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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Soon: Fulton County Special Grand Jury Report Released; Biden Set to Arrive Soon in India for G20 Summit; Hurricane Lee Now a Category Five and Gaining Strength. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2023 - 05:00   ET



DAVID CULVER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, new revelations this morning in Georgia's election subversion case. Parts of a grand jury report that were redacted until today.

Plus, President Biden bound for the G-20 summit in India where the real story might be who is not attending.

And Hurricane Lee getting stronger and more powerful by the moment. As the category 5 storm now churns through the Caribbean.


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

In just a few hours from now, we expect the release of the full report from the Fulton County grand jury that investigated the election subversion with the 2020 presidential election. Ultimately, it led to the indictment of former President Trump and 18 co-defendants.

It is important to note that this is different than the grand jury that actually returned the indictment last month. And this comes as Trump tells a judge that he might try and move his case from state to federal court. So, there is a lot of moving parts with this as this is obviously one of several cases the former president is facing.

But here to help us break it all down and make sense of it is Katie Cherkasky. She's a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Katie, thank you for being here nice and early.

And there are so many elements to this and I know if we looked specifically at what was redacted earlier this year, perhaps some of that will come to clarity with what is coming out today, is that right? What kind of information do you think we can get here?

KATIE CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, the special grand jury report was essentially the first look of the January 6 case in Fulton County. That report and that special grand jury did not have the authority to issue an indictment, so it will be interesting to see what types of recommendations, what types of defendants are listed in that report. As of right now we haven't been able to see that.

So it's not that it has any practical impact on the case, but it is more so an interesting aspect of what types of charges were recommended by that grand jury versus what was actually indicted in Georgia.

CULVER: And no redaction in what comes out today? Expected to be fully transparent?

CHERKASKY: That's right. Because original redactions were result of the fact that there were people named in the report that were not yet indicted. And so, that is why the judge had not allowed that report to become public. At this point, everybody has been indicted that's going to be in that case. There's no reason to further keep the report redacted.

CULVER: So, there'd be a lot of information to dig through today. So, when it comes to the former president potentially moving his case from state to federal, this seems to be a trend that lot of folks among the 19 defendants are considering.

What is going to need to be proven here in order to make that happen?

CHERKASKY: Well, in order for somebody to move a state prosecution to federal court, if they can show that they were a federal official at the time and that what they were engaged in was under the color of their official duties, then they have the right to file that removal notice in a federal district court, even though the case is still technically state charges that will be adjudicated in this federal forum.

So for Donald Trump's purposes, I think that he does have a very strong argument that the case has grounds to be moved there, but ultimately that federal judge will have to make that final decision.

CULVER: And would Mark Meadows, if he is able to make that move to federal court, is that going to set any sort of precedence here or is this really case by case and you have to be pretty specific on the defendant?

CHERKASKY: I think with the Meadows removal, it will be a good indicate of how amenable the federal courts are to taking these January 6 cases. It is interesting though with Donald Trump because the question for the federal judge in removing the case is whether the official was acting under the color of their authority.

And that is really what the ultimate question is in the January 6 prosecution in Georgia in general. Was president Trump acting under his official capacity or was he outside the outer perimeter as they say of his presidential duties. So I think that is the big question, but for removal purposes, I think he has a strong argument that that is at least at play. So I would anticipate that he would make that request and I think he has a strong chance of getting it, but ultimately the judge will make that call. CULVER: Can I get you on former Trump adviser Peter Navarro has been

convicted of contempt of Congress charges for not complying with the January 6 subpoena. What is your reaction to this conviction here?

CHERKASKY: Well, it was an unfortunate defense for him. Essentially, Pete Navarro alleged that the reason he did not comply with those subpoenas is because he had been instructed by President Trump to assert executive privilege.


But according to what I've seen, the defense did not present any corroborating evidence to support the fact that he did in fact have that direction from President Trump.

Certainly, President Trump did not bolster that claim. And so, it was a pretty open and shut case it looked like. He did not comply with the subpoena and the ultimate fact finder did not see that he had a justifiable reason to avoid doing so, so he went down for that.

CULVER: I really appreciate this, you brought a lot of perspective to what is a quickly evolving case and just one of many. So thanks for being with us in person this morning, too. Good to see you.

CHERKASKY: Yeah, absolutely.

CULVER: All right. Right now, President Viden in the air headed to the G-20 summit. That's in New Delhi. He's set to arrive in the next four hours or so. He's scheduled to sit down with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for one-on-one talks later today.

Now, the summit among leaders of the world's biggest economies, that kicks off on Saturday. But China's Xi Jinping deciding at the last minute here to pass on going, first time he has missed a G-20.

CNN's Vedika Sud is in New Delhi.

Vedika, has China reacted here as to why President Xi is not attending? It seems like if they are not talking publicly, there is something bigger at play here and a message they are trying to send.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No explanation whatsoever, David, at this point. All we know is that the second in command from China, the Chinese premier will be attending the G-20 meeting instead of the Chinese president. Now, it's very important to note here that the Chinese president has never missed a G-20 summit ever since he came to power back in 2012. This would be his first.

Now, why is this? There is a wide area of speculation after Beijing's reticence really over why Xi Jinping will not be in New Delhi for the G-20 Summit. Could it be because of the border tensions that have escalated over the years with India? Could it be because Biden is going to be there? Or is it because there is a disillusionment in terms of Beijing here with the current global governance system in the global order?

Here is what a foreign affairs expert Michael Kugelman had to say about this.


MICHAEL KUGELMAN, DIRECTOR, THE WILSON CENTER'S SOUTH ASIA INSTITUTE: I also would argue that perhaps President Xi is trying to send a message to the U.S. and other Western members of the G-20 that Beijing is simply not inclined to participate with the Western powers and Western players at this moment and he would prefer to spend his time focused on global forums that are meant to provide -- or serve as alternatives to the West such as the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.


SUD: So is the message that China would rather be apart and spend more time participating in anti-West bloc summits. That could perhaps be one of the reasons. But like I said at the top, there is no inherent explanation that Beijing has offered. In terms of India and their reaction to the absence of both Putin and Xi Jinping from the G- 20 summit, which we are hosting this year, they say this is not the first time that prime ministers and presidents have skipped the summit.

So whatever they need to say, whatever the position is, it will be relayed through their representatives. But I doubt if any big ticket measures can really be announced by their deputies that the point.

Back to you.

CULVER: Vedika Sud, ahead of what's going to be a really busy weekend there. We appreciate it. Good to see you.

Coming up this morning here, how Rudy Giuliani hopes to pay millions in unpaid legal bills.

Plus, "That 70s Show" actor Danny Masterson getting 30 years in prison.

And a category 5 hurricane, this is spinning at -- this hour, it's in the Atlantic. We're going to look at where this is headed. That is next.



CULVER: It only took Hurricane Lee about a day to explode into what is now a category 5 storm. Let's go to meteorologist Derek Van Dam in the weather center.

Derek, you and I were talking 24 hours ago, it was hurricane level 1, and now, we're talking a 5. And a lot of folks getting nervous. What are you seeing?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, David, this thing is in beast mode right now. This is what it looked like as the sunset on major hurricane Lee last night. What we're going to see this morning is going to be extraordinary. This is the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin since 2019 with Hurricane Dorian.

And get this, it more than doubled its wind speed in 24 hours. This is the third fastest -- tied for the third fastest rapid intensification of any Atlantic basin storm. So that is just really incredible, 85- mile-per-hour strength increase in those winds in a 24 hour period. Again that is tying Matthew from 2016.

Here is the latest information from the 5:00 a.m. update. Nice what we call a pin hole eye right in the center of the storm giving an indication of the strength of this, 165 miles per hour, that also tells you the strength. That is a category 5.

Exactly what the national hurricane center was forecasting. But this is new this morning, they are explicitly calling for 180-mile-per-hour sustained storm. So the potential here to breach rarefied air, very rare type of storm to be able to have this type of strength in the Atlantic basin this far south and this far east. Now, the official track slows the storm down considerably across the southeast Atlantic.

And, of course, everybody wants to know when will it make this northerly turn that all of the computer models continue to show us? Because if it happens later in the forecast period, of course, that means it minimizes puts more of the eastern coast in jeopardy from impacts of this storm. If it makes that turn earlier, of course, that means it minimizes the risk to major of much of the major metropolitans along the east coast.

But one thing for sure, David, this will kick up large swell, large waves along the Atlantic seaboard, starting on Sunday, and last through a better east coast.

But one thing for sure, this will kick up large swell and waves starting Sunday through next week. Where it goes, we're still a little unsure, but this will be a considerable weaker storm as it moves through colder waters across the western Atlantic.


So that is something to consider as well.

CULVER: Yeah, but your description of beast mode, I mean, that's obviously making folks uneasy and I know you'll be tracking it, Derek.

VAN DAM: We are very closely.

CULVER: Yeah, good to see you.

And let's get to quick hits across America at this hour.

A federal appeals court says Texas can keep those floating border barriers for now. A lower court judge had ordered them removed from the Rio Grande River by next week.

An L.A. court has sentenced "That 70s Show" actor Danny Masterson to 30 years to life behind bars. He was convicted earlier this year on two counts of rape. His attorney says they plan to appeal.

And Rudy Giuliani hoping he raised at least $1 million for his legal defense fund last night. Donald Trump hosted a fund raising dinner for his former lawyer and current co-defendant. A source tells CNN Giuliani owes millions of dollars in unpaid legal bills.

Just ahead here for us, a black rainstorm paralyzing Hong Kong with floods that the city has not seen in 140 years.

And what South Dakota's governor plans to say about Donald Trump at tonight's rally.



CULVER: Ukraine says it is making incremental gains in its southern counteroffensive. Kyiv also reporting that its air force destroyed 16 drones headed toward the Black Sea port city of Odesa this morning. But a Russian missile attack on Zaporizhzhia left at least one person hurt. Meantime, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapping up his visit to Kyiv after announcing $1 billion in new U.S. support.

CNN's Katie Polglase is with us from London this morning.

Hey there, Katie.

So, President Zelenskyy is saying that Ukraine is preparing more global pressure on Russia. What exactly is this likely to look like?

KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER: Well, he mention this had last night in his nightly address, something he does every night talking about the status of the conflict. And he said as you mentioned, global pressure on Russia. This is clearly already happens. We've been seeing this week from Blinken's visits to Kyiv that there is quite a lot of public support for Ukraine in this war.

What we do know is that Ukraine maybe will get more weapons. That is what Zelenskyy hinted out. But we don't know what kind of weapons, from whom or when. And this is already in a week of a lot of promises of military equipment, military training. That $1 billion promise you mentioned from the United States.

And also, quite a lot of successful diplomacy from other countries as well. Just yesterday, he also had phone calls with the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also talking about security, British again promising more security and more cooperation with Ukraine going forward. All of this shows the gathering of allies, the Western support around Ukraine in this war. And that is not just verbal support but military equipment on the ground, desperately needed ammunition and weaponry and clearly there is more to come.

CULVER: Yeah, Katie, and more later this morning as they continue the push for global support. Good to see you this morning. We appreciate it. Microsoft warning that Chinese operatives are using A.I. to spread disinformation ahead of the 2024 election here in the U.S. The company says images like these that you are seeing are computer generated for click bait and reposted by real people on their own social media. The goal? To incite more division among American voters.

CNN's Beijing bureau chief Steven Jiang joining us from China's capital.

Hi, Steven.

So disinformation efforts like this, you and I both know, they are not all that rare coming out of China, but the A.I. factor here, this is what really stands out because it feels like it's getting increasingly sophisticated, no?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah, David, it certainly is. Remember as recently as February of this year, we reported the discovery of China based bots planting fate newscasts on Twitter and Facebook using A.I.-generated avatars reading stories, focus on America's flaws, questioning the integrity of the U.S. elections and, of course, amplifying narratives in line with Beijing's strategic goals.

But back, experts told us, said those videos didn't gain much traction. And fast forward to this latest finding, it seems that technology and A.I. content has improved to the point that it is very difficult for average users to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake, hence all the engagements from real users. That of course something long warned by U.S. officials and experts especially in this current polarized U.S. political environment.

So Americans are easy prey. But the Chinese have pushed back on this latest allegation where the spokesman at their embassy in D.C. calling this report full of prejudice and another example of malicious speculation against China.

But the fact is, just last month, parent's parent company Meta actually took down thousands of China based social accounts that were connected to Chinese law enforcement, targeting not just Americans but also people in Taiwan and elsewhere as part of a cross platform covert influence operation. So this is definitely not the last time that we'll be talking about cases like this and the concern, the of course, of course is that A.I. is deepening the threat posed by cyber attacks and misinformation campaign, increasingly launched by America's adversaries -- David.

CULVER: And likely to continue as we get into 2024.

All right. Steven, good to see you this morning. Take care.

Quick hits around the globe at this hour.

Torrential rains in Hong Kong leaving more than 100 people hurt and flash floods have paralyzed parts of the city.


Some areas were forecast to get nearly 20 inches of rain in 24 hours. Officials there say it is the heaviest rainfall since 1884.

South Korea playing down any threat from North Korea's new so-called nuclear attack submarine. Seoul calls it incapable of normal operation. Kim Jung-un claims that the sub can launch nuclear attacks.

Another manhunt to tell you about this time under way in London. It is for a terror suspect who escaped from prison. And this is how. Police say that he strapped position under this delivery truck to get out. Authorities say someone inside the facility could have helped him with his plan.

President Biden's age, a major concern for voters just 14 months out from the 2024 election.

And hear from the American trapped in a Turkish cave at this hour, 3,400 feet underground.