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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Special Counsel Has New Documents from Giuliani Team; U.N. Agency Discover Mines at Ukraine Nuclear Plant; More Protests in Israel as Parliament Passes Controversial Law; DOJ Sues Texas Over Floating Barrier in Rio Grande; Special Counsel Asking Witnesses About 2020 Meeting Where Trump Praised U.S. Election Security. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 25, 2023 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, the Trump grand jury getting ready to meet, this time with new documents from Rudy Giuliani's team.


Plus, a dangerous discovery in Ukraine. Land mines at a nuclear power plant now occupied by the Russians.

And protestors in Israel refuse to quit even after the government stripped power from its Supreme Court.

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

The special counsel's grand jury investigating efforts to overturn the 2020 election meets today. We don't know what will happen except that it will be informed by a huge new trove of documents now in the hands of the special counsel. They detail many of the debunked conspiracies and false claims of widespread voter fraud peddled by former lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

CNN's Paula Reid has more.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Special counsel Jack Smith is now in possession of thousands of documents that were created by Rudy Giuliani's team in the days and weeks following the 2020 election. This team was tasked with trying to find some evidence of fraud.

Now, one of the people on this team is the former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik. He is a close associate of Rudy Giuliani and he has been in possession of a lot of these documents, the January 6 committee was trying to get all these materials, but he would not hand them over. Even though he is not a lawyer, he claimed that he was working for the legal team and therefore they were privileged.

But in recent weeks, the special counsel investigators have reached out to Kerik to schedule an interview and also to collect evidence. And after they reached out, Kerik went to the Trump campaign, had them review the materials and Trump campaign we're told said, look, they were not going to argue privilege over this, which suggests that they believe there is not anything too incriminating in these documents.

But now that the special counsel investigators have these, this is something that no other investigator has been able to obtain. So this is the first time we'll be able to see the materials and it could be some key evidence in their ongoing investigation. Now, Kerik has also scheduled an interview for early August where he will sit down with investigators and face questions, some of which they have likely already written and there will be new ones based on the documents he has just handed over.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. Paula, thank you for that.

Experts from the atomic energy agency now confirming claims by Ukraine that personnel mines have been placed at the Zaporizhzhia power plant.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is following the story for us from London.

And, Salma, Ukraine has been urging the West to pressure Russia to pull its military out of that nuclear power plant. The discovery of these mines have changed the situation at all?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very unlikely that it does, but, of course, it's alarming, and it ramps up the stakes around a power plant that sits quite literally on those frontlines, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, a site of contention now for months. The IAEA confirming what Ukraine had claimed for sometime now, which is that there are anti-personnel mines in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. The IAEA saying that they are clearly marked, that they are in restricted zones and they are facing away from the staff, from the employees who run that nuclear power plant.

But, of course, the IAEA describing it as contrary to its standards. It might seem like rather muted language, but you have to remember throughout the conflict, the IAEA chief, Rafael Grossi, has had a very difficult task. He's had to negotiate between Russia and Ukraine in an attempt to try to create a secure zone, a safe zone around the power plant. That has not happened.

Yet, there are, of course, IAEA officials on site who continue to maintain the situation there. But this is a place again where power has been cut off at times due to shelling, shutting down those nuclear reactors where very much a flash point has occurred time and time again. So we're not speaking about an immediate threat right now with this nuclear power plant, but we are talking about the stakes just getting that much higher, when we're talking again about the safety of a nuclear site.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

All right. Salma, thank you so much for that.

To Israel now, demonstrations have eased somewhat against the government's judicial overhaul plan, but it doesn't mean the protestors have given up. Last night, demonstrators blocked the Begin highway. For the first time, police used foul smelling so-called skunk water against those protesters.

Reporter Elliott Gotkine is live in Tel Aviv for us.

And, Elliott, the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he made a televised address to the nation last night trying to calm the protests, but also blamed the opposition for refusing to compromise.

How is that being received?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Not particularly well. I suppose as well as you would have expected given any attempts at compromise being broken by President Isaac Herzog ahead of the speech fell short and the opposition blames the government, the government blames the opposition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition allies saying what they have done is specifically democratic because they won the elections and therefore they are carrying out the will of the people.


The opposition says otherwise. But any olive branches that Netanyahu was purportedly showing to the opposition to discuss attempt to discuss and negotiate any other plans for judicial overhaul were met with a swift rejection by the opposition leader Yair Lapid. He was saying that it's an empty show in his words, and said that Netanyahu was simply beholden to the extremist elements in his party.

Now, there is, as you say, a bit of a lull, a bit of a (INAUDIBLE) after the day of high drama on Monday. The next real battle probably will be at the Supreme Court itself because it's already received a number of petitions from various groups, including other parties but also NGOs and the like calling for the Supreme Court to in the very least delay implementation of this reasonableness bill with the hope of actually getting it scrapped.

And you have this kind of ironic situation now where the Supreme Court has effectively been asked to block a law that it designed to prevent the Supreme Court from blocking certain decisions an appointments. So we could be heading for some kind of a constitutional showdown, but that is probably where the next battle is likely to be fought out, Christine.

ROMANS: OK. Elliott Gotkine for us, thank you so much for that.

And the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Texas and its Governor Greg Abbott after he refused to remove this floating barrier in the Rio Grand River. The DOJ says Texas is violating federal law. The showdown comes in the midst of increasing scrutiny on the state's treatment of migrants as they try to cross the river into the U.S.

CNN's Rosa Flores has more.


MAGALI URBINA, TEXAS LANDOWNER: We are at the south end of our property, driving along the river.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Magali Urbina owns a pecan orchard in Eagle Pass, Texas, and says her river front property used to be beautiful.

URBINA: My husband and I would come out fishing in this area. It's really pretty.

FLORES: But she says the state of Texas installed concertina wire blocking her access to her own property by barricading the gates with metal and piles of dirt.

URBINA: Now it just looks like a war zone.

FLORES: Historically, it's been a popular migrant crossing because the water levels of the Rio Grande are low. And most recently, Texas deployed a floating border barrier without obtaining permits from the federal government, says the State Department. The buoys are 4 feet in diameter and anchored to the bottom of the Rio Grande.

URBINA: It surprised me that they're just did in front of my property.

FLORES: Her property is in the Del Rio border patrol sector, the busiest sector on the southern border last month with more than 24,000 migrant crossings. After Mexico's top diplomat complained about the buoys violating two treaties and more than 80 U.S. Democratic lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to take legal action against Texas.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): It's barbaric treatment. It's extreme cruelty.

FLORES: The Justice Department did just that.

Did they deny you water?

This as two pregnant migrants who did not wish to show their faces tell CNN they were initially denied water by Texas National Guard members as they tried to turn themselves into U.S. immigration authorities.

She says that the Texas National Guard at first denied her water, and then afterwards, they did give them water, but it was one bottle of water for two to three people.

Law enforcement in airboats circled them, knocking them over after showing them handcuffs for requesting water, the other migrants said. The Texas National Guard did not respond to CNN's request for comment. These accounts come after a Texas DPS trooper blew the whistle last week, saying Texas had been treating migrants inhumanely when troopers were ordered to push migrants back into the river and deny them water. Texas DPS now saying the trooper misunderstood orders.

LT. CHRIS OLIVAREZ, TEXAS DEPT., PUBLIC SAFETY: If a member from one of our leadership or a supervisor tells a trooper to push back migrants, what that means is to verbally tell them, go to a port of entry.

FLORES: The billions of dollars Texas is spending to stop illegal immigration clearly not stopping the migration flow.

URBINA: I have seen people died from heat stroke on the property.

FLORES: Urbina worries that while the U.S. DOJ and Texas duke it out in court --

URBINA: It's very frustrating.

FLORES: -- migrants and property owners are caught in the middle.

Rosa Flores, CNN, Eagle Pass, Texas.


ROMANS: All right. An Alabama woman who lied about being kidnapped could now face charges.

Plus, an infant is rescued from a hot car in Texas.

And special counsel Jack Smith drills down on one Trump meeting in the Oval Office. Details coming up.



ROMANS: Special counsel Jack Smith's team is interviewing witnesses about a particular Oval Office meeting with then President Trump said at this 2020 meeting may shed light on his beliefs at the time about the true likelihood of election fraud.

CNN's Sean Lyngaas has more.


SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Special counsel Jack Smith's office has asked multiple U.S. officials about a February 2020 election security briefing in which U.S. officials told President Trump about the ways in which they are preparing to secure the 2020 election.

The special counsel's office appears to be interested in the mindset that President Trump had at the time of the briefing when he received factual information about differing ways that the election would be secured. Trump, according to our sources, even suggested that DHS and FBI hold the press conference to tout the election security work that his administration had done.

This is a stark contrast to Trump's public rhetoric just weeks later when he questioned validity of the elections and integrity of allegations.

I'm Sean Lyngaas.


ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Sean.

Let's bring in criminal defense attorney Lexie Rigden.

So nice to see you this morning, Lexie.

What do make of the special counsel --


ROMANS: That particular meeting in February of 2020 when the president was presented with factual information about all the ways that they were going to have a secure election, he even wanted to sort of tout that to the media about how his administration was doing such a great job on election security. What do you make of the special counsel zeroing in on that meeting?

RIGDEN: Well, it just shows how sweeping this investigation is, that they are essentially leaving no stone unturned, the fact that they are looking in to a meeting that had occurred nearly a year prior to the January 6, 2021 incident.


And so this has been a very thorough investigation and what's interesting is that as this continues to come out, the conventional wisdom is that because Trump got the target letter pretty recently, that there's an indictment that to be soon forthcoming.

But this shows that they are continuing the investigation and even if they do end up indicting him this week, which seems to be the expectation, their investigation seems to be far from over because they are still gathering additional information.

ROMANS: If you are Trump's defense team here, couldn't you argue that Trump's views on election security changed over time? February 2020 is a lot different, you know, than November 2020. And people change their minds all the time.

RIGDEN: That's exactly right. And if you were defending him, I'd say not only did his opinion change, and obviously his opinion has long changed prior to November 2020. He started saying in I think April of 2020, only a couple months after this meeting, that he was questioning the security of the elections and the mail-in ballots.

So that is exactly what I would say if I was on his team, that I was allowed to change my mind and I did so far in advance of the election.

ROMANS: You know, Lexie, we've also learned that the special counsel team has received thousands of documents from Rudy Giuliani's ally, the former NYPD police commissioner Bernie Kerik, in their unfounded allegations of fraud in the 2020 election. Tell me what this means, the timing of this, how it indicates maybe the status of the investigation.

RIGDEN: Well, like I said, I -- the conventional wisdom is that he will be indicted soon because he received that target letter and had a four-day window to appear. And that was last week. And so people have been saying that the expectation was that he was going to be indicted either last week or this week.

But potentially, it could mean, and we obviously don't know the intricacies of the investigation, but it could mean that they are not as close to indicting him as we believe. So, it remains to be seen. Expect the unexpected in anything that has to do with the Trump indictments.

ROMANS: And there are multiple investigations going on right now. And I'm wondering, could the evidence being gathered by the special counsel's office be used in possible state level cases like the Georgia election interference investigation?

RIGDEN: That's definitely a possibility and that seems like to be the next thing that is going to be coming up where he is potentially indicted for alleged election interference in Georgia. And so, these entities may also be working together and I believe that the Bernie Kerik documents which were originally claimed to be privileged and not provided to the January 6 committee actually came out in the context of a Georgia lawsuit with some election workers. And then there was ultimately no objection to them being turned over at this point.

So they are likely sharing any information that they can get their hands on.

ROMANS: All right. Lexie Rigden, so nice to see you this morning. Thank you very much.

RIGDEN: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Newly released the 911 audio recordings show the unarmed Black man who was attacked by a police K-9 in Ohio, the truck driver was trying to pull over but was scared to do so. According to recordings, the truck driver told the dispatcher he didn't know why he was being pulled over.

CNN's Isabel Rosales reports.


JADARRIUS ROSE, UNARMED BLACK MAN: I was about to comply with them, but they all had they guns drawn out for whatever reason.

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A newly released 911 call made by a semi-truck driver during a lengthy police chase reveals why he wouldn't exit the vehicle.

ROSE: I don't know why they trying to kill me.

DISPATCHER: They're not trying to kill you.

ROSE: Yes, they are. They're throwing stuff on the ground trying to explode the tires.

ROSALES: Officers attempted to stop 23-year-old Jadarrius Rose in a commercial semi-truck on July 4th because of a missing mud flap, according to a case report by the Ohio state highway patrol.

ROSE: It's like 20 police cars behind me and I don't feel safe.

ROSALES: The video shows Rose did initially pull over but didn't get out of the truck, and instead continued back onto the highway, with multiple law enforcement cars seen joining the chase.

Eventually, Rose pulls over and exits the truck, surrounded by multiple officers. And a Circleville police K-9 unit that stops to assist. You can hear contradictory verbal commands from the officers.


POLICE OFFICER: On the ground. You're going to get bit.

ROSALES: A trooper can also be heard instructing the K-9 officer.

POLICE OFFICER: Do not release the dog with his hands up. Do not release the dog with his hands up.

ROSALES: Despite repeated warnings from the state trooper, the dog is released, and runs toward the officers before turning to Rose and attacking him. It's not clear if the K-9 officer could hear the warning.

POLICE OFFICER: Get the dog off of him!

ROSE: Get it off! Get it off! Get it off!

ROSALES: Rose cries out as officers are yelling for a first aid kit. And he's later seen being treated by the officers. Rose was taken to the hospital and then released back to police. The Circleville Police Department and mayor confirmed in a statement that a use of force review board was convened immediately and is reviewing the incident.


Rose's attorney declined to comment to CNN.

But Nana Watson, president of the NAACP's Columbus branch, calls the Circleville K-9 officer's behavior, quote, barbaric.

NANA WATSON, PRESIDENT OF COLUMBUS, OHIO NAACP BRANCH: Those young people that, perhaps, don't understand the meaning of a dog being unleashed on a Black person, it is history. This country watched as Bull Connor unleashed dogs and hoses on Black people because they were marching for their rights in this country.


ROSALES (on camera): The Ross County prosecutors office tells CNN that Rose was released from custody on July 7, that is three days after his arrest. And that office right now is still working to gather evidence and to determine whether to move forward on a charge against Rose. That charge would be failure to comply with an order or signal by a police officer. That's a felony.

Isabel Rosales, CNN, Circleville, Ohio.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now. Crews in Scott County, Missouri, are cleaning up after a suspected tornado destroyed a home, several silos and a shed. That's according to CNN affiliate KFVS. No injuries were reported.

Alabama woman, Carlee Russell, who went missing for 49 hours after making a 911 call about a toddler on the interstate says she's sorry she lied about it all. That's according to her attorney. Police say she could face charges.

A baby in south Texas is rescued from a sweltering car after the parents accidentally locked their keys inside the vehicle. Police say the infant is doing fine. No charges were filed.

Just ahead, CNN speaks to Russian prisoners recruited for the war on Ukraine.

And Iran's culture minister bans an annual film festival. We'll tell you why.



ROMANS: At least 15,000 Russian recruits were believed to be sent to the Ukrainian front and their fatality rate is staggering.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has obtained rare and exclusive Names have been changed for their safety.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia is often cruelest to its own. The bleakest fate, prisoners recruited by the ministry of defense basically as cannon fodder. These so-called Storm-Z battalions surrendering here, have death rates hard to fathom.

Here are two rare stories. One of them incredible survival, and another of a young and quick death, told to CNN a great risk from inside Russia.

Ex-con Sergiy (ph) barely made it back, now he works two jobs and can't sleep because his ears still ring form shell shock. We first talked when he's been shot for the second time. But he was

still sent back injured. From 600 prisoners recruited with him in October, he says only 170 are alive, and only two of them without injury. Sent again and again in waves to attack Ukrainian positions.

RUSSIAN CONVICT (through translator): I remember most clearly the last of the nine concussions I had. We attacked. RPGs, drones flew at us, our commander yells on the radio, I don't care, go ahead, don't come back until you take this position.

Two of us found a small hole and dived in there. A drone threw a grenade at us and it landed in the 30 centimeter gap between us, my friend was covered with shrapnel all over. Yet, I was untouched somehow. But I lost my sight for five hours.

WALSH: He only stayed in hospital that time and got home as doctors made him an orderly. He has nightmares that he is told to be first out of the trench again. But daily life in the trench was a nightmare, too, of frostbite, hunger and thirst.

RUSSIAN CONVICT (through translator): Sometimes we didn't eat for several days. We didn't drink for several days. It was a four- kilometer walk to water. And thank God it was winter. We were drinking the snow.

WALSH (translated): If a person didn't want to fight, what happened?

RUSSIAN CONVICT (through translator): Sometimes the commander reset people. He zeroed them out, killed them. I only saw it once, a fight with a man who stole and killed his own people.

I didn't see who of the four people around him shot. But when he tried to escape, a bullet hit him in the back of the head. I saw the head wound. They carried him away.

WALSH: For some, it never got that far. Andriy (ph) was 20 when he was jailed on drug offenses, and 23 when he was sent from prison to the front. This training was fleeting. His mother Yulia said he had yet to grow into a man still kidding about.

RUSSIAN CONVICT (translated): Really, it's a sea, sun and sand here, sunburn, then the wind chaps your face, and (EXPLETIVE DELETED), it rains.

WALSH: Like with many prison recruits, he just disappeared. But it was on May the 9th, victory day in Russia, when presidential pomp in Moscow marked the Nazis' defeat. Andriy called her the night before to say his unit would attack at dawn.

MOTHER OF RUSSIAN PRISONER (translated): We were arguing. It is horrible to say, but I already thought of him like he was dead. He left knowing everything. Every day I told him no, no, no.

And he didn't listen to me. When he said, "We're going to storm," I wrote him, "Run, forest, run". WALSH: We think these ruins are near where he died, up to 60 others,

Yulia heard, died in the same assault that day. Yulia got nothing, no body, just a letter from the military saying Andriy had died the very day he left jail.