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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Idalia Now a Category 1 Hurricane; Trump's Federal Election Subversion Trial Set for March 4; Meadows Testifies, Trying to Move Georgia Case to Federal Court; 3 Black Victims Killed in Racist Rampage in Florida. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 05:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Omar Jimenez.

We begin with breaking news, what was Tropical Storm Idalia is now Hurricane Idalia. The storm expected to get stronger as it churns towards Florida.

Meteorologist Karen Maginnis is live at the CNN Weather Center.

Karen, what is the latest on the storms track? We knew it was going to get stronger. But here we see this official crossing into hurricane status.

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It finally got out of that kind of trap zone of the Yucatan Strait and is now over more open water, we're as not seeing it completely concentric, but certainly that northern border of, it the edge of this certainly looks a little more like it becomes better organized. Once it moves even further away, republic going to see a rapid intensification, because of the very warm water here, the water temperatures are around 85 degrees, higher as you get closer towards the coast, warmer water, it persists there. And that's going to contribute to the potential for this to make it to major hurricane status. By major hurricane, starting at category 3 and above.

But now, it looks like category 3 before it gets to that coastline of the Big Bend area, where they have been forecasting, the computer models have been suggesting that's where they anticipate landfall. But way before then, areas around Clearwater, Saint Pete, Tampa, Coral Gables, Fort Myers, you're all looking at the potential for storm surge. Even though it's out into the Gulf of Mexico, it is still going to have enough energy to really push that water up onshore.

Now, low lying areas, they will be inundated with some of this water. Take a higher ground. Seek shelter. Make plans. If you need medications, provisions for some older adults or some neighbors or for your children, make those plans now, because this is edging on a little bit too late now to make those kinds of arrangement. But nonetheless, it is still going to be impactful throughout the day

on Tuesday as it gathers strength when we go into the next 24 hours, we are going to see by Wednesday morning, perhaps we will be at category 3. It had been a little bit later in the day, but we think perhaps landfalls going to be about mid day on Wednesday, maybe around the Big Bend area there, which is very sparsely populated.

A lot of wildlife management areas, a lot of recreationally activity that would take place there, there are still communities, but the big populations are right along this West Coast. This is kind of a forecast radar, you see what it's doing here? Now, it is still throwing that moisture in across southern sections of Georgia, even up towards Atlanta, picking up some rainfall, then across the midlands of South Carolina and coastal sections like Charleston that a summertime rain storm can produce flooding in downtown Charleston, up towards Myrtle Beach, and then towards Wilmington, Charlotte will probably receive some precipitation from this.

There will be high winds, down to power lines, you could lose power for days, perhaps weeks in some instances if you're in some more isolated areas, you're going to see a rip current here, the storm surge as I mentioned. Can't rule out the potential for an isolated tornado as well.

All right, here we go, we're going to take you and take a look at what the spaghetti models are suggesting. They've been in very good agreement as far as making landfall, then approaching Georgia and South Carolina. And then it looks like not all of them in agreement as we go through time the next five days.

Might this just kind of linger off the Atlantic Coast? It's really too far to tell. But if this is going to be a category 3 hurricane and has the likes to withstand moving across this region into the Carolinas and for the mid-Atlantic, it certainly is the potential there that could happen.

But the water temperature is much cooler on that side compared to what we're seeing in the Gulf of Mexico. I hope that you are making plans to keep your families safe, your pets safe, and seeking some higher ground because this is going to be some pretty widespread damage, due to storm surge, the potential for tornadoes, the downed trees, the downed power lines.


So, protect yourself.

I'll be back at the bottom of the hour and give you some more information then. Back to you.

JIMENEZ: Karen Maginnis, thank you.

The National Hurricane Center is classifying it, or using the phrasing it it's expected rapidly intensify into an extremely dangerous major hurricane before making landfall on Wednesday. So, we'll watch for some more of that expecting intensification. Karen, thank you. Florida officials are warning the effect of now Hurricane Idalia could

be catastrophic, even deadly, depending on exactly where and when it hits, including at what strength. They're asking the public to pay attention to official advice and orders.

CNN's Emily Schmidt has more.


EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida's challenged Monday with its picture perfect present was getting outward to prepare for a potentially dangerous future. Tropical storm Idalia is moving through record warm Gulf of Mexico waters. The National Hurricane Center warns that could lead to rapid intensification, when winds increase at least 35 miles an hour and 25 miles or less.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Floridians should expect that this storm will be a major cat 3 plus hurricane.

SCHMIDT: At least eight counties have issued mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders for some along Florida's west coast. Schools and colleges are closing, some navy ships leaving the area, hundreds of flights already canceled.

Emergency management officials point out storm surges could be taller than you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our storm surge approximations right now from the National Hurricane Center are 8 to 9 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we get the eight-foot storm surge, nine-foot storm surge that's forecasted, it is not going to bubble for the west coast of Hernando County.

SCHMIDT: Preparations range from sandbags to sending federal help.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: FEMA has deployed to incident management teams to Tallahassee and has one in Atlanta ready to pivot as needed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's up to Mother Nature as to where the storm is going to hit and what intensity it's going to hit.

SCHMIDT: Florida's governor points out, three days ago, Idalia look to be a tropical storm. Now, he says, it appears nothing seems to prevent it from continuing to strengthen.

I'm Emily Schmidt reporting.


JIMENEZ: To a legal hurricane now. A trial date is on the calendar for former president Trump, now right in the middle of the 2024 Republican primary race. The judge in special counsel Jack Smith's election subversion case has set jury selection to begin March 4th. That's just one day before Super Tuesday, or one more than one dozen states hold primary elections.

Judge Tanya Chutkan said the trial date does not depend on, quote, the defendant's personal and professional obligations. She also said she'd be watching for anything that might poison the jury pool, including public comments by Trump or his lawyers.

And that wasn't the only Trump-related election subversion's case to see major development. Trump's former chief of staff took the stand in Georgia and what amounted to essentially a preview trial of the case there.

CNN's Sara Murray has more.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows --

MARK MEADOWS, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: To start wholesale trying to change the way that we conduct elections state by state, I can tell you, we're asking for problems, we're asking for fraud.

MURRAY: Taking the stand in a federal courtroom in Georgia after he and former President Donald Trump and 17 others were charged with racketeering by the Fulton County district attorney for their attempts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: You can't ever accept when they steal and rig and rob.

MURRAY: Meadows who has kept a stunningly low profile amid the various investigations into Donald Trump now breaking his silence on the case under oath.

Those were challenging times, bluntly, Meadows told the court of his White House tenure. As Meadows seeks to move his case from state to federal court, the focus of Monday's hearing, prosecutors delved into their case and some of the allegations against Meadows.

Meadows denying under oath that he directed another White House aide to write a memo about how to delay or disrupt the certification of the election on January 6, saying he had zero recollection of that happening, and it was "the biggest surprise to me upon reading the indictment". Putting Meadows on the stand, to challenge to the events he's accused of participating in in Georgia, a risky approach for any criminal defendant.

Meadows looking to make the case that his activities after the 2020 election were part of his official duties as chief of staff, including arranging the call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

MEADOWS: Mr. President, everybody is on the line and this is Mark Meadows, the chief of staff.

TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.


MURRAY: Raffensperger also took the stand, saying he first tried to resist the call, and testifying there was no federal role in certifying Georgia's election. When prosecutors question what federal role Meadows was fulfilling in postelection calls with Trump, and another purveyor of election falsehoods, his then personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: We cannot allow these crooks because that is what they are to steal an election from the American people. They elected Donald Trump. They didn't elect Joe Biden.

MURRAY: -- Meadows said he was acting as a gate keeper and insisted there was a federal interest in accurate and fair elections. Meadows also claimed he wasn't the driving force in pushing bogus claims of election fraud. But when that Attorney General Bill Barr dismissed the fraud claims --

BILL BARR, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff which I told the president was bullshit.

MURRAY: Meadows said he felt that further investigation was warranted.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, Mark Meadows spent more than three and a half hours on the stand testifying Monday. And at the end of a full day hearing, the judge said he was not yet ready to rule in the case. He said though that he will do so quickly. We expect that ruling to come on paper. And he acknowledged that arraignments in this case, again, those hearings where you would enter a plea, are quickly coming up in the state court, scheduled for September 6th.

Sara Murray, CNN, Washington.

JIMENEZ: A federal hate crime investigation is underway in Jacksonville, Florida, after a white gunman shot and killed three black people and then himself at a dollar store on Saturday. Police say the shooter left behind racist writings and used an assault style rifle marked with a swastika.

CNN's Brian Todd has more on how the attack unfolded.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New information tonight about Saturday's racist shooting rampage in Jacksonville. New video shows that before the shooter killed three black people at a dollar general store, he stopped at a different dollar store, but only came out with a bag. SHERIFF T.K. WATERS, JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: When I'm looking at it,

it doesn't appear to me that he wanted to face anyone that may cause him any issues. So, it looks like he wanted to take action at the family dollar. That's what it looks like. And he did not because I think he got impatient and got tired waiting.

TODD: He then went to Edward Waters University, a historically Black university. Video shows the suspect apparently parks in a lot, gets a bag out of the hatch, then puts on a vest. Then a security officer responding to a student's tip approaches. The suspect speeds off, jumping the curb and almost hitting a column as he was chased off.

LT. ANTONIO BAILEY, PROTECTIVE ENTERPRISES PUBLIC SAFETY: For you to have on a tactical vest, gloves and a mask, you know, the question raised, what are you doing here?

TODD: Authorities revealing today the shooter previously worked at a dollar tree store. Writings left behind by deceased shooter Ryan Palmeter show he wanted to kill black people, the sheriff says.

WATERS: The manifesto is, quite frankly, the diary of a madman.

TODD: Law enforcement releasing two short video clips of the gunman's rampage at the dollar general store, aiming his rifle at a car in the store's parking lot, then aiming it inside the store.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard, pop, pop. I turned around, I see him drop.

TODD: Officers stormed the Dollar General store, looking for the suspect. You can hear them visibly reacting when they hear a shot fired. Authorities believe that is when the gunman killed himself. Authorities revealing Monday that the shooter previously worked at a dollar tree store.

Writings left behind said he wanted to kill black people, the sheriff said.

WATERS: The manifesto is quite frankly the diary of a madman.

TODD: The three victims, all Black, Angela Carr, a Uber driver, Jerrald Gallion, who has an four-year-old daughter, and AJ Laguerre Jr., who worked at the store.

Officials say there is nothing in the gunman's past to prevent him from legally buying these two guns, a handgun and an AR-15 style rifle emblazoned with swastikas, even though in 2017, he was sent for a 72- hour mental health evaluation under the Baker Act and then released, according to authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know legally, given the way the laws are written right now in the state of Florida, that there was anything that could've been done. And therein lies the frustration for me.

TODD: Community representatives are demanding broader action to address racism and hate crimes. JU'COBY PITTMAN, JACKSONVILLE CITY COUNCIL MEMBER: It's unjust that we can't -- we can't even walk on the sidewalks. We're not safe in any stores.

TODD: A federal hate crimes probe has already been launched.


TODD (voice-over): Officials say detectives have spoken to the shooter's parents. They say that he lived with his parents in a town about 30 minutes away from Jacksonville. We knocked on the door the parents' home to try to get them to speak to us. A woman on the other side the front door said no comment.

Brian Todd, CNN, Jacksonville, Florida.

JIMENEZ: President Biden brought up the racist murders in Florida as he marked the 16th anniversary of the march on Washington for civil rights. The president gave a stark warning about the rise of extremism in the U.S.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Racist violence today harkens back to the church bombings of the cross -- and the cross burnings. You know, that same town five years earlier, there were another five young Blacks were killed. White supremacy is a poison. It's a poison.


JIMENEZ: The president met with civil rights leaders earlier Monday, including members of Martin Luther King Jr.'s family.


He warned against a growing trend in red states, including Florida, of restricting the teaching of Black history.

In a rare video just released by Kremlin-backed state media, former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is seen inside a Russian prison and sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges, strong -- charges he strongly denied. The video shows him wearing a prison uniform, working at a sewing machine, and this.


PAUL WHELAN, IMPRISONED IN RUSSIA: So, you understand when I say that I can't do an interview, which means I can't answer any questions.


JIMENEZ: CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins us live from London.

Selma, now, this video was shot in May, according to Paul's brother, David. The U.S. government says it's already issued a proposal for his release. But Russia hasn't responded. I mean, this is the first time we're seeing him in the setting, of course, but could this signal a turning point of any sort?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that's exactly what the state department is trying to find out right now as they pore over this video material, that as you mentioned, was shot in May by Russian-controlled Russia Today television. What's so interesting to see in that video, and that very brief sound bite that you played for Paul Whelan says, I'm not going to answer any questions is two things, Omar, that I want to point.

First of all, how uncountable he was with this, according to his brother, this TV crew showed up unbeknownst to him. And when he refused to participate, he faced retaliation from prison authorities for not getting involved in the filming.

But the second thing to see here and what David, his brother pointed out, is that Paul looks relatively well. He said -- his brother said that you can still see the fight in his eyes. So, remember that earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was able to hold a phone call with Paul Whelan. He told him to keep the faith. He said it remains a U.S. priority to get him out.

But as you mentioned, the U.S. says it has for months now had a proposal on the tables to get Whelan out of prison, but has heard nothing back from Russian authorities. So, what does this signal? What does this video mean?

The other thing I have to point out, Omar, is that he is not the only American in Russian prison that the U.S. considers wrongfully detained. You also have "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich. He's also someone being held right now in a Russian prison, someone that the U.S. is also trying to get out.

So, right now, you can imagine that in D.C., there is a little diplomatic scramble as they try to interpret what this means.

JIMENEZ: Of course, Salma Abdelaziz, thanks very much for being on top of it all.

If you are just waking up, we are following breaking news. What was Tropical Storm Idalia just reached hurricane strength. We're going to get a new update from the CNN Weather Center in just minutes.

Plus, a rescue helicopter on its way to an emergency crashes in Florida.

And more fallout from the World Cup kiss, what Spanish prosecutors are now investigating.



JIMENEZ: A co-defendant in the Georgia election racketeering case has entered a plea, the first to do so. Ray Smith waived his arraignment and pleaded not guilty. Elsewhere in Washington, the judge presiding over the federal election subversion case set a trial date on the eve of a major primary election day.

So let's bring in attorney and legal affairs commentator, Areva Martin.

Okay. So, we knew these two roads would be intersecting for a long time now. Now, we actually we have specifics of that. We have trial date of March 4th in the federal election subversion case.

What did you make of the judge's decision to actually set the trial date for that day?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a big victory for the prosecution. We know that Jack Smith's team had argued had they would be ready in January. Donald Trump's team had requested the trial date be extended out until April of 2026.

JIMENEZ: Slight difference.

MARTIN: Yeah, a huge difference between '26 and '24. So the March date obviously is a lot closer to the original date requested by the prosecution. And, look, you have Trump's team arguing that they need all of this additional time because there are so much documents and so much witnesses and it would it would be a miscarriage of justice for the trial to proceed on that calendar.

But yet, you can find many of Trump's attorneys or spokesperson out saying that this is a regurgitation of the January 6 Committee's investigation, that the facts are simple, that Donald Trump is telling the truth and when you tell the truth you don't need a lot of time to prepare.

So you have these conflicting messages and the judge said in the interests of the public's right to have a resolution of this trial, leading up to what is going to be this election, she set the trial for March. But it does cause complications because we know that there is that March trial in Manhattan. The hush money trial that has been brought by Alvin Bragg. And then the Florida mishandling of documents trial that is set for May of 2024.

So the trial calendar is looking pretty busy for Donald Trump.

JIMENEZ: And we have reporting that some of the judges are talking to each other presumably for that very reason, to make sure that, all right, can we schedule this in a way that doesn't interfere with your case?

I want to move to Georgia because Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, he testified on the stand really for hours. And this was in a pretrial setting. And I'm wondering for you, I mean, is it usual for an attorney to put their client, their star witness essentially, on the stand for hours in a pretrial?

MARTIN: Highly unusual. Many experts thought that it wouldn't happen. So there was a lot of shock and surprise when Mark Meadows actually appeared in the hearing. He didn't have to appear.


The hearing could have proceeded just with the lawyers making arguments. But as you said, he was on the witness stand more than four hours. Risky move, but from his perspective, I think it was do or die. He wants the case moved to federal court so he can hopefully draw a judge, perhaps one appointed by Trump, also have access if the case goes to trial to a larger jury pool, perhaps jurors that are more favorable to Donald Trump than they believe those jurors might be in Fulton County.

And he is also planning to make a motion to dismiss the entire action and I think again his calculation is that that motion would be met more favorably by a federal court judge.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and there is another Trump adviser pretrial hearing, Trump's former trade advisor Peter Navarro is in federal court fighting the congressional subpoenas issued over the committee investigating January 6. He claimed executive privilege and that Trump later regretted not letting Navarro testify.

I want to read -- I want to get this right. The judge called the argument literally and, I quote, weak sauce. What do you make of the nature of that response? I mean, it seems to be setting a tone for some of the arguments coming out of Trump world.

MARTIN: Yeah, not surprised by the judge's response and there were similar comments made in the Mark Meadows proceeding in Georgia by the judge where the judge was questioning the credibility of certain statements made by Mark Meadows as he's tried to argue that all of his actions were under the color of law and somehow related to some very important federal policy.

But in the case of Navarro, one big problem, he is claiming that Trump man as certification of executive privilege, but there is not a statement by Donald Trump affirming that, no written documents. Emails, text messages, nothing. Just the word of Peter Navarro and I think the judge is a little suspect that --

JIMENEZ: That he was looking for that.

MARTIN: Absolutely.


MARTIN: That his word can be taken at face value. Not very -- I think that's a bad omen for what's going to happen in terms of the ultimate outcome of the case for Navarro, and not very hopeful that Mark Meadows will be successful in that hearing as with well.

JIMENEZ: Well, look, it's a lot to keep an eye on. And, again, we thought these roads were -- we knew these roads we're going to cross, and now, we're actually seeing them. It's only going to get more complicated.

And I'm glad that we have you here. So come back maybe later in the day, but we'll have you on this early, too.

MARTIN: No problem. Good to be with you, Omar.

JIMENEZ: Areva Martin, thank you.

Quick hits across America now.

A suspect is in custody after a shooting at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill left one faculty member dead and prompted an hours-long lockdown at the campus on Monday. Police are still searching for the weapon and the motive.

Two people are dead and two injured after a fire rescue helicopter crashed north of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Officials say the chopper was on its way to an emergency when it came down.

And heavy rains and flash floods ripped through parts of West Virginia, forcing evacuations and dozens of rescues near Charleston on Monday. Forecasters say more rain is expected today.

Now, we've got more next on our breaking news, Florida is bracing for a hurricane. Hurricane Idalia now a category 1 and gaining strength.

Plus, what Russians are saying about Wagner boss Prigozhin from a memorial at the site of his plane crash. That's next.