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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

DOJ: Special Counsel Seeks Hunter Biden Indictment This Month; Missile Strike On Ukrainian Market Kills At Least 17; Video Shows Prisoner Walk Up Two Walls Before Escape. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 07, 2023 - 05:30   ET




DAVID CULVER, CNN ANCHOR: Here are your top stories at the bottom of the hour.

The Georgia judge denied a motion to sever the cases of Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell in the Fulton County election case. The judge also doubts the plan to try Donald Trump and 18 other defendants together. Prosecutors expect the case to last about four months.

A federal judge has ordered Texas to remove those floating barriers from the Rio Grande and they blocked the state from putting new ones in the river. The barriers are part of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's attempt to deter migrants from crossing the border. Abbott's office says they are prepared to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Justice Department revealing that special counsel David Weiss intends to indict the president's son, Hunter Biden, by the end of the month.

CNN's Kara Scannell has more.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): We learned in a court filing this afternoon that special counsel David Weiss says that they are going to seek an indictment related to the gun case this month, saying that because of the Speedy Trial Act that they would need to make a decision on this case by September 29. They are saying they are going to do so before that date.

And remember, this was part of this pretrial diversion deal that he had reached last -- back in July. And under that deal he would have avoided prosecution on a gun possession charge -- possessing a gun while he was under the influence of a controlled substance. He's been very public about his cocaine addiction. You know, that was -- that's a felony that faces a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison.

So that was going to be diverted if he met certain conditions, including not using drugs and not possessing a gun for 24 months. That deal fell apart. What we don't know from this filing is exactly what they will try to

seek an indictment on -- if it will be that same felony or if it will be -- which we know something that we're looking at -- falsifying the form in which he filled out to get that gun. So that remains an open question at this point.

But certainly, this case is looking like it's going to move forward with a felony charge against the president's son.


CULVER: Let's bring in now Margaret Talev, a senior contributor at Axios, and director at Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship Institute. Hey, Margaret -- good to see you. It's been a few months but grateful to be --


CULVER: -- having you contribute on the show this morning, and there's a lot to go through.

We'll start with what sources are telling CNN and that's about House Republicans making their first official ask to Hunter Biden's lawyers for documents related to what is a now-defunct plea agreement. And this is signaling, really, that it's not going anywhere.

How do you think this continued Hunter Biden legal drama is going to affect his dad's campaign?

TALEV: I mean, it is sort of the obvious question, right? Because this decision now to go forward sets up a scenario where the president's son could very well be going to trial while the president is running for reelection. And that could make it easier for Republicans to try to do this equivalency thing -- to try to suggest that Donald Trump's prosecutions and the prosecution of Hunter Biden are somehow comparable.

On the other hand, I think it does really blow up the kind of argument -- the claim that President Biden is unduly exerting political influence on the justice system because if you were, his son would not be going through this.

Honestly, I'm not sure either one of these issues is going to matter in terms of shaping voters' minds. I do think for the president, for whom his son has been a concern for a very long time, it is going add a real degree of emotional stress and pressure as he's running for reelection.

And don't forget that Hunter Biden's lawyer was Jared Kushner's lawyer, so things could get interesting.

CULVER: Yeah, for sure.

[05:35:00] Let me get your take on this. Mike Pence giving a speech in New Hampshire on Wednesday continuing his call against populism. Here is part of it.


MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've come to a Republican time for choosing. Will we embrace the traditional conservative agenda that's led our party and our nation to victory and prosperity now for more than half a century, or will we choose to go down the path of populism and decline?


CULVER: All right. So he's taking that approach. He's making this push. But, I mean, new CNN polling shows just how strong of a grip the former President Trump has on the field. So is there even an appetite among Republicans for what the former vice president is trying to get across?

TALEV: The polling, so far, in this GOP primary suggests there's not really. What he's doing -- this is the Ronald Reagan argument right down to the words about the time for choosing. He's putting himself in this camp with, like, Nikki Haley or some other, like, sort of standard bearers in the old Republican Party, like a Mitt Romney type. And these were always different camps inside the Republican Party but now they are becoming the kind of institutionalist/return to conservative principles camp.

And look, Vice President Pence obviously is not only trying to distinguish himself as a candidate from the president he formerly served, but to kind of sever his relationship in terms of legacy from Donald Trump's to say I'm not like this. He's making this argument that this kind of populism is not only comparable to kind of the Bernie Sanders movement in the Democratic Party, but he's actually arguing that this kind of populism can lead to government oppression or, over the long term, authoritarianism.

The problem is that populism has long attracted the working class, whether the working-class voters are Republican voters or Democratic voters. And Mike Pence is not offering himself as a populist option right now. That means he's going to have a hard time attracting this really important portion of the GOP base.

So it is -- he is clearly separating himself long-term from Trump but it's not clear that he can get much political traction out of that or whether -- if he did, whether it would kind of inure to him or whether it might help another GOP rival, like a Nikki Haley.

CULVER: Yeah, we'll see if it resonates at all with GOP voters.

So the current vice president, Kamala Harris, is in Indonesia attending the ASEAN Summit. And she called for accountability for the events of January 6. Just take a listen to part of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that people should be held accountable under the law, and when they break the law there should be accountability. And I support it when it happens.

CHRIS MEGERIAN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: And does that extend to the former president?

HARRIS: Well, everyone has their right to their day in court but absolutely, people should be held accountable -- but under our system of law, right? Let the evidence and the facts take it where it may.


CULVER: OK, so her wording there isn't all that harsh but it is a departure, still, from the White House's seemingly no comment policy. So if Biden remains quiet on Trump's legal issues do you think Harris is going to start speaking up more on Trump?

TALEV: Yeah, it's a really interesting moment. It is going to be seen as a break from the White House's position and the president's position, although I'm not really sure that it is. She's actually pretty well positioned to try to test the waters on this argument. She was, after all, a former prosecutor and she's also not Biden.

Biden's issue has been that the Republicans are trying to say that he's politicizing the Justice Department or he is putting his thumb on the scale. No one is saying that she is trying to do those things.

And Biden is eventually going to have to distinguish himself from Donald Trump and to make the case that Donald Trump's legal troubles and involvement in January 6, and all of these things make him unfit to be reelected. So the question has for the last several months been how is going to do this and when is he going to start?

And I think what you see the vice president doing here is beginning to test the waters for what arguments work, and that may ultimately help inform the president's way of dealing with this issue as we move closer to the general election -- part of the 2024 campaign.

CULVER: Thank you for helping us thread all this together, Margaret. Good to see you.

TALEV: You, too. Thank you.

CULVER: All right. At least 17 people are dead, dozens injured. This, after a Russian missile hit a crowded market in Ukraine's Eastern Donetsk region.


Missile hitting crowd at market.


CULVER: This is one of Russia's deadliest strikes in months. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy condemning it as a deliberate attack on people who did nothing wrong.

CNN's Katie Polglase is in London. She's got more on this. Katie, Ukraine is in the midst of this counteroffensive right now. Could what's playing out right now affect that counteroffensive?


KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Well look, David, this is clearly a devastating attack on civilians. And let's not forget these kinds of attacks on civilians by Russia have been happening really since the beginning of the war. And we've investigated them. They are often considered war crimes for targeting civilians and targeting civilian infrastructure.

In terms of the counteroffensive, the morale -- clearly, morale is actually in quite a good place. And while these attacks are horrendous, they are not damaging morale in the way Russia may be intending. And that is because if you look at the past couple of weeks, the counteroffensive has been making some progress with marginal land gains in the south. And also, clearly, it now is having some very strong backing from its Western allies.

Blinken in town yesterday saying that there was clear, real progress in the counteroffensive. And just this morning, the head of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, again saying they are slowly gaining ground in this counteroffensive.

Clearly, there is some confidence here from the Western allies, as well from the Ukrainian leadership. This is the message the Ukrainian leadership has wanted all its allies to be communicating, really, for the last couple of weeks. We are moving forward, Zelenskyy has been saying. We are making progress.

And that morale clearly is very strong. The new defense minister appointment again is another sign of this. They are moving forward. This is a new phase of the counteroffensive. And these devastating attacks on civilians is unfortunately part of something that Ukraine is very used to in this war and does not seem to be having that morale dent that maybe Russia is intending it to have.

CULVER: Yeah, perhaps used to it but, really, still unsettling to see that striking video.

All right, Katie, good to see you -- thanks.

Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING," brand new CNN polling in the 2024 race for president. Is it cause for concern for team Biden?

And next, right here, surveillance video shows how a convicted killer snuck out of prison. You have got to see this.



CULVER: Here is today's fast-forward lookahead. President Biden leaving today for the G20 summit in New Delhi. His four-day trip also includes a stop in Vietnam.

The jury in Peter Navarro's trial returns this morning for instructions and closing arguments. The former Trump White House adviser is charged with contempt of Congress related to January 6.

And it is the first day of school in New York City. Educators there bracing for thousands of migrant children to be in class as the city struggles with the asylum seeker crisis.

A convicted killer still on the run at this hour after his daring escape from a Pennsylvania prison. And the video is unreal. It was just released yesterday. It shows the first leg of that escape. You've got to watch this here. A crabwalk between two walls in the exercise yard -- that is apparently what no one saw and that's how he got out.

We've got more now from CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the moment convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante escaped from Chester County Prison in Pennsylvania, prompting an intense manhunt that is now in its seventh day. From the exercise area, he crab-walked up the wall and apparently dropped down the other side.

HOWARD HOLLAND, ACTING WARDEN, CHESTER COUNTY PRISON: Cavalcante escapes from the prison having crab-walked up a walk, pushed his way through razor wire, run across the roof, scaled another fence, and pushed his way through more razor wire.

TODD (voice-over): A tower guard in an observation post did not see the escape and has been put on administrative leave.

It took an hour until the prison was locked down and an alarm was sounded. Furthermore, authorities admit, in May, another inmate briefly escaped by the exact same route. Since then, the only step taken to address the weak point, additional razor wire was installed.

HOLLAND: While we believe the security measures we had in place were sufficient they've proven otherwise.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, the search area again growing on Wednesday after another sighting reported on Tuesday night. Unlike Monday's sighting, this one in a creek bed by a resident was not caught on camera.

TODD (on camera): Any traces of him left anywhere?

LT. COL. GEORGE BIVENS, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE: Yes. There have been footprints and there have been other indicators to us that he's passed through a certain area. We've had a number of dog scents -- trails that we have followed for quite some time.

TODD (voice-over): Hundreds of officers -- plus dogs, and drones, and helicopters -- continue to search. At roadblocks and checkpoints, CNN observed police searching vehicles, opening trunks, and checking back seats.

BIVENS: He'll make that mistake that we're pushing him hard so that he makes, or there will be some piece of other type of evidence that points us to him.

TODD (voice-over): Two school districts again closed on Wednesday. Reverse 911 calls warning residents in the area.

REVERSE 911 CALL: If you see this individual, do not approach him.

MICHAEL DOYLE, RESIDENT OF CHADDS FORD, PENNSYLVANIA: Locking everything. Locking the cars at night. I've been checking out all the woods.

TODD (voice-over): The risk?

BIVENS: He is a violent individual. If given the opportunity I believe he would use as much violence as he needed to or could to avoid capture.

TODD (voice-over): Cavalcante escaped prison last Thursday, just over a week after he was sentenced to life without parole for the 2021 murder of his former girlfriend, Deborah Brandao. Authorities say she discovered he was wanted on murder charges in Brazil. Her sister tells CNN he had become suspicious and jealous.

SARAH BRANDAO, SISTER MURDERED BY ESCAPEE (through translator): There were threats like if you ever cheat on me I'll do the worst to you. These types of things.

TODD (voice-over): Now that he escaped she is scared.

BRANDAO (through translator): I haven't slept for many days since then. I nap and I wake up afraid.

TODD (on camera): While law enforcement officials say they are concerned that this manhunt could come to a violent end given Danelo Cavalcante's violent history, Lt. Col. George Bivens, of the Pennsylvania State Police, told me right now they do not have any indication that he has a weapon on him.

Brian Todd, CNN, West Chester, Pennsylvania.



CULVER: All right, let's get to former FBI special agent and professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, Ken Gray. Hey there, Ken.

Let's start with that video that's newly released -- shows the escape. What do you make of it? KEN GRAY, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT, PROFESSOR OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAVEN (via Skype): So this is quite remarkable. It's remarkable for two reasons. One is that they had had the previous escape using the exact same technique. And two, this is just remarkable watching him go up the wall. It's really surprising that he was able to do this.

There is another inmate that may be acting as a lookout at the time and is -- apparently, in the May escape, there was an altercation on the basketball court that allowed that inmate to briefly escape.

CULVER: The warden admitting to human error playing a role here. Does this serve as any kind of wake-up call for prisons and jails around this country?

GRAY: Well, I wouldn't take this example here and try to use it too broadly. I think that in this particular case there was a lack of coverage. They thought they had corrected it by physically adding more razor wire but instead, in this particular case, one of the tower guards did not see this happen.

And so there is an internal investigation going on about this escape and they will -- they plan to add additional resources -- other personnel inside the exercise yard itself to make sure this doesn't happen again.

CULVER: Yeah. Well, Ken, I live in L.A. and that's something you'd expect out of a Hollywood movie. The video is really incredible, especially to think it's the second time.

Can I ask you about this search while we have you, Ken? Because there's obviously coordination right now between law enforcement at the federal and the state level, and local levels. How does that coordination and communication work?

GRAY: So whenever an incident like this happens the law enforcement comes together. You have a unified command with the Pennsylvania State Police working with the U.S. Marshals, working with the Philadelphia Fugitive Task Force, and all the surrounding township police departments. And so, a lot of resources are being thrown against it.

You also have canine officers working with their dogs. And you have aerial assets. There's helicopters flying constantly in the area.

Cavalcante is likely staying put during the daytime and moving at nighttime. And so, that -- the law enforcement are operating during the daytime and not moving around that much at nighttime.

And so, he has not traveled very far. He's been out for a week now and he's still within five miles of the Chester County Prison. So this is a person who is -- because he has not moved very much they are going to catch him. It's just a matter of time.

CULVER: I know a lot of folks in that area who are eager for that time to be up and for him to be caught.

Ken Gray -- Professor, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

This morning, The Boss calling in sick.




CULVER: You know the voice. Bruce Springsteen postponing the rest of his shows this month as he deals with a stomach ulcer. He says he's heartbroken about it but doctor's orders and he's got to follow them. He also canceled two shows last month.

American Madison Keys now just two wins away from her first major title at the U.S. Open.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Hey, Andy. Good morning.


So you have Americans Madison Keys and Coco Gauff both in the semifinals at the U.S. Open. It would be pretty cool if they are able to win and then face off in Saturday's final.

Keys, though, taking care of reigning Wimbledon champ Marketa Vondrousova yesterday. The 28-year-old winning in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4. Keys is looking for her first-ever Grand Slam title. Her best finish was in the 2017 U.S. Open where she lost to Sloane Stephens in the final.

All right. On the men's side, top-seeded Carlos Alcaraz is closing in on his second consecutive title. The defending champ blowing past Alexander Zverev in straight sets last night to advance to the semis. The 20-year-old is looking to become the first man to repeat at the U.S. Open since Roger Federer won five in a row from 2004 to 2008.

So next up, Alcaraz is going to face world number three Danil Medvedev tomorrow. The 2021 champion not only had to beat fellow Russian Andrey Rublev but also the scorching temperatures of the hottest day of the tournament so far. It felt like 96 degrees during the match with high humidity. And Medvedev had to take two medical breaks, both times using an inhaler to help with his breathing. And he was just not a fan of playing in the heat.


DANIL MEDVEDEV, 2021 U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: I cannot imagine. One player going to die and they're going to see.



SCHOLES: Yeah. Medvedev -- he did go on to win in straight sets. And then he spoke about the intense heat after his match.


MEDVEDEV: It was brutal. The only good thing I see in these conditions is that both suffer. So usually there's not one that suffers, so it's tough for both of us.


SCHOLES: All right, to baseball.

Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer started the season on the Mets. Last night they scored off against each other in an AL West showdown. J.V. on the Astros now; Scherzer on the Rangers. And it was a rough night for Max.

In the third inning, Astros bases loaded and Jose Abreu is going to get ahold of this one for a grand slam. He also hit a three-run home run later in the game.

Scherzer gives up seven runs. Verlander gives up just one. The Astros win 12-3 to sweep the Rangers in the series. And this was an absolute beatdown. The Astros are the first team in Major League Baseball history to score at least 12 runs and hit five or more home runs in three straight games.

All right. And finally, the long wait is almost over. We're just hours away from kickoff of the NFL season with the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs hosting the Detroit Lions. Kansas City -- the preseason favorite to lift the Lombardi trophy, according to Vegas. No team has won back-to-back titles since the Patriots did it back in 2005.

And quarterback Patrick Mahomes says well, it's not how start, it's how you finish.


PATRICK MAHOMES, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS QUARTERBACK: I think it's just not being satisfied with getting wins or you're having some early success. You have to keep building. I think you learn that a lot in the NFL is you might have a great start to the season but as the season goes on you have to keep building -- more other teams are going to catch you. And you want to be the best team at the end of the season just as much as you want to be the best team at the beginning.


SCHOLES: Yeah, and the big question heading into tonight's game, David, for Chiefs fans and Fantasy Football players around the country is will Travis Kelce play tonight for the Chiefs? He hurt his knee earlier this week in practice. He's questionable for the game.

CULVER: Well, we just need this heat to taper off for it to really feel like football season, Andy. Thanks -- I appreciate it.

SCHOLES: All right.

CULVER: Good to see you this morning.

All right, so that does it for us here at EARLY START. I'm David Culver. Thanks for your company this past hour.

"CNN THIS MORNING" is next. Nineteen defendants, 150 witnesses. The judge in the Georgia election case now wondering how's that going to work.