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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Tonight: First Republican Presidential Debate; Soon: Indian Spacecraft To Land On The Moon; Eight Rescued From Dangling Cable Car After 14-Hour Ordeal. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 23, 2023 - 05:30   ET



ELENI GIOKOS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It has been unbelievably terrifying to watch this play out, Danny.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, Eleni, those images are just terrifying. I truly hope that you and your crew stay safe and I hope that --


FREEMAN: -- fire officials can get these fires under control as soon as possible. Eleni, thank you.

All right, just into CNN, the former leader of Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine, known as Gen. Armageddon, has been dismissed from his position as the head of Russia's Aerospace Forces. That's according to Russian state media.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us now live from London. Clare, Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier Gen. Pat Ryder said the U.S. is prepared to support Ukrainian fighter jet pilot training. But I just want you to tell us what more can you -- what more information can you give us about this latest breaking news about Gen. Armageddon.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Danny, this is Gen. Sergey Surovikin who for three months, from October to January last year -- or January this year, commanded the -- what Russia still calls the special military operation in Ukraine. He has been the head of the Aerospace Forces since 2018.

But the real reason why this is so significant is because he hasn't been seen in public since that aborted Wagner mutiny in June. He made a video address while that was still unfolding telling Prigozhin and his men to stop their march.

But since then a lot of things have come to light. There was some reporting from The New York Times citing U.S. officials that he might have known in advance about Prigozhin's plans. There were rumors circulating that he may have been arrested and jailed. Then CNN reported back in July that he had actually relatively close links to Wagner -- that he was one of at least 30 Russian generals who had a sort of VIP membership of the group. So a lot of questions swirling about him.

And now, we hear this morning from RIA Novosti, which is a state news agency, citing a source -- an informed source that he has now been relieved of his post as the head of the Aerospace Forces and replaced by the current head of the general staff of the Aerospace Forces, Viktor Afzalov.

Now, we don't know what he's going to be doing next. Another Russian outlet -- a business outlet called RBC says that he will be taking up another post and he is on a short holiday.

And as for officially, we haven't heard from the Russian Ministry of Defense. He is still listed as the head of the Aerospace Forces on their website. But it does look like for now he has been replaced, according to state media -- so highly significant, Danny.

FREEMAN: Highly significant and also fast-paced. Thank you, Clare, for bringing us the latest there.

Coming up in a moment, who is the one to beat at the 2024 Republican primary debate tonight in Milwaukee? Plus, India's historic moon mission as it eyes a lunar landing.



FREEMAN: We're now just hours away from the first GOP presidential primary debate. But with former President Trump expected to be a no- show, all eyes will be on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who is a distant second next to Trump in the latest polls but still second.

CNN's Randi Kaye looks at DeSantis' past debating style.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Andrew is a failed mayor. He's presided over a crime-ridden city.

RANDI KAYE, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Republican Ron DeSantis attacking Democrat Andrew Gillum right out of the gate at their 2018 gubernatorial debate. But according to one of Gillum's debate coaches, DeSantis isn't always so confident on the debate stage and he has a move that's a dead giveaway.

KEVIN CATE, COACHED ANDREW GILLUM FOR DEBATE AGAINST DESANTIS: Going into the debates we know that Ron had a nervous jaw. We could tell that whenever he was irritated he would move it back and forth.

KAYE (voice-over): Media consultant Kevin Cate says DeSantis tends to grit his teeth when he's under attack or annoyed by his opponent or the moderator.

CATE: He's irritated to be there. And that's why you see oftentimes instead of attacking the candidate or issues, or policy, he goes after the referee -- the debate moderator. KAYE (voice-over): Like in 2018 when DeSantis was asked about

speaking at conferences years ago with a conservative firebrand who has said negative things about African American, this happened.

DEBATE MODERATOR: Yes, he had, sir. The first statement was made many years ago in 2003.

DESANTIS: Well, how -- I mean, how the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?

KAYE (voice-over): DeSantis comes prepared to debates with facts and figures. But in this case, he appeared to freeze before firing off a one-liner against Charlie Crist in 2022.

CHARLIE CRIST, CANDIDATE FOR FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Will you serve a full four-year term if you're reelected governor of Florida? It's not a tough question. It's a fair question and he won't tell you.

DESANTIS: Well listen, I know that Charlie's interested in talking about 2024 and Joe Biden, but I just want to make things very, very clear. The only worn-out old donkey I'm looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.

KAYE (voice-over): In past debates, DeSantis has blamed the other guy -- even when defending his own policy.

DESANTIS: You are the one that's waging the culture war.

KAYE (voice-over): And when things aren't going his way there's apparently another tell-tale sign from DeSantis.

CATE: When he gets irritated his voice goes up and up and up, and that's when you know you've really landed the punch.

KAYE (voice-over): Still, DeSantis has been known to pivot. Watch this when he was asked if Donald Trump is a good role model for children.

DESANTIS: I don't actually read "The Art of the Deal" to my son, Mason. He's a -- he's a great kid and he smiles at anything, but that's not necessarily his cup of tea. So here's what I know. I was very passionate about moving our American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

KAYE (voice-over): On stage, DeSantis likes to tout his record.

DESANTIS: He called for harsh lockdowns in July of 2020. I lifted you up. I protected your rights.

Thank you!

KAYE (voice-over): At his first presidential debate, given DeSantis has the highest poll numbers among the candidates on stage, he will be standing in the center.

His new campaign manager said in a recent memo to the candidate's friends and supporters, "We are fully prepared for Gov. DeSantis to be the center of attacks and on the receiving end of false, desperate charges from other candidates."


So, Ron DeSantis better prepare for a fight.

DESANTIS: I am not going to bow down to the altar of political correctness.

KAYE (voice-over): Randi Kaye, CNN, Palm Beach County, Florida.


FREEMAN: All right. For more on the big debate night, let's bring in Axios reporter Stef Kight.

Stef, I want to start with Gov. DeSantis. He is a distant second in the polls behind Trump, but he's still second. So what do you think he needs to do to boost support tonight?

STEF KIGHT, POLITICS REPORTER, AXIOS (via Skype): This is going to be a huge night for DeSantis. Obviously, he has been in that second-place position for a long time now, but we've been seeing him drop so steadily in the polls over the past few weeks and months.

He had some pretty worrying financial trends when we saw those FEC reports not too long ago. And his campaign has touted this reset trying to regain momentum after a lot of anticipation and a lot of expectation around him getting into the race. And we haven't really seen that play out into him getting any closer to the frontrunner, Donald Trump.

And so he is going to have to really make a convincing showing at the debate tonight to really show the American public -- Republicans -- that no, he is actually the person who should be in the second place spot and he should be the person they should be looking for -- looking to instead of Donald Trump. But, of course, there's the risk that he ends up being viewed as just another candidate -- kind of with the rest of the pack -- falling behind from Donald Trump's steady lead.

FREEMAN: Well, Stef -- and I'm curious. Do you think that because DeSantis will literally be in the center of the stage -- you know, basically, the frontrunner spot because Trump won't be there -- do you think that he is going to face the brunt of the attacks from some of the other GOP candidates?

KIGHT: That's certainly what we are expecting based on what we've been hearing so far. Certainly, most of the candidates are going to see him as the target tonight. Of course, some candidates might take a little bit of an easier approach.

Sen. Tim Scott has indicated that maybe he won't go quite as hard against Ron DeSantis, in particular. He wants to show himself as just his own candidate trying to show why he would be the best person to take on President Joe Biden in a general election. And there will also be some of the lower-tier candidates who this is really their opportunity to let people know who they are. So people like Doug Burgum and Asa Hutchinson. We might see them maybe take less of an aggressive approach and more of an approach of showing the American people -- showing people watching this is who we are, this is what we would do, and kind of distinguishing themselves, taking this as an opportunity to try to get some momentum that maybe they haven't gotten so far.

FREEMAN: OK. But again, Stef, Trump is still the frontrunner. So I'm curious. Do you think anyone on that stage -- I've been asking this all week -- do you think anyone on that stage will try to go after Trump, besides Chris Christie, or even just criticize him at all?

KIGHT: I think that's a huge question, especially if as we're expecting they get asked what they would do with these various indictments that the former president is facing right now. I'm very curious to see whether anyone else will decide to take a stab at Trump.

Whether Nikki Haley maybe will kind of -- she's tended to be very careful in choosing her words when she talks about the former president. She is one person I'll be watching closely. Of course, Chris Christie we're expecting to go pretty hard against the former president. While on the other end of things, DeSantis is already seemingly preparing to go on defense for Trump.

So I think we're going to see all of these different strategies become quite clear. Vivek Ramaswamy, as well, has been very defensive of the president, promising to pardon him if he were to be in the White House. Promising to pardon Trump. So it's going to become very clear what these various strategies are and we're going to see which ones are the most effective moving forward.

FREEMAN: Stef Kight, politics reporter for Axios, thank you so much for your time this morning.

KIGHT: Thanks for having me.

FREEMAN: And don't forget right after the big event in Milwaukee, Anderson Cooper and Dana Bash will host post-debate analysis. That's live tonight at 11:00 Eastern on CNN.

Returning overseas, excitement building in India as the country is just hours away from an attempt at a lunar landing. Now, if successful, it would be the fourth country in the world to ever do so.

CNN's Vedika Sud joins us now from New Delhi. Vedika, India's last attempt to land on the moon, I understand, ended in a crash. So how confident is its space agency that this time they'll hit the mark?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that was in 2019 and it did fail, but this mission comes with a promise of reworked things. As far as the scientists are concerned from the Indian space agency, they have got sturdier landing legs. They have got more solar panels and a larger fuel tank. But it's the last 15 minutes, Danny, which will be extremely crucial

in about three hours from now. These scientists need nerves of steel as I speak. The last three hours being very crucial, and the last 20 minutes -- that's when this moon craft will be moving and converting from a horizontal position to a vertical position for landing.


If India succeeds it's going to be the fourth country to do so and also the first to make a soft landing, which means a gentle and controlled landing on the southern pole of the moon's surface. This is a big deal for India because it will also assert itself as a global space power.

Now, just a few days ago, we heard of the news of the Russian moon craft -- the spacecraft crashing into the lunar surface. India is also part of that space race.

What would this lead to? Well, if India is successful in making this landing today it will help with further space explorations, especially on the moon, and also understand whether there is water on the moon, which has been established earlier that there is frozen water. That could possibly be used as fuel, as water, and as -- also for other purposes on the moon, which would make this perhaps a base for further explorations in space.

So today is a very important day. Indians are praying all across the country for this to be a successful landing.

Back to you.

FREEMAN: All right, hoping for those nerves of steel to pay off. Vedika, thank you.

All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" two more of Donald Trump's co-defendants surrendering overnight in Atlanta. We're live at the Fulton County Jail.

And next, right here, tears of relief after a precarious 14-hour rescue in Pakistan.



FREEMAN: Over 110 million Americans are under heat alerts as a brutal heat wave just bakes the south.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam has the forecast. Good morning, Derek. Tell us, how long is this heat wave really expected to last?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED BROADCAST METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's definitely here today and tomorrow but there is relief in store.

Look at the scope and the magnitude of these heat alerts -- the heat alerts that are stacked up across the central U.S. This stretches basically from Louisiana all the way to Minnesota, and West Virginia westward towards the Dakotas. This is covering over 110 million Americans and over 20 states impacted by this impressive heat wave.

And, by the way, places like Chicago and Indianapolis -- you may reach 100 degrees for the first time in over a decade. That kind of puts it into perspective how serious and the scope of this heat wave actually is.

So, going forward, we have the potential for 400 record highs and record maximum-minimum temperatures overnight. This is -- record-low temperatures overnight, I should say. Record low maximums -- that's a tough one.

One hundred ten degrees -- that is what it feels like as you step outside today across parts of the Midwest -- Davenport into Chicago and Springfield. So this is the feels-like temperature. That includes the air temperature and the humidity. And this is why authorities are so concerned. They're warning people to stay indoors today because that triple-digit heat is going to be oppressive.

Now, look at the forecast going forward. I mentioned -- hinted at a little bit of cooling. Well, check this out. A significant difference heading into the weekend for places like Omaha, the Windy City, as well as Minneapolis.

You can see the above-average temperatures quickly shrinking as some cooler air starts to settle in. A bit of a relief. We want to see that. We need it so desperately.

Look at Shreveport to Little Rock and Memphis -- also feeling like 110 degrees-plus today -- incredible -- Danny.

FREEMAN: Derek, thank you.

All right, to the dramatic rescue we've all been talking about for the past 24 hours. Eight people rescued from a cable car that snapped in Pakistan, dangling hundreds of feet over a remote valley for 14 hours. Officials say six of the eight were children on their way to school.

CNN's Sophia Saifi is live in Islamabad. Sophia, please, just walk us through this ordeal.

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Danny, it's been a spectacular day yesterday and the whole nation let out a sigh of relief when these six children and two adults were finally recovered off the dangling -- up above, suspended in that cable car, which had -- one of the cables had snapped and led to such a difficult rescue.

We had helicopters -- commandos trying to get them down. One of the kids was retrieved with the help of an SSS commando through the heli. But then night fell and they had to use zipliners. Experienced zipliners went up there and retrieved the seven remaining.

They were administered. They were given help. Health officials were there on hand to make sure that they were all right. Their parents were incredibly relieved. They were heading off to school. Again, it's a remote part of the

country and it's not uncommon for these kind of almost hokey homemade kind of cables made out of leftover scrap metal and automobile parts that are -- that are used to make these cable cars.

So, yes, these kind of things are not uncommon but this level of danger -- the fact that they were so many hundreds of feet above the ground, and the fact that it was such a dangerous operation, and the fact that it ended on a very happy note has relieved the country.

There has been a call for a clamp down and better oversight on these cable cars and chair lifts, as they're called here in Pakistan. But all in all, a happy ending for Pakistanis -- one which they have been waiting for, for a very long time. It's a happy country most of the time -- Danny.

FREEMAN: Oh, Sophia, an incredible story. So, so glad that rescue was successful. Thank you so much.

All right, moving on to sports. The New York Yankees dropped their ninth-straight game last night. I'm a Mets man -- I'm happy. The team's worst losing streak in more than four decades.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy.


Red Sox and Mets fans -- they're happy to see this happening right now. And, you know, it's gone from bad to worse really quickly for the Yankees. They hadn't lost nine in a row since 1982. None of the players on the team were even born yet.

But last night they were hosting the Nationals and, once again, the offense just nonexistent. They scored just one run on two hits. They would lose 2-1.


The Yankees now have a record of 60-65. It's the latest they've been under 500 in a season since 1995.


AARON BOONE, MANAGER, NEW YORK YANKEES: And when you get beat over and over again and you're in the middle of a tough season it makes it hard. But you've got to -- you've got to -- you've got to fight that feeling and get your ass back here tomorrow ready to compete. And that's -- but it's not fun walking in that locker room and getting beat every night.

CARLOS RODON, PITCHER, NEW YORK YANKEES: We didn't get the job done and it's been -- it's been -- it's been nine in a row, like you said. I think it's one of those things where we've got to look ahead to tomorrow. We've got another game.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: Now, the Yankees have not had a losing season in 31 years and they haven't lost 10 in a row since 1913. So we'll see if they can match that tonight against the Nationals.

WNBA star A'ja Wilson, meanwhile, making her case for a second- straight MVP award with a historic performance last night. She dropped 53 points to lead the Las Vegas Aces past the Atlanta Dream 112-100. So that ties the WNBA single-game scoring record and marks only the third 50-point game in league history.

Wilson and the defending champion Aces -- they're scheduled to visit the White House and meet President Biden on Friday.

All right. And finally, Serena Williams is now a mother of two. The tennis legend and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, introduced their new daughter named Adira River in a TikTok video yesterday. Her birth comes almost a year after Serena's final match at the U.S. Open. She said a desire to grow her family was one of the main reasons for her walking away from the game of tennis.

The couple welcomed their first daughter, Olympia, back in September of 2017. So now, a family of four.

So congrats to Serena Williams and her family there, Danny.

FREEMAN: Loved it, Andy. The GOAT on the court and the GOAT as a mother as well. Appreciate it, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

FREEMAN: And thank you for joining us. I'm Danny Freeman.

Coming up next on "CNN THIS MORNING" Republican presidential candidates preparing to face off in the first GOP primary debate tonight. New details on exactly where they'll stand on stage, ahead. And at any moment, more of former President Trump's co-defendants could surrender in Georgia. We're live at the Fulton County Jail.