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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Kim Jong Un Expects to Meet Putin to Talk Arms Sales; Texas Attorney General Paxton's Impeachment Trial Begins This Morning; The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Schools & Learning; VP Harris to Attend Southeast Asian Summit Today. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 05, 2023 - 05:00   ET


DAVID CULVER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, weapons talks in the works.


Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un may meet to discuss arms for the Ukraine war.

Plus, the Proud Boys' ex-leader Enrique Tarrio faces sentencing. He could get the longest January 6th sentence yet.

And, back to school all over America. Can teachers help close the COVID learning gap for so many students?


CULVER: To those of you here in the United States and around the world, welcome to EARLY START. I'm David Culver.

We're going to start you off this morning with news out of the White House, which says First Lady Jill Biden has tested positive for COVID- 19. The first lady's spokesperson adding to the statement that she is currently experiencing only mild symptoms. She will remain at their home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

The Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, said that after Jill Biden tested positive, the president was given a test, which came out negative. Jean-Pierre says that Mr. Biden, who is 80 years old, will be tested regularly this week and monitored for symptoms.

The U.S. officials say North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expects to meet face to face with Vladimir Putin to discuss possibly selling weapons to help Russia in its war on Ukraine. You are looking at footage from previous meetings they have had. The National Security Council spokesperson urged Pyongyang to seize arms talks and sticks to its promises, not to sell arms to Russia.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong this morning.

Hey, Kristie, it's good to see.

So, do we have a sense of when or where this in-person meeting between Kim and Putin might actually take place? KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do. According to reports, it

could take place in Vladivostok sometime this month. That Kim Jong-un may meet with Vladimir Putin in Russia, that's according to the U.S. National Security Council. They are expected to discuss potential arms deals for Russia, to get more North Korean weapons to use against Ukraine.

The timing from what we are hearing from the White House isn't clear, but it was the New York Times that first reported about this potential meeting saying that Kim would travel from Pyongyang to Vladivostok where he would be meeting with Putin at an economic form that would take place this weekend. Now, Vladivostok is not far from North Korea, and it's also where the scene took place in 2019 where Kim and Putin met for the very first time. And Kim, he made that journey on his famous train that armored green train.

Now, as for this new reported potential meeting, it is said that, in exchange for weapons, what the North Koreans want is advanced Russian technology -- technology for satellites and for nuclear powered submarines. Also, the North Koreans desperately need food aid.

Now, this potential meeting would follow that recent visit by the Russian defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, who visited North Korea in July. It also comes after U.S. officials said that the two countries are, quote, actively advancing their talks over another potential arms deal.

Last year, the U.S. said North Korea delivered rockets and delivered missiles into Russia for use by Wagner forces, which was something that North Korea has denied.

Now, both Russia and North Korea, as a fact, they have been inching closer together. We learned that the Russian defense minister says that joint military exercises with North Korea are currently being discussed and we also know that Kim and Putin, they have been quite recently exchanging letters to each other, pledging to increase their cooperation.

Back to you, David.

CULVER: Yeah, Kristie, no doubt this is concerning for U.S. officials, particularly believing that Beijing is watching this closely as well.

We appreciate the time this morning. Good to see you.

STOUT: Absolutely.

CULVER: All right. In just hours from now, the impeachment trial of Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton begins in the state senate. The firebrand conservative was impeached by Republican controlled state house.

But as CNN's Ed Lavandera explains, Paxton's strategy for keeping his job relies on claiming the impeachment is a partisan witch hunt.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just days before the start of his impeachment trial, Ken Paxton showed up at a rally to kick off his wife's state senate reelection campaign.

STATE SEN. ANGELA PAXTON (R), TEXAS: Please welcome to the stage, my husband, the love of my life, my best friend, Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton.


LAVANDERA: The suspended Republican attorney general was impeached on 20 articles, including charges of retaliating against whistleblowers, abuse of power and bribery, as well as misconduct involving an alleged affair. Paxton used this moment to pound the theme that he is the victim of a political witch hunt.

KEN PAXTON, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Actually, if you kind of kept up, I -- you can read that I'm responsible for the JFK assassination and for 9/11 and everything in between.

LAVANDERA: Paxton's impeachment trial begins Tuesday in the Texas state senate, and it features some of the highest profile and unique legal characters in the state.

Paxton is represented by Dan Cogdell and Tony Buzbee. They've described the impeachment of Paxton as a drive-by shooting.

TONY BUZBEE, ATTORNEY: This was a sham. It was a sham from the get- go.

DAN COGDELL, ATTORNEY: To say this case is not about politics has the credibility, the believability, and the sincerity of the fellow that's trying to convince his wife that he'd go to strip joint for food. It's not about the naked women, sweetheart. It's about the food -- nonsense. It's definitionally political. Nonsense.

LAVANDERA: Prosecuting the case against Paxton are the legendary Rusty Hardin and Dick DeGuerin. For decades, they've worked the biggest cases in the state. A few months ago, when Paxton's lawyers ripped the impeachment process, CNN asked Rusty Hardin to comment, and he referred us to this classic scene from the 1992 Joe Pesci courtroom comedy, "My Cousin Vinny".


LAVANDERA: But the political stakes are sky-high. In May, Paxton was overwhelmingly impeached by Texas House Republicans, 121 to 23.

And Paxton is vowing political retribution against those Republicans who voted against him.

K. PAXTON: Let's clean house.

LAVANDERA: There are 31 state senators, one of them is Angela Paxton, the attorney general's wife, but she will not be allowed to vote on her husband's impeachment. There are 12 Democrats in the Senate, and prosecutors need 21 votes to remove Paxton from office. The question is, whether nine Republicans will vote against Paxton.

Veteran Republican political strategist Brendan Steinhauser says, it's not clear how this trial will play out.

BRENDAN STEINHAUSER, VETERAN REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST: There's a lot of political pressure coming from all sides. This is unprecedented, so they're trying to do their constitutional duty, they are trying to do the legally, morally, ethically right thing. They don't know that is yet until they really dive into it and see the evidence.

LAVANDERA: Paxton has enjoyed support from Donald Trump and among Republican voters.


LAVANDERA: Steinhauser says Paxton is benefiting from Trump's attacks that the justice system is weaponized against politicians like them.

STEINHAUSER: That alignment is important for Paxton, because it helps him. It gives him some political support amongst the grassroots voters and activists in the Republican Party of Texas. And it makes it more difficult for state senators and state representatives to impeach and then convict him.


LAVANDERA (on camera): When the impeachment proceedings begin on Tuesday, there is a chance that the majority of the articles of impeachment could be dismissed by a simple majority vote in the Texas Senate, but it's not clear if that is going to happen. If the impeachment trial moves forward is expected to last several weeks. Ken Paxton's lawyers say the suspended attorney general will not testify, but impeachment managers insist that they will call him to testify at some point.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Austin, Texas.

CULVER: Former Proud Boy chair Enrique Tarrio will be sentenced today. Just ahead, we are going to look at how long he could be behind bars.

Plus, check out this video right here. A pier in Wisconsin collapsing, plunging more than 60 people into a lake.

And, growing learning gaps for students impacted by COVID-19. That's next.



CULVER: It is an early start for millions of students and their parents as they head back to school here in the U.S. While some of the challenges of schools face in the middle of the pandemic have no doubt subsided, there is growing concern this morning about the learning gap left behind.

According to research from Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, pandemic related learning losses are historic in magnitude and highly variable among communities. And, while nearly all districts experienced some learning loss, the range of these losses were highly variable from near zero to an entire grade level.

Julia Kaufman is a senior policy researcher as well as co-director of the American Educator Panels at the RAND Corporation. She, like many students and parents are getting up early and joining us.

We appreciate it, Julia. So, this is really quite concerning and against questions posed, so what is it going to take to reverse these learning gaps caused by the pandemic?


You know, as a parent myself I can say that, in many ways, public school feels like it is back to what it was pre-pandemic. Kids are back in school, athletics and after school activities are happening, but -- there is a "but" -- nearly all research tells us that the average student lost out on about half a year of learning in math over the course of the pandemic and lost out on not as much, but still substantive reading achievement losses. So they have not made up that learning.

CULVER: Yeah, we're looking at this graphic here that basically shows for some of these students, it's going to take several months to catch up. We're talking about 4.1 months in reading, four and a half in math. That's concerning.

As we continue to look at these numbers, a new Gallup poll, Julie, shows that only 36 percent of Americans are satisfied with K through 12 education, quality, and that is a record low from 24 years ago. However, 76 percent were satisfied with their oldest child's education. So, some interesting numbers there.

Overall, though, the view from Americans might be negative when it comes to their own child's -- really overall education, but it ones to their own kids, I mean, perhaps mostly, they are satisfied here. Is that your take from all these?

KAUFMAN: Yeah. K-12 parents are satisfied when you ask them about their own child's education, but when you asked them about the quality of U.S. education writ large, they are not as a satisfied. Only 41 percent indicate they are satisfied. And when you ask all Americans that same question, only 36 percent are satisfied.


You know, I have a lot of sympathy for teachers. They have been working really hard to support students and school industry leaders have had to make so many hard decisions over the past several years, but this data also suggests that public schools have a bit of an image problem, which probably means they need to think about how to communicate the challenges that they're facing and their decisions really clearly to a critical public, because they need that public support do the best possible job they can.

CULVER: It might sound like estranged question, Julia, but are there -- are there any positives that have come out of COVID-19 and the pandemic when it comes to education? Anything that is actually moved forward successfully?

KAUFMAN: You know, I think so. On one hand, a lot of schools have had to go to remote learning. And we know that that has not been good for kids. We know that they have not learned as much and they have lost learning, especially if they've been in those remote school districts.

But, at the same, time schools and teachers have learned more about how to use technology well. And, potentially, be more resilient if something, a large shock to the system happens again. In addition, a lot of districts have been using funding into provide intensive tutoring, to provide extra periods of instruction, to provide summer offerings.

But, you know, given this data, I think schools do need to do more. You can't accelerate learning at the level needed for full recovery, doing what schools typically do. So they have do more about what they have been doing, as well as potentially thinking about other kinds of interventions to help the students catch up.

CULVER: That's great insight there. Julia Kaufman of the RAND Corporation, good luck to your kids as they start of this new school year. We appreciate your time this morning.

KAUFMAN: Thank you so much.

CULVER: And still ahead for us this morning, Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Indonesia today. We are going to tell you what exactly is on the agenda for her there.

And, two suspects busted after allegedly using, get this, and excavator to damage the Great Wall of China.



CULVER: Quick hits around the globe right now.

Torrential rain drenching parts of Spain, including Madrid. This after months of extreme heat. The rain is washing out bridges, turning roads into rivers like you can see there, and inundating subways. The flooding has killed at least two people so far.

Cuba says its citizens are being trafficked by Russia to fight its war in Ukraine. Cuba's foreign ministry says it's now working to dismantle the trafficking network and the criminal charges have been initiated. Chinese officials detaining to people for allegedly destroying part of

China's great wall. Officials say they used an excavator to create a short cut through the wall. They caused irreversible damage.

The Annual Summit of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN is getting under away at this hour in Jakarta, Indonesia. The opening ceremony in group photo broadcast live regionally overnight. Vice President Kamala Harris is set to arrive later this morning. The summit giving her a chance to strengthen her ties in Asia, as well as build up her foreign policy credentials.

CNN's Steven Jiang joining us live from Beijing this morning.

Hey there, Steven. So what you expect it to be at the top of the agenda for this summit this year?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah, David, you know the ongoing Myanmar crisis and several issues involving China are very much looming large over the summit. Now, you mentioned Vice President Harris as attending this summit on behalf of the Biden administration, but the presidents absence itself made more conspicuous by the fact that, in the past, he normally attended the summit in person, including last year in Cambodia and also the fact that this summit is happening at a time when a lot of ASEAN members, given their close economic ties with China, are faced with this dilemma to decide their place in this increasingly heated U.S.-China competition.

That is why some analysts have portrayed Mr. Biden's absence as an example to show ASEAN's winning influence at the White House is shifting, as a priority in the region. Now, the White House is very much pushback on that notion, pointing to the president's track record to show his commitment to ASEAN and the fact that he invited eight of the top ten ASEAN leaders to the White House just last year.

Now, constantly, the Chinese are also sending their number two leader, Premier Li Qiang, to Jakarta. So a lot of scrutiny in the next few days over potential interaction between the leaders at a time when ASEAN is faced with several major challenges -- the Myanmar crisis, more than two years after that bloody military coup, but also long- standing territory or disputes between several members, especially the Philippines and Vietnam with China over the South China Sea.

And, David, as you know, famously banning the movie "Barbie" over a map showing -- purportedly showing the Chinese claim in the South China Sea -- David.

CULVER: Yeah, which never goes over well.

And interesting, Steven, President Xi Jinping is avoiding not only this summit, as you mentioned, but also as we reported yesterday, the G20. So keeping away from some of these global heads of state coming together.

Thanks for your time this morning, Steven. It's good to see you.

Still ahead for us this morning, attorneys for convicted murderer Alec Murdaugh has filed motions for a new trial. We'll explain what is behind this.

And, a driver alive this morning after his truck goes off a cliff leaving him trapped for five days. We're going to show you how they got him out.



CULVER: Here's today's fast forward look ahead.

The impeachment trial of Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton starts this morning. The state house will consider whether he abused his office to help a donor among many other accusations.

Jury selection begins today in the trial of former Trump advisor Peter Navarro. He is charged with contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena from the House January 6 Committee.

Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio will be sentenced this afternoon for seditious conspiracy connected to the Capitol riot. Prosecutors have asked for a sentence of 33 years in prison.

So, we have got a lot of different legal angles to unpack on those stories and help us get to do it. We've got Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor, joining us this morning. She is also the author of "A Spy in Plain Sight".

Lis, we know we've got to go through a few things and we appreciate your help breaking all this down for us. We will start with what's been a lengthy sentences for other Proud Boys ranging anywhere from 10 to 18 years, but prosecutors are seeking more than 30 years for Tarrio.

What do you think the --