Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Prosecutors Pursing Donald Trump Create Legal Traffic Jam on Court Calendar; A Federal Hate Crime Investigation Opened into the White Gunman Who Killed 3 Black People at a Dollar General in Jacksonville; Florida Braces for Tropical Storm Idalia. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2023 - 05:00   ET



OMAR JIMENEZ, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, legal drama on two fronts today with court hearings that could determine the path forward for prosecuting Donald Trump. Plus, a federal hate crime investigation just opened into the white gunman who killed three black people at a Dollar General in Jacksonville.

And Florida braces for Tropical Storm Idalia, predicted to be a dangerous hurricane by the time it hits the coast. What's going on, everyone, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world, I'm Omar Jimenez, a lot to get to. So, let's get to it. Today, Donald Trump's legal case is entering new phase with two major court hearings.

In Washington, Judge Tanya Chutkan will consider dueling arguments by special counsel Jack Smith and Trump's defense team over the trial date in the January 6 case. And in Atlanta, a hearing on ex-White House Chief of Staff and Trump co-defendant Mark Meadows' bid to get his state case moved to federal court. The high stakes hearing could determine the future of Fulton County's case against Trump. CNN's Jeremy Herb explains.


JEREMY HERB, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER (on camera): Two court hearings are happening simultaneously Monday morning, and each could have significant implications for former President Trump's legal strategy next year. First in Washington D.C., a federal judge is holding a hearing on when former President Trump's trial will take place on special counsel Jack Smith's election subversion charges.

The special counsel, he wants to hold a hearing in January of next year, about four months from now. But the former president's lawyers, they've proposed a trial date of April 2026, not for another two years. They argue that four months is not enough time, and that a January trial will interfere with the former president's other criminal cases.

Now, of course, this all will be playing out with a political calendar looming, as a January trial date would be happening at the same time as the Republican presidential primaries. Now, in Georgia, a federal judge is holding a hearing on former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' request to move his case into federal court.

Meadows is one of five of the 19 defendants in Georgia who are trying now to move their case. And the former president is expected to potentially file a similar motion. This is significant because it could affect the jury pool, and a federal trial could include a broader spectrum of Georgia residents that could lead to a more pro- Trump jury. So the former president's lawyers, they're likely to be watching what transpires closely on Monday in Georgia. Jeremy Herb, CNN, Washington.


JIMENEZ: Oh, from a legal storm to a tropical one. Tropical Storm Idalia is picking up steam quickly as it moves towards Florida. Hurricane and storm surge watches are in effect along the state's west coast including Tampa Bay. The state is getting ready for a direct hit likely on Wednesday morning. So, let's talk about it all, CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis is tracking the storm for us.

I mean, for starters, I think what people want to know and what they're concerned with is how destructive could this storm be?

KAREN MAGINNIS, METEOROLOGIST: Well, that is an interesting question especially since we just received an update from the National Hurricane Center in which we are looking at a stronger system. Now, 65 miles per hour for Idalia. And as it begins to track towards the north, it now is moving. And I -- what I'm seeing now is deeper convection right around this eastern edge of circulation.

So, it's going to move into the very warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and as it does, it is going to intensify, because the water temperatures here are at record-setting level, they're in the 90s or low 90s, anyway. And temperatures that warm lend themselves to increasing the strength of these hurricanes. What really grabbed my attention with the latest update was what was happening as far as the traveling or the path of the system.

And that is, it's moving towards the north, but look at this, it's just off the coast of Tampa, by Wednesday morning, as a category 3 hurricane. We haven't seen that until now. We see it increase to a category 1, then a category 2. Its impacts are going to be felt. There's going to be severe storm surge. Some of these areas right around the Tampa Bay area, 4 to 7 feet.

The rainfall is going to be staggering, you'll see downed trees, downed power lines, but category 3, and then the track is sort of taking it right up through this big bend area of Florida.


But any deviation from that, and we could see a completely different scenario. Now, Tampa has not been impacted by a hurricane in more than 100 years. But being that close offshore really signals that we really need to watch this because there are these perturbations, meaning there are little changes in kind of the paths that these systems take.

And any time that, that may shift definitively to the east, this is what we could see some real dangers for these highly populated areas. The computer models are in fairly good agreement, but we'll be right here in the CNN Weather Center to completely give you the updates on what's happening.

JIMENEZ: Karen Maginnis, thank you so much.


JIMENEZ: Vice President Kamala Harris says federal authorities have opened a civil rights investigation into the deadly shooting of three black people, Saturday, at a store in Jacksonville, Florida. Harris is adding it's also being treated as a possible hate crime, an act of domestic violent terrorism -- extremism, excuse me.

Her statement comes after the community gathered for a vigil of song and prayer to honor the victims killed by a white gunman who targeted them because they were black.




JIMENEZ: The sheriff says he's committed to making sure every resident of Jacksonville feels safe, underscoring his belief the city will not be defined by this crime.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jacksonville, Florida is a wonderful place full of wonderful people. And one evil man who decided to take his hateful rhetoric and his hateful thoughts and put those into action, they cannot shake our resolve. And we will not allow it to do so.


JIMENEZ: And Governor Ron DeSantis said the state will be making grants available to help the city and the victims here. Authorities say the 21-year-old gunman legally purchased the two firearms he used in the shooting. They say he also left behind racist writings and used racial slurs. President Biden is also mourning the lives lost in Jacksonville, saying hate must have no safe harbor. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez has more.


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): President Biden mourned the loss of life after a racially-motivated attack in Jacksonville, Florida, and also noted the tragic symbolism of when it happened. Noting that it was a day of commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the march on Washington, a watershed moment in the racial justice movement. And it was also a day that ended with Americans wounded by gun

violence. Now, in the statement, he went on to say that, quote, "even as we continue searching for answers, we must say clearly and forcefully that white supremacy has no place in America." The statement went on to say that "we must refuse to live in a country where black families going to the store or black students going to school live in fear of being gunned down because of the color of their skin.

Hate must have no safe harbor, silence is complicity, and we must not remain silent." Now, the president has spoken extensively about gun violence, he signed a legislation as well as signed executive actions in an attempt to curb gun violence, but he's also acknowledged that his -- there are limits to executive power.

Now, when I had spoken to White House officials here, they say part of the focus is also how they respond to communities in the short-term and in the long term. And that these shootings have sometimes become so commonplace, that they now also have to consider all the different factors that a community may require in the aftermath of gun violence.

So, all of this, just one part of the administration's agenda going into the next few days. Priscilla Alvarez, CNN, the White House.


JIMENEZ: The president is also offering condolences to the families of three Marines killed in an air crash during military exercises in Australia. Twenty other Marines were injured, five were sent to the hospital in serious condition. The cause of the incident is under investigation. CNN's Angus Watson is live in Sydney for us. So Angus, for starters, what are officials saying about the investigation here?

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: Omar, right now, the U.S. Marine Corps is leading efforts to recover the remains of the three U.S. Marine Corps members, service personnel who lost their lives Sunday morning in this tragic crash when their Osprey aircraft plummeted into a hillside on this remote island off the north coast of Australia.

It's such a remote place that it's taking perhaps until Tuesday to complete that recovery mission, and only then will Australian and U.S. authorities begin investigating what could have caused this crash. Right now, we just don't know. What we do know is that the Ospreys have a track record for these deadly incidents.


Just last year, nine U.S. service personnel were killed in actions related to the Osprey. So despite the remote location, U.S. Marine Corps and Australian first responders were able to bring the 20 survivors of the crash back to the Australian mainland for treatment, at least, five of those people are in a serious condition, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yes, Angus Watson, thank you so much. Now, to Russia where officials say Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was indeed one of the ten people killed in last week's plane crash. Russian investigators say DNA tests confirmed the identity of Prigozhin and the other victims. The head of the Mercenary Group led a brief uprising against the Kremlin exactly two months before the crash.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us live from London. So, Salma, I mean, look, the timing of the crash has raised speculation about potential Kremlin involvement. We haven't heard that officially from them, of course. But at the very least, there's suspicion. What do we know about the exact circumstances behind the death of Prigozhin, and is there a confidence in what Russia has said about this crash so far?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, let me start with your first question, Omar, the confidence in what Russia has said so far. While everyone seems to agree to one thing now, that the genetic testing is complete, according to Russia's investigative committee that indeed, Yevgeny Prigozhin and several of his men were onboard that plane and killed in that crash.

From there, all the questions really begin. Of course, the Kremlin has denied, denied any accusations of its involvement in the plane crash, calling them absolute lies. But if you ask supporters of Prigozhin, if you ask western intelligence officials, perhaps, if you ask President Biden himself, he'll ask some serious questions about that.

For many, Yevgeny Prigozhin has met the fate that we've seen other Kremlin critics face, which is death under shadowy circumstances. And this is what you have to remember. This is a plane crash that happened on Russian soil, all the evidence, all the bits and pieces there are being held by Russian investigators, and it is a government-backed body that is looking into the crash.

The question is, can they really carry out their work without interference, without meddling. Again, for many people, the answer to that question is absolutely not. And then beyond the crash, Omar, you have to ask the question as to what happens to the Wagner Mercenary Group? A group that was very much centered around the personhood, the character of Yevgeny Prigozhin.

It's hard to imagine it surviving without him. And already Russia, before his death, had been taking steps to absorb the members of that group. Absorb those mercenary forces into the regular Russian military, and that seems to be continuing with President Putin just a couple of days ago, signing a decree, requiring all volunteer formations to pledge allegiance to the Russian flag, the Russian federation, essentially centralize them under Russian command.

So, a lot of question marks over what happened to that plane, of course, many U.S. officials believing it is intentional, and questions as to what happens to the group he left behind, Omar.

JIMENEZ: A lot to keep an eye on. Salma Abdelaziz, thank you so much. Coming up for us, a University of South Carolina student shot and killed. We'll tell you what police are saying. Plus, the latest fallout from an unwanted kiss on the World Cup stage. And which Republican candidates are enjoying a fundraising surge after the primary debate? That more, next.



JIMENEZ: Today, crucial court hearings in two of the four cases against Donald Trump, one in Washington and one in Fulton County, Georgia. These hearings are going to reveal significant details about the former -- or against the former president, possibly clarify the timeline for the dueling trials. Let's bring in CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney, Joey Jackson.

When there's a lot to keep up with, I like to have Joey here, because he lays it out the right way. So good to see you. Let's start in Fulton County, Georgia. This motion was brought by former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, in his bid to get his case moved from state to federal court. So, lay out for us, what is Meadow's arguing and will it work?

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes, so good morning, Omar. So those are the central questions, and I think what will happen is, we know that Mark Meadows, he was the chief of staff to President Trump, as we look at him there. The argument is that he was acting in his official capacity, right? So, what the argument is, is to the extent that he was a federal official acting under the authority of federal law, acting on behalf of his boss, President Trump, that he was simply having a good faith interest in the extent to which the outcome of the election could be changed.

Was there a significant fraud? And based upon that interest, he was acting in his official capacity, right? As we look at the one count racketeering, the one count of solicitation, a violation by a public officer. On the other hand, you have the Georgia officials who are arguing nonsense. First of all, this is something that's a violation of the Hatch Act, an 80-year-old law that says that federal officials should not be engaged in election hearing.

You are precluded from doing that. And more so, not only are you precluded from acting in that way, but you're acting in regard to a campaign, not an official act of the president. And to that extent, it was a private action, not an action that is under the scope of the U.S. government, and so, the case should not be in federal court, it should stay in Georgia where it is now.

So, those are the essence of the arguments that we're going to hear at 10:00 a.m. this morning, based upon his act to remove, that is Mark Meadows' act and really, you know, effort to remove his case from the state of Georgia to federal court.

JIMENEZ: And in Georgia, I mean, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis, she subpoenaed former Secretary of State there, Brad Raffensperger and two other lawyers who were on that now infamous January 2021 call with Trump. And here's part of the key aspect with all of these cases that this could reveal key evidence against not only Meadows, but Trump as well, right?

[05:20:00] JACKSON: So, I think it could. But it's important to note, though, Omar, that this proceeding is although certainly the merit to the matter, will come out as a result of witnesses testifying, it's not so much having to do with the merits or guilt or innocence of Mark Meadows. It has to do with whether or not his official activity should as a result of him acting on behalf of the president, on behalf of the U.S. government remove to Georgia.

Having said that, certainly evidence and information will come out with respect to what commands if any were given to him, what specific actions he took in contacting Georgia officials, him showing up to the audit when they were looking at, that is Georgia officials, the counting, right? It was not open to the public, what are you doing there, Mr. Meadows, his texting and interacting with Georgia officials and lawmakers.

Those things will certainly be brought to the fore. But the issue is not going to be whether he's guilty, the issue will be what capacity was he acting in? Was he acting in a private capacity? You stay in Georgia. Was he acting on behalf of the president in an official United States capacity? It stays in Georgia, but goes to federal court.

JIMENEZ: Yes, I know it's important, important context. And over in Washington, special counsel Jack Smith, he wants to start his case charging Trump with attempting to subvert the 2020 presidential election results. In January, 2024, Trump's lawyers were asking for a court date in 2026. How do you think Judge Tanya Chutkan will rule here, and obviously, how do the pre-trial motions and timing of other cases affect scheduling here? Because I feel like we're going to have a lot of overlap over the next year and a half.

JACKSON: Yes, we really are. And so, I think that this is unique, right? I know everyone speaks about it, and it's true, the president is not above the law -- the former president, that is, and no one should be, right? The reality is, this law should be consistent and everyone should be the same. As we look at the trial calendar there, but those are the practical considerations that we're looking at, Omar, October 2nd.

The AG's civil trial, you've got the federal election, January 2nd mark, you know, election subversion trial, all of these things as they're laid out there. So, what does that mean in terms of context? It means that has to be balanced, right? Because you have a president that has four indictments, one in Manhattan, relating to the hush money payments.

You have the two federal cases, the Florida classified documents, you have the Jack Smith case from Washington D.C., January 6, and you have the matter we just talked about, the Georgia matter. I think the judge has to balance those factors, which case should take priority. When can they begin? What should be the actual trial schedule predicated upon all these other matters?

And so, that's something the judge has to consider, and every prosecutor is about their case right now, and how it should be heard irrespective of the others, but naturally, it has to play in. And then, of course, Omar, I didn't mention there's an election coming up, and so, that, of course, is important, too.

JIMENEZ: Well, between the election and all these cases, maybe I should get in my vacation time now. Because next year, I don't know -- I don't know how optimistic I am about getting it approved. All right, Joey Jackson, thank you, good to see you.

JACKSON: Always, thanks Omar.

JIMENEZ: Quick hits across America now. A shooting outside a lounge in downtown Louisville has left two people dead and five injured. No suspects have been arrested. Police say the business has been the subject of complaints in the past. A University of South Carolina sophomore was shot and killed after he apparently tried to enter the wrong home on the street where he lived.

Columbia police say they responded to a burglary call and found the student's body on the front porch. It's unclear if any charges have been filed. And mandatory evacuations are in place for several towns in Beauregard Parish as wildfires range in southwest Louisiana. Officials say the fires have consumed more than 60,000 acres, see the images there, wow.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is in Beijing this morning for talks with her Chinese counterpart and other senior officials. This comes as China faces growing economic problems and during heightened tensions between the two super powers. CNN's Kristie Lu Stout joins us live from Hong Kong. So, Kristie, Secretary Raimondo has said it's critical the U.S. and China have a stable relationship. Is that the goal with this trip? What's expected here?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Omar, this visit is about managing a complicated relationship. So, as you've heard from the White House, competition doesn't spill into conflict. And today in Beijing, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao, and Raimondo, she said stable relations between the U.S. and China are quote, "profoundly important", while pointing out that these two countries share more than $700 billion in trade a year.

Now, Raimondo also writing that she would not compromise on matters related to U.S. national security. Now, as for China's position, this is what we heard from Wang Wentao, he said this, quote, "I am ready to work with you to get into foster more favorable policy environment for stronger cooperation between our businesses to bolster bilateral trade and investment in a stable and predictable manner", unquote.


Now, this visit comes during a time of deep economic troubles for China. China is dealing with slumping exports. It's dealing with an ongoing property crisis. It's dealing with youth unemployment that is so bad, that the government has stopped releasing the data for youth unemployment. This trip underway in China by Raimondo, she's going to both Beijing

and Shanghai, it follows a flurry of visits from several other senior Biden administration officials including the U.S. Treasury Secretary, that visit in July as the U.S. tries to stabilize its complicated relationship because tensions have flared, not only over geopolitical issues, but also over trade, over access to technology like chips and also over raids conducted by the Chinese on U.S. consultancy firms.

But China welcomes this visit, because it needs to revive its economy, it's looking for ways to boost commercial activity and trade. Back to you, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Kristie Lu Stout, thank you so much. Russia is ramping out -- ramping up its military spending. We'll tell you where that money is coming from. And how Vivek Ramaswamy is defending his comment, comparing a Massachusetts Democrat to a KKK leader.