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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

36 Killed in Wildfires Raging in Hawaii; Presidential Candidate Shot & Killed in Ecuador; Atlanta-Area DA Expected to Seek 12+ Indictments; U.S. Sets New Rules on High-Tech Investments in China; American Nurse Freed After Abduction 2 Weeks Ago; West Ukraine Hit By Huge Drone Attack, Oil Depot Hit; Man Who Allegedly Threatened Biden Killed By FBI Agents. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 10, 2023 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to EARLY START, everyone, here on CNN. I'm Rahel Solomon. Good to be with you this morning.

We begin with breaking news right now. The deadly wildfires devastating the Hawaiian island of Maui, it's now killed at least 36 people. The bodies discovered in the ruins of the raging inferno.

Officials held a news conference, just a short time ago.


MAJOR GEN. KENNETH S. HARA, ADJUTANT GENERAL, HAWAII STATE DEPT. OF DEFENSE: The primary focus is to save lives and to prevent human suffering and to mitigate great property loss. So that is exactly what counties were and have been doing and are doing.

What we do anticipate is additional request we're already providing support for trying to get the communications back up, water distribution. We're hearing that Maui may need additional law enforcement support. So, that may be both for federal law enforcement and state law enforcement working through that.

LT. GOV. SYLVIA LUKE, HAWAII: The damage to the infrastructure is not just buildings. I mean, these were small businesses that invested in Maui. These are local residents and we need to figure out a way to help a lot of people in the next several years. School has destroyed many of the businesses, our church was destroyed. It is going to take years.


SOLOMON: And the devastation was most serious in the town of Lahaina. That is a tourist and economic hub with 9,000 residents. It is now largely destroyed. Survivors say that the flames driven by winds of Hurricane Dora spread with just astonishing speed.

CNN's Veronica Miracle is now on the ground in Maui and has more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIARE LAWRENCE, LAHAINA RESIDENT: It's like an apocalypse. People are basically running for their lives

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Horror stories from what should be paradise. Tiare Lawrence and her cousin say they fled their home in Lahaina on Maui, saving their grandfather and their grandmother's ashes.

LAWRENCE: I still don't know where my little brother is. I don't know where my stepdad is. Everyone I know in Lahaina, their homes have been burned down.

MIRACLE: Her cousin says their family home burned down in front of them. The flames coming so fast they had only minutes to act.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw this smoke start about a block away from our house and this was maybe 3:30, four o'clock. By 5:30, our house was gone. Everything that we had ever known is gone. Our church, our schools -- every single memory that we had in our household, everything was gone in the blink of an eye.

MIRACLE: This is how Lahaina should look, a charming Hawaiian town rich in history and tourism.

ALAN DICKER, LAHAINA RESIDENT: Front Street exploded in flame.

MIRACLE: But this is how Alan Dicker found it this morning.

DICKER: When I went -- after I started to evacuate, I went back to just check to see if the house was on fire or not. It wasn't, but I was standing at the street looking at my house and I couldn't see my whole house because of the smoke.

MIRACLE: Dicker rushed from his home to Front Street where he's had a gallery for 23 years.

DICKER: And as I began walking that way, there's a historic building on Front Street in Dickinson, the old Baldwin house. The roof was on fire and I started taking a video of it because I was amazed that there were no fire trucks there.

MIRACLE: Roughly 500 miles to the south, Hurricane Dora is helping fan the strong winds over the islands with gusts up to 80 miles per hour, knocking out cell towers and 911 service.

LUKE: Our hospital system on Maui, they are overburdened with burn patients. People suffering from inhalation. The reality is that we need to fly people out of Maui to give them burn support.

MIRACLE: Claire Kent says she barely escaped her burning home, but fears not all of her neighbors did.

CLAIRE KENT, LAHAINA RESIDENT: I know for a fact people didn't get out. When we were pulling away, there's quite a few homeless people in the area and people who are just not able -- they don't have access to vehicles.

MIRACLE: Other victims jumped into the ocean to escape the flames. The Coast Guard says it rescued 12 people from the waters off Lahaina, survivors thankful to be alive even as their hometown and its history has changed forever.

LAWRENCE: It's like shooting out of the movie like I don't wish this on anyone. Just please pray for Lahaina.


SOLOMON: And the devastation on Maui, and perhaps the high-death toll has been the high winds across Hawaii.

I want to bring in meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She joins us live from the CNN Weather Center.

Jennifer, you know, we just heard our correspondent, Veronica Miracle, there talk about the high winds from Hurricane Dora.


Explain to us the connection in what's happening on the ground. And how those high winds could be complicating and worsening these wildfires?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right, so it was definitely the high winds that attributed to the spread of these wildfires. It's a very rare, unfortunate, perfect scenario if you will that setup around Maui, with two different systems that influenced those winds and we'll get to those.

Of course, Tuesday night, these were the pictures that we saw. We originally thought it was just trees burning for the most part. And then with the light of day, we saw that it was actually Lahaina that was burning.

And you can see the hot spot right here. This is higher terrain across the central portions of Maui and then those fires just raced down towards the coast, impacting historical Lahaina. And we had wind gusts up to 82 miles per hour for the most part mid east in mid 60s is what we saw for the win. So that just because those wildfires to spread rapidly.

So, as you mentioned, we had category four storm Dora to the south. We also had an area of high pressure to the north. So these, they were working together to basically funnel very strong winds in between this high and in between the low. And so that's what caused these wins to just blow out of control.

The high pressure is normal. This is what causes the breeze, the trade winds across Hawaii. The storm to the south was not normal. So when you have these two together, that is what created this scenario.

So Dora has pushed away, the winds are starting to weaken and so they will steadily decrease as we go forward in time. We have drought across portions of Hawaii. Maui is seeing the most extreme drought, which is actually just moderate drought but it's enough to dry out the grasses and create fuels fire, especially when you have the winds that we saw.

So, Lahaina, 20 to 25 miles per hour winds. This is basically right now, we'll see those winds drop steadily throughout the afternoon. And then by the time when we get into tomorrow, the winds will die down even more.

It's Hawaii. You're not going to have zero winds but you will have about 10 to 15 miles per hour wind which is definitely normal across the island chain. So, we're going to continue to see breezy conditions however those should improve but again the damages has already been. Then you have seen that from the pictures.

SOLOMON: Yeah, and officials here in Hawaii, saying that it will be a long road to recovery.

Jennifer Gray, thank you.

All right. Turning now to a brutal political assassination in Latin America. The president of Ecuador, overnight, a quick three days of national mourning, and a state of emergency. This is after a candidate in the country's upcoming presidential election was shot and killed at a campaign event in the capital. We do want to warn you that the video you are about to see of the shooting, it is disturbing.

And we have more now from CNN's Rafael Romo.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: The attack happened right after the presidential candidate had finished a rally at a school in Quito, Ecuador's capital. According to campaign aides contacted by CNN and video shot at the scene, and all of a sudden, a burst of gunfire was heard as he was getting into a waiting vehicle. Several vehicles were hit by the bullets, including Fernando Villavicencio, a 50-year-old activist, journalist, and politician who is running in Ecuador's presidential elections to be held in less than two weeks on August 20th.

As Villavicencio gets in the backseat of the vehicle, at least 12 gunshots can be heard. A policeman quickly closes the door behind Villavicencio, and many people are seeing taking cover from the gunfire including his security detail.

Current Ecuadorian president, Guillermo Lasso, later said on social media that he is outraged and shocked. He called the attack an assassination. Lasso also expressed solidarity and sent his condolences to Villavicencio's wife and daughters. He also about that this crime will not go unpunished.

Lasso acknowledge that organized crime has gone a long way in this country, but at the same, time he promised that the full weight of the law will fall on them, meaning the criminals. In an interview with CNN in Espanol back in May, Villavicencio said

that drug traffickers had already made themselves at home in Ecuador, polluting the entire nation is at least 2007, and calling his own country, a narco state run by a political mafia.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


SOLOMON: And turning now to the growing number of prosecutions focused on Donald Trump. CNN is learning more about the scale of the investigation being pursued by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

CNN's Sara Murray has the story.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, is expected to seek indictment against more than a dozen individuals when she goes to present her case before a grand jury next week, sources are telling me and my colleagues. Of course, Fani Willis has been overseeing this sprawling criminal investigation into efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election.


Trump has had pretty clear, publicly, that he expects to be indicted for a fourth time. And, of course, he is at the heart of her investigation. But there are many other avenues she's looking at, such as a voting system's breach in rural Coffee County, Georgia, as well as the fake electors scheme in Georgia. And sources are telling us that there are people who participated in those efforts who believe that they could face charges as part of their investigation next week as well.

Again, we have seen signs that they're getting closer and we've seen the ramp up on the security perimeter harden around the Fulton County courthouse. And we could be just days away from learning who exactly is going to be charged in this roughly two and a half year investigation into Donald Trump and his associates.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.


SOLOMON: Beijing, meantime, fuming over new U.S. trade rules announced by the Biden administration. The rules target U.S. private equity and venture capital firms, as well as joint ventures seeking to do business with China, especially those focused on next generation technologies.

I want to bring in CNN's Anna Coren. She joins us live from Hong Kong.

So, Anna, we know that between the U.S. and China, there's been a bit a back-and-forth with trade restrictions and that sort of thing. How will these new rules work, and what is China saying about it?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is certainly going to escalate tensions between the world's two largest economies, Rahel. As you say, President Biden, he signed this executive order banning the new American investments and keep technology industries in China, here in Hong Kong and Macau. They could be used to enhance Beijing's military capabilities.

This was long expected. China knew about it, but now we go, we've got the details, and they will target three sectors, semiconductors and micro electronics of quantum information technologies and certain artificial intelligence systems. This means that U.S. private equity, venture capital, joint ventures and green field investments will not be allowed to invest and help Chinese companies develop technologies. It could support its military modernization and undermine U.S. national security.

We have heard from the Treasury Department. They released this statement. It said: The Biden administration is committed to keeping America safe and defending America's national security through appropriately protecting technologies that are critical to the next generation of military innovation.

A U.S. official, Rahel, stressed that this was national security action, not an economic one but China's not buying it. You know, we've had that very strong reaction from Beijing. It believes that the U.S. is trying to contain its rise.

We've heard from the Chinese commerce ministry saying that it was briefly concerned, while the foreign ministry released a statement. It said that it's a blatant act of economic coercion and scientific technological bullying. The real purpose is to deprive China of its right to development and safeguard its own hegemonic interest.

Now, this comes as tensions between the U.S. and China are the most strained in decades. There's been a parade of top U.S. administration officials, recently visit Beijing, Antony Blinken, Janet Yellen, and John Kerry in an attempt to get the U.S. and China's back on track.

Something that President Biden desperately wants. But this executive order, expected to be implemented next year, Rahel, could certainly affect those plans.

SOLOMON: Absolutely. I was thinking about Secretary Yellen's visit to Beijing. I was thinking about her comments that some of these restrictions were about national security confirms, and not necessarily economic superiority, but as you say, the Chinese don't appear to be buying.

Anna Coren live for us there, thank you.

All right. Let's turn to Haiti now when an American nurse and her young daughter had been released after being kidnapped two weeks ago.

CNN's Kylie Atwood has more now from the State Department in Washington. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: We welcome the reports of their release. We had no greater priority, of course, than the safety and security of the U.S. citizens overseas.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nearly two weeks, confirmation that an American nurse Alix Dorsainvil and her young daughter were released.

ALIX DORSAIN VIL, AMERICAN NURSE: Sandro invited me to come to the school to do some nursing for some of the kids. He said that was a big need that they had.

ATWOOD: Alix Dorsainvil works within an aid group run by her husband, Sandro Dorsainvil, El Roi Haiti. She and her young daughter were taken from the group's campus almost two weeks ago.

As gang violence overtakes the country, Dorsainvil and her daughter were kidnapped on the same day the U.S. ordered the evacuation of all nonessential personnel from the U.S. embassy in Haiti. And just this, week the U.S. diplomats still on the country were consigned to the embassy grounds due to gunfire close by.

The security situation in the country remains dire, with over 1,000 kidnappings in the first half of this year. That's according to a U.N. report.

Kenya is slated to lead a multinational force to take on the games.


But there is no timetable for their arrival.

MILLER: The next step for the process to stand up and multinational forces for the government of Kenya to lead an assessment mission. I don't have an exact date of that mission. But I do expect that to happen in the very near future, in the matter of the next three weeks.

As for Alix Dorsainvil, her family and community are elated to have her back. Her aid group released a statement saying, quote, it is with the heart of gratitude an immense joy that we at El Roi Haiti confirm the safe relief of our staff member and friend, Alix Dorsainvil and her child who were held hostage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


SOLOMON: And to a massive drone attack overnight in Ukraine's western region of Rivne. A local official says that an oil depot was destroyed, but so far there is no word on casualties. Officials in Ukraine are also saying that at least three people were killed. Nine others were injured in the Russian attack on the residential area in the city of Zaporizhzhia.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us live from London.

So, Clare, what more can you tell us about these drone attacks overnight?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Rahel, so the attack in Rivne, which is in western Ukraine, being described by the regional chief there is a massive drone attack and obviously we know that the drone attacks on critical infrastructure are pretty familiar Russian strategy in this war.

But this is notable because they're in the west of Ukraine, some thousands of kilometers from the front line just a couple of hours from the polish border. And we have not seen as many attacks in the western region as another part of Ukraine closer to the frontline, and look at the scale of it, I don't know if we can show you.

There's some video of the regional chief standing in front of a huge blaze there, but they're saying it was pretty big, some 45 rescuers involved in putting it out. There he is. And the oil depot fully destroyed.

Now, this comes as Russia is also saying that it was the victim of some attempted drone attacks. It's accusing Ukraine of perpetrating. Two, it says, were shut down on route to Moscow. And another two shot down heading for the Crimean Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, and Russia saying that it also managed to thwart another nine drones using electronic warfare, which apparently crashed into the Black Sea.

Now, we can't verify this and Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for these latest attacks but they are happening with increasing regularity. They're not particularly destructive. We're not hearing any reports of damage or injuries this morning, but I think that given the comments that we've had around this from Ukrainian officials, they are designed to send a message to the Russian people that this war is not confined to the Ukrainian territory. And it's not as Russia continues to assert, the special military operation.

SOLOMON: Clare Sebastian live for us in London, Clare, thank you.

Coming up for us, FBI agents kill a Utah man accused of making online threats against the president.

And later, the first paying customers take off on a Virgin space flight.

We'll be right back.



SOLOMON: Welcome back.

FBI special agents shot and killed a Utah man on Wednesday while attempting to serve him a warrant. That was for allegedly making violent threats against President Biden ahead of his visit to a state. Affiliate state KSTU obtained this video of the agents at the man's



SOLOMON: The shooting happened in Provo, Utah, and CNN's Josh Campbell has the details.


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: FBI agents in the state of Utah fatally shooting a man Wednesday morning while attempting to attempting to take him into custody. According to federal court records, Craig Robertson had been under investigation for allegedly making online threats against U.S. President Joe Biden, who was set to make be in a state of Utah on Wednesday.

Now, I will read you one of these alleged online posts from the suspect. He wrote, I hear Biden is coming to Utah. Digging out my old ghillie suit, that refers to camouflage worn by snipers, and cleaning the dust off the M24 sniper rifle.

That post obviously very concerning to the U.S. Secret Service, as well as the FBI. Law enforcement source tells me that as FBI tactical agents tried to arrest the suspect, they were giving him commands when the suspect pointed a gun at the agents. One FBI agent opening fire, fatally shooting the suspect.

Now, this entire investigation began back in March when a social media company contacted the FBI regarding concerning material that they were seeing on their platform, allegedly tied to this suspect. One particular threat was against the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. I'll read you part of that post.

The suspect allegedly writing: Heading to New York to fulfill my dream to eradicating another George Soros two-bit political hack D.A. I will be waiting in the courthouse parking garage with my suppressed 9 mm to smoke a radical full prosecutor that should never have been elected. The suspect that went on to allegedly right in graphic detail how he would kill Manhattan's district attorney.

Now, back in March, the FBI confronted the suspect. He was under surveillance. But agents eventually approached him, brought up this online material, the suspect allegedly, according to federal criminal complaint telling FBI that this was all a dream. He told him to come back when you have a warrant.

That they did. Showing up at his residence Wednesday morning, again, that suspect fatally shot after a law enforcement source says he pointed a gun at those agents. The FBI says it is investigating the circumstances regarding that shooting, has no further comment at this time.

Josh Campbell, CNN, Los Angeles.

(EDD VIDEOTAPE) SOLOMON: And for more to discuss, let's bring in former FBI special agent and professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, Ken Gray.

Ken, good morning. Great to have you this morning.

So, let's just start with the --


SOLOMON: Good morning. Good to have you this morning.

So, let's just start with the fact that it sounds like this investigation started months ago based on what our correspondents said, at least March. Why do you think the FBI waited so long to actually execute a search warrant?

GRAY: Well, I think the reason why the search warrant was being executed when it was, was the fact that President Biden was visiting the area.


You have a person who has made threats against the president, against the vice president, against other members, federal and state offices, and he has weapons. He has posted pictures of himself online with weapons. Consequentially this is considered to be a real threat and so, the FBI had that at this point because of the fact that the president's visit required them to make sure that he was not a threat to the president.

SOLOMON: Because the president's visit essentially provided an opportunity.

Ken, help me understand from a law enforcement perspective, how do you turn the difference between social media posts, disturbing though they may be, versus an actual threat?

GRAY: So everyone has their First Amendment rights and they are free to say anything they want to, with the exception of making threats against people. Making threats specifically against the president of the United States, that is a federal violation.

U.S. Secret Service is the federal agency that is responsible for protecting the president, they would normally be the ones that would take the lead in this.

However, because there were other threats in addition to that to the president, the FBI started that investigation. And so, so this is also out there in Utah. And the Secret Service is not have as many agents as the FBI does. So the FBI remained the lead there.

SOLOMON: I want to show you another social media post from the criminal complaint. You can see a number of guns in a veiled threat towards the election.

Tell me a bit more. The fact that there are actual guns in this person's possession, how does that change things?

GRAY: So the fact that he has guns, in itself, is not a problem. He could have as many guns as he wants to. However, he is making a threat, saying that he is dusting of a sniper rifle. That changes the equation here. It makes it into a viable threat.

It is a credible threat in that he has the ability, he has the weapons, and he has expressed this ideology that he is going to carry out this attack.

SOLOMON: Ken Gray, great to have your perspective this morning. Thank you.

GRAY: Good morning.

SOLOMON: Time for quick hits across America now.

A judge ruling that a suspect in the Gilgo Beach murders, Rex Heuermann, must provide a DNA swab. He is charged with killing at least three women, and possibly a fourth.

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspending an Orlando area attorney, accusing her of giving up overly lenient sentences. It is the second time that he has removed the democratically elected prosecutor.

And California Senator Dianne Feinstein back home after a fall yesterday center to the hospital to be checked out. A source called this latest concern about the 90-year-old's health just a minor slip.

And coming up next for us, drone attacks near the Russian capital leave residents concerned.

And Iran's government has banned the media from using this word. We'll tell you what that word is, just ahead.