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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. Pledges To Approve Supplying F-16s to Ukraine; Maui County Mayor: 45 Percent Of Burn Zone Searched; Pro-DeSantis Super PAC Debate Memo Stirs Up Anger And Confusion From Fundraisers And Donors. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 18, 2023 - 05:30   ET




DANNY FREEMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Moscow's mayor says a drone has been shot down over the city this morning leaving falling debris near the Expocentre. The Kremlin says no one was hurt and is accusing Ukraine of a terrorist attack. It's the third time in the past month that drone debris has hit the area.

Meantime, the U.S. has committed to approving F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine as soon as training is complete.

CNN's Nada Bashir joins us now from London. Nada, we talked about this yesterday -- it was a little bit in limbo -- but Ukraine believes those jets still won't arrive until next year. So what can you tell us?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well look, Danny, the supply of these F- 16s really depends on the training of Ukrainian pilots. That is the sticking point here. These are advanced U.S.-made fighter jets, and it could essentially take months for Ukrainian air force pilots to be fully trained to operate them.

We heard yesterday from a spokesperson from the Ukrainian air force saying that they certainly wouldn't be able to operate them before the end of this year. And that is a significant blow to Ukraine's military and air defense aspirations, particularly as the counteroffensive continues to grind now.

Now, of course, as you mentioned, we've heard from U.S. officials saying that the Biden administration is prepared to approve the transfer of these jets to Ukraine as soon as that training is complete. We've heard from a U.S. official familiar with this matter saying that. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been in contact with counterparts in both Denmark and the Netherlands to assure them of this commitment.

But, of course, the U.S.'s European partners have been taking the lead on that training program. It was anticipated that training could begin this month. Right now, it's unclear when it will begin or how long it will actually take. We've heard, of course, from other European partners they are focused on developing this training program. Ukraine's air force says they are hopeful that this can begin in the near future.

In the meantime, the U.S. government is said to be in talks with other European partners who do have a supply of the U.S.-made F-16s to see who else might be prepared to supply these jets to Ukraine when they are ready.

FREEMAN: Nada, thank you for keeping us updated on this story -- appreciate it.

Staying overseas now, the search for survivors underway this morning after days of heavy rain triggered deadly floods and landslides in the mountainous region of Northern India. At least 72 people have died in and around the city of Shimla in the Himalayan Foothills.

CNN's Vedika Sud has more.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Homes swept away, lives destroyed. Since Sunday, more than 70 people have died and more than a dozen are missing after heavy rainfall led to landslides and flooding across India's northern Himachal Pradesh state.

In this video, a man is heard repeating "Oh, Lord, oh, Lord" -- shocked as he sees floodwater gushing through a valley.

Search and rescue operations have been underway since a desperate attempt to locate survivors buried under mud and debris.


For those who were lucky the wait has been excruciating.

SUDESH SHARMA, FAMILY MEMBER OF LANDSLIDE VICTIM (through translator): We should get the missing members of our family back. We should get a glimpse of them for the last time and set their souls free. We have no doors left open for us now. We should get them back.

SUD (voice-over): With more heavy rain on the way, according to forecasts, Himachal Pradesh remains alert, sending residents to relief camps.

This monsoon has been devastating for the state. Since the start of the rainy season in June, 300 people in the region have died, according to chief minister Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu. On Wednesday, Sukhu carried out an aerial survey of some of the worst affected areas.

Like in many parts of the world, sights like these due to extreme weather are becoming more common. Sukhu estimates the damage has caused losses over $1.2 billion U.S. dollars and could take a year to rebuild infrastructure. But for some residents it's more than just infrastructure. Lives will also need to be rebuilt.

Vedika Sud, CNN, New Delhi.


FREEMAN: All right, let's get some quick hits around the globe right now.

Officials in Canada's Northwest Territory are calling the 230 wildfires burning unprecedented. Twenty thousand residents of Yellowknife are ordered to evacuate by noon today. And southern British Columbia also on alert today due to wildfires.

And moving south, a powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake and aftershock rattled Central Colombia, sending panicked residents into the streets. At least one person has died.

Human rights organizations say at least 60 migrants are feared dead after a boat disaster off Cape Verde in West Africa. Thirty-eight people were rescued, including four children.

Coming up next, the head of emergency services for Maui resigns amid criticism for not sounding the warning sirens. And what one Republican presidential candidate is being advised to do at a debate with Donald Trump. Stay with us.



FREEMAN: Let's get to more now on our top story this morning. Maui's chief of emergency management, Herman Andaya, has resigned just one day after he defended the decision to not activate the warning sirens ahead of wildfires that have killed at least 111 people.

Now, officials say just under half of the burn zone has been searched at this time, but more than 1,000 people are still unaccounted for.

CNN's Gloria Pazmino reports.


GLORA PAZMINO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Maui, hope giving way to despair as some of the missing are moved to the list of those lost.

CHIEF JOHN PELLETIER, MAUI, HAWAII POLICE: Have we found remains that are maybe smaller than other remains? I'm not going to sit here and sensationalize that. What I'm talking about is children.

PAZMINO (voice-over): The official death toll from the wildfires is now well over 100, with possibly more than 1,000 people still missing.

Josue Garcia lost his 15-year-old brother in the fire after trying in vain to run home to save him.

JOSUE GARCIA, MAUI RESIDENT: Everybody was saying get out, get out. Don't go that way -- not that way -- leave. Even though I was four- five miles away I could feel the heat.

PAZMINO (voice-over): After the fire, his father found his brother's body in the burned rubble of the family home.

GARCIA: And what we saw was where he always slept. What we -- what we had seen was not just a body, but the body of a 15-year-old kid who had way more life ahead of him.

PAZMINO (voice-over): Then they took his remains to authorities.

Josue is now turning his pain into poetry.

GARCIA: What could I do? No power I hold. I'm lost and I'm found. I'm lost all around. We're losing our town.

PAZMINO (voice-over): The sheer scale of the devastation has impacted everyone on the island.

PELLETIER: No one has ever seen this that is alive today. Not this size, not this number, not this volume, and we're not done.

PAZMINO (voice-over): Identifying the dead remains a difficult task. There are often no fingerprints and many remains are unrecognizable. Relatives of the missing are being asked for DNA samples.

The search teams are also deeply affected.

PELLETIER: We have to do this right and realize that the responders that are going out there are recovering their loved ones and members of their families.

PAZMINO (voice-over): Those search and rescue teams now scouring the burn zone of more than 2,000 homes and businesses as the magnitude of the loss sinks in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard to take in.

PAZMINO (voice-over): And even as authorities delicately search the rubble for human remains, some residents say they've been approached by real estate speculators, reawakening memories of historical wrongdoing, including colonization and overdevelopment and further stoking locals' fears of losing their land.

Governor Josh Green reacted Wednesday to those fears and mounting frustration over reports of unsolicited calls from outsiders looking to buy damaged properties.

GOV. JOSH GREEN, (D) HAWAII: My office will work to block any of those kind of predatory transactions.

PAZMINO (on camera): Now, as you can see, there are signs of some improvement here in Lahaina. We have been watching as electricity crews try to put the power back on, and we have also been seeing cell phone towers being repaired. So that's some good news -- some return to normalcy. But the reality is that recovery here is going to take a long time --

likely, several years. And as attention begins to fade away it's important to remember that there are going to be thousands of people here in Lahaina who will still need the help of the federal government. But Hawaiians and the people of Lahaina will do what Hawaiians do, and that is ban together, support each other, and help one another move forward.


Reporting in Lahaina, Gloria Pazmino, CNN


FREEMAN: Just unimaginable.

All right, let's switch gears now to politics. The first Republican presidential debate isn't until next week but there is already news from it. The New York Times reported that a super PAC behind Ron DeSantis' campaign posted a number of documents, including a debate memo with strategies, like going after Vivek Ramaswamy and defending Donald Trump.

Well, DeSantis' campaign is denying any knowledge of this, writing in a statement, quote, "This was not a campaign memo, and we were not aware of it prior to the article."

For much more on this let's bring in Akayla Gardner, White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.

All right, Akayla, listen -- DeSantis' team is denying having anything to do with this memo -- fine. Regardless of that, though, do you think his team has to maybe rethink their debate strategy?

AKAYLA GARDNER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS (via Webex by Cisco): I think the release of this memo certainly puts them at a disadvantage, especially if they are planning to use it and draw from it. I mean, this memo is pretty wide-ranging. It talks about Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Chris Christie -- all these folks that he's expecting to face next Wednesday.

But I think something that's interesting here that's underlying is the campaign has seemed to rely more on the super PAC in recent weeks, especially because they're going through a cash crunch. There's been some instability in the campaign. We know that DeSantis has gone through multiple campaign managers in recent weeks.

And so it could be signaling, again, this reliance on this PAC. We know DeSantis was on a bus tour that was funded by the PAC recently.

But I think the bigger problem here is DeSantis is already at a disadvantage in the debates. Anyone who has followed him knows that debate skills are not necessarily his strength. But at the same time, we know that he's preparing at least once a week. He's hired a veteran coach, Brett O'Donnell, who has worked with Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush -- all folks who have clenched this nomination. But he's also going into this debate, frankly, with nothing to lose and everything to gain. He's 40 points behind Trump. He's fallen significantly in recent weeks. And frankly, this is about shoring up his political career. He needs to have some sort of breakout moment or at least hold his ground for this to be a success for him.

FREEMAN: Yes -- I mean, that's absolutely right. The stakes are incredibly high. And I am glad that you pointed out, again, there are two stories -- the debate prep and also the closeness, or the perceived closeness, at least, to that super PAC.

I do actually want to note that Vivek Ramaswamy -- he responded last night on CNN to this particular news. Take a listen to part of that interview.



VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I have been prepared for that for a lot of my life and I'm prepared to take that on. The truth is I'm an outsider in this race and I think that is threatening a lot of professional politicians, understandably. A guy like me is not supposed to be in this race according to their book.


FREEMAN: So, Akayla, it seems like there are some candidates who are already seizing on this moment -- this DeSantis news -- for their own political gain, right?

GARDNER: Vivek has been such an interesting candidate to watch in this race because he really started polling up really low and we've seen some bump or some boost for him in recent weeks. A Fox News poll had him in third place just done earlier this month.

And he's come out and already criticized this memo that this super PAC now has out about him. He's calling DeSantis robotic, seemingly hitting on some of his issues with connection to voters. And he's called some of the attacks boring and canned.

But I think specifically about this memo that's interesting about their attacks on Ramaswamy is they plan to bring up, basically, some of the things that he's touting as an asset. His time as an outsider. His time as a business owner. Specifically, his decision to start a firm with a Chinese state-owned company. And also, some of his ties to the Democratic financier George Soros, who we know has been the subject of a longtime criticism for Republicans.

So he certainly should expect those attacks if not from DeSantis from other folks.

FREEMAN: Well, I know I am tremendously looking forward to this debate either way, whether we see those attacks from DeSantis or not.

I appreciate your perspective Akayla on this, this morning. Thank you very much.

All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" Trump's legal team wants a 2026 trial date in the January 6 federal case.

And next, right here, the Brooklyn Nets release the season schedule with hilarious new video. You're not going to want to miss it.



FREEMAN: Scary moments in last night's preseason game between the Eagles and the Browns as two players were carted off the field with neck injuries.

Andy Scholes here with us now. Andy, again, I'm the Philly guy and that was scary.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Danny. And after last year where we saw those scary injuries to Damar Hamlin and Tua Tagovailoa on the field, just really hoping that everyone has a safe and healthy season this time around.

But the cart had to come out on the field twice in last night's Eagles-Browns game, both for neck injuries.

First happening here, Tyrie Cleveland trying to make that catch. His head slams into the ground. He was carted off the field. Then later on in the game, defense lineman Moro Ojomo -- he was chasing down Kellen Mond here, but while making the diving play his head hit his teammate, causing it to get bent back.

Both of those definitely scary moments but the team did announce that both players had movement in their extremities.

All right, soccer superstar Lionel Messi, meanwhile, speaking to the media for the first time since arriving in the U.S. Messi has scored nine goals in his first six games since joining Inter Miami. He is going to face Nashville in the Leagues Cup final tomorrow.


Now, Messi turned down mouthwatering sums of money to play in Saudi Arabia, but he says he's thrilled with the decision that he made to play for Miami.


LIONEL MESSI, INTER MIAMI FORWARD (through translator): Today, I can tell you that I am very happy with the decision I made and for how my family and I live our day-to-day lives and how we enjoy the city and this new experience. And how the people received us from the first day from the people of Miami and the people of the U.S. in general.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: All right, the NBA's regular season schedule is now out. Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets are going to begin their title defense against LeBron James and the Lakers. The rematch of last season's Western Conference Finals headlines the opening night doubleheader on October 24 on our sister channel TNT.

In the second game, the Suns are going to visit the Warriors with Phoenix's Bradley Beal and Chris Paul of Golden State making their regular season debut with their new teams.

All right. Now, the Brooklyn Nets, meanwhile, borrowing a page from the Tennessee Titans' hilarious schedule release video from earlier this year. They went to Coney Island and asked tourists to name that logo and -- well, watch how it went.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The New York Yankees.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Buffaloes. Buffaloes, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the Brooklyn Bridge --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brooklyn Bridge, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- in a basketball.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two question marks trying to make love.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The exploding field goal.


SCHOLES: Oh, Danny, those are so good. I guess -- I guess that person thought that the Hawks logo was State Farm. I don't know, but he called it insurance. But, I mean, they're all priceless.

FREEMAN: I love them so much.

Thank you so much, Andy -- appreciate it. And go Sixers.

SCHOLES: All right.

FREEMAN: All right. New developments out of Maui this morning. The boss in charge of emergency sirens on the island just quit. A live report next on "CNN THIS MORNING."