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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Hunter Biden to Plead Guilty to Tax Charges; Marine Veteran Released By Russia in Prisoner Swap was Hurt While Fighting in Ukraine; UPS and Teamsters Reach Tentative Labor Deal; "A Lot of Evidence" Found in Gilgo Beach Suspect's Home; Two Pilots Die in Crash Fighting Greek Wildfires; 90M+ Under Heat Alerts in U.S. AS 5,200+ Records Shattered; Bronny James in Stable Condition After Cardiac Arrest. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2023 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, bizarre behind the scenes legal drama as Hunter Biden gets ready to appear in court.

Plus, the marine vet returned in a Russian prisoner swap injured while fighting in Ukraine. What does that mean for other Americans still held by Moscow?

And the Fed ready to raise rates after a brief pause, but how much is too much in the name of taming inflation?


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

The president's son, Hunter Biden, set to appear in court this morning to plead guilty to federal tax charges. His attorneys also liable to get an earful from the judge in this case who last night threatened them with sanctions for lying to the court clerk's office.

The judge in a written order accused a staffer for Hunter Biden's lawyers of misrepresenting herself as working for House Republican lawyers saying that they wanted a legal filing removed from the court docket. Hunter Biden's attorneys say it was all a, quote, completely unintentional miscommunication.

More now on today's court appearance by Hunter Biden from CNN's Sara Murray.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not the kind of history a first family hopes to make, but on Wednesday, President Joe Biden's son is set to walk into a federal courthouse and admit that he broke the law. Hunter Biden is expected to plead guilty in federal court in Delaware to two misdemeanor tax charges for not paying federal taxes on time in 2017 and 2018. During the course of the investigation, Hunter paid back the federal tax bill along with interest and penalties his lawyers have said.

Hunter Biden is also going to enter a deal with prosecutors to resolve a felony gun charge. Now, as part of this plea deal, prosecutors are expected to recommend probation, but the judge in this case will ultimately have the final say over accepting a plea deal as well as the sentence. And we expect her to set a date in Wednesday's hearing.

And, of course, all of this is happening as House Republicans are clamoring for more information about this investigation, some IRS whistleblowers who worked on the case claim there was political interference in the probe though the U.S. attorney overseeing the case, David Weiss, has already debunked some of those claims and says he is willing to come to the hill to testify in the coming months.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


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

A U.S. Marine veteran released in a prisoner swap was injured while fighting in Ukraine. Trevor Reed was wrongfully detained in Russia for nearly three years before his release. U.S. officials confirm he was hurt fighting in Ukraine but say Reed was not engaged in any activities on behalf of the U.S. government.

And Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that the fact Reed was fighting in Ukraine shouldn't have any effect on negotiations to free Paul Whelan and Evan Gershovich from wrongful detention in Russia.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Even with countries where we have profound differences, and almost by definition countries that are arbitrarily detaining are usually with profound differences, we've managed to find ways to bring Americans home.


ROMANS: CNN's Clare Sebastian is following this story for us from London.

And, Clare, what more do we know about Trevor Reed's story? We know he was transported to a hospital for treatment in Germany?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we know from U.S. officials speaking to CNN that he was first brought to Kyiv and then with the help of an NGO according to the State Department transferred from there to the Landstuhl medical facility which is next door to the Ramstein Air Base, an American air base in Germany.

That is really all we know about what happened in Ukraine. This is really the first we've heard that Trevor Reed had even traveled to Ukraine to engage in that fight. We don't know the severity of his injuries or how long he had been in Ukraine. We don't know where this happened.

So there is a lot more we're trying to find out this morning, but it is very striking considering that only 15 months ago he was freed from Russia detention in that very hard prisoner swap, the fact that he would do anything to potentially jeopardize that freedom is very striking. And obviously the question now and why you see the messaging around this for the U.S. is very delicate, they are saying that he had nothing to do with the U.S. in any official capacity, that they weren't involved in the evacuation, that it was an NGO.

This is because there are concerns a U.S. official has said about how this will impact negotiations around Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, two Americans still in Russian detention.

Obviously, Antony Blinken is saying that it shouldn't affect them, but there are worries that Russia may use it to exact a higher price and that they could even spin it to try and reinforce their rhetoric around the idea that they keep talking about, that the U.S. is somehow engaged or complicit in the war in Ukraine.


Interestingly, we don't have any no official comment yet from Russia. We've been closely monitoring the media. There's relatively little talk of this as of yet, perhaps because they're waiting for some signal from the Kremlin as to how to handle it -- Christine.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. Clare Sebastian, thank you.

A major disruption to the U.S. supply chain may have been averted. UPS and the Teamsters Union reaching a tentative deal on a contract potentially avoiding a huge strike.

CNN's Karin Caifa has the latest.


KARIN CAIFA, CNN REPORTER: If union workers sign off, this deal could deliver good news for more than 300,000 UPS workers, as well as the entire U.S. economy, especially the retail sector which is in the middle of a key stretch right now.

(voice-over): UPS and the Teamsters Union said they reached a tentative deal on a new contract for about 330,000 UPS employees who were prepared to walk out next week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is good. This is a start.

CAIFA: Those workers need to ratify the deal to avoid a work stoppage that would hit in the middle of the back-to-school shopping season which the National Retail Federation estimates will generate $41.5 billion in spending. NRF says supply chain crisis sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic prompted retailers to better anticipate disruptions. KATHERINE CULLEN, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: We're obviously in the middle of back to school. That product is on shelves and stocks are ready, heading in to holiday. We know retailers are already in a good place with inventory and thinking ahead.

CAIFA: And consumers adapted too, started shopping early to find deals to counter inflation and to get what they want.

CULLEN: There's a lot of tools out there. We know consumers have become adept at using them and retailers have certainly built in their own systems for communicating with their shoppers about what is available and when and how long it might take to get to them.

CAIFA: UPS handled an average of 20.8 million domestic packages a day last year. Anderson Economic Group estimated a 10-day UPS strike would cost the U.S. economy $7.1 billion.

ABE ESHKENAZI, ASSOCIATION FOR SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT CEO: While the Postal Service and FedEx and other delivery channels may pick up some of the slack, there aren't enough options available to the businesses and consumers alike today to replace the volume that UPS handles.


CAIFA (on camera): And the process of union workers signing off on that deal is expected to take a little bit more than three weeks. If a majority of workers vote no however, the strike is still a possibility, though that would take place in mid to late August rather than next week.

In Washington, I'm Karin Caifa.

ROMANS: All right. This morning, police say they finished searching the home of Gilgo Beach serial murder suspect Rex Heuermann, but officials say a huge effort to sift through the mountain of evidence collected there is just beginning.

CNN's Jean Casarez has more from Massapequa Park, New York.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A new look at the house that accused serial killer Rex Heuermann shared with his wife and children, as police wrap up their search of the home after 12 days.

RAYMOND A. TIERNEY, SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We won't know exactly what we have for quite some time because just given the sheer volume of evidence that was taken.

CASAREZ: The Suffolk County district attorney saying that the house was very cluttered and the work ahead is going to be an enormous undertaking.

TIERNEY: A 13-year-old cold case doesn't get solved in a matter of week or days. CASAREZ: The district attorney says investigators collected a massive

amount of items. Now they have to be cataloged and analyzed. And among other things, they are looking for DNA, to trace evidence, and hair.

The focus seems to be on evidence taken from inside the home despite sonar technology leading to an excavation behind the house.

TIERNEY: There was nothing of note taken from the backyard as far as remains.

CASAREZ: All this as new revelations about Heuermann, a New York architect, continue to come out. He is accused of killing three women and officials are looking into other victims as well.

Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to the charges but a hair and pickup artist Nikkie Brass said she went on a date with the suspect in 2015 and is positive he committed the crimes.

NIKKIE BRASS, WENT ON A DATE WITH GILGO BEACH SUSPECT IN 2015: I am convinced. I am 1,000 percent sure.

CASAREZ: She said the date was unremarkable at first.

BRASS: He seemed like your typical guy who was bored with his life, you know, and wanted some kind of excitement. You know what I mean? It didn't get weird until he asked me if I was a true crime fan.

CASAREZ: When Brass told him she was, she says he outright asked her if she was familiar with the Gilgo Beach murders.

BRASS: When he brought it up, his whole demeanor changed. He sat up straighter, you know, he had like a smirk on his face. He seemed almost like too excited to talk about it. And then once he did start talking about it, it didn't seem like a true crime fan who just knows information that they've seen on TV or read.


It seemed like something who was reliving it.

CASAREZ: From Massapequa Park, I'm Jean Casarez for CNN.


ROMANS: All right. To Greece now, wildfires raging there have turned deadly, killing three people including two firefighting pilots.

A warning, this video here is disturbing. The pilots were killed in the island of Evia when their Canadian airplane crashed after dropping a load of water. You can see the plane seems to roll over, plunge into the hillside and burst into flames.

Reporter Elinda Labropoulou is live in Athens, and just tragedy there.

We understand the Greek government is planning to honor the sacrifice of those two firefighting pilots, Linda. ELINDA LABROPOULOU, JOURNALIST: Yes, it did. The national defense

ministry has called for three days of mourning in order to honor these two firefighters that died yesterday. And obviously, the Greek public is shocked by this tragic incident after following the efforts of the firefighters for over a week now to try to put out these large blazes raging all over Greece.

The incident took place right behind me on the island of Evia. You can see it a bit in the background. It is very hazy here, so I'm not sure if you can see it because of the smoke, because of the really hot temperatures that we're having and the heat that is actually rising. But this is the closest point to where we are now to this island from greater Athens.

Now, fires continue to rage in Rhodes and Corfu. The situation there is not looking good. The island of Rhodes has now been placed under a state of emergency. And at the moment, winds are picking up all across Greece.

Just here where I'm standing now, as we speak, the wind is really picking up as Greece is about to experience its warmest day this summer yet with temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius. That is almost 115 Fahrenheit. And it is the peak of the long heatwave that the country has been having. But luckily as of tomorrow, we expect these temperatures to drop and hopefully this will give firefighters a bit of a breathing space, Christine, as well.

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

All right. Meantime in the U.S., more than 90 million Americans are under heat alerts this morning as heat-related deaths skyrocketed and the scorching temperatures shattered more than 5,200 records so far.

CNN's Stephanie Elam has more.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Excessive heat warnings from Nevada's Valley of Fire state park, now heading toward the Midwest.

DR. NICHOLAS SIMPSON, HENNEPIN EMS: We're certainly more attuned to looking for those signs of heat illness.

ELAM: All across the country, people are looking for ways to beat the heat.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really, really hot.

ELAM: Even more so in Phoenix, Arizona, where they were headed for a month straight of record-busting extreme 110-plus high temperatures, it never really cools off. Even nightly lows haven't fallen by 90 degrees here for more than two weeks. Shoes melting on sidewalks. The blistering heat sending people to cooling centers. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With these high temps, it's just hard to breathe.

ELAM: Temperatures are also searing in El Paso, Texas, where it's been at least 100 degrees for more than a month. In Miami, the heat index has been above 100 degrees for 45 days and counting.

This July is well on its way to becoming the hottest month in recorded history. In all, more than 45 million people are facing heat alerts across the West, the Plains, and south Florida.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That heat is going to all the way to the eastern half of the U.S. where New York is going to be 92, Atlanta 97 on Friday. In fact, over the next seven days, 85 percent and even more than that percent of the population of the U.S. will see high temperatures over 90.

ELAM: Nearly all of the Lower 48 states are facing heat waves. And so far this summer, more people are suspected to have died from heat- related causes in national parks than in an average entire year. And August, the deadliest month, is just around the corner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hot. This south Florida weather is no joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some days it's too overwhelming.

ELAM: Eighteen people have died from the heat this season in Maricopa County, Arizona. In Clark County, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, there's been at least 16 heat-related deaths so far this year, and the temperature is still rising.

And the heat is extending beyond our coast lines. The Florida Keys are facing an unprecedented heat wave with ocean temperatures up 100 degrees, now threatening coral reefs.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Las Vegas.


ROMANS: Coming up, the teenage son of LeBron James out of ICU after collapsing on a basketball court.

Plus, a possible new alibi for the man accused of killing four University of Idaho students.

And next, a judge threatening to sanction Hunter Biden's lawyers just hours before he is due in court. What's going on?



ROMANS: Never a dull moment with the president's son Hunter Biden. He will appear in court this morning right after some strange behind the scenes legal drama.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson.

Joey, good morning.

First, walk us through the charges against Hunter Biden and how this hearing will play out.

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, good morning to you, Christine.

So what happens is it is anticipated that Mr. Biden will walk into the court, son of the president, and he will plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges which give the indication that he willfully did not file taxes properly in 2017 and 2018. And, of course, there is a charge related to possession of a firearm while he was on a -- had a drug addiction. Certainly, you cannot do that under federal law.

Under the term of the agreement, it is anticipated had he will get no jail time for the misdemeanor charges and with the gun charges, he will enter into a diversion program.


What does that mean? It means that you participate in the program, you stay out of trouble, you do what's necessary, and there will be no felony prosecution. He will walk away clean as it relates to that charge.

So that's anticipated to occur today. Of course, that's the plea deal he reached with prosecutors, a federal judge still has to approve this. It's anticipated that the judge will do so.

ROMANS: Why do you think it took five years?

JACKSON: That is a very good question given what is happening today. I will tell you that there seems to have been pains taken by Merrick Garland to leave the U.S. attorney in place who of course is a Republican appointee, and Merrick Garland, of course, the Justice Department, he heads the Justice Department as we know, felt that there should be continuity, there should be no political taint, and we know that it is also a Republican judge as we look there at pictures of the president and his son.

So, why it took this extended period of time? No one knows. Perhaps they are dotting I's and crossing T's. But I think there was certainly a lot done to ensure at least for the public that this way in no way political, that Republicans were in control of this and as a result, they wanted to put the face on there that there was no influence by the White House at all. But, yes, five years, it is quite a time for what we see here.

ROMANS: Sure. Representative Jason Smith, a Missouri Republican, submitted materials to the judge Tuesday flagging recent claims from whistleblowers that the probe was tainted by political interference. Could the judge take that into consideration?

JACKSON: So, judges can take many things in consideration. I don't know that the judge will have an appetite to bring politics in here. You know, I think that there are various ways of looking at this. Some people, of course, Christine, will say, hey, he's getting a slap on the wrist, it is outrageous. And I think that that is certainly the Republican point of view.

The Democrat point of view and others point of view that this is somewhat typical, in fact some would argue because he is Hunter Biden is being treated more harshly. There are many people engage in tax cheating who end up in civil litigation, pay the government back, nothing to see here and there is no prosecution. That is not to say that tax cheats are not prosecuted. They are. But it certainly depends on the degree and nature of the tax cheating that they have done.

But there have been many at this level who haven't been and divergent programs are somewhat typical. So I think the judge are keep it on the merits and whether the plea deal is fair and appropriate and keeping what the justice system demands to ensure its integrity.

ROMANS: You know, that legal filing from Representative Smith was also the center of some drama, the judge threatened to sanction Hunter Biden's lawyers, accusing one member of the legal team of misrepresenting herself as working for House Republican lawyers. Hunter Biden's lawyer said it was a miscommunication. What -- how could any of that affect the plea deal?

JACKSON: So, it may not affect the plea deal and should not, but it certainly will affect whether or not any of that is true, right? In the event that you call the clerk or have any interaction with the court, you are an officer of the court as an attorney and you cannot engage in any misrepresentation.

Of course, the attorney is saying that never occurred, it was simply a miscommunication. I think the essence of it was the Republican filing by the Ways and Means Committee chair in amicus briefs saying, hey, this is too lenient and gave some personal tax information, right, and when you do that with courts, anyone if it is personal should be filed under seal so that the public does not get access to it.

And I think the nature of the communication was to try to get that out of there. What the attorney said, whether there was a misrepresentation I think the judge will want to know and if the attorney behaved badly, they could be sanctioned by the court, right?

That's a punishment to an attorney which no attorney likes to be sanctioned by a judge or anyone else. I think that that will be the focus of it, not so much affecting the plea deal or the essence of what goes down today in court relating to what Hunter Biden pleads to and whether the judge accepts it.

ROMANS: All right. Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst, always nice to see you. Thanks, Joey.


ROMANS: OK. We're learning more this morning about the condition of NBA star LeBron James' son who suffered a cardiac arrest during a college basketball practice at USC on Monday. Eighteen-year-old Bronny James is now in stable condition, according to his family.

CNN's Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Hall of Famer and his family rallying around their son tonight.

Bronny James, the 18-year-old son of NBA superstar LeBron James, is in stable condition and out of the ICU after suffering cardiac arrest Monday during a practice at USC where he's been slated to play this coming season. The James family in a statement saying they send their deepest thanks and appreciation to the USC medical and athletic staff for their incredible work and dedication for the safety of their athletes.

DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS EDITOR, THE NATION MAGAZINE: What happened to Bronny James is beyond shocking, partially because we've seen him grow up.

TODD: Bronny James has spent his entire life around his father and the NBA. Observers say LeBron James has been a devoted father, dedicated to torturing both his sons' basketball dreams.


CARI CHAMPION, HOST, "THE CARI CHAMPION SHOW": We see this GOAT of our time, this once-in-a-lifetime generation player coaching AAU basketball tournaments during his offseason. We've never seen it from the likes of a Michael Jordan or anyone else who has that same type of stature.

TODD: With only about a 20-year difference in age between them, LeBron James has talked openly, including to ESPN, about wanting to play on the same NBA team as Bronny if it can be arranged. Citing baseball stars Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr. who briefly played together for the Seattle Mariners in the early 1990s.

LEBRON JAMES, ALL-STAR FORWARD, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: I would love to do the whole Ken Griffey Senior/Junior thing. That's -- that would be ideal for sure. Being with him, spending a full year with him in the same uniform, that would be -- that would be the icing on the cake.

TODD: Could Bronny James' health emergency derail those plans?

BEN GOLLIVER, NATIONAL NBA WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: I expect that he is going to be putting the family bonds and Bronny's health before anything else at this point. You know, that being said, this isn't necessarily, as far as we know from the publicly available information, a career-ending situation.

TODD: It was just this past January that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin's heart stopped in the middle of a game after a collision. Hamlin was revived and is attempting to return to the NFL.

But similar cases have ended in tragedy. College basketball star Hank Gathers, who had a regular heartbeat, collapsed during a televised game in March 1990, stopped breathing on the court, and died. He was 23.

Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis died at age 27 after suffering a cardiac arrest during an offseason practice.

ZIRIN: Heart ailments reveal themselves in periods of physical stress. And the tragic odds are that this is going to be a part of sports in the future, just as it's been a part of sports in the past.


TODD (on camera): Analysts say the message to take from this is the importance of having trained medical staff with defibrillators and other equipment at the ready during practices as well as games. Those were critical factors in saving the lives of Bronny James, Damar Hamlin and also Danish soccer star Christian Eriksen who nearly died after suffering from cardiac arrest during a game at the European championships two years ago and now back playing with Manchester United of the English Premiere League.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. Quick hits across America now.

Voters in Ohio get to decide in November whether access to abortion should be in the state's constitution. Officials say they now have enough signatures to get an amendment on the ballot.

Accused killer Bryan Kohberger's lawyers have filed a new alibi defense for the night four University of Idaho students were murdered. They provided no evidence saying it will come out in due course.

A federal judge has blocked President Biden's controversial asylum policy disqualifying migrants if they cross illegally without first seeking refuge in another company. Later this morning, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas faces a hearing before House Republicans who look to impeach him over his handling of the U.S./Mexico border.

All right. Just ahead, a tense scene outside the U.S. embassy in Haiti.

And maybe the truth is out there. More on today's UFO hearing on Capitol Hill.