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Uvalde Police Chief Resigns; Ukraine Intensifies Drone Attacks Ahead of Russian Elections; Biden Admin Announces New Weapons Package for Ukraine; Sand Dune Built to Protect Homes Washed Away in 3 Days; Biden Meets with Teamsters as He Seeks Union Endorsement. Aired 8:30- 9a ET

Aired March 13, 2024 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new developments in Uvalde, Texas, where the police chief there just quit his job. Chief Daniel Rodriguez announced his sudden resignation just days after an investigative report exonerated local police and the 2022 Robb Elementary School massacre that killed 19 children and two teachers. That decision has infuriated the community.

Rodriguez has been police chief since 2018. He was not in Uvalde at the time of the school shooting, he was on vacation, but he did appoint the acting chief that day and has stood by the officers who failed to take action in the moment.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, who has been following the story from the beginning, is with us now.

How much of this resignation come out of nowhere, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It did come out of nowhere. I saw the chief last Thursday at that hearing where they basically cleared all the officers. I spoke to him on Thursday, everything seemed fine. He indicated to me that he was actually going to be back last night at another city council hearing, prepared to talk about some of the changes in the department, and then suddenly just out of nowhere we get word that he was planning to resign.


He issued a statement through the department on Facebook saying he was essentially resigning because he just felt it was time to move on. The department has been taking a lot of heat. The community obviously suffering. And he thought perhaps maybe somehow this could move things in a different direction.

Well, that's not really the case because the families are still demanding that other officers either resign or be fired. Now there was another city council hearing last night where families were expecting to get some answers to this report that cleared officers, that did not happen. The city council essentially came in and answered none of the families' questions. Obviously, there was a lot of frustration from the family members. One of those family members speaking out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is very disappointing that we won't get any answers. But, you know, par for the course, apparently. I do want to say, though, that while we're here doing this there's a family out there that is celebrating their child's 12th birthday today at the cemetery and you all still can't give us answers.


PROKUPECZ: And at that city council hearing, none of the people that were sitting there before these family members took any questions or they did not answer anything. Yesterday was a very difficult day for those family members. They were expecting to get answers.

We tried to get answers. We tried to catch up with the city attorney, Paul Tarski. He has been involved in that report that came out and cleared the officers. We tried to ask him questions after the hearing, he refused. Take a look.


PROKUPECZ: What kind of assurance can you give to the family that the city is in charge of this report, that it's TML, Rodriguez? What kind of assurance can you give to these families?


PROKUPECZ: That this is not happening.


PROKUPECZ: Because you understand that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of my way.


PROKUPECZ: At one point there you can see he pushed our camera out of the way and then he left. The one thing I've learned here in the last almost two years of covering this story is that most of the people here do not want to answer questions and it's been a very difficult process for the family members.

The other big question for them is, who is behind this report? Who was sort of driving it? Who was responsible for overseeing it and putting it together? And there are a lot of questions here, John, over that, and that is something that the families are trying to get answers to.

The city council says that at some point they will come back and answer the families' questions. They just need more time. But families are not buying that. Starting today, some of them plan to protest outside the Uvalde Police Department demanding that officers be fired.

BERMAN: Shimon Prokupecz, we are lucky to have you there and I know the community, and by that I especially mean the families, are grateful that you are there. Thank you so much for your reporting. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Days before Russia's so-called election day, better described as a Putin coronation, the Russian leader is talking to state media and throwing around new threat, new nuclear threats and new warnings against U.S. and Polish troops against them ever entering Ukraine. And overnight Ukraine conducted strikes on three of Russia's largest oil refineries. Ukraine's largest drone attacks since Russia first invaded.

Let's get over to CNN's Fred Pleitgen. He has more on this.

And Fred, what are you learning about these strikes?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Kate. Well, some of them appear to be pretty long-distance strikes and something that the Ukrainians have been trying to conduct more of as they suffer those ammunition shortages. Of course, also with aid from the U.S. lacking despite that $300 million package that was announced yesterday.

These specific strikes the Russians overnight saying that they shot down 58 Ukrainian drones. So by far the largest strike the Ukrainians would have ever really conducted onto a Russian territory. The Russian saying they took most of those drones down. However, it does appear, though, that some of them have hit their target. There was a big oil refinery in the town of Rezan, which is really just south of Moscow.

I've actually been there quite a number of times. And that apparently was hit. There was a large fire. There was video that came out from there afterwards. There was also one in the sort of St. Petersburg region. That's very far away from Ukrainian territory. So we can see more of those long-distance strikes conducted by the Ukrainians -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: And on Putin's new threats and the new interview that he was doing on state media, what really is his message?

PLEITGEN: Well I think first and foremost his message is for domestic consumptions. There are obviously a lot of Russians who are suffering the economic fallout and of course also the military fallout of that really stalled campaign that he has going in Ukraine, despite the fact that the Russians have the initiative in parts of the battlefield.


So essentially he's saying, look, Russia is strong, Russia as at the very least on par with the United States and anybody who messes with Russia could face nuclear Armageddon. He did say that the troops were ready at any point in time, then sort of walking that back a little bit and saying that so far none of that has happened. So that was definitely the message to the domestic consumption, to the people at home, ahead of that election that you were talking about before, which of course happened in the next couple of days. But then of course the message also to the United States is also one

that he weaved in there as well, calling for the U.S. to negotiate with the Russians rather than face a standoff with a nuclear armed country -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Fred, thank you so much. It's good to see you. John?

BERMAN: All right. With me now is Vladimir Klitschko, his brother Vitaly Klitschko is the mayor of Kyiv.

Thank you so much for being with us. You hear Vladimir Putin talking about Russia's nuclear power and its nuclear readiness. Why do you think he's doing that?

VLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, FORMER UKRAINIAN HEAVYWEIGHT BOXING CHAMPION: Well, we all know that threatening and letting the so-called free world to surrender and stop supporting Ukraine. Obviously, we do know that not just the east of the country has 10 years ago they were history in the annexation of Crimea. Putin's Russia will continue conquering more land or more countries if Ukraine fails.

If Ukraine will lose this war other countries are in the line. The ambition of rebuild so-called back then Soviet empire are still there. And this is serious threat for all of us in Europe and the United States.

BERMAN: Right now there are billions of dollars in aid from the United States being held up in the U.S. Congress. The Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has not helped put that bill on the floor of the House. What's your message to Mike Johnson this morning? What's your message to the Republicans who right now are standing in the way of aid to Ukraine?

KLITSCHKO: We need to stand together, Republicans and Democrats here in the U.S. We need to stand against this senseless war in Ukraine. We need to defend Ukraine and make Ukraine stronger. There is no strong Europe without the war in Ukraine and strong Ukraine with Europe is going to make United States of America weak.

We stand together against this senseless war. If we fail, we're not going to be the last and it is important to keep on supporting Ukraine, not in a little bit. Thank you very much for the support of $300 million that received, but we do understand that this money is a band-aid on a very deep wound and probably in short period of time, we'll need more support.

But I also want to say to Americans, all the money that they're going to be released for Ukraine, there are no American soldiers or NATO soldiers going to be in Ukraine. We're going to do the job. We just need the tools. We need that support and we need the weapons to defend our lives and our country. 90 percent of the financial assets that are going to be as aid for Ukraine going to remain in this country, the United States, and stimulate local economy.

We just need the weapons that you don't need. They're not as sophisticated as you can produce new ones. So I just want to say, if we're not going to get enough and how much is enough? It's never enough until this senseless wars still going. We need to make Ukraine strong to make the Western world, the so-called free world, strong.

BERMAN: So Donald Trump met with Hungarian leader Viktor Orban. Orban said this of Trump after the meeting, quote, "He will not give a penny in the Ukraine-Russia war. That is why the war will end."

How concerned are you that whoever wins this election, if it is Donald Trump, that aid will just come to a complete stop?

KLITSCHKO: I don't want to comment any rumors. She said-he said, you know, politics and campaigning. And this year 2024 is going to be an important year in the life in this world in general. Lots of presidents, presidential elections that must take place, will take place in Ukraine as well as the United States and Russia and so on. So this year is going to be crucially important.

I just want to say, do not let Ukraine fail. It doesn't matter what rumors are out there. It is important to stop the senseless war in Ukraine that started by Russia. Whatever it takes, whoever is going to be in power, it is important to save and preserve democracy and free world as it is right now.


BERMAN: How closely are you --

KLITSCHKO: If you don't, we fail if we're not going to stop.

BERMAN: How closely are you paying attention to the U.S. election?

KLITSCHKO: We're all paying very close attention to the selection. And as the whole world.

BERMAN: Vladimir Klitschko, we do appreciate your time. We appreciate the work that you are doing both in Ukraine and in the United States. Thank you so much.

KLITSCHKO: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: So the U.S. to send in Marine anti-terrorism units to help the country delving into chaos. And the New Orleans police force has a -- this is a huge problem with rats.



BOLDUAN: Half a million dollars washed away in just three days the ocean wiping up a sand dune designed to protect homes from rising storm tides in Salisbury, Massachusetts.

CNN's Bill Weir is there this morning.

Designed to protect against the effects of climate change, defenseless against climate change, Bill. What happened? BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: This is a fascinating

story in the new normal for coastal residents, really all over the country, but this is picturesque Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts. We're right near the New Hampshire border here. And for generations, the folks who've been coming here have watched high tide creep closer and closer to these homes year by year, foot by foot, because the state refuses to replenish dunes on private property.

Over 100 homeowners kick together after a series of big storms, really took away their defense system and they pulled together their money, spent $600,000 on 15,000 tons of sand to try to fortify things. Some homeowners opted in. Like you can see here, this is what's left of the dune after the last storm, some did not. This home was exposed and as a result, that storm sent waves into living room of this house. A lot of the staircases and jetties and these sorts of things were destroyed in this last storm.

But about over half of that $600,000 investment washed away in a single storm and now so these folks have no idea what to do next. They're hoping the state might kick in and start paying for this, but it really gets to the heart of who pays to defend these kinds of communities at a time when seas are just getting higher and higher officially. The state of Massachusetts is bracing for up to two-and-a- half feet of sea level rise by the middle of the century, by 2050. This is just the result of less than a foot of sea level rise over the last century -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: One, it is absolutely beautiful there to see that and know that it's just under such threat it's such a sad thing. And two, you raised something really interesting, Bill. It's not just how do we protect against the effects of climate change, it now really is a question of who pays for it. What do these residents do next?

WEIR: Exactly. They're having a meeting today to try to sort that out. But if you don't believe in climate change, and I've met some residents here who's just seen this as a string of bad luck and that they're in the clear now and they just need to get their dunes back. It's a very different conversation from who are coming to grips with the idea that we can't afford a half a million or a million dollars in truck and sand to protect a few hundred homes.

But if you live in these homes, you say we provide a brunt of the tax base for the local community. The property taxes here help pay for the cops and the teachers. So if we condemn this and retreat from it, what happens next? This is the really tough conversation that's going to be happening more frequently at coastal towns everywhere. It's sort of the haves and the have-nots when it comes to sand.

Who has the sand, who doesn't, who will pay the price of that as a result. Here they say a flood insurance is relatively expensive, about $2500 a year. In other places, it is prohibitively expensive. Massachusetts does not allow dredging sand from below the waves and pumping on shore for environmental concerns. They want to revisit that as a future conversation. But this is a real crossroads, Kate, for so many folks on the coast.

BOLDUAN: So interesting, so complicated. And clearly urgent and necessary at the very same time.

Bill, thank you so much. It's good to see you. John?

BERMAN: Well, the U.S. is deploying a Marine anti-terrorism unit to Haiti as widespread gang violence flares there. U.S. Southern Command says the move was to support security at the U.S. embassy in Port-au- Prince.

Dozens of artists and speakers are backing out of the South by Southwest Festival and protests over major event sponsors. Amid the war between Israel and Hamas, the U.S. Army is one of the six super sponsors of South by Southwest, and at least three of the festival's events had been sponsored by companies with ties to the defense industry. Those canceling shared notes of solidarity online with Palestinians in Gaza. Organizers said in a series of posts in X that they continue to, quote, "support human rights for all."

New police body camera video in Georgia shows a ride share nightmare. Cobb County police swarmed a Lyft vehicle after being alerted that the driver was wanted for aggravated assault. This is what they told the passenger.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Call him over right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, can I cancel it or --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you cancel it. You definitely ain't paying for this one, man.


BERMAN: So this morning there may be some pretty chilled rats in New Orleans. The police department there says that conditions in their building are so bad that rats are eating all the marijuana in the evidence room. Now that is clearly bad for the humans there. No word, though, if the rats are complaining.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Major rodents on the floor, the cockroaches, the rats eating our marijuana. They're all high.


BERMAN: This is apparently been a problem before in New Orleans and I am reliably told that there was once a whole Barney Miller episode about this with high rats -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: That for a woman having to say, and just in case you're wondering, they're all high -- are they still high just depends on --

BERMAN: We do not know how long the high lasts. We'll get back to you with a follow-up.

BOLDUAN: And depends on the quality of the product of course as it always does.

All right. John, thank you so much for ruining my makeup again.

Let's turn to this. President Biden is back on the campaign trail today now for the first time as the presumptive Democratic nominee after last night's wins. He is heading to Wisconsin today, then Michigan tomorrow, while his Republican rival now the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is focusing in on Ohio.

All of this by design, of course, as both hope and need really a strong showing of support among blue-collar voters and union voters in order to win the White House. Biden yesterday sat down, met with members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, one of the largest labor unions in the world, with over one million members.

And joining us now is the general president of Teamsters, Sean O'Brien.

Sean, thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: The VP-at-large for Teamsters was on CNN last night with Erin Burnett and said that she feels pretty certain that Biden is going to get the endorsement of the union. Do you feel the same way?

O'BRIEN: Look, we've got a lot of due diligence to do with our members. We got 1.3 million members and their input is very important and, you know, unfortunately that vice president doesn't represent any members, and it seems they want to rush the process. Our members deserve the respect to have input on who they want leading this country moving forward.

BOLDUAN: What is the most important issue for the union and your members right now when it comes to the candidate you eventually endorsed?

O'BRIEN: We have a lot of lot of issues out there. You know, one of the biggest issues we have is, you know, this national right to work push, which we don't support. We want to pass the Pro Act, so it makes it easy to organize new members and get our first collective bargaining agreement. And we need to revamp bankruptcy law reform in this country.

BOLDUAN: And I know that you're not going to talk about the same due diligence and members deserve the respect to hear more from the candidates before you endorse. The union has endorsed against Donald Trump twice in past elections. What would he have to do to change that this third go round?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think any candidate that's looking for our endorsement has to support all of our issues. We brought in every single presidential candidate and asked them the exact same questions. And if they want are endorsement, they've got to support a fight against national right to work. They got to support a pro act. They going to support bankruptcy law reform. They're going to support all of our issues or else they will not get the endorsement.

And, you know, in the past, you know, it's been a given that, you know, we've always gone with a candidate, a Democratic candidate, and Joe Biden has done a lot for the unions. He has done a lot for pensions. But, you know, what we've done in the past doesn't dictate where we're going in the future with any candidates. So we've got to be -- this is going to be our toughest decision. It's going to be our most important decision. And it can't be rushed.

BOLDUAN: Joe Biden calls himself the most pro-union president ever. Why is the decision, this decision this election the most important do you think for you guys? What's different?

O'BRIEN: Well, we've got -- Teamsters have a very diverse membership. I mean, we don't only have Democrats member or Democratic members, we have independents, we have Republicans, and look, society has changed a whole lot since 10 years ago and, you know, we want to make sure that whoever we pick, if we pick someone, has our core mission and our values and our strategy moving forward on how we're going to be successful.

Look, the unions built this middle-class and we want to make sure that we're respected and also we have a voice.

BOLDUAN: Sean, let me ask you. For President Biden, the Teamsters' endorsement, it really is seen as having an outsized impact in key battleground states, Wisconsin for one, Michigan, Pennsylvania, among others. Do you agree with that analysis? Do you think the Teamsters' endorsement could decide whether Joe Biden wins in those states or not?

O'BRIEN: I definitely think our endorsement is crucial. We've proven in our UPS campaigns, contract fight, Anheuser-Busch, our members vote, our members get out there and our members will support, you know, the candidate.