is one of America's most aggressive vocal, prominent anti-vaxxers and has been for years. I'm sure people have heard him for years asserting a link between childhood vaccination and autism, even though there is no such link.

And it doesn't even stop there. He has in recent public remarks claimed that the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 was not a flu at all, but was caused by vaccine research. That is completely bonkers. That's a debunked Facebook-Instagram meme.

TODD: Kennedy has baselessly called COVID vaccines unsafe. Today, he made this claim.

KENNEDY: I have never told the public avoid vaccination.

TODD: But CNN fact checker, Daniel Dale points out he did claim in a 2021 podcast to have told people just that.

KENNEDY: I see somebody on a hiking trail with a -- carrying a little baby and I say to him, better not get him vaccinated.

TODD: Kennedy also said this today --

KENNEDY: In my entire life and why I'm under oath, in my entire life, I have never uttered a phrase that was either racist or anti- Semitic.

TODD: But it was just last week that a "New York Post" video showed Kennedy making this baseless claim.

KENNEDY: COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.

TODD: He denied that his comments suggested that the virus was targeted to spare Jews.

Then there was this exchange with Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Do you think it was just as hard to wear a mask during COVID as it was to hide under floorboards or false walls so you weren't murdered or dragged to a concentration camp?

KENNEDY: Of course not. That's ridiculous.

SCHULTZ: That's a comparison that you made.

KENNEDY: I did not make that comparison.

TODD: But he did seem to make that comparison last year.

KENNEDY: Even in Hitler's Germany, you could -- you could cross the Alps into Switzerland, you can hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.


It was possible.

Today, the mechanisms are being put in place, they will make it so none of us can run and none of us can hide.

TODD: Analysts say the Republicans on the House panel who invited him to testify see Kennedy as someone who can validate their claims about Democrats.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The idea that Democrats want to censor critics or that Democrats want to take away people's freedoms, vis-a-vis COVID or masking or vaccinations.

TODD: Analysts point out this is a far cry from the Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. of several years ago who was a credible and effective environmental lawyer, spending years spearheading a successful effort to clean up the Hudson River and founding an environmental group devoted to water protection plans that worked all around the world.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. The anticipation is building to learn if and when former President Trump will be indicted for a third time.

Plus, a deadly blast in the middle of a city street.

And thieves target the set of the new Beetlejuice movie. The props swiped, next.



ROMANS: All right. There are mixed signals in the air about the timing of a possible third indictment of Donald Trump. The target letter Trump received last week seems to indicate charges are imminent, but CNN has learned that special counsel Jack Smith is still scheduling witness interviews that will take at least a month to complete.

CNN's Paula Reid explains.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: As anticipation builds for a probable third Trump criminal indictment, CNN has learned the special counsel investigating January 6 is scheduled to speak to at least two additional witnesses over the next several weeks.

Now, the former president received the target letter this past weekend, he said he received it Sunday, but we know in the weeks preceding the sending of that letter, investigators were reaching out for several witnesses they had never spoken with before trying to set up interviews.

Now, some of those have already been completed like the interview with Rudy Giuliani, but other people couldn't get a date on the calendar until well into next month.

Now, they can still indict former President Trump before they finish all their interviews. In fact we saw that in Mar-a-Lago. They indicted Donald Trump and his co-defendant Walt Nauta and then investigators continued their work. They sent out one additional target letter as they continue to gather evidence in that probe.

But it is clear, even if former President Trump is indicted in the coming day, the special counsel's work is far from over.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: All right. Let's bring in Robert Sanders. He's a national security associate professor at the University of New Haven, also former military lawyer.

So nice to see you this Friday morning. You heard that from Paula, that report from Paula, the special counsel's office is expected to speak with more witnesses in the weeks ahead. Any advantages for prosecutors to wait until those are wrapped up before an indictment?

ROBERT SANDERS, NATIONAL SECURITY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAVEN: Well, you really like to have your full case in a box and ready to go on the day you begin trial, or at least on the days that you are set to begin trial.

If the prosecution hasn't quite gotten there, they might want to take a little bit of time to get there. Surprising? No, but this is unprecedented work. Donald Trump has become a judicial inveterate like in other. And by that, his presence in the courtroom like no other former president has ever been.

ROMANS: Yeah, it's just -- it is just unprecedented, you're right. We're also waiting for the trial date for the classified documents case. Trump also has to deal with the charges in New York with the alleged hush money payments. Now, you have this third potential indictment looming, all of this amid a presidential campaign.

You know, I wonder how the former president manages this. I mean, he's going to spending time in court.

SANDERS: That's a wonderful observation. How do you manage yourself when you have trials in New York, potentially Washington, D.C., Florida, potentially Georgia, and with the wind up looking at the false electors Arizona and Michigan.

ROMANS: Remarkable. And we're showing on our screen just the wide breadth of the former president's legal troubles right now. And we learned that federal prosecutors have asked for security footage from the Atlanta area stadium that served as a polling site. In addition, there's a state level election interference probe going on in Georgia.

Do you think one of these investigations affects the other?

SANDERS: Only to a certain extent. Some of the same players are involved in both cases. And -- but we try to think in broad terms that the feds would take precedence. But I think that the state prosecutions are further ahead.

ROMANS: I wonder, sir, if, you know, the president's defense for so many of these very different cases is that there is some sort of witch hunt against him. But when you look at the different behavior in each of the different five or six major investigations, what does it tell you?

SANDERS: Well, first, this is not 1692. This is not the Salem witch trials. The only substantive connection between those two is that the act of one man resulted in the deaths of multiple people. So what do we say to Donald Trump? Donald Trump, you need to focus on

the facts are. The facts are that multiple people said that you are a national threat to the United States of American, and, oh, by the way, you're an indicted felon, multiple impeached former president and civilly liable for sexual abuse. This is a man whose activities precede him in a way that is so negative that we've never seen anything like it our country.


ROMANS: Just fascinating to see the legal -- the wheels of the legal profession churning here for the next months, for sure.

Professor Robert Sanders, thank you so much.

All right. About 100 million Americans still face heat alerts today as suffocating triple digit temperatures are expected to drag across the south through the weekend. And nearly 94,000 customers are without power after storms in southeastern Georgia.

Let's go to meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Derek, this heat showing no signs of abating, at least not yet.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Christine, I don't like to sound like a broken record, but with this kind of heat dome in place across the southwest and entrenched firmly across the Gulf Coast states, the heat is not going anywhere anytime soon. A hundred million Americans compared to the past couple of days, 80 million, 90 million Americans, you can see that number continues to creep up as these advisories and alerts kind of move into more populated areas.

So this is very impactful. Even though L.A. is not included, just outside the mountainous regions, and the central valley of California is included with that excessive heat warning. And look at the alerts including from Texas, all the way to the Florida panhandle. By the way, Miami only your second time in history for a heat warning at the moment. So, something interesting, excessive heat warning I should say.

Here's a look at the temperatures. Incredible triple digit heat as Christine mentioned and Phoenix continues its record-breaking streak for the foreseeable future. Your extended outlook liking very spicy.

Now, look at this temperature map across the Deep South. This is what it feels like as you step outside. And that is indicative of what is going on in the oceans. Very warm, and that is impacting the real feel temperature, that heat index, what it feels line on your skin considering the heat and humidity. And the extended outlook liking much above for much of the lower 48.

Now, we've had a round of severe weather that we monitored overnight, here even in Georgia where the CNN headquarters is located, we had very strong winds, gusting over 50 miles per hour, 283 reports of wind across the United States, just within the past 24 hours. But I want to take note, a few thunderstorms that are forming across this region and there it is into Memphis, we have a flash flood warning, as we speak there, a chance of thunderstorms today, including Atlanta once again -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Derek, thank you so much. Everyone check on your elderly neighbors, please. Those real hot parts of the country.

All right. Quick hits across America now.

Miami-Dade police have arrested an 18-year-old mom after she confessed to putting a hit on her 3-year-old son. Jazmin Paez facing several charges including solicitation of murder.

Flames shooting into the area near Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport. Firefighters put out the fire at a propane business, as tanks exploded at the scene. They also had to deal with 168 degree heat.

Vermont state police investigating two thefts from a "Beetlejuice 2" film set after a lamp post with a pumpkin decoration was stolen. Three days later, this 150 pound abstract artwork was taken.

All right. Video of a brutal attack on two women triggers furious protests in India.

And wanted near Berlin, a lioness on the loose.



ROMANS: Shocking video has surfaced showing two terrified women in India forced to walk naked into a group men who have sexually assaulted them. The graphic footage comes from the northeastern state of Manipur amid ongoing ethnic violence. Angry protests have erupted, many blaming the police for taking no action until the video emerged last week.

CNN's Vedika Sud joins us live from New Delhi.

And, Vedika, this is a very difficult story and India has had a series of incidents like this in recent years, these dehumanizing attacks against women. What's the significance of this crime at this time?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: Well, it is significant for various number of reasons, Christine. Firstly, let me tell you why this is different in a way from the other crimes we've seen across the country. It's because there has been conflict between two communities in this northeastern state of Manipur for over two months. And women are bearing the brunt of it.

This video is a 26-second clip, and like you rightly point it out, we're not going to be showing it to our viewers. But in this clip, you see dozens of men, at least three dozens of men surrounding the two women here and sexually assaulting them, taking them into a field and then allegedly gang-raping them.

These women cry for help. They cover parts of their body but no one helps them. It's been 2-1/2 months, Christine, since this incident took place and that is the question the authorities in Manipur and here in New Delhi, the central government led by the Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi need to answer, why has it taken 2-1/2 months for action on the ground.

Only a handful of people have been arrested is what we're being told by the chief minster of Manipur, four. And in the video, you see at least three dozen men. Why has it taken more than 70 days, Christine, for them to hold these men accountable for brutalizing, for sexual assaulting these two women?

There are protests both inside parliament and outside demanding justice for these women, demanding an explanation on the crisis that is still being carried on from the Indian prime minister. The Indian prime minister did come out yesterday just ahead of the monsoon session of parliament. He made his first public statement after months-long crisis in Manipur where he said that he's pained and he's grieved by what happened to these two women.

Essentially, Christine, it's taken one video to go viral, a video of an incident back in May, to go viral for people to react, for politicians to react, for the establishment to take action.