Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Secretary of State Blinken Now In Ukraine for Unannounced Visit; Today: Georgia Judge Holds His First Hearing in Trump Case; CNN: Special Counsel Smith Also Focusing on Sidney Powell; Today: McConnell Speaks at Closed-Door GOP Conference Meeting; Risk of Malaria Outbreaks Growing with Warming Climate. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 06, 2023 - 05:00   ET



DAVID CULVER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, we begin with breaking news. The U.S. secretary of state on the ground in the Ukraine war zone. In just a few moments, we're going to take you live to Kyiv.

Plus, the court hearing just hours from now that could determine how quickly the Fulton County election subversion case moves forward.

And, Mitch McConnell meeting today with Republicans behind closed doors. What will he say about his health after freezing in front of cameras twice this summer?


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

And we want to start you off with breaking news. Secretary of State Antony Blinken just arriving in Kyiv for a previously unannounced visit to Ukraine. This is for third time visiting the Ukrainian capital since the Russian invasion. You are looking at pictures from a previous trip.

Now, Kyiv, we should remind you, is the still very much an active war zone this morning. In fact, just hours before the secretary arrived Ukraine said it's fended off a Russian missile attack on the city.

Let's get you live to CNN's Melissa Bell. She is on the ground in Kyiv.

Melissa, what exactly do we know about this secretary visit and what he plans to do there?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a visit, David, that comes at a critical time in Ukraine's counteroffensive. What we understand is that Secretary Blinken is here to hear from the Ukrainians themselves. How those counteroffensives have been going.

We have been hearing from senior source that State Department speaking about the American assessment that impressive gains have been made, but he is here to here for himself what they have to say about the progress being made and about what more they may need. This is also, of course, David coming as it does less than a month after President Biden asked Congress for an extra $24 billion in aid for Ukraine, about finding out what is needed and taking the message of what is happening here back to the American people to convince them at a time when polls are showing that that support for American funding of this war is softening.

It is also, of course, it comes also, as you say, David, at a critical time more broadly for the country. We saw in Kyiv this morning a series of ballistic missile attacks, cruise missile attacks as well. All of them fended off by Ukraine's air defense system. Still, some of the debris causing damage here in the Ukrainian capital.

So it is an important, visit comes at a critical time and it is about hearing also what Ukraine has to say about its ongoing fight against corruption and, more broadly -- the video of the damage there, that shows some of the damage being done to the Ukrainian capital.

But this is also, David, for Secretary Blinken who has just been with his Ukrainian counterpart laying a wreath at a military cemetery in -- to remind everyone and to pay tribute to all of those who lost their lives. This is also about taking back the Ukrainian message that they're going to be carrying to the United Nations later this month about how they see this war going forward, the need to hold together this alliance of some 50 countries. We are now 19 months, David, into the war that the entire world, not least Ukrainians, are getting extremely tired of.

CULVER: Yeah. Melissa, it's just incredibly frightening to think about what is happening there. As you pointed out a short time ago, showing those images and now the secretary on the ground. So, clearly, the security concern and, of course, the timing with the U.N. General Assembly right here in New York, as you point out. That's going to, of course, be an effort to sustain this global support.

We really appreciate the report this morning. Melissa, stay safe. We'll check in with you throughout the day, no doubt.

All right. Back here in the U.S., a hearing set for today in the Fulton County, Georgia, election subversion case. On the agenda, trial scheduling and motions by pro-Trump lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, who both want to sever their cases from those of Trump and the other 16 defendants. Powell and Chesebro wants faster trials, Trump wants his delayed. Fulton county prosecutor Fani Willis wants all 19 tried together.

CNN's Paula Reid breaks down the latest developments.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All of the 19 defendants charged in the Georgia election interference case, including former President Trump, have now entered pleas of not guilty.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: We did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.

REID: Tuesday, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, along with six other defendants, all pleaded not guilty and waived their right to an arraignment in Fulton County, Georgia.


This as CNN has learned that special counsel Jack Smith is widening his federal investigation.

JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Our investigation of other individuals continues.

REID: Focusing on fundraising and efforts to breach voting equipment, raising the possibility of additional charges after the special counsel indicted Trump last month.

SMITH: Since the attack on our Capitol, the Department of Justice has remained committed to ensuring accountability for those criminally responsible for what happened that day. This case is brought consistent with that commitment.

REID: In recent weeks, investigators have asked multiple witnesses about former Trump 2020 election lawyer Sidney Powell.

SIDNEY POWELL, TRUMP CO-DEFENDANT: We have evidence of different numbers of votes being injected into the system.

REID: She was identified as a co-conspirator in the federal defendant and faces criminal charges in Georgia for allegedly helping coordinate and fund a multi-state plot to illegally access voting systems after the election.

POWELL: There should never be another election conducted in this county, I don't care if it is for local dog catcher using a Dominion machine.

REID: Witnesses have been asked whether Powell was able to provide any evidence of her conspiracy theories and about Powell's nonprofit, Defending the Republic, which raised money off election lies. According to invoices obtained by CNN, Defending the Republic hired forensic firms that ultimately accessed voting equipment in four swing states won by Biden -- Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona.


REID (on camera): It is unclear if Powell or anyone else will be charged in the special counsel's investigation. The grand jury that Smith is currently using here in D.C.expires on September 15th, but it can be extended.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


CULVER: Coming up here, Mitch McConnell set to address his health. It's going to happen on the closed-door meeting today.

Plus, Alex Murdaugh's lawyers pushing for a new trial, claiming a court clerk messed the first one up.

And, a thirsty bear bust into a mini fridge and chugs three white clause. It is sound like a set up to some sort of joke, except it is real and on video. We're going to explain how this went down.



CULVER: Later today, GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to address this recent health scares in a closed-door meeting with Republican senators. McConnell froze in front of cameras last week for the second time this summer. On Tuesday, the Capitol's attending physician released a new letter. It is addressed to McConnell and it says, quote, there's no evidence that you have a seizure disorder or that you experienced a stroke, TIA, or movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease. TIA refers to a mini stroke.

Here's McConnell on the floor Tuesday, briefly mentioning the recent incident, albeit indirectly.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: One particular moment of my time back home has received its fair share of attention in the press over the past week. But, I assure you, august was a busy and productive months for me and my staff back in the commonwealth.


CULVER: Still, though there are some questions and concerns among Republicans.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): There is going to be a lot of things that the leader is going to have to really be on top of, and can he do it? It is like being a quarterback. I hope he can.


TUBERVILLE: I don't. I'm anxious to hear him talk, but I have seen, he struggled, and we all would have. If you fall and hit your head and have a bad concussion, I have seen kids in my profession of football really struggle for a long time after a concussion. I mean, it's -- that's a reason why you don't play them after that. I mean, they don't go back into the game after you are completely well and it's obvious that he's not completely well.


CULVER: Let's bring in CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Boston Globe", Jackie Kucinich.

Hey, good morning, Jackie. Thanks for being with us.


CULVER: A lot of factors are obviously at play here. How concerned do you think Republicans are about McConnell's health right now?

KUCINICH: You are hearing some concern, some Republicans speaking out. But I think, by and large, McConnell made some calls after the first time when this initially happened, he made some calls to his leadership team to try to assure them of his health. And I think that is why you have seen not one but two letters from the Capitol physician released to the public and he made the comments on the Senate floor yesterday really to assure them that he is fine and we'll see what happens during this meeting.

But listen, you're not seeing anyone challenges authority. You are seeing some particularly, those who aren't McConnell's biggest fans, his rivals, raising concerns. But those on his leadership team really have his back and I think the vast majority of Senate Republicans have stood up for him during this time.

But, again, I think we'll all be watching what he says to his colleagues this afternoon looking for a read out of that meeting today.


CULVER: Yeah, for sure. And, Jackie, I want to get your take on some new CNN polling that came out yesterday. And unsurprisingly, Trump has maintained his lead over the rest of the GOP field.

Now, the polls also asked about the charges against Trump. The view is split heavily on party lines. If we look at how strong he is polling, it is really quite significant. What motivation here, if any, does the Trump campaign have to do more than really just keep the course? Because it feels like he is gaining traction without any need for some major strategy shift?

KUCINICH: I don't think they are shifting their strategy. Every time there has been one of these indictments they have used it to raise money and to really galvanize their support and it seemed to be working. This is national poll, we should say, which is not how particularly, in a Republican primary, how things are done. They are done state-by-state.

But this is not that far afield from what we have seen in places like Iowa, in places like New Hampshire. He really is far ahead and any of his competitors and I think you need to look no further than those competitors when you think about whether or not he is popular among the GOP base, because they are, most of them with the exception of Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson, are not really taking Trump on at this point. We'll see if their strategy shifts because they want to rise in the polls and that may work for them.

CULVER: Jackie Kucinich, thank you for the political insight this morning from "The Boston Globe". We appreciate your time.

All right. Just ahead, opening statements is set to begin in the trial of former Trump aide Peter Navarro.

Plus, climate change and a deadly disease.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As temperatures warm across the board, scientists are concerned about malaria calling mosquitoes breeding in new places.



CULVER: A report released by U.N. and European Union Climate agencies just in the last hour says the summer of 2023 was, by far, the hottest summer on record for Planet Earth. These rising temperatures are having different effects in different places all over the globe. One of them is Africa where global warming is leading to the spread of malaria.

CNN's Larry Madowo is in Nairobi, Kenya.

So, Larry, what is the connection here between these rising global temperatures, which obviously we've been following closely and experiencing firsthand, and malaria outbreaks?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: David, the simple connection is that warmer temperatures mean more mosquitoes in more places and that should concern everybody around the world. There is already mounting evidence about increased malaria instances related to change in rainfall and humidity and temperatures, but we are seeing now mosquitoes in places that previously didn't have malaria. We are seeing mosquitoes moving from Asia for instance to parts of sub- Saharan Africa. And 96 percent of people who die from malaria area here in Africa, these are some of the people who are affected by this mosquito-borne disease.


MADOWO (voice-over): Mary and both her sons are in hospital for malaria. Four-year-old Mark says he is doing better and so is his big brother Joseph, who is 12. They keep getting malaria, Mary says, and she can barely afford the treatment.

MARY ACHIENG, MALARIA PATIENT (through translator): Malaria has hit my family hard. In a month, I use about $35 on drugs and the following month, one of them falls of sick again.

MADOWO: Mary lives in western Kenya, a hot region where residents have an especially high risk of malaria. More than 10,000 people have died each year from the mosquito-borne disease in this East Africa nation, but kids are especially vulnerable.

Researchers are collecting mosquitoes here two to study how they are evolving. Rising temperatures let them grow faster and live longer.

Why do you come to collect mosquitoes here specifically?

KWOBA CELESTINE, KEMRI RESEARCH PARTNER: They are -- our mosquito density here is very high.

MADOWO: They are tracking the full life cycle of mosquitoes get ahead of this a tiny insect before it does even more damage.

This is a typical high malaria zone. It's hot and humid, swampy, those are traced growing field back there. A lot of water right next to where people live. But, as temperatures warm across the board, scientists are concerned about malaria causing mosquitoes breeding in new places.

DAMARIS MATOKE-MUHIA, PRINCIPAL RESEARCH SCIENTIST, KEMRI: Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal in Africa.

MADOWO: Damaris Matoke-Muhia has made it her life's work to neutralize the insect that causes malaria, the female Anopheles mosquito, after her brother died of the disease.

Her team of scientists at Kenya's largest research institute is studying mosquito samples from around the country to guide Kenya's response to malaria and how to beat it.

Are we any closer to eradicating malaria?

MATOKE-MUHIA: We were, but with the change of now climate we are seeing more mosquitoes than there were before, we are seeing new species, we are seeing that it is going to places where we didn't expect before, then we are taken back to zero.

MADOWO: Climate change is helping mosquitoes responsible for transmitting malaria reach colder parts of the continent. Scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center found that data going back 120 years. The heat is also helping mosquitoes live longer and become infectious sooner, worrying public health officials.

Are you concerned about the resurgence of malaria in your work across the continent?

DR. GITAHI GITHINJI, GROUP CEO, AMREF HEALTH AFRICA: We have had areas that had seemed to eliminate malaria are now having malaria. And we are now seeing actually that the public health system is not prepared for this resurgence.


MADOWO: Malaria is having devastating effects on more people suffering from serious cases. Steve Ngugi says that he was sick for nearly three months.

Your malaria was very serious?

STEVE NGUGI, MALARIA SURVIVOR: Very, very serious. MADOWO: Were you afraid you could die?

NGUGI: Of course, yes, because by the time I reached the hospital I couldn't managed to move my head.

MADOWO: Ninety-six percent of people who die from malaria are in Africa, the World Health Organization says. As the continent warms faster than the rest of the world, malaria persists and experts warn the risks spreading into a global threat.

RICHARD MUNANG, CLIMATE CHANGE PROGRAM COORDINATOR, UNEP AFRICA: What is happening in Africa will gradually see it happen elsewhere because with the warming climate, rising temperatures, malaria, more mosquitoes are migrating to other areas. Malaria will displace people. They will migrate to other areas, within the continent and out in the continent.


MADOWO (on camera): Malaria is one of the most climate sensitive diseases, according to the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization. And one of the topics here at the First African Climate Summit, Dave, it has been about the nexus between health and climate change. And, for instance, mobility, people around the Sahel are moving because their homes are no longer livable, crossing across the Mediterranean into Europe.

That's -- the other problem is, could be a global trend? People who travel all around the world and as long as malaria is not eradicated here in Africa, it could be a problem everywhere.

CULVER: No, you're right about that, Larry, and as you pointed covering this summit, I mean, it's an unfair burden that the African continent is dealing with amid what wealthier countries are contributing to the climate crisis. We really appreciate that report. Thanks, Larry.

And this morning, police are trying to stress an escaped killer in Pennsylvania, hoping he makes a mistake as their manhunt enters a seventh day.

And, Florida flamingos flying into Kentucky, Texas, even Ohio? We're going to explain why.