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Grand Jury Reportedly Convened to Consider Charging Trump; Former Johnson Aide Rips into Government COVID Response; Hedge Fund Says Oil Companies Dragging Feet on Climate Crisis; Amazon Announces $8.45 Billion Deal to Buy MGM; Fan Dumps Popcorn on Wizard's Russel Westbrook. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired May 27, 2021 - 04:30   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: There are new indications that investigations in involving Donald Trump are intensifying. A source tells CNN that prosecutors investigating the former U.S. president have been formed at least one witness to prepare to testify before a grand jury. CNN's Paula Reid has the details.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned that New York prosecutors investigating The Trump Organization and the former president have told at least one witness to prepare for grand jury testimony. The move suggests the probe is advancing as the Manhattan DA is moving to present witness testimony to the grand jury.

The "Washington Post" reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has convened a special grand jury to help decide whether there is enough evidence to bring an indictment against the former president, his company or others involved.

The grand jury will be made up of as many as 23 randomly selected citizens. Their work will be done in secret and reportedly they will be meeting three times a week for at least the next six months. Prosecutors have already used a grand jury to issue subpoenas for documents and will be able to present charges which would only require a majority of jurors to deliver an indictment.

The wide ranging investigation includes whether The Trump Organization improperly valued assets in financial filings, something former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified to.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in "Forbes," and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.

REID (voice-over): Cohen has met with investigators several times. But legal analysts say fraud requires specific evidence. DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: What you're going to need is a witness who discussed the fraudulent scheme with Donald Trump and can say, I committed fraud, and I did it at the direction of my boss, Donald Trump. And if you don't have that witness in this case, I think it's very difficult to charge Donald Trump.

REID (voice-over): That witness could be The Trump Organization's longtime CFO.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Replacing George this week is my chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.

REID: He handled The Trump Organization's finances for 40 years and was even left in charge of the company when Trump became president. Weisselberg is under investigation himself for his own taxes, a pressure that could lead him to agreeing to cooperate and help investigators understand the inner workings of Trump's company.

His former daughter-in-law has provided documents to investigators, and she thinks Weisselberg will cooperate.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Will Allen Weisselberg flip on Trump?


REID (voice-over): Former President Trump has previously denied any wrongdoing.

TRUMP: This is just a continuation of the witch-hunt.

REID (voice-over): Saying in a statement Tuesday, it began the day I came down the escalator in Trump Tower, and it's never stopped.

REID: CNN has learned that investigators have told one witness to prepare for grand jury testimony. Even with a grand jury there's no guarantee the former president or anyone at all will be charged in this case. Though a former prosecutor tells CNN, it would be very rare to convene a special grand jury in Manhattan that did not at least consider charges.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: Now to a warning from a federal judge nearly six months after the Capitol riot. She says the, quote, steady drum beat of Donald Trump's election fraud claim could still inspire some of his supporters to take up arms as they did on January 6th.


As part of a legal decision Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote, quote, six months later the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corners of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near daily fulminations of the former president.

Members of Parliament in the U.K. got quite a show on Wednesday as Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former top aide tore into what he calls the government's, quote, disastrous handling of the coronavirus. Dominic Cummings, once an influential member of Johnson's inner circle, bluntly detailed the Prime Minister's supposed negligence. He specifically describes hearing Mr. Johnson say he'd rather see, quote, bodies piled high than impose another lockdown. Listen to this.


CAROL MONAGHAN, SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY MP: Did you hear him say let the bodies pile high in their thousands or it's only killing 80-year- olds?

DOMINIC CUMMINGS, FORMER CHIEF ADVISER TO BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There's been a few different versions of this, of these stories knocking around. There was a version of the -- of it in the Sunday "Times" which was not accurate, but the version that the BBC reported was accurate.

MONAGHAN: And you heard that?

CUMMINGS: I heard that in Prime Minister's study.


BRUNHUBER: And Bianca Nobilo joins me from Surrey, England with the latest. So the allegations are serious and explosive. What's been the response?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Incendiary. That clip you just played that purports to corroborate the story of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson being so callous and flippant about the extreme death toll as a result of coronavirus is just one of the many, many things said by his former right-hand man and adviser in a seven-hour-long testimony yesterday.

In fact, it's just the number of claims was so astonishing, Kim, that individually all of these things would probably get a lot more attention, but because they fell upon the political community, the country, journalists in one fell swoop, we're just trying to work our way through them.

But the government are in damage control mode this morning. There were many claims leveled against the Prime Minister's fitness for office. His former adviser who helped him get into office said that he shouldn't be there and that it was a symptomatic of the failure of the British political system that he was. That he didn't take the pandemic seriously. And the Prime Minister yesterday spoke to the House of Commons chamber denying these allegations. Let's have a listen.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I take full responsibility for everything that has happened and I've said -- as I've said before, and you will recall, both in this House and elsewhere I am truly sorry for the suffering that the people of this country have experienced. But I maintain my point that the government acted throughout with the intention to save life, and particularly NHS and in accordance with the best scientific advice. That's exactly what we did.


NOBILO (on camera): So, Kim, yesterday the Prime Minister and his team would not be drawn on the individual allegations that were made by Dominic Cummings. But this morning a cabinet minister has been doing the media rounds and basically his key defense is the fact that the government did not have all the facts at the time that Dominic Cummings was discussing, mainly February 2020. That they didn't really know what shape this pandemic was going to take. That's what they're saying.

But perhaps the most vicious and damaging charges were made against the Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Because Dominic Cummings accused him of having 15 to 20 things which would really warrant him being sacked from his government role. He said that he lied publicly, that he was single handedly responsible for a lot of failures which led to tens of thousands of lives lost in Britain.

So it will be interesting to see what the Prime Minister says later. We are expecting to go hear from him. He's out visiting a hospital today and the health secretary will make a statement to the nation addressing these claims and he's likely to explain the fact again that the government say that they didn't have the facts that were required. That at this point, Kim, it's -- it's interesting to note that potentially even if the Prime Minister did have reason to be concerned about the behavior of the health secretary or any other reasons to see him leave his post -- and we don't know that -- that if he was to remove him from his post or if the health secretary was to resign, it does appear to corroborate what was said by Dominic Cummings.

So now they are in a difficult political position because any action that's taken appears to tactically acknowledge the validity of what his former adviser said.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, we'll see what the percussions of all of this is. We'll follow the story. Thank you so much Bianca Nobilo in Surrey, England. Appreciate it.

BRUNHUBER: Well it's a bad day for big oil. David beats goliath in one fight against climate change, but there's actually more than America's largest oil company being challenged by a tiny hedge fund.


A lot more and we will bring it to you. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: Former U.S. President Barack Obama says he's hopeful for change in the criminal justice system one year after the killing of George Floyd. But he also admits he wasn't able to fully speak his mind after the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown while in office. Martin was an unarmed black teenager killed in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Brown also unarmed was killed two years later by police in Ferguson, Missouri.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The criminal justice system in this country has never operated in a color-blind fashion and that the consequences for families and communities has been devastating.


BRUNHUBER: He also says real change will take a lot of work and time but that he's seeing some of that work being done.

An education bill in Texas could soon impact how students are taught about current events in relation to slavery and racism. If passed it could ban schools from teaching critical race theory and academic concept about systemic racism. Earlier CNN's Don Lemon spoke with a member of the Texas State Board of Education who described the impact the bill could have in the classroom.


GEORGINA PEREZ, TEXAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION: The real world impact of a bill like this is requiring teachers to teach the fine people on both sides theory. And so imagine teaching the fine people on both sides of the Indian Removal Act or the fine people on both sides of slavery and lynching and Jim Crow or the fine people on both sides of the massacre of 15 Mexican-American men and boys being shot to death in the middle of the night by Texas Rangers. Where are the fine people on both sides?



BRUNHUBER: Supporters of the bill say the goal is to keep personal biases out of the classroom but opponents say it's an attempt to whitewash history.

The white woman who called police last year claiming a black bird watcher was threatening her, is now suing her former employer for firing her after the incident. Amy Cooper claims the company Franklin Templeton didn't adequately investigate the incident. It happened in New York's Central Park. A spokesperson for the company told CNN it stands by the decision. Cooper claims in the lawsuit, her call to police wasn't racially motivated. She is seeking lost pay and emotional damages.

Well, you could say it was a bad day for big oil and potentially a turning point for the climate. First an unprecedented setback for America's biggest oil company. Two ExxonMobil directors have been ousted after a battle with an activist. Investor Engine Number One, the hedge fund has won at least two seats on the board, another two are too close to call. It says Exxon is dragging its feet on the climate crisis.

And in what some are calling a historic decision, a court in the Netherlands is ordering Shell to cut its carbon emissions more aggressively than planned. Shell says it will appeal. And shareholders also have a warning for Chevron, a majority of them voted in favor of a proposal to cut emissions generated by using the company's products.

Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is here to break it all down for us. Derek, a trifecta of losses for the oil industry. So how big are these developments for those fighting climate change?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, well these landmark decisions against Exxon, Chevron, as well as Shell couldn't have come a moment too soon or any sooner. Because we are edging, the planet, closer and closer to that 1.5 degree Celsius agreement set in 2015 back in Paris.

What you are looking at behind me is a graph with the temperature trends, the global temperature trends in the white kind of squiggly line overlaid with what is the global carbon dioxide emissions. And what you're seeing is the parallels between the two. Because carbon dioxide and temperature, they go hand in hand. When we pump more CO2 into our atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the temperature on earth goes up. And we're seeing that especially as we start to spike and see unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide over 420 parts per million occurring now within the planet detected just within the past month.

And someone has got to pay the bill here. We've all got skin in the game, right? We look back at billion dollar disasters over the past few decades and you can see that number, the number of events occurring more frequently and in more numbers. When you start totaling these up someone has to pay for it, generations to come will have to pay for the act of indecisive decision-making within the past several decades.

Now you look at just 2020, for example, there were 22 billion plus disasters that totaled $95 billion. That eclipsed some of the previous records back in 2011 and 2017, namely last year's wildfire season. And you look at what's happening already this year, we're not even into the heart of the dry season over the Western U.S. and we are already starting to see that unprecedented breakneck pace for another very difficult wildfire season over the state of California in particular.

Seven of the warmest years have occurred since 2014. There's the trajectory we're concerned about. 2050 according to scientists we need to cut emissions of CO2 by 100 percent to reach those 1.5 degree agreed upon goals back in Paris in 2015. Kim, lots to digest there, but very important information.

BRUNHUBER: Absolutely. So much at stake there. Thanks so much Derek Van Dam. Appreciate it.

The latest shot in the media streaming wars has Hollywood buzzing. Amazon has announced it's buying the legendary Hollywood studio MGM to bolster its own streaming platform. CNN's Brian Stelter has more on the blockbuster deal.


BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Instead of Bond, James Bond, this is Bezos, Jeff Bezos. The Amazon CEO who is stepping aside this summer is making a big purchase acquiring the movie studio MGM for $8.4 billion. This deal by Amazon is another landmark moment in the streaming wars or the streaming Olympics. These big media and tech companies are trying to get bigger, trying to bulk up with more content, more movies and TV shows to keep all of us watching.

This is one of the biggest acquisitions that Amazon has ever made and if it receives regulatory approval, it means that franchises like the James Bond films and television shows like "The Handmaid's Tale" will be under the Amazon roof even though those films and TV shows are distributed in a variety of ways right now.

Amazon says this deal is an attempt to own more intellectual property or IP for short.


Bezos saying in a statement, the acquisition basis here is really simple. MGM has a vast, deep catalog of much beloved intellectual property and with the talented people at MGM and the talented people at Amazon Studios, we can reimagine and develop that IP for the 21st century.

Taking old movies and old TV shows, remaking them and finding new ways to stream them. That's what this deal is all about. But time will tell whether Amazon is overpaying. They're paying more than $8 billion for the studio. And time will tell whether Amazon really knows how to run a storied Hollywood studio.

Brian Stelter, CNN, New York.


BRUNHUBER: All right, just ahead, it was a rough night for the NBA's Washington Wizards, especially their superstar Russell Westbrook who wasn't exactly showered with affection from the fans in Philadelphia. I will explain coming up. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: The French Open starts on Sunday and while you can see Naomi Osaka on the court don't expect to hear anything from her. The tennis star says she won't take part in any news conferences in an effort to protect her mental health. A look at the day's other headlines here is Patrick Snell with a minute in sports.



PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Well, we start with the NBA playoffs here in the U.S. with the Philadelphia 76ers beating the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. But there's one moment in particular attracting headlines right now, Wizards star Russell Westbrook suffering an injury and while limping to the locker room TV images showing a fan pouring popcorn on Westbrook infuriating the Washington's star player in the process there.

Elsewhere the New York Knicks beating the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden. The host much to the delight of the 15,000 fans inside, leveling the first round playoff series at one game apiece.

Meantime, congratulations to Spain's Vila Real who is basking in glory after a historic win for the club in Poland last night over Manchester United. The match eventually decided on a dramatic penalty shootout 11-10 Vila Real.

Unfortunately, though, once again we have to report the ugly side of football seen post-match and online. United forward, Mark Rashford revealing he received at least 70 racial slurs across his social media accounts. Highly disturbing deed. And that is it for now. Kim, it's back to you.


BRUNHUBER: Well imagine hitting jackpot just for getting the COVID shot. Check out the winners and the prizes in Ohio.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two lucky Ohioans are about to go big and I do mean huge winners. Because finally the wait is over. We are excited to announce the first winner. Abbigail Bugenske from Silverton, congratulation, you just won $1 million in the Vax-a-Million give away, and what a night it is for you. And our lucky Ohio student winner is, Joseph Costello, from Englewood. Congratulations.


BRUNHUBER: Now that last prize is a full ride scholarship at a public university including tuition, room, board and books. It's Ohio's first Vax-a-million drawing, with four more to go. The governor says the lottery has encouraged more people to get COVID-19 vaccinations. So in the end everyone is a winner.

All right, that wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. "EARLY START" is next.