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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Waves of Mud, Trees and Rocks Swamp California Roads in a Storm not Seen Since the 1990s; President Biden Visits Maui for the First Time After Wildfires Destroyed the Island; Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis Set August 25 Deadline for Trump and Other 18 Co- defendants to Surrender. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 21, 2023 - 05:00   ET






DANNY FREEMAN, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, waves of mud, trees and rocks swamp California roads in a storm not seen since the 1990s. Plus, President Biden's mission to Maui. The consoler-in-chief tries to bring comfort to a community all but wiped out in a wildfire.

And a consequential week for Donald Trump. The former president set to surrender to charges in Georgia and skip the first GOP debate in Wisconsin. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Danny Freeman. We begin this morning with something southern California hasn't experienced in decades, but people there are facing it right now.

Torrential record rain and strong winds from Tropical Storm Hilary. Overnight, Hilary has been bringing down power lines and trees, flooding streets and triggering mudslides. In fact, one mudslide forced firefighters to take fast action in San Bernardino County when it came barreling towards their fire house.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trees are going.




FREEMAN: Just incredible images right there, rescuers have had to pull several people from flood waters and more than 7 million people in the region are still under a flash flood warning this morning. That includes downtown Los Angeles. CNN's Derek Van Dam is tracking its every move. Derek, where is the greatest threat right now?

DEREK VAN DAM, METEOROLOGIST: Now, the scene that you saw unfolding on your TV screens, and what you see behind me here is what happens when you get tropical moisture in a dry -- typically dry area. The ground just simply cannot absorb this amount of tropical-like downpours. And we get the mudslides, the landslides, the debris flows and the urban flash flooding with the impervious surfaces all around, built-up concrete all around the greater Los Angeles area.

This is just incredible to see what's happening in portions of I-10 that have been closed near Palm Springs. It has been quite an overnight period. Right now, the latest 5:00 a.m. update has what it's called a post-tropical storm. So, basically, Hilary now starting to lose its tropical characteristics, but it is still packing quite a punch, and mainly in terms of the heavy rainfall and the excessive rainfall that is running off the mountains and into the communities below.

These are just a kind of a scattering of some of the higher rainfall totals that we have seen, and these numbers will go up. Look at San Bernardino County, we've received over 10 inches in some locations, nearing that for Riverside County, look at L.A. County over a half a foot of rainfall. This is major Metropolitan areas, highly populated, and of course, very impactful.

So, here's a look at the latest radar, and I want to show you this, because it's very interesting. Flash flood warnings, Ventura into L.A. counties, this is basically what is called the transverse mountain ranges, it extends basically from Palm Springs westward towards just north of downtown L.A. And you're looking at these tropical rain bands. These are almost like feeder bands from the post-tropical system that's well to our north.

And this is basically intersecting this mountain range. So, this is what's been happening all night. And it's been pushing up this moisture right along the mountain sides there, and of course, extracting all the available rain that's in the atmosphere out of it. And we've produced rainfall totals that have exceeded over a half a foot of rain as we already mentioned.

And that is going to be concerning because the rain isn't done yet, another 2 to 4 inches possible, and some of those higher elevations, lower elevations, maybe a half an inch to an inch, but certainly, we don't want to see more rainfall on top of what's already taken place. And it's not just southern California, this extends into Nevada.

That's currently where post-Tropical Storm Hilary is located, just look at the moisture plume that extends as far north as Montana and into Idaho. Rainfall rates here between half an inch to an inch and a half per hour as the storm system continues to just wallop the western half of the U.S. We'll start to see a drying trend today for San Diego, Los Angeles into the Phoenix area.

We'll bring the bulk of the moisture to the north before the system kind of peters itself out, rings itself out, and really we'll say good-bye and good riddance to this, once it finally gets on to here. And just a quick update, Danny, you've got to see this, we now have several tropical disturbances and storms that we're watching across the Atlantic basin.


So things have changed, the light has switched, and we are now in the bulk of our busy season --

FREEMAN: Yes, I see that -- I see that, Derek. And again, you know, I've driven up the 5 in southern California from San Diego to Bakersfield, crazy to see so much rain come down in that area --

VAN DAM: Right --

FREEMAN: That usually doesn't get so much.

VAN DAM: Yes --

FREEMAN: Appreciate it, Derek. Thank you very much.


FREEMAN: And as I'm saying here, the storm has hit areas that really just aren't used to so much rain in so little time. The mayor of San Diego telling CNN that the city isn't built for it, and as he urged people to stay at home. CNN's Kyung Lah reports.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): San Diego's mayor says the city is simply not built to handle a Tropical Storm Hilary. So, what this city has been doing is trying to prepare the best that it can. What you're seeing throughout this area of Mission Valley is main thoroughfares like this one completely shut down.

The reason for these barriers is because the street behind me, this is an area if you're familiar with San Diego, Mission Valley, that is a known flood zone. There is a San Diego river over there, and then all of the hills you see, some of the desert area, all of that, that funnels down here into the water, and the infrastructure needs to hold.

What the mayor has said is that there's approximately 3 to 4 inches that have already come down, and expected over the next 24 hours, three to four times that much. That's why the San Diego unified public school district has delayed the start of school by a full 24 hours. It was scheduled to start on Monday. That will push by one day.

The Navy, in fact, has moved ten of its ships out of the bay further into the sea to try to protect those ten vessels just in case the storm were to create any sort of damage. But what the city has seen so far is that, it has been able to withstand Tropical Storm Hilary. The rain still coming down. It will be very much what happens in the overnight hours. Kyung Lah, CNN, San Diego.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FREEMAN: Kyung, thank you. And Hilary made landfall Sunday as a

tropical storm in Mexico's Baja Peninsula. At least, one person was killed when their vehicle was swept away in the flood waters. CNN's David Shortell reports from Mexico City.


DAVID SHORTELL, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE PRODUCER (on camera): Devastating images coming out of Mexico in the northwest state of Baja, California, which has been pummeled for several hours by rain as Tropical Storm Hilary made its way up along the coastline, eventually making landfall Sunday morning on the 11 O'clock local time.

The small community of San Quintin residents there feeling the full force of this storm, that 65-mile-an-hour winds, extreme storm surge, and then, of course, damage to the roadways. Authorities telling folks, do not leave your house. Stay home. There was an incident in Santa Rosalia earlier this weekend, where a man was caught in his car and swept away and killed.

These were roads that had naturally become rivers as 4 inches of rain pounded the area in just a few hours time, that's of course, on top of immense amounts of rain coming down from the mountains in the central part of the state, just creating these terrible conditions. Across the entire state though, there has been damage as Hilary made its way northward towards California.

Ensenada, Mexico's wine region was right in the center of the storm, and then, of course, Tijuana, an important border city that's been a hub for migrants as they make their way towards the U.S. Tijuana is a city with very poor infrastructure in some parts. It's a hilly city. And some of these homes are built into the sides of the hill and mud signs -- mudslides, I should say are common there.

So authorities on high alert looking for anyone in need of rescue as the storm moved through Tijuana into California with just this immense amounts of rain. Of course, this area, it's unusual for storms to hit like this, but it's not quite as rare as it is in California. That's because as storms form in the Pacific, they'll make their way up, and then usually turn eastward when they hit Baja, California, where the waters are much cooler than the waters are to the south.

This storm, of course, ignoring history, moving straight up through Baja, California, and into California where it's just wreaked havoc. David Shortell, Mexico City.


FREEMAN: As more extreme weather news today, President Biden heads to Hawaii to see the devastation on Maui for himself. At least, 114 people have died in the wildfires there. Crews expect to find more victims as they search what's left of hundreds of destroyed homes. Many more people have lost pretty much everything they own. CNN's Jasmine Wright joins us now from Washington. Jasmine, the president has been criticized for his response to this disaster. I'm curious, how is the White House responding? JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think by that

response is going to be today when President Biden leaves Lake Tahoe to travel to Hawaii to see the devastation firsthand. We know that he's been continuously briefed about the latest reports coming out of Hawaii over the weekend.


But of course, seeing it in person will be quite different. So he and the first lady will be able to hear firsthand accounts from survivors that they meet with one-on-one as well as meeting with first responders, community leaders and those involved with the recovery efforts, really trying to grasp just how devastating the damage that you can see on the screen here really is, and what the federal government can continue to do.

Now, we'll see him step into that consoler-in-chief role that we've seen him step into before, really when talking to these families about what they've experienced. Now, he previewed a part of his message in a statement last night, I want to read you part of it, Danny. The president wrote that "I know how profoundly loss can impact a family and a community, and I know nothing can replace the loss of life. I will do everything in my power to help Maui recover and rebuild from this tragedy."

Really trying to lean on his past tragedies to really try to comfort people, something that we've heard the president do time and time again over the course of his tenure. Now, of course, you're right. He is going under an air of scrutiny. The president was not only criticized by Republicans, but by others who felt that he did not give the type of presidential attention to these devastation that was required and the federal government's response was lacking.

So, part of his presence in there is going to be trying to refute these allegations or these accusations, and really try to show that he is really trying to bring full government approach to it. Now, I want to just read you some of the -- some of what FEMA and the White House has already been able to deliver to Hawaii because this will be important.

Now, that also includes things like $8 million in assistance and nearly $2,500 households, 500 -- 50,000 meals, 75,000 liters of water, 5,000 cots, 10,000 blankets. So, this will be something that President Biden leans on when talking about just how the government and how he used the government to try to help the devastation in Maui.

Now, one other thing I'll just note here, Danny, is that, new this morning is that the president is identifying and assigning a point person, something that he'll announce on the ground there, to deal with the coordination of the recovery that is expected to continue over the weeks and months. That's Bob Fenton; he is somebody who is well-versed in this area of dealing with recovery in these kind of communities after things like wildfires or any type of massive damage happens.

So, this is something that President Biden will talk about on the ground as he adopts that consoler-in-chief mentality. Danny?

FREEMAN: And Jasmine, that senior FEMA official, that news breaking just this morning during our program --

WRIGHT: Yes --

FREEMAN: Thank you for that update --

WRIGHT: It was just this morning.

FREEMAN: Appreciate it. Hawaii's Governor Josh Green says the recovery process in Maui though could still take several weeks even as a quote, "army of search and rescue teams" including several dogs begin to go through larger buildings in the fire zone. He also warned the devastation in some areas is so extensive some remains may never be found.


GOV. JOSH GREEN (D-HI): More than a thousand are unaccounted for, at a 1,050. It will take several weeks still. Some of the challenges are going to be extraordinary because of the temperature of the fire, the remains of those who have died in some cases may be impossible to recover meaningfully. So there are going to be people that are lost forever.


FREEMAN: Just unthinkable. CNN's Bill Weir has more now from Maui.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Here in Maui, we've had almost now two weeks of anxious anticipation for the latest announcement on the dead and the missing. But that is now sort of shifting into grim resignation that a lot of loved ones may never be found, given the temperature of the fire.

Governor Josh Green saying yesterday, 1,050 people remain unaccounted for. He said that many of them will never be recovered. So as we stand overlooking the town, we're seeing clouds of dust coming up from some of the heavy machinery, and it's so heartbreaking to realize that dust holds people's children and parents and neighbors and loved ones.

And how do you get a sense of closure in this particular space? This will be a sacred space for so many for so long, 3.5 square miles of area burned. The president is expected to fly over Lahaina, it's uncertain whether he'll actually touch down on the ground. He's expected to meet with first responders and victims of this disaster. He of course, is known as an empathizer-in-chief, given the tragedy in his personal life.

But he uncharacteristically gave a no comment when asked about Hawaiians a few days ago. The White House insists he's been on the phone hourly almost, making sure that everybody gets the resources they need. But this is really an emotionally-charged time, so many tender emotions right now, and so the president is sort of walking into that.

As for the future, so much of that depends on sort of ancient fights over water rights in particular. So, that's at the top of mind of people who say that the water that could have kept this place lush and fireproof was diverted to resorts and rich homeowners at the expense of locals.


That may come up during today's visit, but it certainly will be an issue going forward. Bill Weir, CNN, Maui.


FREEMAN: All right, coming up just ahead, former President Trump set to surrender to charges in Fulton County, Georgia, this week. We'll have more on what that could actually look like. Plus, thousands forced to evacuate as wildfire flames ravage parts of Washington State. And Moscow, we have a problem. Russia's latest mission to the moon ends in failure.


FREEMAN: Just four more days now until the deadline. Donald Trump and his 18 co-defendants have until Friday to surrender at the Fulton County jail in the 2020 Georgia election subversion case. CNN's Isabel Rosales has the details.


ISABEL ROSALES, CNN REPORTER (on camera): Thursday or Friday is the expectation of when former President Donald Trump will surrender himself to the Fulton County jail.


That is according to a senior law enforcement source with knowledge of that surrender. And Friday, of course, marking the deadline of DA Fani Willis for when all 19 defendants must turn themselves in. Now, sources tell CNN that Trump's team has already been in contact with the DA's office, that those conversations will continue into next week, specifically on the conditions of his appearance and also on the logistics of his surrender.

Now, we know that officials including the Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat has insisted that Trump and the other co-defendants will be treated the same as everybody else, specifically with finger-printing and mugshots, but likely, that is impossible just due to the security precautions that must take place when it comes to transporting a former president of the United States.

And also, the high profile nature of some of these other co- defendants. So, it's very likely that this booking process that would normally just take hours of waiting around, that will probably go much more swiftly for Trump and some of his co-defendants. It's also possible looking ahead to the arraignment, that first appearance in court, it's possible that they might not even have to show up in court, because the judge here can choose to do that arraignment virtually or allow them to wave that right to an arraignment. Reporting from outside the Fulton County jail, Isabel Rosales, CNN.


FREEMAN: OK, for more on this, let's bring in attorney and legal affairs commentator Areva Martin. Areva, give me your perspective here. What are we actually visually going to see here? Do you think we're going to see 19 people show up together in court this week?

AREVA MARTIN, ATTORNEY & LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: I doubt that, Danny. One thing to note though, that is very different in Fulton County than what's happening in the New York federal case is that, this is state court and cameras are allowed typically in state court proceedings. So, it's very possible that we will get an opportunity to see what happens inside that courtroom.

But I don't expect all 19 of these defendants to show up on one day, and for all of them to either be in court or to be going through the booking process. We already know that Donald Trump's team is in contact with the district attorney's office. So, it's likely that he is going to negotiate something that will allow him to turn himself in, separate and apart from the other 18 defendants.

We know he does not want to be lumped in with those other defendants, and I suspect, other defendants are negotiating something with the district attorney as it relates to them turning themselves in as well. So, although, this is going to be an unprecedented occurrence, and some will say even a spectacle, I don't expect all 19 to be there together.

FREEMAN: All right, well, let's talk about one of those other defendants, Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. He's asked a federal court for the Georgia charges to be dismissed. Does he have strong legal grounds for that?

MARTIN: I don't think so. I think the grounds that he has stated in his motion, one he identifies the supremacy clause saying that it immunizes him from liability because he was acting in his official capacity, carrying out the duties as the secretary -- or as the chief of staff for the president. And then, he also cites the First and Fourteenth Amendment, saying that these are the actions that he was engaged in are protected political actions.

I think both of those arguments are going to fall on deaf ears as it relates to the court because the indictment makes it very clear that the activity he was engaged in, participating in phone calls, contacting state officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, making attempts to reach those officials on behalf of Donald Trump.

These weren't innocuous acts by your normal chief of staff. These were acts in the furtherance of this criminal enterprise which is laid out in great detail in this 98-page indictment. So at this early stage of the proceedings, it is unlikely that the charges against Mark Meadows or any of these defendants will be dropped. FREEMAN: Now, Areva, we're still waiting, of course, on some clarity

regarding trial dates for some of Trump's multiple cases. But do you see any of these cases, realistically, being tried before election day 2024.

MARTIN: Great question, Danny. Obviously, we have never been in a position where we've had a former president who was running for president facing close to a 100 criminal charges. Four separate criminal trials happening in different jurisdictions. This is a logistical and scheduling nightmare. Even if this was just one attorney trying to juggle all of these trials.

And in this case, we have one defendant, Donald Trump, that has to appear at trials in all four jurisdictions. I think the one case that has the most likelihood of moving forward is the case in New York filed by special counsel Jack Smith before Judge Tanya Chutkan. And the reason I think that case will go before the election is because she's made it clear that some of the out-of-court comments that Donald Trump is making, comments that could be seen as an effort to influence the jury for, to intimidate potential jurors, comments that are negative towards the court system.


The judge made it clear that if he continues with that conduct, she is going to move rapidly to have this trial set and to have it concluded. So, to the extent any of these matters moves forward, I think it's going to be that trial in that federal court house in Manhattan.

FREEMAN: Areva Martin, so many moving parts. Thank you so much for breaking it all down for us this morning. We appreciate it.

MARTIN: Thanks, Danny.

FREEMAN: All right, now to some quick hits across America. At least, two people have died and dozens of homes have been destroyed as a pair of wildfires burn near Spokane, Washington. Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate with the fires just 10 percent contained.

And three people were killed and six injured in a shooting in Seattle. It happened Sunday at a hooker lounge. Police say they've recovered five guns, but are still trying to identify a suspect. And Jimmy Carter's grandson tells "People Magazine" the former president and his wife Rosalynn are in their final chapter. Jimmy Carter has been in hospice care since February. Rosalynn has dementia. They've been married for 77 years.

Coming up in a moment, Ukraine is now another step closer to getting American-made F-16 jets to help fight Russia. And the first debate of the 2024 race. Who is in and who is out Wednesday in Milwaukee? We'll tell you coming up next.