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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Netherlands And Denmark To Send F-16 Jets To Ukraine; Ecuador Heads For Presidential Runoff Vote; GOP Candidates Prepare For First Debate Without Trump. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 21, 2023 - 05:30   ET




DANNY FREEMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning Russia says it downed two Ukrainian drones over the Moscow region. It comes as Ukraine's Defense Ministry says heavy fighting continues in the eastern region near Kupyansk.

Meantime, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the Netherlands has pledged some of its F-16 fighter jets, adding to the 19 promised by Denmark.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us now from London. Clare, the U.S. gave Denmark approval to transfer F-16 training materials to Ukraine ahead of sending the fighter jets there but tell me what is the actual timeline for these jets.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Danny, that's the critical question here, really. We're hearing from the Ukrainian defense minister that the training has already started. That the minimum time of that training, he says, is six months.

They need to train not only the pilots but technical staff -- people who do maintenance. They need to upgrade infrastructure. The pilots also need to improve their level of English to be able to use all the terminology around this sophisticated weapon system. So you get a sense of the undertaking there.

The Danish prime minister says that 70 Ukrainians have already arrived in Denmark to start the training, so I think you can see the clock starts now on that six months.

Having said that, they may not have to wait until the end of that training to actually see F-16s in Ukraine. The Danish prime minister said that she expects some six of the 19 pledged by Denmark to arrive around the new year. Then they'll be eight more over the course of next year and then, five more the year after that. So it's a sort of multi-year process. We don't exactly have the numbers yet for how many.

The Netherlands will provide but look, it's clear that this is a big undertaking. It's a really big deal. They have to fly the planes, then they have to equip them with weapons. But we are reminded on a daily basis of why they are needed. They won't make it in time for this counteroffensive.

But just this morning we heard from the deputy defense minister of Ukraine that they are not expecting anything fast to happen on the southern front because Russia still has air superiority and superiority when it comes to troop numbers.

That is why we see Zelenskyy on the ground in the Netherlands and on the ground in Denmark being grateful and saying thank you for all the weapons that have been provided. It critically hinges, at this stage, on the Western weapons provided and he needs to guard against the political fatigue, especially given the perceived slowness of this counteroffensive -- Danny.

FREEMAN: Clare, thank you for that update this morning. We really appreciate it.

Moving to Latin America now. Ecuador's presidential election is headed for a runoff after neither candidate won 50 percent of the vote. Leftist Luisa Gonzalez and businessman Daniel Noboa will face off in October. This comes after one of the candidates was gunned down earlier this month at a campaign rally. Sunday's election was heavily guarded as the country remains in the grip of drug and political violence.

CNN's Rafael Romo brings us up to speed.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN WORLDWIDE SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (on camera): Pollsters didn't see it coming. Daniel Noboa was not among the leading candidates in the weeks before Sunday's first round. But after a solid performance during the presidential debate held exactly a week before the election, voters gave the 35-year-old businessman and former member of the Ecuadorian National Assembly the right to go to the second round.


Daniel Noboa is the son of Alvaro Noboa, who was also a member of the assembly and ran unsuccessfully for president three times. He will face Luisa Gonzalez, the protege of former Ecuadorian firebrand president Rafael Correa, a leftist who governed the South American country for 10 years starting in 2007.

After her win, Gonzalez said Ecuador urgently needs peace, jobs, and security, and repeated what she has said during her campaign that a return to the policies of Correa would allow the country to get out of a wave of insecurity that has made it one of the most violent in the region.

In his first remarks after winning the chance to go to the second round, Noboa emphasized his platform focuses on security for Ecuador and employment. He's hoping to rule a country that has been shaken by multiple acts of political violence. On August 9, Fernando Villavicencio, a 59-year-old investigative

journalist and former lawmaker, was gunned down when he was leaving a rally in Quito, the capital. And then on Thursday, Noboa himself said his own campaign was attacked as the candidate traveled with his entourage in the city of Duran in Guayas province.

Hundreds of inmates have died in the last year during clashes inside prisons between local drug gangs, with the government seemingly unable to put an end to the violence.

Ecuadorians will again go to the polls on October 15 to choose a president between the two winners of this Sunday's presidential election.

Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.


FREEMAN: Rafael, thank you.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

About 12,000 residents in Tenerife forced to flee their homes as wildfires erupted on the Spanish island this weekend. Officials say more than 20,000 acres have burned.

Plus, North Korean leader Kim Jung Un inspected a missile test aboard a Navy patrol ship. That's according to state media. This comes as the U.S. and South Korea begin joint military exercises today.

And a blow to Russia's space ambition. Its first lunar mission in 47 years crashed into the moon. Officials say communications were lost just before the crash.

All right. Just moments ago, what was Tropical Storm Hilary has now morphed into something over California. We'll bring you the latest. Plus, Donald Trump's risky 2024 strategy. Will he ever take a debate stage? We'll have all that coming up.



FREEMAN: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead.

Schools in Los Angeles and San Diego are among those that will be closed today because of Hilary. Just minutes ago, the storm became a post-tropical cyclone, but conditions remain dangerous.

And President Biden will head to Maui today to survey damage and console victims after wildfires ravaged the region. More than 100 people have died and hundreds more remain missing.

To politics now. Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has signed the RNC's loyalty pledge. He will now join the other 2024 hopefuls who have qualified for the debate stage on Wednesday -- a stage that likely will not include the frontrunner, though.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has more.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do know that you have a couple of candidates who live here. Do we want a president who is focused on your problems, or do we want a president who will be spending his time trying to fend off the next criminal trial?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days to debate day, Chris Christie is in Miami, in the home state of former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

CHRISTIE: I'm here because we need to talk about these things and I'm not conceding that conversation to Ron DeSantis, and you can be sure I'm not conceding that conversation to Donald Trump.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): It's been a theme of the Christie campaign -- blasting Donald Trump.

CHRISTIE: The frontrunner for our party's nomination is going to be out on bail in four different jurisdictions.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): But Christie also used the Florida setting to go after its governor, Ron DeSantis.

CHRISTIE: People are really beginning to wonder what the hell he stands for.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): He honed in on a recent memo from a pro- DeSantis super PAC floating potential debate talking points that included "defend Donald Trump," though a DeSantis campaign spokesperson stressed it wasn't a campaign memo and they were unaware of it prior.

CHRISTIE: The only way to beat someone is to beat them. If he thinks he's going to get on the stage and defend Donald Trump on Wednesday night, then he should do Donald Trump a favor and do our party a favor. Come back to Tallahassee, endorse Donald Trump, and get the hell out of the race.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): CNN has reached out to the DeSantis campaign on Christie's latest comments. Recent polls have shown support for DeSantis slipping but he is trying to project confidence going into the first debate.

RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm excited about doing it because most of what you do in this process is filtered through media and seldom do you get the opportunity to speak directly to this many people.

JIMENEZ (on camera): What are you hoping to accomplish with this debate that you haven't so far at this point?

CHRISTIE: Get seen by more people. I listen to the question. I try to answer it. And if somebody else says something on the stage that I think is really stupid I try to point it out. That's about the -- that's the depth of our strategy.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): It's an authenticity that seemed to resonate with some voters who attended Friday's town hall --

PETER ENGLAND, REPUBLICAN VOTER: He does speak his mind and I find that really refreshing in a presidential candidate.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): -- even for some Independents who were there.

TED NIARHOS, INDEPENDENT, VOTED FOR TRUMP IN 2016: Everyone's afraid to say anything and he actually got up and he spoke his mind.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Which Christie also plans to do on the debate stage as his campaign feels momentum is on their side.

CHRISTIE: The people who are going to vote for me feel strongly about it and we're going to increase those numbers.

JIMENEZ (on camera): Governor, how is this different from 2016?

CHRISTIE: When you do stuff for a second time, at least for me, I always do it better the second time than I do it the first. I feel really relaxed and comfortable. And I know I'm speaking the truth and I think that's going to matter to people in the long run.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Omar Jimenez, CNN, Miami, Florida.



FREEMAN: All right, thank you to Omar for that.

So, while Christie will be on the debate stage -- of course, the frontrunner, though, will be missing. Donald Trump writing Sunday on his social media platform that "The public knows who I am and what a successful presidency I had. I will therefore not be doing the debates."

Eight candidates, so far, have fully qualified to take part in the debate on Wednesday. So for more on this let's bring in CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for The Boston Globe, Jackie Kucinich.

All right, Jackie, I feel like this isn't surprising. We knew this was likely coming but that post over the weekend made it real. But I'm curious from your perspective, with such a big polling lead was there actually any incentive for the president to get on that stage?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE (via Webex by Cisco): Well -- so it's because former President Trump is like a moth to a flame when it comes to TV cameras. So there was always a possibility that he would decide that it wasn't beneficial for him to show up because it will give oxygen to his competitors.

Now, at this point, he doesn't see that it's beneficial to go head-to- head with them, but you have to believe if after this debate you see any of these people start rising in the polls and getting anywhere close to him, that will draw him back in.

FREEMAN: Well, I'm curious about your perspective on this, Jackie, because I think we saw from Omar's piece, right -- Chris Christie, we can expect to take on Trump head-on. But how will the rest of the field --


FREEMAN: -- approach Trump not being on stage? Are they just going to ignore the fact?

KUCINICH: There are some that really do need to introduce themselves to the country who are a rounding error in the polls even though they have qualified for this debate -- and people like Doug Burgum. People -- and several of these candidates have said they need to introduce themselves.

That said, ignoring former President Trump is a temporary position because as Chris Christie said, at some point you're going to have to address him, and you've got to through the former president in order to get this nomination. You can't just praise him and hope that if he drops out or something, which he's said he's not going to do, that you're going to be the last guy standing.

FREEMAN: All right, here's the unanswered question though, and I'm curious about your thoughts on this. Could Trump's move to skip this debate --


FREEMAN: -- and, frankly, possibly future debates -- do you think there's any way that hurts him with GOP primary voters?

KUCINICH: I think that's one of those we'll have to wait and see questions. Because right now, the people that like the former president -- they're going to hear from him on Tucker Carlson's program --question mark -- as a counterprogramming to this Republican debate.

Whether or not they want to see him face-to-face -- I mean, you're already seeing some of the other candidates say that the former president has lost his step and that's why he's not showing up -- trying to bait him into these debates. Whether he takes the bait and whether his supporters want him to take the bait, that remains to be seen.

FREEMAN: Once again, another GOP primary where we don't know exactly what's going to happen. We don't know what's going to happen with the debate, with surrendering in Fulton County, but we'll be watching all of it.

Jackie Kucinich, thank you very much.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. Thank you.

FREEMAN: And coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" the latest from Southern California where landslides have swamped highways and threatened buildings.

And coming up next, right here, the new fastest man in the world. You're not going to want to miss it.



FREEMAN: There is a new fastest man in the world, American Noah Lyles.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. And Coy, I mean, he's drawing comparisons to maybe the greatest sprinter of all time.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, and don't blink or you might miss him in this highlight. Good morning. No one should ever doubt Noah Lyles again. Last year, when he first said that he wanted to win gold in the 100, he had never even qualified for the event on the senior level. Now he's the world champ.

Twenty-six years old, absolutely dominating the competition in Budapest yesterday, posting one of the fastest times in history and the fastest of his life -- 9.83 seconds. That gives the two-time defending 200-meter world champ a chance to become the first man since Usain Bolt in 2015 to win gold in both events at the worlds.

After the 100, he went into the stands and gives mom Keisha a big hug. Paris 2024, look out.

Our Eurosport colleagues caught up with him just after his 100-meter win.


NOAH LYLES, 2023 100-METER DASH CHAMPION: I've taken a lot of losses, even in the 100. Going to USAs with COVID I got bronze. A lot of people would have counted me out right there -- and probably did already. But I already knew what I had to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Can we get a close-up, cameraman, of those nails? The stars on the nails -- what do they mean?

LYLES: Stars for a star.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stars for a star. Noah Lyles, we'll see you in the 200 meters.


WIRE: All right. We are going to turn now to some sad news. Spain's World Cup hero Olga Carmona -- she scored the game-winner in the semifinal and in the final over England to help win Spain its first World Cup title yesterday.

The 23-year-old captain learned after the game that her father had passed away. Carmona releasing this statement saying, quote, "And without knowing it, I had my star before the game started. I know you have given me the strength to achieve something unique. I know you were watching me tonight and that you are proud of me. Rest in peace, Dad."

Let's go to the Western & Southern Open. World number one Carlos Alcaraz had number two Novak Djokovic up against the ropes. Joker drops the first set and was done a break in the second when he calls for a medical timeout. Thirty-six years old battling feels-like temps well over 100 degrees in Cincinnati. Well, it's exactly the break he needed. After this, he rallies to win an epic three-hour-49-minute three-set showdown against the 20-year-old phenom.

This was a rematch of the Wimbledon final won by Alcarez and a potential preview of the U.S. Open next week. And this was the third time they've faced off this year. Joker now with a slight edge.


Novak, how you feeling after this one?


NOVAK DJOKOVIC, 23-TIME MAJOR CHAMPION: So much to say and so little energy, to be honest. Definitely one of the toughest and most exciting matches I was ever part of from any tournament. It did feel like a grand slam final -- even more than that, to be honest. Every match that we play against each other goes the distance. So, yeah, I'm hoping we can play in some weeks' time in New York. That would be nice.


WIRE: That's going to be a fun one to watch, potentially.

Now, someone else that fans can keep their eye on there in Queens next week, Coco Gauff. Heading into the U.S. Open on the hottest streak of her career, she beats French Open finalist Karolina Muchova in straight sets to win her second title in three weeks. In the semis, she beat world number one Iga Swiatek. She's been 0-7 against her and never even won a set.

Coco has been on the scene for a while. It's hard to believe she's still just 19 years old. She and fellow American Jess Pegula are some of the favorites to win the U.S. Open.

What do you think of Noah Lyles' nails? I don't know if I could pull it off, but I think I want to try.

FREEMAN: Listen, when you're the fastest man you can do whatever you want, right? That's the whole thing. WIRE: You got it.

FREEMAN: Thanks so much, Coy -- appreciate it.

WIRE: Thanks, Danny.

FREEMAN: All right. "Barbie" got bumped by the "Blue Beetle."


Clip from Warner Bros Pictures "Blue Beetle."


FREEMAN: Very cool here. DC's new superhero movie hit number one at the box office this weekend, earning $25.4 million. "Barbie" wasn't far behind bringing in $21.5 million in the fifth week of its release. It's now earned $1.3 billion globally.

I'm telling you, I'm excited to see "Blue Beetle," but I also still need to see "Barbie." So now I have more movies on my list to get to.

All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Danny Freeman.

"CNN THIS MORNING" is coming up next with a storm not seen in Southern California since the 1990s. The latest from the ground coming up. Plus, President Biden just hours away from arriving on Maui. What he can say to comfort those who have lost so much in the deadly fires there. Stay with us.