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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Report: Kim Jong Un Now in Russia Ahead of Putin Meeting; Putin: Trump Indictments are "Persecution of a Political Rival"; Thousands Feared Dead, Missing in Libyan Floods; Death Toll at 2,800 as Rescuers Look for Survivors; Powerful Hurricane Lee Moving Through Atlantic. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, weapons express. Kim Jong Un's armored train is chugging through Russia on track for arms talks with Vladimir Putin.

Plus, suddenly swamped. Flash flooding from New England to eastern Libya, across the world the grim new reality of our climate in crisis.

And Kevin McCarthy's biggest test yet. Can the House speaker prevent a government shutdown, satisfy demands for a Biden impeachment inquiry, and still keep his job?


HUNT: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm so glad to be with you this morning. I am Kasie Hunt.

Mystery surrounds the planned meeting between North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russia's Vladimir Putin. Russian state media say Kim's private train is in Russia right now. But exactly where and when he could meet with Putin to talk about weapons for Russia's Ukraine invasion is unknown at this point.

No mystery though about where Putin stands on former President Trump and the four criminal indictments that he is facing in the United States. Russia's strongman making those revelations in a speech just a short time ago.

CNN's Clare Sebastian joins us from London.

Clare, this is breaking overnight/early in the morning here in the U.S. what is Putin saying about Donald Trump?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, good morning, Kasie. This did not really come as a surprise to anyone like myself. Part of the Kremlin messaging is always to try to reassure that the Russian people that U.S. is not this sort of shining city on a Hill.

And Putin didn't shy away from this today. He said that the prosecution of Donald Trump, as he put it, is good for us, he said, in today's condition because it shows, and I quote, the rottenness of the American system which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy. He goes on to say that what this is essentially is the persecution of a political rival for political reasons, presumably accusing the Biden administration of doing that.

So I think, look, what this does show is that Putin is watching the U.S. political process very closely, and presumably in particular at the moment for any signs of how the election could impact U.S. support for Ukraine.

But meanwhile, of course, President Putin making those comments in the far eastern port city of Vladivostok, we are at the same time monitoring a train purportedly carrying North Korean president Kim Jong Un. And it has, according to Russian state media, crossed into Russia now. It apparently stopped according to state media as a border station and "Reuters" citing that Kim got out and greeted Russian officials. Now it appears to be heading north again.

And South Korea's news agency, Yonhap, says that it may be heading not to Vladivostok, where Putin is now, but to somewhere else in Russia's far east. That is what we know at the moment. Obviously, there's a lot at stake. The U.S. is very concerned about a potential arms deal that could prolong the conflict in Ukraine and on the flip side of what North Korea could get in return, specifically potentially technology for its nuclear program.

HUNT: Of course. Clare Sebastian, thank you very much for that.

We got a lot to get to. So, let's bring in Josh Rogin. He is a columnist at "The Washington Post" and the author of "Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi and the Battle for the 21st Century".

Josh, thank you so much for joining me on this -- first day of my outings here on EARLY START. There's no one that I'd rather talk to about what is going on here.

And let's start with -- your book is about Donald Trump, we know that his relationships during his presidency with Kim Jong Un, with Vladimir Putin, obviously very closely watched. We're heading in to a political season where he seems to be the almost inevitable Republican nominee. He may, of course, in that instance end up back in the White House.

What do you make of Putin's comments and how this all plays -- plays out?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, thanks for having me on your inaugural show and congrats, Kasie.

I think in one sense, it's very consistent. Vladimir Putin supported Donald Trump in 2016. He supported Donald Trump in 2020. And it's very likely he's going to support Donald Trump in 2024 in a number of secret and public ways.

And, you know, there is no doubt that it is in Vladimir Putin's interests for Donald Trump to become president again because Donald Trump has promised to withdraw U.S. support from Ukraine and makes -- solve the crisis in 24 hours which is can only be done by caving to Putin's demands. On the other hand, there is a bigger point to be made here, which is sort of that in the world opinion, the prosecution of Donald Trump should be seen as a restoration and upholding of democracy, when we have rule of law and accountability, that is the strength of our system after a president or anyone else allegedly tries to undermine a free and fair election.

But in the dictator's playbook, any prosecution or any accountability, is against what they believe is their right to ultimate power. So he is not just speaking up against Donald Trump's rivals but against democracy and claiming to do the opposite. And that's basically also par for the course with Vladimir Putin.

HUNT: Right, I mean, not to -- you are almost stating the obvious, but when dictators that are on your side, it should say something about what side of democracy you are on, exactly.

ROGIN: That's right.

HUNT: So let's talk about the actual arms deal for Ukraine here. What are these two men, Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, what does Putin want from Kim Jong Un and what challenges does that pose to the United States?

ROGIN: Right. On the one hand, you could see this as a positive sign because if Vladimir Putin is traveling all the way to the eastern city of Vladivostok to meet the most evil and sort of reclusive dictator in the world, Kim Jong Un, that means that he is desperate, that means that he needs the weapons that North Korea has, millions and millions of mostly artillery shells and missiles, a lot of which the Russians sold them in the first place in the '70s, '80s and '90s and he needs them back to kills Ukrainians.

And so, that's in a way a good sign that Putin is getting low on munitions. On the other hand, it's really a bad sign because what he's going to have to do to get those is probably give Kim Jong Un advanced weapons, missile technology, maybe mobile launching technology, God forbid nuclear technology that Kim Jong Un will use to bolster his position and threaten the entire region of Asia.

So that's kind of like a good news/bad news situation. I think the bottom line is that these guys are working together. They are on the dictator team. And we're on the other team and we better get our act together because they seem to be getting theirs together.

HUNT: Yeah, when you need something and Kim Jong Un, things are rather dire and that gives him leverage that is potentially as you point out concerning. Very quickly, Josh --

ROGIN: Exactly.

HUNT: Your view of Republicans in Congress trying to decouple Ukraine funding from this must pass short term spending bill that puts it as much more risk than it might have been otherwise. What does that does that about what is going on here? ROGIN: You know, in my opinion, Kasie, Republicans are playing a

stupid game with Ukrainian lives, because, you know, we're at a crucial part of the war. There are good reasons to want more the accountability of funding in Ukraine. I'm not saying that it is not a lot of money.

But to link it to domestic political issues is not the way to fight a war or win a war. And bottom line is that Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and their lives and their families but also to defend against aggression writ large. And we've been supporting them, they need our support, and Republicans should stop playing games with that support if they care about the future of Ukraine and the free world.

HUNT: Yeah, it is a very tricky situation on so many levels here and, of course, Congress back today, so we're going to get a sense of exactly how this is going to play out here in this critical days and weeks.

Josh Rogin, thank you very much for being with us this morning. It's always great to see you.

ROGIN: Anytime. Likewise.

HUNT: Coming up next here, what experts are saying about Donald Trump's latest moves to force a judge to recuse herself.

Plus, a tropical storm system wreaks deadly havoc on Libya, another catastrophic hit from the climate crisis.

And what does the United Autoworkers Union want from the Big Three? We're going to speak to Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Officials in Libya say more than 2,000 people have died and about 6,000 are missing after a storm system brought catastrophic flooding to the northeastern part of the country on the Mediterranean. One official said Libya wasn't prepared for something like this. Entire villages washed away and bodies possibly washed out to sea. Authorities say two dams collapsed sending even more water into the flooded areas.

CNN's Eleni Giokos is covering the story from Dubai.

Thank you so much for being with us. What's the latest? Officials there are saying that the storm dumped eight months of rain in the area in a single day. What you can tell us?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, exactly. The storm has been absolutely catastrophic. We've seen some of these images. We've seen roads basically melted away because of the storm water, the mudslides exacerbating the situation. You had two dams that were burst because they can't handle the pressure from the storm, too much water, too much rainfall in just 24 hours.

And the issue here is we've been hearing from emergency services that there wasn't preparedness for this storm firstly. They had not done enough analysis on the weather conditions, and looking at the sea levels and so forth. People woke up in the middle of the night seeing their houses filled with water, some say up to 3 meters high, and trying to find a way out.

Authorities are telling us that there are bodies lying around and the death toll is way above the 2,000 level that has been officially given to media outlets, but they are tallying the number right now. Six thousand people are missing. And you've got isolated areas, you have entire villages that are currently under water. You have Turkey, Qatar, United Nations, as well as here in the UAE sending assistance to Libya.

Now, the eastern part of Libya is very different to the west. You've got two rival factions, two separate governments governing these two parts of the country and there has not been enough coordinated action. We've just heard from the Libyan prime minister that they will also be sending assistance to Benghazi. You have multiple villages and cities that have been impacted.


HUNT: All right. Eleni Giokos, thank you for that report.

Now to Morocco where rescue teams are amping up their search for survivors this morning after Friday's powerful earthquake left at least 2,800 people dead. The military has reached the epicenter of the quake but aid has been slow to reach hard hit remote villages.

CNN's Nada Bashir is in Morocco.

Nada, what can you tell us with how they are trying to get aid into the very remote places?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, Kasie, certainly, it has been a somewhat delayed effort. We're here in a village of Moulay Brahim, and you can see behind me just how remote some of these villages are.

We are high up in the Atlas Mountains and that has proven to be a real struggle for rescue teams. Many of these villages, many of the hardest hit areas across Morocco are in these remote, high up, mountainous areas and that has proven to be a real challenge for rescue teams.

Now, just yesterday, we were in another village further up -- further south. And this is a village that has proven hugely difficult to reach. We spoke to people there who have been impacted by the earthquake. They told us that the international rescue teams had only just made it to the village yesterday. They had been spending days digging through the rubble of their collapsed homes with their bare hands and they have only just begun to receive that humanitarian aid, have only just begun to see doctors and medical personnel on the ground there. Of course, it has been difficult to reach some of these areas. The roads have been blocked in some places because of the debris, because of damage to the roads. But, of course, there is still a real sense of frustration among these residents in these remote villages around the delayed response. Many people are now living in temporary shelters including in this village you can see the homes damaged behind me just further down the mountain, many families living in tent shelters now -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Nada Bashir, very tough story to cover. Thanks very much for being with us this morning.

And we're going to get to some quick hits across the globe right now.

A Biden administration waiver will let banks transfer $6 billion in restricted Iranian funds to Qatar without fear of sanctions. This is part -- it's a key step in a deal to try to free five Americans who are wrongfully detained in Iran.

China's legislature has proposed a ban on clothing that it considers, quote, detrimental to the spirit of the nation. In other words, clothes considered unpatriotic. Yikes. It could end in fines and even detention for those who break the law.


MARK DICKEY, RESCUED FROM TURKISH CAVE: It is amazing to be above ground again. I was underground far longer than ever expected.


HUNT: That's American Mark Dickey, rescued after more than a week trapped deep in a cave. He suffered intestinal bleeding and could not get out by himself. There was a huge international effort launched to save him and wonderful to see his face above ground.

All right. Just ahead here, we've got another sighting of that elusive killer in Pennsylvania. Police say he might be carrying a weapon now.

And Donald Trump asking the judge in his election subversion case to recuse herself. We'll tell you why.



HUNT: Welcome back at 5:22. It is time for quick hits across America now.

Police in Pennsylvania say escaped killer Danelo Cavalcante was spotted again overnight, possibly with a weapon this time. He was seen about 20 miles north of the prison that he escaped nearly two weeks ago. Authorities are telling people in the area to lock their doors and stay inside.

More backlash against New Mexico's governor after she suspended the right to carry open and concealed guns publicly in Albuquerque. The county sheriff says it is impossible to enforce the order so he just won't do it.

And heavy rains have triggered dangerous flash flooding in north central Massachusetts, leaving drivers trapped in vehicles and entire roadways impassable. Up to 9 inches fell last night in some regions.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Hurricane Lee in the Atlantic with fears that it could impact the Northeast later on this week.

Let's get straight to meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Van Dam, the weatherman, it's great to see you on EARLY START.


HUNT: I know you spent a lot of time hanging out here, but I'm thrilled to be with you. Walk us through, what is the latest on Lee's path and strength?

VAN DAM: Yeah, you know, Kasie, it's a little bit like parenting. This is an exercise in patience this morning. We are not talking about potential impacts until Friday/Saturday time frame for New England and the Atlantic Canadian coastline.

So what is new overnight is that we've actually started to notice some of the tropical storm probabilities including parts of Massachusetts and into Maine. So, what we're seeing now is the storm system which still is a category 3 at the latest 5:00 a.m. update, but with the potential five day cone now including parts of the New England coastline.

Now, keep in mind, this storm will be expanding in size. You don't want to focus on the center line of a forecast track of a hurricane because impacts occur well outside of that center of the cone. Remember, it's going to be moving over relatively cool water, so that will allow the storm to expand so the wind field expands with it.

Look how large the cone is, this is the uncertainty path. One thing for sure, this will be a weakening storm as it approaches northern New England and Canadian Maritimes by this weekend. But what I'm concerned about is that we've had a significant amount of rain lately across parts of interior New England. You saw the flooding video just a few moments ago.


So, the potential for more rain on an already saturated environment means flooding is certainly a potential this weekend, along with large waves and coastal erosion. So, plenty to cover here. Kasie, important to you.

HUNT: A lot to look out for. And thank you very much for being with us. I'm excited to have you a part of the family here. So, thank you very much, Derek. See you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: Thanks, Kasie. All right.

HUNT: All right. Speaker McCarthy juggling a government shutdown and calls for impeachment as the House returns for a fall session.

And president's allies largely dismissing his dismal approval ratings. We're going to talk to Michigan Congresswoman Debbie Dingell about that.


HUNT: Good morning. Thank you for getting up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

The big story at the bottom of the hour, Kim Jong Un's armored train now over the border and inside Russia, according to Russian state media. The North Korean leader is set to meet with Vladimir Putin. The U.S. is warning that the two nations could make an arms deal.

And the Biden administration says that it has advanced a deal to free five Americans who are being held in Iran. The latest move involves freeing.