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GOP Candidates Prepare For First Debate Without Trump; Japan To Release Fukushima Water As Soon As Thursday; China's Xi Jinping In South Africa Ahead of BRICS Summit. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 22, 2023 - 05:30   ET



DANNY FREEMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now Ukraine claims a drone damaged at least one aircraft on that base.

Meanwhile, Russia's military says it destroyed four Ukrainian drones -- two of them flying over the capital region.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us now from London. Clare, Russia's TASS News, I understand, is reporting the three biggest airports in Moscow have suspended flights. Tell us, what have you learned?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Danny. I think -- look, if the purpose of these drone strikes -- which, by the way, Moscow says it prevented -- are to sow disruption and chaos to some degree. Then I think, to some extent, it's working.

We've seen airport restrictions come in several times over the past few days. This morning, the state media are reporting that nine flights had to be diverted. That's on top of 45 passenger flights and two cargo flights that had to be diverted on Monday morning in the early hours due to other attempted drone attacks.

And you can see here some damage to a building in the town of Krasnogorsk, which is just to the west of Moscow. That is also the town where the government of the Moscow region is headquartered as well. Not a lot of damage and no casualties.

But again, this looks like an attempt -- and Ukraine hasn't claimed responsibility, but it looks like an attempt to sort of crack that propaganda facade to bring it home to the Russian people that this is -- this is not, in fact, a small-scale special military operation, as Russia calls it.

And I think you have to view separately from these the attacks that we're hearing about -- two separate incidents at Russian air bases -- one that Russia has admitted to that happened on Saturday at an air base not far from St. Petersburg, and a second one on Monday at the Shaykovka here -- the Shaykovka Air Base just to the west -- southwest of Moscow where Ukraine says it damaged a Russian plane. That looks more like specific military targeting trying to ease the pressure on the front lines. But I think the bottom line here is that the volume of these drone attacks within Russia now are increasing with very startling regularity and it speaks to the expanding tactics and scope of this war, Danny.

FREEMAN: Yes. It really feels like we hear more and more about these drones every day.

Clare, thank you.

And now to some quick hits around the globe right now.

Storms in central Chile have triggered heavy rains and massive flooding forcing thousands of people to evacuate the area. Chile's president has declared a state of emergency.

And Greek officials held an emergency meeting as firefighters battled dozens of new wildfires fanned by strong winds in the northeast. State media says at least one person has died.

And voters in Ecuador have banned oil drilling in the Amazon Rainforest's Yasuni National Park after a historic referendum. It comes as the impacts of human-caused climate change accelerate.

Coming up in just a moment, Donald Trump likely a no-show at the first Republican primary debate, but something's still in store, up ahead.

Plus, Chinese leader Xi Jinping heads to South Africa. What he is doing there. Stay with us.



FREEMAN: The first Republican presidential debate takes place tomorrow night in Milwaukee, but it will be without the current frontrunner, former President Donald Trump.

CNN's Kristen Holmes looks ahead.


MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you all for being here.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Top Republican presidential hopefuls are gearing up for the first primary debate Wednesday in Milwaukee without GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Should I do the debate? Maybe we'll do something else.

HOLMES (voice-over): The former president announced Sunday he would skip the first debate and possibly others, citing his advantage in primary polls.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's a coward. HOLMES (voice-over): The former president's rivals calling out his decision --

RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he owes it to people. I don't think our voters -- I don't think they're going to look kindly on somebody that thinks they don't have to earn it.


HOLMES: -- and now looking to seize the spotlight making their case for why they should be the party's nominee.

PENCE: I'm just going to be me. I feel like I've been preparing for this first Republican presidential debate my whole life.

DESANTIS: You've got to be ready for everything. I mean, people have already said I'm going to be the guy that's taking most of the incoming.

NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Once this debate happens this week it's off to the races. That's when you're going to start to see people really focus in on different candidates and look at what their options are. We feel really good going into the debate.

HOLMES (voice-over): Trump's decision not to attend the debate comes as a new Iowa poll shows the former president with a commanding lead in the critical early nominating state. Forty-two percent of likely Republican caucusgoers say Trump is their first choice, more than doubling the support of his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

While no other hopeful reached double-digit support, a majority of those polled said they could be persuaded to back someone other than their first-choice candidate. And for those contenders who will be on the debate stage, that's the opening they're hoping to capitalize on.

DOUG BURGUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're excited to be on the debate stage -- the least known candidate on there.

HOLMES (voice-over): So far, eight candidates have qualified for the debate and signed a loyalty pledge vowing to support the party's eventual nominee -- a step Trump has refused.

In Trump's absence, DeSantis is set to be the leading candidate on stage. His campaign circulating a memo to supporters and donors says the Florida governor is prepared quote "to be the center of attacks."

Over the weekend, DeSantis sparking backlash from Trump's backers after these comments.

DESANTIS: A movement can't be about the personality of one individual. If all we are is listless vessels that are just supposed to follow whatever happens to come down the pike on Truth Social every morning, that's not going to be a durable movement.

HOLMES (voice-over): The DeSantis campaign later clarifying the governor was speaking about Trump's allies in Washington; not criticizing Trump supporters.

HOLMES (on camera): And we have learned that former President Trump will be doing counterprogramming to Wednesday night's debate. He has a prerecorded interview with former Fox host Tucker Carlson. Now, it's unclear where exactly that interview is going to publish. However, sources said that it would publish around the time that the debate is held on Wednesday night.


Former President Trump, himself, will be at his Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey on Wednesday.

Kristen Holmes, CNN, Washington.


FREEMAN: OK, for more on all of this let's bring in Mariana Alfaro on the breaking political news team at The Washington Post.

Mariana, let's start right there. Trump with a pre-taped interview with Tucker Carlson. Is this a smart move for his campaign?

MARIANA ALFARO, POLITICS BREAKING NEWS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Skype): Yes. I mean, we already were preparing for him to offer any sort of programming. For a second, we thought it might be him turning himself in, in Georgia, but this seems like a little bit more his lane. He's going to have a chance to kind of touch on every single topic here. Tucker has been known to just give him a platform for all his things he had to say.

So -- I mean, definitely, in our newsroom we're going to be split- screening this -- you know, watching that on the one side and then the debate on the other.

FREEMAN: Although I do think it's interesting that it won't be live -- that it will be pre-taped. At least that's the expectation.

Mariana, I do want you to take a listen though to part of what Trump's former press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had to say about Trump missing the debate. Take a listen.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a huge political miscalculation. You give others the opportunity to shine. You give others two hours to throw lobs at you. And I know former President Trump can dance across that debate stage and can defend himself, but you're not there to do it yourself. You're counting on maybe others --


MCENANY: -- to step in.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FREEMAN: See -- but I'm still not convinced that anyone besides Chris Christie will even attack or address the former president. So is there any risk here?

ALFARO: Yes. So, we were reporting -- my colleagues reported yesterday that the campaigns have prepared for two scenarios. One in which Trump shows up last minute and they have to debate him on stage, and the other one just how to make a point that he wasn't there.

But as you mentioned, Chris Christie is the only one that's really come out and said I'm going to come after the former president on stage.

I know that Asa Hutchinson has also been one of the few on the list that has been very vocal against the president.

But if you look at Mike Pence, who really was targeted on January 6, he's said the former president shouldn't have done these things. The former president should have not pushed us to this point. But he hasn't really used the indictments in his favor, so I don't expect to see a lot of that.

I know that Ron DeSantis -- if you read that memo and if you kind of see where that memo that his allies posted is going to, it says he's not going to pile after Trump. He's actually going to fight any other Republican who does.

And so, like, that doesn't seem like the other candidates are taking on the strategy that they have a shot here to use the indictments in any sort of way that could help them

FREEMAN: Right. That memo specifically said that he is going to try to attack people that are polling lower than he is.

But speaking of polling, we've got the --


FREEMAN: -- Des Moines Register poll out yesterday. Our own polls say it, too. No one, right now, is in double-digits in this race, really, except for Trump and DeSantis.

So, Mariana, how important is it for other candidates to really break out of this debate?

ALFARO: Yes. I think that this one -- I mean, given that it is the first, but it's the first time that they have access to this national platform. They've been in Iowa for a few days now but that is really just reaching one specific part of the electorate. I think that this time they've really got to use the opportunity to shine and break through a little more.

There was a CBS poll that came out, I think last week, that said Republican voters are kind of tired of hearing them come after Trump. They want these candidates to make a case for themselves. They want to see them do that instead of making a case against Trump. So we'll see if they have the opportunity to kind of wade through all the other noise and kind of explain why they have the right to be there and be the candidate instead of Trump.

FREEMAN: Well, and that Des Moines Register poll really showed that, like you said, GOP primary voters -- they -- there is no upside to other candidates attacking Trump. I mean, it was -- it was clear as day.

Mariana, the last thing I want to ask. Do you see the GOP field changing at all after tomorrow night?

ALFARO: Because it is the first debate I think that some might try to hold out a little longer. There's a few other candidates who did not make it to the stage. I'm thinking Will Hurd, former congressman from Texas. And it really depends on how much (INAUDIBLE) forward.

I know that a lot of them will be hoping that major donors -- major GOP donors who have not signed up for Trump, who are kind of still skeptical about who they can back -- that's who they're talking to tonight, too. So that makes a difference, I think.

Maybe -- I expect maybe one drop-off, but I don't think that any of them are really looking to exit right now. I think it's the first stage.

FREEMAN: Well said.

All right. Well, we'll all be watching. Mariana Alfaro, thank you very much for sharing your insight.

ALFARO: Thanks.

FREEMAN: All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING," President Biden promising to support Hawaii for as long as it takes.

And next, coming up right here, the biggest search in five decades for the legendary Loch Ness Monster.



FREEMAN: Japan plans to start releasing treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant as early as Thursday. Some neighboring countries have been pushing back on the move, though.

CNN's Anna Coren is live in Hong Kong. Anna, there's some concern about this water, especially from fishermen, I understand. What did Japanese officials say about that?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Danny, this is a highly controversial decision that's outraged many people not only in Japan -- those fishermen, specifically -- but also in the region, with China accusing Japan of treating the ocean as a dumping ground. But the Japanese government has basically run out of options on how to dispose of this treated radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.


Let's go back 12 years. That's when the plant was hit by a 9.0- magnitude earthquake and tsunami. Power was cut and the nuclear plant went into meltdown. Seawater was pumped in to cool the reactors and that water, which became radioactive, accumulated over time to 1.3 million metric tons.

Now, the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida -- he, today, announced that on Thursday, if weather and ocean conditions permit, they will begin slowly pumping that water into the Pacific Ocean. According to the government, the water release will happen over a period of 30 years.

Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report last month saying the water has been treated and it meets international safety standards, and it would not have a negative impact on the people or the environment.

But fishermen, as you say, and scientists in neighboring countries -- they are not convinced.

We heard from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They lodged another protest claiming that it will take necessary measures to safeguard food safety and the health of its people. You have to assume that means a boycott on Japanese seafood. Beijing has called on Japan to withdraw its plans.

We know that there is opposition from within South Korea and also here in Hong Kong.

But in an attempt to allay fears and be transparent, the IAEA has actually set up an office at the Fukushima plant, Danny. It says it will publish data for the public in real time as the water is being discharged into the Pacific Ocean.

FREEMAN: Wow, a fascinating story. Thank you so much, Anna, for bringing that report -- appreciate it.

And Chinese leader Xi Jinping in South Africa seeking to bolster Beijing's influence among developing nations. During his three-day state visit, Xi will attend a summit with the leaders of the BRICS emerging economies. The bloc's members account for more than 40 percent of the global population.

CNN's Steven Jiang live in Beijing now with more. Stephen, could Xi's trip impact the already strained U.S.-China tensions?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Danny, the fact is this is only Xi Jinping's second international trip after the pandemic -- the first actually being back in March when he went to Moscow to see his quote-unquote dear friend Putin.

So that really -- that kind of dynamic and priority really shows you where his foreign policy lies. But also the fact that this grouping, despite their vastly different political and economic models, these leaders -- they are bonded over their sheer desire and, some would say, grievances against a U.S.-led global order.

So that's why they'll be talking about potentially expanding this group and relying less on the U.S. dollar -- all of which, of course, could benefit China at a time when tension remains very high between Beijing and Washington with a lot of chatter about the coupling. But also, benefits -- this could also benefit Xi Jinping himself as he cements his leadership role in this grouping.

But let's not forget Xi Jinping arrived in South Africa at a time when the Chinese economy is facing its strongest headwinds in decades. He's facing a myriad of problems at home and that means he is perhaps seeking new markets for Chinese exports in the -- in the emerging markets. But also, he may face more constraints when it comes to what kind of projects China may be able to invest and finance across the so-called global south -- especially in Africa.

That's why some experts say we are seeing this shift in strategy. They are adopting a more low-cost, high-impact strategy by bringing more African military officers to China for training, for example. But also, expanding its soft power through cultural investments and the propaganda. One thing they are doing, Danny, is launching a show called "Classics Quoted by Xi Jinping." So I'm sure they hope that's going to be a hit in Africa -- Danny.


Steven, thank you for that report. We appreciate it.

All right, shifting gears now. Monster hunters unite for the biggest search in more than 50 years for the legendary Loch Ness Monster. This weekend, supernatural fanatics from around the world will be tuning in online to see if researchers can prove that the famed sea beast lies somewhere beneath Scotland's Loch Ness. Investigators will be breaking out their best stuff, from infrared cameras to hydrophones to detect acoustic signals and subvert -- and surveying equipment that's never been used there before.

Can't wait. Hope they do not find him.

All right, now to sports. The Ravens' record-setting preseason winning streak comes to an end at 24 games with a loss to the Commanders in the final seconds.

Andy Scholes here with us now. He's got the morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes, good morning, Danny.

So in terms of the most worthless streaks in sports this was definitely up there because no one cares if you win in the preseason. But somehow the Ravens had not lost a preseason game since 2015.

On "MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL" last night, Jake Fromm getting the Commanders in field goal range in the final seconds. Joey Slye nails that 49-yarder to win the game 29-28. The Commanders all celebrating.


And afterwards, Ravens coach John Harbaugh -- well, he reflected on the end of their 24-game win streak.


JOHN HARBAUGH, COACH, BALTIMORE RAVENS: It's been one of these things you look at and you're just -- you go wow, how'd that happen? How did something like that take place? It's pretty -- it's pretty remarkable. What are the odds?


SCHOLES: Yes, John's brother Jim, meanwhile, will not be on the sidelines for the first three games of this season. Michigan self- imposing a three-game suspension for Harbaugh stemming from alleged recruiting violations during the COVID-19 dead period. The NCAA still investigating and has yet to hand down their punishment. Harbaugh is going to miss games against East Carolina, UNLV, and Bowling Green before returning for Michigan's Big 10 opener against Rutgers.

All right, American Sha'Carri Richardson, meanwhile, wins the gold medal in the 100 meters at the World Track and Field Championships two years after a positive marijuana test derailed her Olympic dreams. Running at the bottom of your screen there, Richardson finished in 10.65 seconds to match this year's best time and set the world championship record. She's considered a favorite to win at the Paris Olympics, which start in less than a year from now.


SHA'CARRI RICHARDSON, WOMEN'S 100 METER WORLD CHAMPION: I feel amazing. I feel like hard work pays off. I've been dedicating myself. I've been keeping my faith strong this season and just believing and knowing whatever you practice is what you put forward, and I'm grateful. When I celebrated it was because I felt like I did my best. No matter what the result was going to be, I felt like I did my best.


SCHOLES: All right. And finally, thousands of people lining the streets of Madrid last night to celebrate Spain's Women's World Cup title. The team rode in an open-top bus on the way to a rally in the same park where the 2010 Men's World Cup champions celebrated their victory. Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was there to greet the team who beat England 1-nil on Sunday.

It looked like quite the party there, Danny. And after a lot of World Cup. We had the men's, then we had the women's just now. We're going to have a little break until 2026 when the Men's World Cup is here in the U.S.

FREEMAN: Andy, I miss it already, but I cannot wait for it to come to the U.S. So, so excited. SCHOLES: It should be exciting, yes.

FREEMAN: Thanks for that, Andy -- appreciate it.

And thank you for watching. I'm Danny Freeman.

Coming up next on "CNN THIS MORNING," former President Trump planning to turn himself in on Thursday in Georgia. Plus, the serious impact long COVID is having on people who contracted it before the vaccine. Stay with us.