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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Secretary of State Blinken in Israel to Meet with PM Netanyahu; Sam Bankman-Fried Guilty for Role in Collapse of FTX; Soon: Hezbollah Leader to Make Televised Address. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired November 03, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Right now on EARLY START, Joe Biden's top diplomat back in Israel. Can Anthony Blinken balance support for the IDF with protecting civilians in Gaza?

And, the biggest white-collar conviction since Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Fallen crypto boss Sam Bankman-Fried found guilty of stealing billions of dollars from customers.

Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It is Friday, thank goodness. November 3rd. We really appreciate you being here. Five a.m. in Washington, 11 a.m. in Tel Aviv, where America's top diplomat, Antony Blinken, right now meeting with the prime minister of Israel.

Secretary of State Blinken is on the first top of the trip through the Middle East and Asia. He departed from the U.S. last night and he said a key mission for him in Israel is to underscore the need for Israeli forces to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza as they fight to destroy Hamas.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: How Israel does this matters. We will focus as well on steps that need to be taken to protect civilians who are in a crossfire of Hamas's making. And we want to look at concrete steps that can be taken to better protect them. And this is something that the United States is committed to. I'm not going to get into the details here, but it's very much on the agenda.


HUNT: Sources tell CNN that Blinken, President Biden, and his top advisers are all warning Israel that time is running short for the IDF to achieve its military objectives in Gaza as the global outcry over humanitarian suffering their intensifies.

Overnight, the skies over northern Gaza were lit by flares and explosions during a fierce bombardment. The Israeli Defense Forces say they've encircled Gaza City and are, quote, deepening operations there. Clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah have also been increasing that Israel's border with Lebanon. In just a few hours, Hezbollah 's leader is expected to speak about the Israel-Hamas war.

CNN's Scott McLean is live for us in London.

Scott, good morning, always good to see you.

The Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be pressing Israel to take a greater care tool avoid civilian casualties, to try and ease suffering in Gaza. And to say, according to our reporting, that the clock is ticking on global support for Israel if they don't do those things.

How do you expect this message to be received?


Yeah, based on past statements that we've heard from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, probably not very well. Netanyahu is asked on Monday about civilian casualties, and he was very blunt in saying that Israel is already doing all that it can to protect civilians. And any blame ought to be passed on to Hamas for preventing them from being able to evacuate the areas where these military operations are taking place.

But the reality is, even though the Israelis were talking weeks ago about creating possible safe spaces within Gaza, those still do not exist. While they've been telling people to move from the northern part of Gaza to the south and central parts, they continue to carry out bombing campaigns in those areas at as well. And the U.S. now, U.S. officials, White House, Pentagon, they are finding themselves straining to defend Israeli attempts to protect civilians.

So now you have the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken saying that they will be discussing concrete steps that they can take in order to protect civilian lives. He says that as democracy, as a democracy, Israel has a responsibility to do that despite the fact that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. But yesterday, Blinken was pressed on whether or not Israel's exercising any restraint. He didn't answer directly.

Two weeks ago, he was asked whether he thinks that Israel is operating within international law, and he deflected that question as well. But he will be getting tough questions when he departs Israel on route to Jordan, because much of the Arab, much of the Middle Eastern world, look, they already see the West and the United States has been outraged by the rural terror attack that took place on Israeli soil, but not having the same level of outrage necessarily for the civilian death toll that you're seeing in Gaza.

And the Emiratis, perhaps summarized it pretty well this morning by saying that, look, the temperature needs to be turned down here because this really risks spilling out into the wider region, and, of course, when that happens, extremists they can really take over and get their ideologies out. And that can keep us trapped in this cycle of violence, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Scott McLean for us in London, thank you so much for starting us off today. I appreciate it, sir.

All right. Sam Bankman-Fried facing a maximum sentence of 110 years in prison after SBF was found guilty Thursday of seven counts of fraud and conspiracy in connection with the collapse of the crypto exchange that he created, FTX. Manhattan federal prosecutor Damian Williams praised the jury's verdict, saying the government has, quote, no patience for fraud and corruption.


DAMIAN WILLIAMS, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: The players like Sam Bankman-Fried might be new, but this kind of fraud, at this kind of corruption is as old as time. And we have no patience for it. It's a warning, this case, to every single fraudster out there who thinks that they're untouchable. I promise we'll have enough handcuffs for all of them.


HUNT: Prosecutors, of course, said Bankman-Fried stole billions of dollars from customer accounts and defrauded lenders about its sister company, Alameda Research, that held the funds, SBF will face sentencing March 28th. What a fall from grace.

All right, up next here, the leader of Hezbollah about to break his silence. Why the world is watching for his first public comments since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

And, Eric Trump under oath on the witness stand with his father, the former president, soon follow.

And Ron DeSantis trying to get a leg up in the presidential race and trying to take the focus of specifically the heels of his cowboy boots. We'll have that.



HUNT: Welcome back.

In just a few hours, the leader of Hezbollah is expected to break his silence and make his first public remarks since the Hamas attack on Israel last month. Even though Hezbollah has fired dozens of missiles into Israel, the White House does not believe they were looking to fully enter this conflict. Still, the U.S. not backing away from its warnings to Hezbollah to stay out.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: Our message to him or anybody else, that they're thinking about widening and escalating and deepening this conflict, they shouldn't do it.


HUNT: The prospects of a wider regional war have put Lebanon on high alert.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has that part of the story for us from Beirut.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The message on clip circulating on social media ambiguous but ominous. They are stoking anticipation for a televised speech by Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, scheduled for Friday afternoon. Daily, since the 8th of October, Hezbollah and Israel have been exchanging fire across the border. It's not a full blown war, yet.


WEDEMAN: Professor Kiram Bitar has lived through all his country's travails.

BITAR: Some of them are afraid that we might be on the verge of the apocalypse. So I've never seen this much tension in this country.

WEDEMAN: Tensions rising higher Thursday afternoon and evening, with the heaviest bombardment yet, both sides of the border.

Hezbollah's leader has been unusually quiet since the war broke out in Gaza, but his allies in Iran have made it clear if Israel crosses red lines and its operations against Hamas, new fronts could open.

And what are those red lines?

AMAL SAAD, CARDIFF UNIVERSITY: You know, these red lines for Hezbollah, Hamas, Hamas leadership, Hamas remaining intact as an organization, and of course, the Palestinian people themselves preventing another Nakba from occurring, are Hezbollah's red lines. They are also Iran's red lines. They are Hamas and Islamic jihad's red lines. They are everyone's red lines in the resistance axis.

WEDEMAN: The Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, is when in 1948, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, in what is now Israel.

As the fighting in Gaza intensifies, and the civilian death toll soars, the prospect of regional war looms, and that could spell disaster for Lebanon, a country already in a state of economic collapse and political paralysis.

MAHA YAHYA, DIRECTOR, MALCOLM H. KERR CARNEGIE MIDDLE EAST CENTER: A war with Israel would literally send the country back, not to the Stone Ages, but pre-Stone Ages, probably, unfortunately. It's not something that the country would -- it would take ages to recover from.

WEDEMAN: On Beirut's Corniche, 70 -year-old retired bank employee, Basim, waits for the fish to bite.

Nobody knows what's going to happen, he tells me, everyone is worried. The situation is not reassuring.

The sea appears calm, but a storm may be coming.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Beirut.


HUNT: All right. For more on what we might hear from the leader of Hezbollah this morning, let's bring in Sean Turner. He's the former director of communications for a U.S. national intelligence.

Sean, good morning, it's always great to have you here.

Is there any way for this address for Hezbollah to come out and talk publicly that won't escalate the conflict here?


What do you expect from this?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yeah. You know, Kasie, it's a great question. There's a lot of speculation that Nasrallah will come out and he might call for a direct attack on Israel. But I don't think that he needs to do this in order to escalate this conflict. I think that from Nasrallah today, saying anything short of this is not our fight is not going to have the impact of escalating the conflict, and there's really a direct reason why.

I mean, as Nasrallah gets ready to make these remarks, he understands that Israel has clearly stated its subjective with regard to Hamas and Gaza. Israel wants to, once and for all, eliminate Hamas. But Nasrallah also knows that Israel sees Hamas as part of an axis of evil led involves Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. So, for Nasrallah, as he makes these remarks today, what he's thinking, is that if Israel is successful in neutralizing Hamas, Nasrallah is thinking that it's just a matter of time before Israel turns to the north to eliminate the threat to the north, Hezbollah.

So I think that even if he does not call for a direct attack on Israel today, his rhetoric, the words that he used will certainly communicate the threat that they feel and will escalate the violence.

HUNT: So, according to CNN reporting, the U.S. has assessed that as of right now, Iran is still looking to avoid a wider regional conflict here. I guess my question is how much direct control or influence do the Iranians have over Mr. Nasrallah and what unfolds today? I mean, can we take that as Iran speaking or are they similarly potentially nervous about what might happen?

TURNER: Yeah, you know, Iran is one of those places, Kasie, where the united intelligence community refers to it as a hard target. It's difficult to really collect intelligence on and in Iran that gives us a really clear picture of how much influence they have and what they're doing. But I do think it's the case that the influence that Tehran has over

Hezbollah will play into Hezbollah's decision to directly escalate the conflict. But it's complex because there are some elements of Hezbollah that will act independently, and then there are elements of Hezbollah that does care what Tehran wants.

But, you know, that notwithstanding, at the end of the day, Hezbollah is going to seek to survive to -- to blunt any attacks from Israel. So, at the end of the day, I won't think it really matters. I think what's really happening here with regard to calibrating and holding back as more to do from Hezbollah's perspective, has more to do with assessing Israel's response to the attack that happened on October 7th and to -- and assessing whether or not, how Israel is going about its operations.

I think that we have repeatedly underestimated Hamas and Hezbollah and the coordination, the collaboration that's going on between these two. So I think one of the things you have to be mindful of here is that they could simply be watching Israel, watching Israel wear down as it takes this urban fight in Gaza and waiting for the opportunity to get more heavily involved in this conflict.

HUNT: Very interesting.

All right. Shawn Turner, thank you very much for starting your Friday morning with us. I really appreciate it.

TURNER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Just ahead here, New York's Mayor Eric Adams now responding after the feds raided the home of his chief fund-raiser.



HUNT: All right. Quick hits across America now.

Eric Trump will be back on the stand today in his father's civil trial in New York. The younger Trump acknowledged he provided financial information to former Trump Organization controller, Jeff McConney, who is also a co-defendant in the trial. Eric, and brother Don Jr., are accused of knowingly participating in the scheme to inflate their father's net worth.

And New York City Mayor Eric Adams making his first public comments since the FBI aided the home of his chief fund-raiser. Adam says that he hasn't been contacted by anyone involved in this, and claims they will comply with an inquiry. Sources tell CNN that investigators want to know if Adams 2021 mayoral campaign conspired with a Brooklyn-based construction company to funnel foreign money into campaign coffers.

All right. The Pacific Northwest, bracing to get drenched this morning, thanks to another atmospheric river event.

Let's go straight to our weatherman, Derek Van Dam. Derek, you mentioned yesterday in your forecast, and I will say I have

not previously heard of an atmospheric river, but it sounds like what that basically means is lots, and, lots and lots of rain. So please help us understand what is going on?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, it's quite a phenomenon. We talk about it typically in the fall and winter seasons throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is a river of water, a river of moisture in the upper levels of the atmosphere. But what it does is it produces a lot of rainfall for the areas that this fire hose from the ocean basically reaches.

And I'll show you why. So this is the first atmospheric river we talked about yesterday, Kasie. The second one is approaching rather quickly. You can almost trace back that line of moisture across the Pacific Ocean. It's aimed right at the Pacific Northwest. And, of course, that is going to bring a very wet weekend to places like Eugene, all the way northward into Seattle.

Seattle by the way getting quite the bang for their buck this autumn because you receive about 150 days of rain per year, generally light but this is far from light.


Look at the rainfall totals in and around Washington state. They have exceeded six inches in some locations. There is the second atmospheric river. We have a level three of five. Of course, number five being the most intense atmospheric rivers.

This is kind of a moderate grade atmospheric river event. That will bring more precipitation to the Pacific Northwest, roughly 2 to 4 inches. But this is welcomed rain for many locations because the summer was actually dry. They got to enjoy some of those dry days, those sunny days in Seattle, 65 percent of the state of Washington under drought conditions, 48 percent of the state of Oregon under drought conditions.

But there's the rainfall that is coming in. The snow for the Northern Rockies. The East Coast, though, you're waking up to a cool start to the morning. I know you're feeling it, too, Kasie. Did you bundle up this morning headed out the door?

HUNT: Definitely, definitely did. You know, fingers crossed. Our weekend is going to be a little warmer but, hey, we have a warm fall (ph).

All right. Derek Van Dam, thank you very much. I really appreciate it and have a good weekend, my friend.

VAN DAM: Yeah, my pleasure. You, too.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next, the Biden administration publicly backing Israel's war with Hamas, while privately urging a pause in Gaza. We're going to have more on Antony Blinken's mission underway right now in Tel Aviv. And Hunter Biden opens up and defends himself. The president son

talking publicly about his battle with addiction, and lashing out at his critics.