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Senator Bob Menendez Facing New Charges; Royal Photo Controversy; Donald Trump Praises Hungary's Authoritarian Leader; Israel Targeting Rafah. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 11, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Targeting Rafah. President Biden says such a move by Israel would be a red line, as Netanyahu promises to go there, even as U.S. intel suggests the IDF isn't any time soon. What a potential invasion would mean for their widening rift.

And a violent drop by a plane mid-flight flings passengers into the air, one witness describing blood on the ceiling, the airline blaming a technical problem on the Boeing Dreamliner, the latest incident involving one of the company's planes.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus: palace intrigue. The princess of Wales says she is the one who Photoshopped that odd picture of her and her kids. Now the whole incident is raising some serious questions about the royals. So will we get any answers?

We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: The relationship between the U.S. and Israel at its tensest yet at a consequential moment for the war in Gaza.

Despite American resistance, Israel is readying an offensive in Rafah, the city in Southern Gaza where over a million displaced Palestinians have fled. Israeli officials say that advance is not imminent, but, with the operation looming, this weekend, the public disagreement between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensified.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken. He's hurting -- in my view, he's hurting Israel more than helping Israel.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If he meant by that that I'm pursuing private policies against the majority -- the wish of the majority of Israelis and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he's wrong on both counts.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC HOST: Would invasion of Rafah, would you have urged him not to do, would that be a red line?

BIDEN: It is a red line, but I'm never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical.

QUESTION: You're 100 percent sure that you go into Rafah?

NETANYAHU: Oh, we will go there. We're not going to leave them. I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That October 7 doesn't happen again.


KEILAR: CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in Rafah for us.

Jeremy, it seems that this is an inflection point, sort of a call-and- answer here in this U.S.-Israeli relationship, as the holy month of Ramadan begins.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, there's no question that there have been months of mounting public private frustrations by, on President Biden's end, with the Israeli prime minister.

But there's no question as well that these are the most cutting comments that the U.S. president has made about his Israeli counterpart since the beginning of this war, saying that he believes that Netanyahu is hurting Israel more than it is helping it, indicating that an offensive into Rafah, or at least one that wouldn't plan enough for civilian evacuations, would be a -- quote, unquote -- "red line."

And the Israeli prime minister very much firing back, saying that the positions that he espouses are shared by a majority of Israelis and also vowing that a military offensive into Rafah will indeed proceed.

We know that there have been a lot of tensions behind the scenes between these two men. But, increasingly, President Biden has been growing critical of the way that the Israeli prime minister has been handling this war.

Now, as it relates to a military offensive in Rafah, even as Israeli officials like Prime Minister Netanyahu say that an offensive in Rafah will indeed come, privately, I'm told by multiple Israeli officials that an invasion -- that a military offensive into Rafah is not imminent.

And there are two key reasons for that. The first of which is the fact that the forces in Gaza have not yet been built up to the point that they would be ready to go into Rafah for an all-out offensive. And, secondly, the plans for evacuating the civilian population from Rafah, they have yet to be finalized or approved by Israel's war cabinet.

And I'm told that an evacuation of Rafah is expected to take at least two weeks. Now, this doesn't mean that Israeli officials have ruled out going into Rafah during the month of Ramadan.

But it certainly doesn't appear like an invasion of that scale is imminent at this point, but, certainly, Israeli officials very mindful of the fact that this month of Ramadan, Hamas' leader, Yahya Sinwar, is looking to use this month as an opportunity to launch a second wave of attacks in Israel to see if he can revive what he launched on October 7.


And Israeli officials very much taking that into account as they plan their military operations going forward -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Jeremy Diamond live for us from Israel, thank you -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Let's discuss now with CNN military analyst retired Major General James "Spider" Marks.

General, thanks so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us.

So, Israeli officials, as we just heard Jeremy said, they haven't built up their required forces for an offensive into Rafah yet. They say it could be done in short order. I'm wondering what you think still needs to take place, how many troops in advance like that would require, and how soon this could happen.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Boris, I think what we're witnessing is the Israelis are being a little more cautious.

At least, their narrative is a little more conservative, if you will allow me that, in terms of their approach towards Rafah. The rest of the world has been focusing in on it, as have the Israelis, but I would suggest the Israelis have sufficient manpower, troops on the ground and capabilities, in terms of intelligence, collection, logistics support to their forward-deployed forces, and as well as airpower.

So I don't think that there is a real requirement for the buildup of additional forces, irrespective of what's being said. I think there certainly is a little bit of a pause until they figure out how they are going to work this out, in terms of their approach.

I would also suggest that what the Israelis, what the IDF has learned over the course of the last several months of combat in Gaza is, they have experienced procedures in terms of this type of tactical fight, and I don't expect it to look any different going into Rafah.

SANCHEZ: In terms of working out their approach, Israel has assured the U.S. that a civilian evacuation would happen first.

The U.S. officials, though, have expressed skepticism that guaranteeing civilian safety is even possible. There's more than a million people in what has largely become a tent city. What's your assessment of that? Could Israel actually carry out an efficient evacuation?

MARKS: Yes, well, that's the conundrum. Efficient evacuation, I think, is an oxymoron. Look, it's not going to be antiseptic, and it's not going to be 100 percent clean. There will be continual casualties. And I think that's the nature of your very -- our very first discussion point, which is, the Israelis have indicated they want to try to facilitate an evacuation, whatever that looks like, in advance of conducting their operations.

So I think that's where we are right now. We're at that juncture.

SANCHEZ: I want to ask you about some recent satellite images that show Israel built a road all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, splitting the Gaza Strip effectively in two. The IDF is claiming that this will give them an operational foothold.

What does that signal to you? What does that effectively mean?

MARKS: what that describes is clearly what the Israelis are looking at is, in the near term, the near horizon, they are not anticipating departing from Gaza until the mission is complete.

Look, they don't want to be there forever. They don't want to provide governance. But while they have soldiers on the ground, they have a footprint on the ground, this is essential for their command and support type of operations.

But also, going forward, this road could provide that type of support, over-the-shore type of logistics that would be coming to shore that can further be distributed into the country. So, it has a potential, down the road, commercial application as well.

SANCHEZ: I want to get your perspective on what President Biden said over the weekend, that an offensive into Rafah by Israel would be a red line for the United States.

He did also say that he's never going to leave Israel or cut off all weapons. The White House, in fact, put out a statement earlier today saying that there's no change in the relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden.

But how do you think the U.S. might respond if Netanyahu decides to cross that proverbial red line?

MARKS: Well, let's bear in mind, without being too cynical, our president was also part of the administration that established a red line in Syria in advance of the use of chemical weapons, remember, and then nothing happened.

So I understand the application and the use of the word red line, but I also understand what our president is trying to achieve is to demonstrate, look, there -- we are all in with Israel. We, the United States, are all in with Israel, but there have to be some conditions.


So I get it. So that's a very, very thin line that our president is trying to walk. So the term red line, I think, needs to be tossed from the narrative.

SANCHEZ: General Spider Marks, always appreciate the perspective, sir. Thanks.

MARKS: Boris, thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: Of course -- Brianna.

KEILAR: The presidential rematch race for 2024 is in full swing. Here in the next hour, President Biden will be plugging his plan to lower health care costs in New Hampshire.

And we're also learning more about former President Trump's plans if he returns to the Oval Office. Last night, Trump posted a video of Hungary's far right authoritarian leader, Viktor Orban, praising him after the two met at Mar-a-Lago on Friday. Orban told a Hungarian broadcaster that Trump will end the war in Ukraine, citing their conversation that Trump will not give -- quote -- "a single penny" for the war.

We have CNN's Alayna Treene joining us with details on this.

All right, Alayna, tell us a little bit more about this conversation between Trump and Orban.


Well, Donald Trump heaped praise on Viktor Orban after meeting with the Hungarian prime minister at Mar-a-Lago on Friday. And, essentially, we're told that Donald Trump and a small group of his advisers met with Viktor Orban for roughly an hour. One source described it as a friendly meeting. Another described it as a social meeting.

But I think what's interesting to note here is that the two of them are very similar in some ways, especially when it comes to their policies on immigration and the border. We know that both of them have called for a strong border to keep immigrants out of their respective countries. And also both have railed against the press, calling them fake news.

But I do want to share with you what Donald Trump posted on social media last night of Viktor Orban, praising him. We have a quote here of what Orban said. He said -- quote -- "He says the following. First, he will not give a single penny for the Russo-Ukrainian war. That's why the war will end, because it's obvious that Ukraine cannot stand on its own two feet."

Now, we did also receive, Brianna, a readout from the Trump campaign about some of what they discussed. They said that it was mainly about issues important to Hungary, as well as the U.S., and, again, immigration being a key focus of that, and, of course, as we see in this video, the war in Ukraine as well.

But what I want to point out here that I think is really important is that Donald Trump has a history of praising Orban, but also other far right authoritarian leaders, on the trail. And when it comes to some of these issues about his stance on the war in Ukraine, the war in Israel, as well as immigration, it's kind of giving you a preview of what we could expect from Donald Trump if he were elected and took over the White House again, what a second administration for him would look like.

And he really has been very positive and -- about his rhetoric when it comes to Orban, saying he's a great leader. And Orban himself has said after that meeting with Donald Trump that he thinks the U.S. would be better and Hungary would be better if he were president again.

KEILAR: Yes. Donald Trump isn't hiding it.


KEILAR: He's broadcasting it very loudly, which is so important to take a look at it. And thank you for that report on it, Alayna. I appreciate it -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: From one presidential candidate to the incumbent. Soon, we're going to see President Biden in New Hampshire courting voters through comparison and contrast.

He's going to outline what he plans to do to expand health care benefits, while pointing out what Trump and Republicans say they will take away.

CNN's Kevin Liptak is live for us in Goffstown, New Hampshire, following the president.

Kevin, perhaps a bit of a surprise that Biden is going to New Hampshire, a state that Democrats have consistently won for decades.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, he won the state by about seven points in 2020. Polls now show a more narrow race. And it is his first time back here since the presidential primary, where he did not appear on the ballot, but did nonetheless win through a write-in vote.

And I think he has a couple of objectives in this speech that he will be delivering within the next hour. One is to really kind of take credit for his health care record, things like capping the cost of insulin for Medicare recipients, things like requiring Medicare to negotiate down drug prices, because polls show that those things are very popular among the American people, but they also show that a lot of Americans just don't know about them.

And they don't know that President Biden has accomplished them. So that's the one objective. The other one is to really draw this sharp contrast with the former President Donald Trump when it comes to this issue.

And when you look at the issue, for example, of Obamacare, that is one thing that President Biden is really going to be narrowing in on during this speech, because, of course, President Trump has vowed to repeal Obamacare and to replace it. But in the 14 years since that law was signed, it has become actually quite popular and Democrats have run very successfully on that law over the last several years.

And so that's something that President Biden really wants to hone in on in this speech. And they do think that that is a message that resonates very potently with voters, and particularly in a state like New Hampshire with a population that skews a little bit older.


Some of these issues, like prescription drug prices, are very important for voters here. And this will kick off really a week of battleground state campaigning for the president. He will be in Michigan. He will be in Wisconsin. The campaign really does view this as a kickoff moment as they really try and ramp up this contrast with the former President Trump -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Kevin Liptak, live for us in Goffstown, New Hampshire, keep us updated on what President Biden says.

Still plenty more news to come on NEWS CENTRAL, including a royal mess, a mysterious surgery, an edited photo, a whole lot of questions about the princess of Wales right now. We're going to take you live to London for an update.

Plus, from Congress to the courtroom, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez pleading not guilty for a third time in a superseding indictment over his alleged bribery scheme. We're live for that in New Jersey.

And a plane suddenly dropping, tossing passengers into the ceiling, some people winding up going to the hospital for that. We're following the latest there.

Stay with us.



KEILAR: The royal family and Kensington Palace is really in damage control mode today.

This time, it's over a photo of the princess of Wales and her three children, after several international news agencies pulled the image, saying that it appeared to be manipulated. Today, Princess Kate responding to the controversy on social media, saying -- quote -- "Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I want to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused."

CNN royal correspondent Max Foster is joining us now on this.

Max, explain what happened here.

MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So a photo was released by the palace on Sunday, which was Mother's Day here in the U.K., the first image that we saw of Kate, official image, at least, since she had her surgery, so a huge amount of attention it. Over the course of the day, lots people were poring over different

parts of it and pointing out there were some inconsistencies, and these were bubbling up over the course of the day. And then, eventually, in the evening U.K. time, the main -- the leading picture agencies, Reuters, AP, AFP, started withdrawing their -- withdrawing the picture from all of their clients.

So these are the -- some of the parts of the image which have been questioned. We have had a look at them, certainly some issues with Charlotte's sleeve there and also the zip on Kate's sweater as well.

This, of course, speaks to a huge amount of conspiracy about whether there's been a cover-up over Kate's illness, something that we haven't really pursued, but we've almost been forced into pursuing it by the palace now that Kate has admitted manipulating the picture.

Now, it might have been small tweaks. It might have been tiny little additions or switches. And they have certainly told me, sources, that she was just touching it up to post on social media. But it wasn't just posted on social media. It also went out to the media as a media handout.

And they weren't transparent, frankly, about these updates, which normally would be told about if it's going to be used as a news image.

KEILAR: What does this do when it comes to trust between Kensington Palace and the royal family and the media?

FOSTER: I think it's quite damaging because we assume that these are accurate images that we are handed. And if they're not, we're going to have to pore over anything that comes in from now on, because these are news images.

It's very different from cropping an image or adding a filter. It's been changed. So it doesn't tell the story of that moment. So now we have to question them a lot more. Also, a huge amount of time, hours and hours transpired before the palace actually admitted that they had manipulated the image. So there's a big question of trust there.

And I think, going forward, that's going to be a bit of an issue, because we do rely on our relationships with the palaces to get accurate information. And a lot of it is smoke and mirrors. We get offered very little detail most of the time. So we're having to rely on those details.

If they're not accurate, we have to question what we're getting, although this might have been just a simple touch-up by someone that wasn't an expert in those Adobe skills, frankly.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly. What an interesting, odd story it has turned out to be.

Max Foster, thank you so much for getting us up to date on this.

New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez back in court today, facing new felony charges in an alleged bribery scheme. We're outside the New Jersey courthouse.

And some actors bared all in their Oscar acceptance speeches, and then there's the actor who really just bared all, really. Check him out. More on all those must-see Academy Award moments ahead.



SANCHEZ: A new court appearance today for embattled New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez and his wife, both pleading not guilty to new charges in that alleged bribery scheme.

We saw the two leaving court hand in hand late this morning. The new claims against them involve allegations of obstruction and extortion. The senator has maintained his innocence and accuses prosecutors of targeting him.

Let's take you now live outside the courthouse with CNN's Jason Carroll.

Jason, walk us through these new charges and what we saw play out in court.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost Boris, as you know, the senator and his wife have remained defiant throughout this, denying all charges.

Neither of them said anything as they entered the court or as they left the court, while, inside, when the judge asked Senator Menendez how he was going to plead, he said: "Once again, not guilty, Your Honor."

Both the senator and his wife now facing 18 counts including conspiracy, acting as a foreign agent, bribery, extortion and wire fraud. They were already facing bribery charges, but in the superseding indictment, prosecutors are alleging that both the senator and his wife knew they were under investigation, knew they were facing bribery charges, and tried to make it out that instead.