Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

More Than 70k Burning Man Festival Attendees Remain Stuck in Nevada Desert After Rain; Surveillance Camera Captures Escaped Pennsylvania Prisoner; President Zelenskyy Fires His Defense Minister. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 04, 2023 - 05:00   ET



DAVID CULVER, ANCHOR, EARLY START: Right now on EARLY START, bogged down at Burning Man. Tens of thousands still stuck in the now muddy Nevada desert. Plus, an escaped killer on the loose. The search intensifying this morning after the convict was caught on a home surveillance camera.

And Ukraine's Defense Minister fired. President Zelenskyy sacking him in the middle of a crucial counteroffensive. Hi there, welcome to a special holiday edition of EARLY START, I'm David Culver. We start with what is anything but a relaxing holiday weekend for tens of thousands of people at the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert.

They are trapped in a sea of mud this morning. What a mess out there. They're waiting for organizers to give the all-clear to exit the site. That is expected to happen sometime today. A huge downpour Friday and Saturday transformed the dry desert dirt into thick clay-like mud that traps boots, bicycles and RVs alike.

Organizers of the annual encampment asked attendees to shelter-in- place and to conserve food, water and fuel, and a banned travel by anything, but emergency vehicles. It also postponed plans to set fire to the iconic burning man effigy until tonight. Police out there also investigating one death at the festival. A 40-year-old man, but organizers say it was unrelated to the weather.

Despite the tough conditions, many attendees, they are keeping positive. They say that they're coping with harsh conditions, and that's part of the point of Burning Man, and they came prepared. CNN's Camila Bernal is on the ground at Burning Man.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL REPORTER (on camera): It is still muddy, it is still messy for thousands of people who are stranded here in Black Rock City. Where we are right now is the main entrance and exit point to the festival. So thousands are expected to exit here on Monday. We saw many cars trying to get out because this is the entrance of the playa.

So here behind me is where people are getting stuck in that mud. And I want to show you what that mud, that cakey mud looks like. This is what a lot of people are walking hours in. And you're seeing it in their shoes, they're covered in this mud is what you're seeing on this bike. It makes it impossible for not just bikes, but also for cars and RVs.

Here, behind me, this RV, they told me that they were stuck here for hours trying to get out of the mud. So it is difficult to get out, and the concern, of course, is for people who did not bring enough supplies, enough food, enough water and need to get out. Here's one person that I talked to, who told me, she just needed to get out today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's quite expansive out there. And it probably took me three hour of slogging to walk just from my camp to the road. Around I did get a little bit of a hitchhike into -- in the back of someone's truck. But yes, it's just really thick, dense mud. So wherever it's wet, it's just heavy and sticky and it's a real sloppy mess out there. Most everything's turned off, but there's still some people partying.

BERNAL: And everybody that I've talked to has remained extremely positive, telling me they're making the best out of a very difficult situation, saying they're still having fun, that they've enjoyed this festival. Unfortunately, though, authorities did report one death, they said a body was found in the playa, they did not give any details as to what happened.

And organizers here are continuing to tell people to be safe. They're getting prepared to get thousands of people out of here. So, they're telling them that this is going to be a long process. The exodus as they call it. Camila Bernal, CNN, Black Rock City.


CULVER: Let's stay on this festival mess as we bring in meteorologist Derek Van Dam in the CNN Weather Center. Derek, so can you give us a breakdown as to what we're expecting today at Burning Man, obviously, that's going to be incredibly important for those folks as they're hoping to get out, and maybe or we have to explain how it is that less than an inch of rain, that's what we're talking about here --


CULVER: Turned this desert landscape into what looks like just a giant mud trap.

VAN DAM: Yes, great question, David. I don't know if you heard in Camilla's piece there, where she talked about a playa. What is a playa? Well, a playa is typically this flat, kind of dried-up area of land, typically found in a desert basin.


This is exactly where Burning Man, the festival is located, within one of these playas. Now, typically, when we see rain in a playa, the water evaporates. But this time, it had a bit difficulty doing that. Here's Empire, Nevada, and this is actually the playa where Burning Man Festival is located. You can see that strip of white land. And look at all the precipitation that moved over this area.

It saw roughly two to three months worth of rainfall in that area. Now, there's significant differences between -- well, let's say, the type of soil you have at your home garden, for instance, we call that loam, that's a mixture of sand, kind of grit, and a bit of dirt as well. That easily absorbs water. But when you're talking about a desert basin, when you have kind of a clay-type soil, well, unfortunately, that water starts to puddle up, and it can easily mix in with the clay, and it creates that muddy mess.

And it makes it that difficult for vehicles and people to exit that particular region. So that caused the catastrophe there. It is really the type of soil and the impermeable surface within that playa that you saw here on the satellite a moment ago. Now, the radar showing a drying trend. In fact, there are no watches issued across western Nevada at the moment.

So, the good news is here, we're not expecting any real additional precipitation. So, generally, the rainfall has come to an end, the sign, maybe, a sprinkle or two. We're going to see high pressure take control of the weather, and we're going to keep the forecast dry for northwestern sections of Nevada. So the Burning Man Festival, even though they did get a significant amount of rain in a short period of time.

Earlier in the weekend, we do believe that the rain is done, but of course, the damage has already been done as well. David?

CULVER: Yes, no doubt. They are open to dry out there in the desert. All right, thanks, Derek --

VAN DAM: All right --

CULVER: Appreciate it.


CULVER: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has fired his defense minister. This is happening right in the middle of a major counteroffensive. Oleksii Reznikov has served as defense minister since before Russia's invasion. And just a short time ago, Reznikov says that he submitted his resignation to parliament. CNN's Salma Abdelaziz is in London for us. Salma, why this move, why now?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a very significant move, David. This is one of the key faces, one of the most significant characters in Ukraine's conflict. Reznikov has been able to develop strong relationships with his western allies, he's been able to develop friendships with the United States. Now, dismissed at a very critical moment.

You might remember that it was just a few days ago that Ukraine claimed a success on the battlefield. That says it's been able to pierce through the first line of defense along the southern front, south of Zaporizhzhia. But this dismissal is part of something, a trend we've seen for months now from President Zelenskyy who's been trying to clamp down on corruption.

You may remember at the beginning of the year, a slew of senior officials were fired after a scandal over the procurement of war-time supplies. In the wake of that, the deputy defense minister resigned in August of this year, the local heads, the regional heads of every single military recruitment office in Ukraine were fired. The important thing to remember is that Ukraine has long struggled with issues of corruption.

In fact, President Zelenskyy campaigned, his presidential campaign was about rooting out corruption in Ukraine. And indeed, he believes it is important to root out corruption, in order to join the European community, the European Union and NATO. But again, this is coming at a super critical time on those frontlines.

A major change in one of the most significant characters, the most significant post in the handling of this conflict, and the replacement for this defense minister is going to be very immediately, under pressure to ramp-up that counteroffensive, bring results as soon as possible, David.

CULVER: Yes, the timing in all of this just seems crucial. Salma, thanks, good to see you. People in Las Vegas drying out after rare heavy rains trigger deadly flash flooding. Plus, could the destructive hurricane somehow give Florida's governor a boost in the race for president? And there's a new report on the job market. It is just out, what it signals for the economy.



CULVER: The red, hot job market starting to show signs of cooling. The August jobs report shows that the U.S. economy added 187,000 jobs in August, slightly more than expected, but a slowdown from the past two years of job growth. The unemployment rate also ticked up slightly, from 3.5 percent in July to 3.8 percent in August.

Helping us break all of this down, Kayla Bruun; an economic analyst at the Morning Consult, hey, Kayla, good morning, thanks for being with us. So, how do you think the Fed interprets these numbers. When we look back over the past year and a half or so, we've seen eleven rate hikes. Is the question is, could this halt any more rate hikes this year?

KAYLA BRUUN, ECONOMIC ANALYST, MORNING CONSULT: So, good morning. The jobs report last Friday had -- I would say some good news, both for workers and for the fed. It's roughly going in line with, I think what they would expect. That is to say, we are seeing some signs of cooling, and yet, it's holding out well enough that we're not suddenly plunging into a recession.

On the positive for workers, of course, we did see that increase in jobs. We also saw the increase in the labor force participation rate, which I think is really good for everyone that keeps more people working, but then also from the Fed's perspective, could add a bit of slack into the labor market, which is what we saw with that slight uptick in unemployment.

It also puts a little bit less pressure on wages. We had a bit of a labor shortage, but Florida was driving up wages a lot faster. Cooling wage growth is something that could really help from the Fed's perspective, because that's one of those major cost inputs that in turn feeds into inflation.


CULVER: Kayla, when we look at consumer spending, this is obviously a key indicator of economic growth. It went up 0.8 percent in July. Do you expect this trend to continue with wages, starting to outpace inflation?

BRUUN: So, we did see pretty strong spending this Summer, particularly in July, and it was not only on services categories which we've sort of seen in this long extended rebound from the pandemic, but also in retail categories. Some of that may have been tied to discounting things like Amazon Prime, but still a positive for retailers to see that big boost in spending.

And as you mentioned, the slower inflation I think really has helped purchasing power for some consumers, but in our data at Morning Consult, it has tended to be more younger consumers and wealthier consumers, those who are a little bit less price sensitive, who have been driving a lot of the strong spending recently.

One concern with that is that, heading into the Fall, there are a lot of headwinds, no one had -- we have higher interest rates, we also have the student loan pause ending, so things like that, I think are going to start to tamp down spending. Not to mention the fact that many may have splurged a little bit more in the Summer. We may see that, that was a bit of a pull-forward that could potentially come at the cost of things like the holiday season.

CULVER: And I want to pick up on that because you told us that debt obviously, may become a bigger story heading into the Fall. You mentioned student loan payments starting back up next month. So, that represents a big share of debt for younger folks in particular. How is that likely to factor in here?

BRUUN: So, if you take millennials for example, when I say younger, Gen Z, definitely, they'll be impacted and then millennials as well. There's sort of a couple of ways, that I could see this adding a lot of strain on those households. When it comes to Gen Z, these are younger consumers, they haven't been working as long, they haven't had as much time to build up savings buffers.

So them being hit by having to repay these debts, that just might change their monthly expenses quite a bit, and they don't have as much of a kind of a cushion to absorb that blow. When it comes to millennials, these are consumers who do more often tend to be in their prime working years, but because they haven't been paying their student debt loans or their student debt repayments for the past few years, and I believe they've been sort of living as if they don't have these debts taking on things like auto loans, mortgages, just adding more expenses to their life.

Add on top of that, another payment, it might just be a lot of burdens coming from all directions.

CULVER: All right, Kayla Bruun of the Morning Consult, thanks Kayla, appreciate you being with us on this holiday.

BRUUN: Thank you.

CULVER: Let's get you quick hits across America right now. Officials say that a rare flash flood, this is happening in Las Vegas appears to have led to a drowning death, as heavy rains shut down roadways and turned in numerous rescues on Saturday. We're talking more than 3 inches of rain that fell in two hours' time.

A Minnesota prison locked down after about a 100 prisoners refused to return to their cells. Inmate advocates say they were fed up with excessive heat, unclean drinking water and limited access to showers. A new Texas law says drunk drivers must pay child support if they kill a parent or guardian in an intoxication manslaughter conviction. Now, this applies to motor vehicles, aircrafts, boats and amusement rides.

The search for an escaped killer intensifying this morning, we're going to bring you up-to-speed on this manhunt. And what legal strategies may be in the works for Donald Trump and his former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows?



CULVER: Any day now, we're expecting to learn if former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows' bid to move his case from state to federal court will be successful. Meadows took to the stand last week testifying for more than three hours about his job at the White House, and how his alleged actions were all part of his official government duties.

Let's bring in former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland. Jeremy, good morning, thanks for being with us. Let's start with Meadows' move here and his desire to get this case moved -- it's actually from state to federal court. Can you walk us through what legal arguments his team is making to push forward on this?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: Absolutely, and first, I think it's important for people to understand when something is removed from state to federal court, it's still the applicable state criminal code that controls -- although, it will be federal procedure, and prosecutors from the state, meaning DA Willis' team will still be prosecuting the case.

The argument that he's making is that, I was working under the collar of my position in the federal government as chief of staff, when I was furthering my objective and goals in that position. And then what he has to argue to the federal court, is that he has a callable claim or defense. It's not actually guaranteed. It's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but just that there's a -- there's a nexus, a connection.

I think it's going to be very difficult, and as I say the clients routinely, as I said the prosecutor law is not math, 2-plus-2 does not always equal 4. And here, he's going to have real problems, because one of the biggest glaring issues he has is, how can I say as chief of staff, I'm getting involved in a state's election process.

And in one point, as we know, offering campaign money to expedient to make the process more efficient and faster when it came to looking at signatures. He was really trying to make this work, and he was up there a long time, but I think ultimately for him, sadly for him, he fails.


CULVER: And to be out there for several hours, is that pretty unusual for someone like Meadows to be put on the stand, especially during a pretrial motion?

SALAND: It's definitely rare. And, you know, I think if you brought in ten prosecutors and ten defense attorneys and ask them, would Mark Meadows testify? I'm willing to bet, just as we saw by many pundits that it did not and would not happen, pardon me, it would not happen.

But there's also a reality here, if you lack the evidence, support your claim and cause. What are you going to do? You have to be that evidence. And Mark Meadows wants his evidence, and in some cases and very often, his own worst evidence. But you have to do it, it's a desperate, you know, attempt and effort to make something happen that otherwise, there is no chance of happening. Even now, it's very slim in my opinion.

CULVER: So let's look at the former president here. Trump's attorney trying to have his case severed from the other co-defendants. Do you think this is going to be successful for them?

SALAND: Yes, I think that it's an important thing for him to do, you don't want where as the president or anybody in a pyramid, we'll call it, when there's a conspiracy-type of an allegation, when there's more people at the bottom, here President Trump is obviously at the top. He needs to move this, because otherwise, what will happen is, he's going to get fingers pointed at him from the bottom, who are going to be sitting in those chairs next to him, saying that guy and that guy's team, meaning the president and his attorneys are the ones who told me to do these things.

And why he also wants to server this is, he just wants to have his own trial. There's a lot that he may not directly have his hands on, that this evidence will come out, and he doesn't want to be -- court brought in that either. It's much easier for him to be separate. And I will just add as well, he also wants to have this removed from state court into federal court like Meadows, because he wants to avoid the cameras because of deniability.

And I can get in front of my own camera later on to make my statements. But he wants to avoid the cameras in the courtroom to show the actual evidence, is one of the great reasons, and obviously, as we heard before, he wants to have greater, larger jury pool, not just Fulton County that's potential blue residents.

CULVER: Truly important context. We really appreciate it on this holiday, Jeremy Saland; former Manhattan prosecutor, thanks for your time. China just announcing who is headed to the G-20 Summit. Give you a big hint who is not attending. We'll walk you through that. And campaign season heating up. What the presidential race looks like heading into next year.