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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Promises New Sanctions Against Putin; Final Push For South Carolina; "Welcome To The Moon". Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired February 23, 2024 - 05:00   ET




President Biden promising major new sanctions against Vladimir Putin after sitting down with the wife and daughter of Alexei Navalny.

About 24 hours to go until Republican primary voters in South Carolina head to the polls. What Nikki Haley is doing to try to convince her home state to pick her over Donald Trump.

And for the first time in more than 50 years, the U.S. has returned the moon


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the on the surface and we are transmitting. And welcome to the moon.


HUNT: Just amazing, we're back on the moon.

Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Friday, February 23rd. Happy Friday. We made it.

Welcome to the very last edition of EARLY START.

After more than 12 years here on CNN, we'll have more on what's next for us at the conclusion of this hour. So stick around.

It is 05:00 a.m. here in Washington where the Biden administration is set to announce what they're calling a major new round of sanctions on Russia today. The sanctions in response to these sudden death in Russian custody of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and after two years of war in Ukraine.

Officials say the sanctions will hit more than 500 targets, including President Vladimir Putin, himself. That's according to President Biden who met with Navalny's wife and daughter in California. He's out there on a fundraising swing.

The White House said Biden expressed admiration for, quote, Navalny's extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting for a free and democratic Russia. Navalny's mother is in Siberia. That's where her son died. She said she was allowed to see his body in a morgue there.


LYUDMILA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S MOTHER (through translator): They blackmail me and set conditions for where when, and how Alexei should be buried in Russia. And they want it done secretly without saying goodbye.


HUNT: The Navalny spokesperson says that the medical examiner has attributed the 47-year-olds death to, quote, natural causes.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen joins us live now from Berlin.

Fred, good morning to you.

How's the Kremlin reacting to all of the negative attention in the wake of Navalny's death and the process respect to these new sanctions?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think they're showing themselves to be quite relaxed about it. It was quite interesting because president of Russia, Vladimir Putin yesterday he spoke to sort of his personal reporter that he always has with him when he travels around them, when he's in the Kremlin as well.

And he once again reiterated that for him, he would rather have another term for President Biden than have President Trump return -- or former President Trump returned back to the White House. He did say that he considered those remarks that President Biden made about Vladimir Putin that he considered those to be rude though, the Kremlin echoing that as well. But right now, as far as sanctions are concerned, the Russian certainly have said in the past that they believe that sanctions aren't going to further derail the Russian economy, aren't going to derail Russia's war in Ukraine, also so far aren't derailing Russian arms production either.

Right now, Vladimir Putin certainly fields that he is in quite a strong position. At the same time, you do have Russian authorities lashing out at the U.S., lashing out at the White House. This in the form of the Russian foreign minister.

I want to listen to into some of what he had to say.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): This hysteria about Navalny's death has convincingly shown this, that the United States position themselves as a prosecutor, a judge, and an executioner all in one. I did not even want to comment in detail. These people have no right to meddle into our internal affairs.


PLEITGEN: So that's Sergey Lavrov there, the foreign minister of Russia.

At the same time, you do feel, and I think we saw some of that in the lead in to us right now that it is quite a sensitive topic for the Russians. What is going to happen with Alexei Navalny's body? What is going to happen with the funeral?

Certainly, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the director of there, saying if there are some pretty tough conditions at the Russian authorities are trying to set, especially as far as bringing the body back to Moscow, as far as the funeral arrangements themselves, essentially, the Anti-Corruption Foundation is saying that they believe the Russian authorities want his funeral to happen in secret because they fear that there could be a commotion.

So far, the Kremlin has not commented on all of that.


But right now, that is really a really difficult situation -- Kasie.

HUNT: Incredibly difficult. Bit rich for Lavrov to say that the U.S. is the executioner in this situation.

Fred Pleitgen for us in Berlin -- Fred, thanks very much.

And here in the U.S., voters are going to cast ballots tomorrow in South Carolina's Republican primary. The former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, trails front runner Donald Trump by double digits in most polls there.

But Haley has remained defiant. She's making her final pitch in offering a warning to voters in her home state.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care about a political future. If I did, I would've been out by now.

But if Donald Trump is the nominee, you can mark my words, he will not win a general election. And what I say to everybody is, don't complain about what happens in a general election if you don't really think about that in this primary.


HUNT: Okay.

Let's bring in Jess Bidgood. She's senior national political reporter from "The Boston Globe" and she joins us now from South Carolina, where she's on the campaign trail.

Jess, good morning. It's always wonderful to have you.

Honestly, I'm just interested to know what you're hearing, what you're picking up on the ground as you report on this a day out.


The one word I would use to describe Nikki Haley's campaign right now, it's the same word that you used in your intro. It's defiant.

Haley gave a splashy speech in South Carolina this week explaining that she's not dropping out of the race. She hasn't won a state. She can't say where she would. But she insists it's important to give voters a choice, especially when some few have actually gone to the polls.

And I hear that from a lot of voters at her events. I was with her in Georgetown, South Carolina, yesterday and then here in Myrtle Beach.

After stepping very carefully when it comes to Trump over much of the last year, she's now really laying into him, making a sharper case against him. She's calling him out for making fun of her husband's absence from the campaign trail. He is, of course, deployed. She's calling him unhinged. It's all more personal now.

And for voters who come out to see her, they are tired of Trump. They are looking for somebody else. They are looking for someone that they think that they see as maybe trying to bring people together, unify voters as opposed to divide them. And they really do see that in her.

But, of course, as you said, down about, you know, 30 points to Trump here in her home state. It's sort of forced her to campaign as if she's an outsider, even though she's from here.

HUNT: Right. Fascinating dynamic.

So, her warning about the general election, right? One of the things that is going to be central in the general election trend is early voting, which has really bedeviled Republicans, especially with the way that the former president has talked about this.

I want to show you two things. First, what Lara Trump, who is, of course, Trump's daughter-in-law and is set to become part of the RNC, had to say yesterday about the imperative that Republicans vote early, and you're also going to see here how Donald Trump frames this. Watch.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. Get that through your head. It has to be. The votes -- it mean, it has to be.

LARA TRUMP, TRUMP'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: If we want to compete with the Democrats we cannot wait until Election Day. If we want to compete and win, we must embrace early voting. The days of waiting until Election Day to voter are over.


HUNT: So those are, needless to say, conflicting messages. How much damage is the former president going to do to his general election prospects if he keeps saying what we saw him say in that clip? BIDGOOD: Possibly significant damage. I mean, this kind of gets back to that question of the general election. And this is something that has been a central tension among Republicans for a long time now, Trump denigrating early voting, saying you can't trust it, saying it's bad.

Meanwhile, Democrats have had a unified message encouraging their voters to get to the polls early. And what we've seen time and time again in 2018, 2020, the 2022 midterms is Democrats running up a pretty big advantage in early voting while Republicans wait until the day of.

And then, of course, on the day off, you know, things can get go awry. Someone can get busy an emergency can come up and they don't make it to the polls. This is something that we know really, really worries a lot of Republican officials at the national level, at the state level and that's why you hear Lara Trump making this case.

HUNT: Right.

BIDGOOD: But it's not clear to me who voters are going to listen to. Are they going to listen to her or are they going to listen to the former president who has for years told them this isn't something they can trust.

HUNT: Yeah. And I think it's -- we can see clearly from the way polling moves when Donald Trump decides he's going to tell his base of voters that something is the case, they're going to -- they're going to believe him.


Jess Bidgood of "The Boston Globe" -- Jess, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

And still ahead here, hostage talks and a pause in Gaza fighting may be back on track. This time it's in Paris. Well bring you that.

Plus, Democrats in tight races carefully considering whether they want to show up with President Biden. We've got new CNN reporting ahead.

And Republicans in Alabama struggling to respond after a third IVF clinic pauses treatments there.


HUNT: Welcome back.

The CIA Director Bill Burns is expected to arrive in Paris this morning for talks with Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli forces on a Hamas hostage release deal. The Biden administration's proposal would lead to an at least six-week pause in fighting. But the negotiations are stuck on the number of Palestinian prisoners to release and how to determine that list.

[05:15:05] Meanwhile, Israeli president, excuse me, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, revealing his post-war plan for Gaza. He stresses in a document obtained by CNN that reconstruction will only be possible once the Gaza Strip has been completely demilitarized.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster for more on this.

Max, good morning. Always good to see you.

So, looming over this, of course, is the Israeli set to invade Rafah if there is no hostages deal by Ramadan. That's around March 10th. What are the prospects for meeting that deadline at this point and how promising are these talks at this point?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the deadline is absolutely looming. You've got more than a million people in rather, Israeli say they want to protect civilians are not allow them to get in harms way when they're attacking Hamas, quite how you get 1 million people out of the way with a ground invasion in less than two weeks is hard to fathom, but that very, that pressure really playing into these talks.

I think the big breakthrough really was what we heard last night, was that Israel would be sending a delegation to the talks in Paris. We know that Egypt is there. They'd be speaking to Hamas. There's just this sense of momentum behind these talks, pressure behind these talks and certainly potentially the people, right? People are there to make the breakthrough.

So, hopes a really high that something could happen. But how many times have we been here before, Kasie?

HUNT: We have thinking always the families of those hostages. I have to say.

Max, this idea that Gaza could be completely demilitarized. That is a massive lift. Is it realistic to have that to set that as the condition to rebuild in Gaza?

FOSTER: I think what you have to in Brazil of the foreign ministers are meeting and we've seen them overwhelmingly state that a two-state solution is the way ahead. So a state, as we know it is independent has its own military. I think what Benjamin Netanyahu is doing here is presenting an alternative to that. And it's far from a state describing the free movement of Israeli forces through the Gaza area, having approval for all the building contractors that go in. And crucially, they will not be able to have a military.

There will be some weapons to -- only those required really, for effectively the police to maintain a law and order. But as far as -- you know, that's as far as it'll go in terms of how Israel looks at it.

So, I think what were really seeing there is Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's government plan for a post-Gaza, and we've got the rest of the world, the Western world, their vision of miles apart. So that's where, you know, we'll have to look at how that comes together, if at all. And that's a huge amount of tension between Israel and all its allies actually.

HUNT: Right. No, I mean, its a very sharp frame to put on it. This is Benjamin Netanyahu's solution without a two-state solution, as of course, you point out others are saying, well, there absolutely has to be two states here.

Max Foster -- Max, always great to see you. Thank you. Have a wonderful weekend.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie. Yeah, I'll do.

HUNT: All right. Still ahead here, record-breaking heat, taking a toll on winter weather industries. Look at that.

And then this --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Houston, Odysseus has found its new home.


HUNT: The standing ovation as America finally returns to the moon.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the -- on the surface and we are transmitting. And welcome to the moon.


HUNT: Welcome to the moon.

Jubilation in Houston as the Odysseus lander touches down on the lunar surface. It's been a 51-year absence for the us and we're told that Odie, that's his nickname, is upright and has been sending back lots of data.

The private spacecraft from Intuitive Machines is the first to soft land on the lunar surface since NASA's Apollo program ended five decades ago, in December of 1972.

Odie did get an assist though, using sensors from one of NASA's navigation systems to make this happen.

I love this. It's amazing.

All right. Let's get now to weather. We've got a rainy start to the weekend for a large part of the eastern U.S.

Let's get straight to our weatherman Van Dam.

Derek, good morning.

We could have record breaking heat thunderstorms also. What do we got?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, nothing is spectacular is landing on the moon here today, but I will take it. I love that story, too.

HUNT: I should have asked you, what's the weather on the moon?

VAN DAM: Yeah, clear, clear and clear, again. Look -- and no oxygen, by the way.

The forecast here on Earth is vastly different because we get rain. Of course, there's no cloud, no precipitation on the moon.

But where we get hit the hardest, you could take it from me, driving into work this morning in Atlanta, this line of storms consolidated right before reaching the metropolitan of Atlanta. And it packed quite a punch bit of wind, sideways rain, making it difficult to drive on the roadways. This is part of a larger system impacting the entire Eastern Seaboard.

Let's zoom into the I-95 corridor. There's Boston, New York, some heavy wet snow flakes falling for the interior of New England. But this is all rain for the major population densities. That storm quickly moves off the East Coast, but a reinforcing shot of cooler air, not cold because the general theme, the general trend here is above average temperatures.

And you'll see that if you like spring, this is your forecast. Let's just get a hint of that for Dallas, and St. Louis. Look at by the end of the weekend, warming into the 70s and 80s, not quite there for the East Coast, but it is coming.


The extended outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, through the end of February, early March, shows above average, very spring-like temperatures. And I think this is interesting because over the next coming days, especially into the second half of next week, the potential for 425 or more record warm temperatures will be felt across the Midwest, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast.

Not great news for the lack of ice cover, the economies that depend on at the ski resorts, the ice fishing industries. So, so much to unpack there, but really the warmth is going to be the big story going forward.

HUNT: There definitely is a lot there.

Derek Van Dam, our weatherman -- Derek, thank you. Have a good weekend

VAN DAM: All right. You too. HUNT: All right. We're approaching the two-year mark of Russia's

brutal war on Ukraine. How the worlds change, and what the next year could bring.

Plus, former President Trump and Nikki Haley head-to-head in the South Carolina GOP primary tomorrow, with Trump as the front runner will talk about what's possible for Haley. That's ahead.