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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced To 25 Years In Prison; Bodies Of Two Workers Recovered, Four Still Missing; Sources: Matt Schlapp Agreed to $480K Settlement To End Lawsuit; Some New England Universities, Colleges Break $90K Barrier For Total Cost Of Upcoming School Year; State Department Official Resigns Over Gaza Policy; Family Rights To Preserve African American Cemetery Now Overgrown In Upscale Atlanta Neighborhood. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 16:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Yeah, it's like one of those moments where you want the instant gratification, but maybe you should take a beat.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yeah, that's something you dream of, but don't fulfill that impulse. Is that what you would say?

DEAN: As I was saying, it was a rather impulsive act then maybe you should do some breathing techniques first before you jump in that front-loader.

KEILAR: Maybe in jail that will be part of the program depending on what happens here, but could have been much worse.

DEAN: It's just so slow. Okay.

KEILAR: So silly.

All right. THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: How $8 billion turns into 25 years in prison.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Sentencing day for Sam Bankman-Fried. The 32-year-old once known as a crypto king now will spend decades behind bars for one of the biggest financial fraud cases ever. His plea for mercy, the scolding he heard from the judge, and the customers he swindled. Can they ever get their money back?

Plus, heavy lift cranes will soon be on the scene of the deadly bridge collapse in Baltimore ready to move metal off the cargo ship that hit the bridge. Just how many other U.S. bridges are at risk of falling if they too were hit with the same force?

And universities now charging students a whopping $90,000 a year. Where exactly all that money goes and just how far off pace it is with inflation?


SCIUTTO: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with our tech lead. Sam Bankman-Fried is now doing time for cryptocurrency crimes. A judge has sentenced the former CEO of the collapsed crypto exchange FTX today to 25 years in prison after jurors found him guilty of stealing $8 billion in savings from his customers.

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York summed it up this way, quote: The scale of Bankman-Fried's crimes is measured not just by the amount of money that was stolen, but by the extraordinary harm caused victims who in some cases had their life savings wiped out overnight.

And his crimes did not just impact people who are involved in his own businesses. The FTX bankruptcy in 2022 had a ripple effect on the market. Several other cryptocurrency companies quickly went belly up as a result.

His lawyer painted him as a misunderstood, awkward, math nerd who loves video games, animals, and veganism, but the judge saw very differently saying Bankman-Fried was politically motivated and there is a risk he would be in a position to do something very bad again in the future.

Before the judge delivered the sentence, Bankman-Fried apologized in court to all those involved saying his decisions, quote, haunt him every day.

Let's bring in CNN's Kara Scannell and Sara Fischer as well.

So, Kara, a very basic question here. Will SBF's victims get any or close to all of their money back?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It looks like they will get some of their money back. The question will be, is it 100 cents on the dollar, which is what Bankman-Fried was arguing to the judge in that people will be taking care of who should get a lenient sentence?

Prosecutors say not so fast that, you know, there is -- there is recovery. There was this big bankruptcy process where they are reorganized and so some of that money will eventually get returned to some of the customers, investors, and lenders of FTX. But it is still a process that has to be worked through.

You know, the judge, even reacting to Bankman-Fried's lawyers arguments today, saying that it is still speculative at that point -- at this point, how that's going to turn out. Now, in addition to the 25-year sentence, he did also order the forfeiture of $11 billion. That will come from selling some of Bankman-Fried's assets, including the luxury penthouse apartment he lived in in the Bahamas.

SCIUTTO: Sara, Bankman-Fried, he was sentenced to 25 years in the end. That's, of course, less than prosecutors sought -- far more than his defense attorneys wanted here. I wonder, how much more or less, and does it seem fair in comparison with precedent?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: This is exactly what we were expecting. So, the defense said six-and-a-half years. Prosecutor said 40 to 50. So, you're splitting the difference here.

But think about this in comparison to historical crime. So Bernie Madoff, that was a $20 Ponzi scheme. He served over 100 years, or was sentenced to over 100 years. Of course, he died 12 years into that sentence.

And so, for this -- this is valued, you know, $8 billion of losses that consumers will likely hopefully to Kara's point get back. You can see what that's going to be a lot smaller.

But the thing to remember, Jim, is this sentence can be reduced with good behavior. This is a nonviolent white-collar criminal, that on good behavior could get him up to 50 percent less sentencing. So, if he is good, this could turn into 12-1/2 years instead of those 25.

SCIUTTO: You love to see what his victims think of that that, but we'll be watching.

I want to listen to what Bankman-Fried has said publicly because one amazing factor with this case was he admitted to a lot of things, right, in a series of interviews.


This is what he told "Good Morning America" in 2022.


SAM BANKMAN-FRIED, FTX FOUNDER: I wasn't spending any time or effort trying to manage risk on FTX, trying like and that obviously --


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: That's a stunning admission.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a pretty stunning admission.

BANKMAN-FRIED: Yeah. I mean, I don't know what to say, like what happened happened. And like if I had been -- if I had been spending an hour a day thinking about risk management on FTX, I don't think that would have happened.


SCIUTTO: I mean, he's sort of talking about like he got caught staying out late. I don't know by his parents or something, but this is a multi-billion-dollar crime here. I wonder, you mentioned good behavior in prison, but do admissions like that lower the possibility that he shaves time off? FISCHER: Terrible pretrial behavior, right? You're doing a huge press tour, making mistakes, admitting to not doing risk assessments and by the way, he was corresponding with someone who is working against him, one of his former colleagues. That correspondence was brought up in court.

And so, I think that the judge looks at him as being as being somebody who's reckless based off of this pretrial behavior. And that's why he thinks he could pose a risk. Remember, the judge said this is a 25- year sentence because we don't want him to come back out and do this again.

SCIUTTO: Wow, remarkable.

Sara Fischer, Kara Scannell, thanks so much to both of you.

Topping our national lead today, new video shows the final moments before Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapses. You can see flashing lights, those near the top of the bridge just as the ship is about to hit it. Divers have been able to recover the bodies of two of those six construction workers who fell into the water during the collision, the effort to find the other four that's on pause until debris is cleared to make it safe for divers to go back into the water.

CNN's Pete Muntean is in Baltimore for us.

So, Pete, it's only been a few days since the bridge collapsed. There are a lot of moving parts in the investigation right now. Have we learned anything new about exactly how this happened?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the NTSB has boarded the Dali again today for the third time in three days, and they have recovered the ships black box known on a ship like this as a voyage data recorder. They have used that data to create a timeline of these desperate final moments on board the MV Dali that was careening out of control and towards Baltimore's key bridge.

The NTSB says, after the ship set sail a little bit after midnight on Tuesday morning, things were fine for about 46 minutes. Then, at 1:25 a.m. that is when the ships bridge lit up with alarms. At 1:26 a.m., there was a command for rudder to turn the ship and then a plea for tugboats to come back and help the ship. 1:27 a.m., that's when the crew picked up the rate do and said the Dali has lost all power. We are headed for the Key Bridge, and then at 1:29 a.m., impact.

What is clear right now according to the NTSB, is that there was a power outage onboard the ship. But the mystery now is the source of that outage.

Here is NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy.


JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIRWOMAN: We -- and we've seen the recordings. We have data which is consistent with a power outage. However, we don't have information -- factual information that can confirm that powder outage. So we aren't there yet.


MUNTEAN: There is an issue with the data recorder on-board this ship. It is relatively crude, basic, limited information. The data points are not like on a commercial airline or the NTSB says they've only been able to get engine RPM. The position fission of rudder and the heading of the ships bow. So they're not able to glean all that much from it just yet.

The good news is there is audio recording from the ship's bridge. That is how they've been able to build this timeline. There's still going through the data right now, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's remarkable. Such a giant ship would have what seems to be fairly outdated technology, given what your phones can track. What are the plans to clear the shipping channel here because you have a number of ships caught behind it. This is one of America's busiest ports.

How quickly does that get underway?

MUNTEAN: A backbone of the economy here in Baltimore, Jim, and the Biden administration said today that it is sending in a heavy lift crane on a vessel to come in and clear some of the debris here and try and get things moving through the port.

Remember, there's still 11 ships trapped behind this wreckage on the interior of the port. Right now, the big focus is moving the MV Dali. But remember, the collapsed bridge has pinned the bow of the ship, meaning that it can't be moved before some of that debris gets cleared. No firm timeline on reopening the port of Baltimore just yet. Eighteen thousand people directly employed here.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, what a colossal cleanup job that will be.

Pete Muntean, near the scene of the bridge collapse, thanks so much.

Now, we are learning more about exactly how the key bridge crumbled within seconds of being hit.


Listen to more from the NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy just last night.


HOMENDY: It's a fracture critical bridge. If a member fails, that would likely cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.


SCIUTTO: So let's bring in Tom Foreman now. He's been looking at the structure of these bridges, the engineering behind them.

So how many of these fracture critical bridges are there in the United States?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're not all huge. They're all over waterways, but federal officials say about 17,000 bridges across this country are fracture criticals. In technical terms, that means if they're struck with enough force in just the right spot, a big section or the entire bridge will go down. That's what we saw with the Key Bridge.

It was struck over here when that ship hit this one support, it triggered a chain reaction that took out the whole thing, a bridge that stood for decades, it handled 11 million cars a year. That was undeniably very strong, gone in seconds, and similar accidents have happened with other bridges.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge near Tampa years ago, which opened around the time of the Key Bridge, was taken out hi a floundering ship, which you can see in this photograph here. And the I-40 -- the I-40 bridge in Oklahoma was largely destroyed by some loose barges. And there are many more. Every accident is unique, but in each case, there's some version of fracture critical danger.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, interesting. And particularly when you think of the size, the enormous size of these ships today.

The head of the NTSB says that the preferred method of building bridges now involves redundancy, kind of makes sense to me. But what does that mean exactly?

FOREMAN: There's a lot of talk about this among engineers right now. Many modern bridges were being constructed with protections around those danger points. In some cases, they're using these so-called dolphins, which are structures that sort of stand away out here in the water. And well channel a ship away from that point.

So if a ship were to come in here and swerve off this way, it gets met out here. Some cases, feet, something times yards, many yards away from this so that they can't get to the danger point.

The other possible thing that we're hearing a lot about is fenders. Fenders basically or something like this, where you actually build up. It can be -- it can be stone, it can be wood, it can be still, it can be whatever you want, but essentially you're building a little island around this. Again, the whole point being that you make it impossible for a ship to simply veer in here and hit the base of this bridge.

Modern bridges are being built that way, but many engineers are asking what about all these older bridges? Are we doing enough to shield those 17,000 other bridges vulnerable to this kind of singing angle impact, catastrophic failure -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Fascinating to see. Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: So, up next this hour, a campaign operative dropping his sexual assault lawsuit against conservative bigwig Matt Schlapp chopping it up to a misunderstanding. Sources say it wasn't that simple. They tell CNN the accuser was, in fact, paid off. How much? Why it matters? As the story rocks Republican circles.

Plus, I'll speak with the State Department employee resigning now, in protest over President Biden's handling of Israel's war in Gaza. We're back in just a moment.



SCIUTTO: In the politics lead now, a story first reported on CNN that's raising questions about why a Republican operative dropped his lawsuit accusing influential CPAC chairman and conservative activist, Matt Schlapp, of sexual assault. Yesterday, the man behind those allegations said, quote, the claims made in my lawsuits were the result of a complete misunderstanding. Neither the Schlapps nor the ACU paid me anything to dismiss my claims against them.

That statement, however, does not add up because multiple sources tell CNN he did in fact get a major financial settlement to drop the case.

CNN's Jamie Gangel broke story.

So, Jamie, I mean, those are -- those statements contradict each other. What's -- what are the facts?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: They're technically correct, but not what happened. So in fact, Carlton Huffman who bought brought these charges of sexual assault against Matt Schlapp was paid $480,000, almost half a million in a settlement.

Here's the footnote: it was paid to him by an insurance company. So in effect, there was this private settlement. Why is this notable?

When it was first announced, the charges were dismissed, Matt Schlapp sort of took a victory lap. He went and did interviews. He posted on social media, and he was implying that he was exonerated, that he had been cleared.

And in fact that I am told is not the case that there was just this private settlement made to end the case. The other notable thing is this case was about to go to trial in early June. Our sources tell us that this has been going on for more than a year there had been many depositions taken and more to come that would have been very damaging to Matt Schlapp and very embarrassing. This also saves him from having to take the stand of the court.

SCIUTTO: No question. You mentioned a post Schlapp deleted celebrating the lawsuit, right being dropped. Was that a breach of settlement? Was that an issue there?

GANGEL: So, look, we don't know all the clauses in this particular agreement, but usually there's a non disparagement clause and what you see sometimes in cases is parties walking up to that.

This was a "Washington Examiner" interview he gave.


It seemed to exonerate him. He did a post with it. Those posts were deleted.

I'm told that Huffman's lawyer reached out and in effect, Schlapp's team was told to cease and desist.

SCIUTTO: Interesting. Notable.

OK. Joining us now, our panel.

Alice Stewart and Karen Finney, thanks so much. Good to have both you.

Alice, I wonder -- I mean, Matt Schlapp, certainly they are public voice in today's Republican Party, certainly in CPAC, how big a deal it is -- is this for conservatives?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The CPAC movement and Matt Schlapp and CPAC organization have been a big part of conservative politics for many years, and they have a tremendous influence with younger voters. And they're -- they're yearly events they have are attended by thousands and thousands of people. And it actually in the midst of all of this, they've actually expanded overseas.

But they are by no means the voice of the conservative movement that the conservative movement is much bigger than this and I think people that are representative of CPAC and conservatives are looking more to the future of 2020 election Donald Trump, the policies that conservative stand for. We all know certainly immigration the economy, national security, public safety that's what conservatives are looking at. This -- this is a extremely, extremely unfortunate situation, but conservatives are represented a representative by much more than this.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, half a billion here, half a billion there for lawsuits, another lawsuit in June.

This was not going to be good for the conservative movement to have this case playing itself out in June around the same time some version of the various cases against Donald Trump would also be playing themselves out, and Matt Schlapp has very much associated himself very closely with Donald Trump. So the specter of that this summer would have been I think very damaging for the Republican Party. I think they knew it.

You know, there have been a lot of questions about Matt Schlapp's leadership of CPAC for quite some time. They've seemed to be able to keep those under wraps. And now this deal has been made.

So in theory, I guess they've taken it off the table for now.

SCIUTTO: What will Schlapp did what would oftentimes Republicans will do in the face of criticism or imaging stories like this, he attacked the media. He said, quote, our family was attacked by left-wing media that is focused on the destruction of conservatives regardless of the truth and facts.

The fact is, this was a Republican staffer who brought this allegation and initially we should note that.

I do want to move on to another topic because this relates to the upcoming reelection -- the upcoming election. And that is "The New York Times" report that Russian operatives are laying the groundwork for what could be a stronger push to support candidates who oppose aiding Ukraine or who call for pulling the U.S. back from the NATO and other alliances.

Karen, you know, this has echoes of 2016 when Russia interfered in the election. U.S. intelligence community spoke there very openly about it. In fact, they interfered with the preference for Donald Trump. I wonder how focused on this is the Democratic Party as we approach in November?

FINNEY: Yes, we all, including myself, remember well having the Russian interference. Look, we're taking it very seriously and there are different parts of the Democratic Party that are monitoring have been for some time a number of these companies. The thing in "The New York Times" report was what they were suggesting is that Russia -- the Russian bots, if you will, they've gotten more advanced in their approaches. So it's harder to find.

But I can tell you that what I'm hearing from the people monitoring this is that already they say it's out of control. What they're seeing, the barrage that there already seeing, not just from Russia but from other bad actors.

SCIUTTO: China for sure.

What struck me -- I covered Russian interference in the 2016 election. At that time, it was principally a foreign threat, the sources of disinformation coming from outside the country. The fact is some of the biggest sources of disinformation as relates to the election or domestic and stated, one of them is running for president. Donald Trump lies about the 2020 election, and by the way, his own pressure to push Republicans to oppose aid to Ukraine.

How does the Republican Party handle that? And how does the Republican Party respond to foreign actors? And Republicans who are in effect amplifying the messages of foreign actors?

STEWART: Well, you certainly don't deny it because it happens and it has happened in the past and it's clearly happening at this point.

And to Karen's point, her being a target of this intelligence agency may, on the Cruz campaign, every time our spokespeople or myself went out on television or a posted online, we were also a trolled and attacked and discredited by these Russian trolls in an effort to hurt our campaign in order to help our opponent, Donald Trump.

So this is nothing new. The problem now is currently what were seeing and in this report, according its not just to sow chaos. This is potentially to influence democracy, influence the elections here in, in order to stop candidates that support aid for Ukraine and influence and help elect those that do not want to aid Ukraine.


So this is not going to stop here with Ukraine. I expect it will continue as we head into the general election.

SCIUTTO: No question. To another topic, of course, Supreme Court has some decisions coming up that could be influential on the election yesterday. Liz Cheney speaking at Iowa's Drake University, she had a warning for the court as they consider in particular, Donald Trumps expansive claims of virtually unlimited presidential immunity. Have a listen.


LIZ CHENEY (R)., FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think its very important that the Supreme Court recognize that what he's doing is a delaying tactic, and that the American people it cannot be the case that a president of the United States can attempt to overturn an election and seize power and that our justice system is incapable of holding a trial, of holding him to account before the next election.


SCIUTTO: I mean, it is truly remarkable that years after the events of January 6, as well as his weeks-long effort to attempt to overturn the election, there has really no been no -- I mean, he's been certainly been charged but its not clear that any of these trials related to election inference are going to happen before the election.

And by the way, the Justice Department had a role in that too. How quickly it prosecuted these things. What's your reaction to what Liz Cheney said?

GANGEL: Look, the January 6 Committee revealed a lot but they did not have the power of a grand jury. And what you're going to hear from Liz Cheney over and over is that the voters have to hear what those people who have gone before the grand jury, have to say, these are the people closest to Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, White House counsel, people who were with him in the weeks leading up to January 6, and who heard what he had to say and saw what he did on January 6th.

SCIUTTO: The fact is what these delay tactics, they may not -- it's possible they don't.

Thanks so much to all of you, as always.

Coming up next, the cost of higher education hitting, if you can believe it, $90,000 a year at some universities. Where does all that money go? Is it worth it?

A former university president will join me next.


[16:31:15] SCIUTTO: In our money lead, today is Ivy decision day where applicants learn if they made it into top colleges in the nation.

Well, if they're going to Yale, are they lucky financially as well? Starting this fall, undergraduate tuition, room and board and fees will cost at least $90,000 for a single academic year there. Some other top New England schools also will cost this. Tufts University, Boston University, Wellesley College, all private schools.

I want to bring in now, Frederick Lawrence. He's a former president of Brandeis University.

Thanks so much for taking the time this afternoon.


SCIUTTO: All right. So let's take a look at the numbers. I want to show you how much it would cost undergraduates if they go to these colleges, universities in the fall.

Boston University, about $90,000. Right behind them is Yale, nearly $91,000. Wellesley College, $92,000. Tufts University, nearly $96,000.

Listen, when I went to college, and it's a few years ago. I mean, it was less than $20,000 a year, a fraction of that.


SCIUTTO: The most basic question, is private college -- is a private college degree really worth that much

LAWRENCE: Private college degree is certainly worth what people are paying for it. The -- the tuition numbers that you have up there those are the sticker price, which you have to remember the majority of students at those schools just are not paying.

When I was president of Brandeis, about two-thirds of the students were on some kind of financial aid. Many of them on substantial financial aid, and some on hundred percent financial aid. So that is the number we put out and yes, there are some people paying that. Most do not. And so the question then becomes, is it worth what people are paying for it wherever they are in that scale? And I think the answer is clearly yes.

SCIUTTO: Well, I get that. And it has -- there's been enormous progress in universities to do need-blind admissions, et cetera. But someone is ultimately paying the bill, whether its donors or others, I just wonder when you look at the figures as to how these prices in effect have gone up.

Between 1987, 2017, the cost of going to a four-year public college, that went up 200 percent. Between 2003, 2023, college goes up 106 percent, price of a car, 61 percent.

I mean, there's a lot of evidence that this is outpacing the rate of inflation for everything else. So why is that? Why is that sticker price rising so much?

LAWRENCE: It's a good question. I think there are two main reasons. One is this is what economists would call a high-quality good. If you think about what a theater ticket costs, that's also gone up dramatically. You can think about medical costs, that's gone up dramatically.

So the cost of the kind of people who recruited to be top-flight researchers and professors is not the same curve as the rest of the economy. So that's one reason, the high-quality good.

The other is that the biggest change I would say over the time that you were talking about, I started as a professor in 1988. I became a professor -- president in 2010. Biggest change over that time, first, higher regulation, the sheer number of people in the university dealing with government regulations, federal and state. And second, issues of student mental health. Counseling services, when I was in school, probably when you were in school, much smaller part of the budget. Now a very substantial part of what every school is dealing with.

SCIUTTO: Okay. I get that.

Now, the fact is though that even with additional support, financial assistance, et cetera, borrowers still graduate students graduate with enormous student debt. We see that and it's become on a national basis, it's become quite a figure. The average cost for borrowers, $32,000.


That, of course, is money that could go towards a home, a car, or start a family, et cetera.

It's an enormous burden. And by the way, you can't read yourself of that burden by bankruptcy like you could, for instance, credit card debt. You know, it still means is it folks graduate, even with all that help with an enormous weight on their shoulders.

And I wonder what the relief is for that.

LAWRENCE: I think part of what you're seeing is the responsive the government to try to grant relief to people particularly who have the greatest needs, whose incomes at the lowest and have that debt. And I think the government, when that is best thought of as not just debt relief, but a government investment in a highly trained workforce. So I think it's a very sensible approach for the government to take.

But in addition to this, 32,000 and debt and I never want to make light of anyone's financial needs and of a debt like that. But I would say that is a very good investment for what every study shows will be not only the living potential, but the earning potential for someone with a college degree as opposed to someone who doesn't have a college degree.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll dig deeper and see how much over time that, that benefit pays off.

Frederick Lawrence, thanks so much for joining us.

LAWRENCE: Pleasure being with you.

SCIUTTO: And now, former State Department employee is stepping down in protest, writing about it on She says she did not plan to go public with her resignation. I'm going to ask her why she felt she could just no longer stay. And that's next.



SCIUTTO: In our world lead, another U.S. official has publicly quit their government job over the Biden's administrations handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Until yesterday, Dr. Annelle Sheline was a foreign affairs officer at the State Department, working in an office that promotes human rights in the Middle East.

Dr. Sheline details the reasoning behind her public resignation in a CNN opinion article, and she joins us now.

Thanks so much for joining.


SCIUTTO: You write regarding the forced displacement of Gaza civilians, that the lack of aid, violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. You say, quote, these actions which, experts on genocide have testified meet the crime of genocide are conducted with the diplomatic and military support of the U.S. government. And that's the basis of your resignation.

As you know, genocide is a very specific definition here. How do you feel Israel's behavior there meets that definition?

SHELINE: I mean, I would leave that to the experts. As you said, it is a very specific definition, but I would argue that in general, the actions the Israeli military is taking are, are seeking to wipe out the population of Gaza. We've also heard such statements made by Israeli officials, political officials, and military officials.

The -- unfortunately, we're also hearing plans being made now for people to take over the territory of the Gaza Strip, we had Jared Kushner come on and talk about how he's going to build high-rises on this beautiful beach front property.

You know, as you said, the crime of genocide does meet -- need to meet a particular legal definition. But I would -- I would posit that there are many experts who are -- who are arguing that that is what Israel is doing.

SCIUTTO: Well, intent is key, of course, because lets be clear, Hamas is a terrorist organization. It deliberately kill civilians as it did on October 7, and deliberately hides behind civilians in Gaza. I understand the argument that there has then insufficient attention to protect civilian lives there.

But I wonder, who do you hold responsibility? Who do you hold responsible for it? Is it Israel alone? Is it Israel and the U.S. for its support? But is Hamas -- does Hamas also bear responsibility for the civilian losses?

SHELINE: Absolutely. I mean, Hamas is a terrorist organization. I just think that the way Israel and as well as the United States have been involved in conducting this war, it could have been done in a very different manner. The levels of the casualties that we're seeing, the use of starvation as a weapon of war, the fact that the United States isn't using its leverage to insist that aid gets in and that a ceasefire be you put in place.

In particular, we're seeing from the Israeli public, they are frustration with the fact that their own hostages are not actually being prioritized. Instead, we have the prime minister whose political future depends on this war going on for as long as possible. He's talked about going after Lebanon as well. I know that the U.S. government is trying to do everything they can to prevent that, but thus far -- I shouldn't say everything they can -- they're not doing everything they can to prevent that.

I would argue they need to use all the leverage to make sure Israel neither expands the war and agrees to a ceasefire and exchange of hostages from both sides, and to bring in the necessary aid.

SCIUTTO: You told my colleague Christiane Amanpour today that you speak for, quote, many people when standing against the U.S. governments guys a policy I wonder when you, when you left, when you made your resignation public, when you wrote this opinion piece for CNN, did many people, many of your colleagues come to you and say were backing you?

SHELINE: They have. I was not planning initially to go public I was only at the State Department a brief time, but when I started to tell people that I was planning to resign quietly, they said please reconsider, please -- please go public if you'd be willing to. So I decided I would.

And since then I have had people reach out to me I think my greatest concern is that by going public, I might somehow undermine some of these efforts and the State Department is doing very important work here. But I do think that public pressure is why we're starting to see the administration shifting here.

And it is the administration that is making these decisions. It's the president who is deciding what our policy towards Israel and regarding Gaza is going to be. So even though there are many people inside state who disagree with this, it's going to take the president changing his mind before we see a new policy.

[16:45:10] SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this because as you, as you say, there has been both private and public pressure increasing from President Biden and the White House in recent days and weeks on Israel, for instance, not to go into Rafah in Gaza. That's insufficient in your view.

What would be sufficient in your view from the U.S. side?

SHELINE: I think the U.S. needs to uphold our own laws. We have the Leahy laws that would stipulate that us foreign military assistance cannot go to units of a foreign military, that, are engaged in gross human rights violations. Also, a foreign government that is preventing U.S. humanitarian aid is no longer eligible for U.S. military assistance.

We're not upholding those laws. So I think we could start there. Just start upholding our own laws.

I think this is particularly crucial not only for the people of Gaza, but this administration has tried to distinguish itself from the previous administration as one that not only believes in the rule of law but that believes in America's role in the world and wanted to re- establish America as a leader, not only in terms of, you know, I know, you've done work on great power competition.

But if America is not going to distinguish itself from some of our adversaries that engage in these sorts of human rights violations, why should the rest of the world look to us as a leader?

SCIUTTO: It's the loss or soft power.

Dr. Annelle Sheline, thanks so much for sharing your point of view. Appreciate having you on.

SHELINE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Back here in the U.S., a Georgia family is launching a legal battle to protect their loved ones' final resting place now overrun with brush and weeds. It's a story any family could relate to. We'll have it when we come back.



SCIUTTO: In our national lead. Consider this, and ask yourself how you would feel if this happened to your family. Right now in an upscale part of Atlanta, a historic cemetery with graves dating back to slavery is now so overgrown as you can see. The descendants of people buried there aren't even allowed to visit.

Now, there's a legal fight over who is supposed to maintain the site of these neglected graves.

CNN's Rafael Romo went to the cemetery and s unrecognizable, now it looks like a forest.


AUDREY COLLINS, DESCENDANT AND PLAINTIFF: This was cleared. And it was -- you could walk up the hills.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At first sight, this looks like a forest, but look closer and you'll see the rocks here are engraved.

COLLINS: You can see a tombstone right there, look.

ROMO: This one acre plot of land, this back in the heart of Buckhead, an upscale community in Atlanta.

Can you tell us how many members of your family were buried here?

RHONDA JACKSON, DESCENDANT AND PLAINTIFF: My grandmother, my grandfather. I have a baby brother, two great grandmothers, uncles, and aunts.

ROMO: Piney Grove Cemetery, a historic African American graveyard that trace since its roots to the 19th century, is now at the center of a legal battle between sisters Rhonda Jackson and Audrey Collins, descendants of people buried here and the Bluffs Atlantics Homeowners Association, which now owns this land.

COLLINS: We cleared all of this, all this was clean a few years ago.

ROMO: In the lawsuit filed in January, the sisters claimed the HOA has failed to clean and maintain the cemetery, but also has interfered with plaintiffs' rights under Georgia law to care for and maintain the cemetery. But the HOA claims the cemetery was abandoned before it acquired the land and until recently, no one took responsibility for maintaining it.

KATHRYN WHITLOCK, BLUFFS AT LENOX ATTORNEY: The plaintiffs themselves had been to the cemetery when they were children and had not been back in years and when they got back, it was overgrown and it was difficult to find grave markers and boundaries.

ROMO: The thick vegetation here has made it very difficult, if not impossible for the surviving relatives of the people buried here to visit their graves.

But we were able to get to the top of the hill and this is what we found. This is the grave of Joshua Thomas, buried in 1987. He happens to be the grandfather the two sisters who filed the lawsuit.

According to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation at Piney Grove, there are over 300 burials, some of which are believed to be burials for enslaved individuals, and other people who came from thriving African-American communities that were displaced over several decades.

WRIGHT MITCHELL, PRES. & CEO, GEORGIA TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION: That's been going on since, you know, Emancipation, where African American communities are displaced through a measure of different tactics.

ROMO: For the last few years, the sisters in a small group of supporters have been fighting a losing battle against the vegetation that is so thick, they can no longer reach their grandmother's grave.

COLLINS: So treacherous going up the hill and 71 years old, almost 72 with a bad hip.

JACKSON: I guess I get emotional because on the very first cleanup I promised my grandma when we cleaned her graves, I said, I promise you, this is not going to happen again. We're going to make sure that you are treated with respect.


ROMO (on camera): And, Jim, as you can see around me, the neighborhood near the cemetery has seen tremendous development over the last a decades. Judge Robert McBurney, who's presiding this case, said during the first hearing that -- well, it is important for development to occur. It must be done in a thoughtful way so that sites of historical significance don't disappear.

Jim, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Indeed.

Rafael Romo, thanks so much.

Just in, an invitation from House Republicans for President Biden to testify.

Plus, the plan to hold up a leaning tower in Italy.

We're going to have it in leads around the world coming up.



SCIUTTO: In our leads around the world, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer has officially invited President Joe Biden to testify at a public hearing. House Republicans are looking to revive interest in their still stalled impeachment inquiry. Don't hold your breath though. The White House is calling the invitation, quote, a sad stunt.

An impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is now set. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer says senators will be sworn in as jurors on April 11th, one day after the House sends over the articles of impeachment. House Republicans impeach Mayorkas in February over his handling of the southern border.

A new plan could save one of Italy's famous leaning towers. It's the Garisenda Tower built in the 12th century, thousand years ago. An artists rendering shows how equipment from Italy's famous leaning Tower of Pisa will be used to stabilize the Garisenda Tower. The mayor says it could take six months to adapt the equipment. Cost about $20 million.

Now to Cambridge, England, a statue commemorating a royal family member which a local official referred to as quote, rather ugly, will finally be taken down. The 13-foot kind of Grim Reaper, Voldemort- looking monstrosity is supposed to honor the late Prince Philip, and his tenure as chancellor of Cambridge University. Today, the Cambridge council told CNN, it was installed in several places on the campus over the years without proper planning and discussion.

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