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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Maui Official Who Defended Not Using Sirens Resigns; Hurricane Hilary Now a Category 4 As It Nears Mexico; Trump Team Proposes April 2026 for January 6 Trial; FBI Steps in After Georgia Officials Threatened; Today: Biden Hosts Summit with Japan & South Korea. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 18, 2023 - 05:00   ET



DANNY FREEMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, on EARLY START. The Maui emergency chief in charge of warning sirens quits amid criticisms of the wildfire response.

Plus, Hurricane Hillary right now getting stronger and moving closer to the Baja California Peninsula.

And timing is everything for Team Trump. His lawyers proposing a new trial date and negotiating when he will surrender in Georgia.


FREEMAN: Good morning, and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Danny Freeman.

We begin this morning with the Maui emergency official who defended the decision not to activate the island's warning sirens when that deadly wildfire erupted. He's now stepping down. Herman Andaya citing health reasons for his resignation. Now, it comes with the death toll of more than 111 people and more than 1,000 still unaccounted for.

CNN's Randi Kaye has more on the fallout.


COLE MILLINGTON, LOST HOME AND BUSINESS IN MAUI FIRE: So many of us residents felt like we had absolutely no warning.

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hawaii has one of the largest public safety outdoor siren warning systems in the world. Sirens that were silent as wildfires raged.

Question is, why? First, it was this.

HERMAN ANDAYA, MAUI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR: It would not have saved those people on the mountain side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you regret not sounding the sirens?

ANDAYA: I do not. The sirens, as I had mentioned earlier, is used primarily for tsunamis.

KAYE: That's what the head of Maui's Emergency Management Agency said Wednesday. But even before that press conference ended, his reason had changed. This time, suggesting the sirens weren't used because people wouldn't have been able to hear the warning.

ANDAYA: It's an outdoor siren, so a lot of people who are indoors, air conditioning on, or whatever the case may be, they're not going to hear a siren. Plus, the winds were very gusty and everything. The -- I heard it was very loud, and so they wouldn't have heard the sirens.

KAYE: Same story with Hawaii's governor. First, this.

GOV. JOSH GREEN (D), HAWAII: Sirens were typically used for tsunamis or hurricanes. To my knowledge at least, I never experienced them in use for fires.

KAYE: Then minutes later, another explanation. This time, the governor suggested at least some of the sirens were broken.

GREEN: The sirens were essentially immobilized, we believe, we believe, by the extreme heat that came through. Some were broken and we're investigating that.

KAYE: Yet that doesn't all track with the county's own webpage,, which clearly states how the siren system is capable of alerting residents to multiple disasters, including wildfires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Emergency alert.

KAYE: And we also found this explainer about the sirens uses on Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency's webpage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We also use sirens for hurricanes, brush fires, flooding, lava, hazmat conditions or even a terrorist event.

KAYE: This map also from the county's page shows where the warning sirens are located. According to the state, there are about 400 sirens statewide, including 80 on Maui, and in the historic town of Lahaina, where more than 100 people were killed in the flames, there are five sirens, five sirens that were not used to warn those in grave danger.

Instead, officials say they chose to send alerts by text message to cell phones, as well as alerts on landlines and through TV and radio.

ANDAYA: It is our practice to use the most effective means of conveying an emergency message to the public during a wildlife -- wildland fire.

KAYE: While that may have worked, in some cases, the wildfire moves so swiftly, it knocked out power and cell service. So how were residents supposed to receive those warnings?

MIKE CICCHINO, WILDFIRE SURVIVOR: There's no warning at all. There's not a siren, not a phone alert, not a -- nothing, not a call.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN.


FREEMAN: Incredible reporting there.

All right, we turn now to a major weather of and that could threaten the mainland. Hurricane Hilary, it has grown into a category four storm as it gets closer to Mexico's west coast. Hilary could bring heavy rain and strong winds to California and the southwest this weekend. So, let's track it all with meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Derek, when will folks be able to feel the impact from the storm?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED BROADCAST METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, it depends on where you are located in the western sections of the Baja peninsula, probably the next 12 to 24 hours. In southern California, Saturday night, as early as Saturday night. And certainly into Sunday and Monday.


Here it is, Hurricane Hilary, latest five a.m., Eastern Standard Time, advisories from the National Hurricane Center. Those sustained winds, hundred 45 miles per hour. That's a powerful category four Atlantic hurricane, equivalent, of course, it's in the Pacific. Steering winds here are having a major factor on where this system goes.

And you can see the potential for this to impact the southwest portions of U.S. And how much impacts, well that's still to be seen. We have a lot of cool water ahead of this tropical system. So we do anticipate a significantly weekend storm as it approaches southern California and the extreme northwestern sections of the Baja peninsula.

Perhaps some slight strengthening here within the next 12 hours, but as it reaches that colder water, it will start to weaken the storm. But look at this, National Hurricane Center's official 5:00 a.m. update has a tropical storm entering the border of the Canada and Mexico region -- Mexico region. That's going to be significant, depending on if it moves east of the track or if it stays offshore. It could be a major wind and rain event for southern California and into the southwestern U.S.

But this is a game of miles. This is going to determine who receives the most flooding. We're going to monitor this track, does this door system stay offshore or doesn't move inland kind of shredding the tropical system before it reaches, let's say, San Diego or Los Angeles?

But one thing for sure, we anticipate flash flooding risk and the potential for some high elevation wind gusts that could top 60 miles per hour.

Danny, we've got a weekend ahead of us here.

FREEMAN: Yeah, I can tell. Thank you, Derek. Hopefully, people heed these warnings. Appreciate it.

VAN DAM: Right.

FREEMAN: To this now, Donald Trump's lawyers are proposing in April 2026 start date for his federal election subversion case. That's more than two years later than special counsel Jack Smith's proposal. He wants to start -- rather, this coming January.

Now, this all comes as negotiations are getting fine-tune in Georgia for the former president to surrender soon as next week. That's for the state charges. And all the while, we're learning the FBI is stepping in after some Fulton County officials were threatened after Trump was indicted there.

CNN's Paula Reid has more.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Because I have four of them now, if you look.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Trump reacting to his Georgia indictment for the first time on camera and calling for his party to come to his defense.

TRUMP: They have no idea the anger they cause.

So, Republicans have to be tough. The Republicans are great in many ways, but they don't fight as hard for this stuff, and they have to get a lot tougher.

REID: This call to action comes as the Georgia residents who served on a grand jury that indicted Trump for trying to overturn the 2020 election are facing threats and even getting doxxed online.

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: These people were called to serve and do their civic duty by serving on that grand jury, and now they've been basically put on the X by these disclosures.

REID: Names, pictures, profiles, and even home addresses purporting to belong to the grand jurors are now circulating on far right websites. Their names were published on the indictment, a public document, as is the practice in Georgia. But experts say --

MILLER: This is really a quirk of law in the state of Georgia that the names of grand jurors come out with the indictment. So, this is really the first time we've seen this kind of thing come out in a national case.

REID: CNN cannot independently verify the details, and it's unclear if the information circulating online is that of the actual grand jurors or just people of the same name.

Former Georgia State Senator and Attorney Jen Jordan testified in this case, and she says these threats might impede prosecutor's ability to find a trial jury.

FORMER STATE SEN. JEN JORDAN (D-GA): Everyone is going to know who they are. Their lives are going to be turned upside down. And so, just to be able to sit a jury of people who would be even willing to put their lives on the line is going to be really, really difficult.

REID: And it's not just the grand jury under threat. Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the federal election interference case against Trump, received a threatening voicemail earlier this month. According to court documents, a Texas woman called Chutkan's chambers on August 5th and left a message threatening to kill anyone who went after former President Trump.

She also allegedly threatened to kill Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, as well as people in the LGBTQ community. She is now in custody.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

REID: Over the last week, Trump has repeatedly posted to social media, speaking directly to the Fulton County grand jurors and Judge Chutkan, saying, will someone please tell the Fulton County grand jury that I did not tamper with the election. And saying that Chutkan obviously wants me behind bars, very biased and unfair.



REID (on camera): Trump was scheduled to hold a press conference Monday to amplify his baseless claims of voting fraud. But, now, we've learned that's not likely going to happen after his advisors who are currently negotiating his surrender in Georgia, told him that an event like that could just add to his increasing legal problems.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.

FREEMAN: And along the political lines, President Biden will give trilateral diplomacy a try as he hosts the leaders of Japan and South Korea today at Camp David. The summit aims to tackle concerns about North Korea and China, among other issues in the Indo-Pacific region. Officials say the leaders world also discuss defense technology, economic Cooperation between the three countries.

CNN's Anna Coren is live in Hong Kong.

Anna, something like this was unthinkable just a few years ago. So, I mean, this is a pretty big deal, right?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is very significant, Danny. As you say, a few years ago, this would never have happened, considering the historical grievances and at times hostile relationship between South Korea and Japan.

These are America's two most important allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and yet here we have the South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan putting aside those differences to meet with President Biden at Camp David in Maryland in about six hours time. At its core of this summit, it's about dealing with in erratic and missile threatening North Korea, but more importantly, how to deal with a rising and aggressive China.

You know, Beijing is making its military presence felt in the region. Think of Taiwan, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and over the Senkaku Islands with Japan, and we heard from U.S. ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, earlier this week. He said China assumed that South Korea and Japan would never resolve their differences and get on the same page.

You know, he believes that this mechanism of cooperation that is forming now between the three governments will be a major deterrent for China. Take a listen.


RAHM EMANUEL, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN: I think it doubles down not only on our strength of an alliance, but more importantly, it doubles down on the fact that we've created something that exactly what China would hope would never happen.


COREN: Danny, Beijing will be watching the summit very closely. We heard from China's top diplomat Wang Yi last month, warning Japan and South Korea against aligning themselves too closely with the U.S.

Look at the end of the summit, the leaders are expected to announce expanded cooperation, not only in joint military drills and military information sharing, but also an A.I., you know, supply chains, and cyber and economic security. The hope is for this trilateral, Danny, to become an annual meeting in its own right.

But as I say, it kicks off at 11:00 a.m. local time. That is when President Biden will be meeting with the South Korean president and the Japanese prime minister.

FREEMAN: Anna, we'll be watching closely, too. Thank you.

And to this now, a federal judge in Delaware has dismissed to tax misdemeanor charges against Hunter Biden. Those were the last remaining components of the plea deal that fell apart the other week. Now, it paves the way for a special counsel David Weiss to potentially bring more charges against the president son in other jurisdictions as part of his investigation. The fate of a separate, but related, deal to resolve a felony gun possession charge is still unclear.

All right, coming up in a moment, dramatic moments in the courtroom when a mistrial declared in the case of two White men charged with shooting at a Black FedEx driver.

Plus, what could be a break in the case, a mother of five murdered on a Maryland hiking trail.

And next, more on the judge with just six months on the bench now assigned to Donald Trump's Fulton County case.

Stay with us.



FREEMAN: We're learning more about the judge who assigned to Donald Trump's election subversion case in Georgia. Judge Scott McAfee has only been on the bench for a few months, but now he's got one of the most consequential cases in recent history.

CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is Scott McAfee, superior court judge in Fulton County, Georgia.


TUCHMAN: Presiding over a recent murder case seen on courthouse video.

MCAFEE: And so to that end, I believe the state did prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was -- that there was sufficient evidence to convict on each of the charges in this case.

TUCHMAN: Judge McAfee now randomly assigned to a dramatically different legal scenario.

He is 34 years old, and was appointed to a seat just six months ago by Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp to fill a vacancy.

Before that, he served as the state inspector general, and both a state and federal prosecutor after graduating from the University of Georgia Law School in 2013. Classmates and professional acquaintances say he is politically conservative.

Notably, McAfee was a state prosecutor in the complex trial division in Fulton County, which was led at the time by the woman who is now the Fulton County DA, Fani Willis.

Esther Panitch is a Democratic Georgia State Representative and defense lawyers handled two cases where McAfee was the prosecutor.

ESTHER PANITCH (D), GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: In the cases I had with him, he made reasonable decisions related to pleas or discovery requests and he was fair. Politics never came into it.

TUCHMAN: University of Georgia record show he was the treasurer of the Law Republicans, a group that serves libertarian members of the law school community and provide support for Republican political candidates.

He was also treasurer of the law school's Federalist Society, an influential conservative and libertarian organization in the U.S.

Just a few months ago, he presided over a case involving L. Lin Wood, an outspoken Trump supporting conspiracy touting lawyer.


L. LIN WOOD, LAWYER: I have political views. I believe our country has been taken over by communists.

TUCHMAN: This case, though do not directly involve politics or Trump. It was a contempt case for allegedly making derogatory comments about his former legal associates.

MCAFEE: So that's where I am. Tell me why I'm wrong.

TUCHMAN: Judge McAfee held Wood in contempt and leveled fines against him.

Scott McAfee has only been on the Fulton County Superior Court bench for a few short months, but he is now dealing with a case that could be one for the ages.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Atlanta.


FREEMAN: All right, for more on this, Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and author of "A Spy in Plain Sight".

Lis, let's get right into this. I can't imagine, this would be a pretty daunting case for a new judge, right?

LIS WIEHL, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Sure, for any judge. I mean, come on, Danny. But the fact is, though, he's got a conservative background, he's lived in Atlanta his entire life. This is not some guy that the Trump team can say is just a raging Democrat, you know, who's out to get him. That song and dance won't work.

And then I also would make the point that, you know, he's a young guy. He's got a lot of energy. He's going to attack this case. He's got a lot of experience, both state and federal. Yes, in prosecution, but you just heard that defense lawyer speaking laudably about him.

So he seems to be fair, which is really all that you want, and need in a case, any case, but especially case like this, Danny.

FREEMAN: All right. Lis, I want to talk a little bit more about the case itself. Trump's former AG Bill Barr, he was on Fox News on Thursday. And spoke about the Georgia case. I want to take you listen to part of what he said.


BILL BARR, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not happy with the Georgia case. I think it's much too sweeping, much too broad, excessive case that is -- can make it look like people are piling on and be an excessive to try and feed the narrative that he's being victimized here. And I also saying that there is merit in the point that this is a case that I don't think is going to be triable before the election.


FREEMAN: All right. We've got too sweeping and too broad. What your thoughts on Barr's comments?

WIEHL: I strongly disagree. I think that this RICO case is an excellent example of what it's meant to be used for, to, you know, tell us story about abroad conspiracy. Barr's right, in the sense that it's brought, but that's because the conspiracy was so vast and involved so many people in a took a while, right?

That's what RICO is meant to get. It's meant to grab all of these people and put them in that RICO net and be able to tell the story of each individual defendant and each overt act or step, substantial step that they took in the furtherance of that conspiracy.

Of course, it's broad. That's how RICO is posed to be. As far as timing goes, I disagree again. I don't think this is a two-year out thing. I don't think necessarily has to be at all. Of course, Trump's lawyers are going to argue for that.

But I think this D.A. has got a tight case. She tells a tight story. And she'll be ready to go in the six months she asked for.

Now, that's going to be tough on the calendar. You've got all these defendants. I don't think it's going to go in six months.

But two years? That's -- it doesn't need to happen, Danny. It doesn't need to happen.

FREEMAN: All right. Lis, I want to get your perspective on the federal election subversion case and the new developments that are coming up this morning. Trump's lawyers, they're proposing to start the trial in April 2026. Lawyers wrote in a filing, quote, the government's objective is clear, to deny President Trump and his counsel a fair ability to prepare for trial. You see that quote right there on the screen.

Lis, even if they don't get it push the 2026, is there a good chance that that case and that trial starts after the election?

WIEHL: No, I think that trial is the one that has the best chance of starting the soonest, right? Because we just talked about how the RICO case is, by definition, very vast and broad and you've got a lot of indicted coconspirators in this one.

In the federal case, you have a lot of unindicted coconspirators, you have one defendant. And a shorter amount of time that the actions took place, and only, really, in one jurisdiction. That's not quite true, but mainly in one jurisdiction, right?

So, it's a tighter case, legally, and to make the ploy that Trump is running for president, he's too busy. Well, you know, we're all too busy for an indictment, for any of these things, right? But there's one thing I was thinking about this morning is that, you know, with all these different trial dates being juggled and everything, and all these jurisdictions, is that unusual?

I was thinking, not really. I certainly had defendants who were facing trials, or crimes in multiple jurisdictions, both state and federal. I was a federal prosecutor. But in state cases, right?

But the big difference in all those, Danny, and Trump, is that those people, two of one, were imprisoned while they're waiting their trials.


So, that's not going to happen here. But I think that's interesting that's the one difference because it's not unusual for somebody to be facing multiple jurisdictions, multiple charges, in multiple jurisdictions, Danny.

FREEMAN: Lis, some of these words that we're saying, again, unthinkable just a couple of years ago, but I appreciate your perspective very much this morning. Thank you.

WIEHL: You've got it.

FREEMAN: All right. Let's do some quick hits across America now. A judge in Mississippi has declared a mistrial in the case of a white father and son charged with the attempted murder of a Black FedEx driver. The defense had claimed police did not turn over a key video. The D.A. says a new trial will be scheduled.

And authorities say DNA in the case of a Maryland mother who was murdered earlier this month has been linked to a home invasion and assault in Los Angeles. So far though, authorities have not identified the suspect. They only say it's a man in his twenties.

And the D.A. in Shelby County, Tennessee, has dropped more than 30 cases involving the fired Memphis police officers charged in Tyre Nichols's death. Charges were reduced and a dozen other cases involving the five defendants.

All right. Coming up in a moment, Ukraine's been asking for American- made F-16 fighter jets for months. Well, now, a major development coming out of Washington.

Plus, a new memo for Ron DeSantis from his super PAC. Why it's stirring up anger and confusion in the race.