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Judge Dismisses Six Counts Against Trump And Co-Defendants; This Morning: SpaceX Plans To Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket; Elon Musk To Don Lemon: "I Don't Have To Answer These Questions. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 14, 2024 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, a new project in the works to build a full-scale replica of the Titanic. The Australian billionaire behind the project is calling it Titanic II -- creative. Why is he doing this? He told CNN it's a lot more fun to do the Titanic than it is to sit at home and count my money. Similar plans were announced in 2012 and 2018, but none became a reality. Never let go, billionaire -- never let go.

The governor of Massachusetts is taking execution action to pardon all convictions for simple marijuana possession. It comes after President Biden took similar action on federal offenses in 2022. It still needs to be approved by the governor's council, a strange body in Massachusetts. Massachusetts residents voted to decriminalize the possession of marijuana back in 2008 and legalize recreational cannabis in 2016.

This morning, actress Olivia Munn is crediting an online tool with saving her life. The 43-year-old says her doctor used the tool to calculate her breast cancer risk score. Her score warranted more testing, leading to her diagnosis of luminal B, an aggressive form of breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and is recovering well. The calculating tool is available online for anyone to use -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, there are a lot of people holding their breath this morning as they wait for a decision out of Fulton County, Georgia that could fundamentally impact both Trump's legal future and also election future at the same time.

The decision of if the Fulton County D.A. leading the criminal case against Trump in Georgia will be disqualified from handling the case. And the presiding judge has promised his decision will come by week's end.

We know Trump and several co-defendants want her removed over allegations that she benefited financially from a romantic relationship with the lead prosecutor on this case. The D.A. says that never happened. And even before that, Trump is facing fewer charges in Georgia now

after the judge tossed out six charges, including three against Trump.

Let's talk about this. Joining us right now is CNN legal analyst and former U.S. attorney Michael Moore.

Let's talk about dropping these charges. Dropping any charges at this point, Michael, does what to the strength of the case against Trump?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, PARTNER, MOORE HALL, LLC, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY (via Webex by Cisco): Well, good morning. I'm glad to be with you.

This -- the motion that was filed by the defense is called a demur. And what that is is simply a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the indictment. It is standard in almost every criminal case. There is nothing particularly unique about this.

And what it does is it asks the court to look at the indictment and find out if it sufficiently puts a defendant on notice. And so they challenged whether or not here the charges dealing with solicitation to get someone to commit a violation of their oath -- whether or not those counts were laid out with enough specificity to move forward, and the judge said they were not.

Now, it is -- it has nothing to do -- and this is probably the most important line. It does not dismiss the whole case. And, in fact, the D.A. has the opportunity to come back and reindict on those charges. To bring a new indictment cleaning up what the judge said wasn't correct. And he also put in a footnote if the D.A. disagrees with his decision he would likely agree to let them appeal in the interim.


So it's a speed bump. It's probably a little bit of an embarrassment to the district attorney's office but it is not fatal to this case. So the case will move forward. The question will be whether or not they try to reindict and put the six counts back in or if they move forward with these -- with six counts fewer.

BOLDUAN: I'm curious if you -- how you would advise on this. Because when you hear resubmit or seek an appeal, that sounds like that sucks up time necessarily, obviously.

MOORE: Yeah.

BOLDUAN: So, the right way.

What would you advise?

MOORE: Well, I think that the conduct at issue is spelled out in the RICO charge. That's the most significant in the conspiracy count that remains in the indictment. So the conduct is still there. And I would just tell them to move ahead. Just keep going.

This indictment was probably a little fat to start with, so trimming it up was not a bad -- not a bad outcome. It takes a little bit of burden off the state. It removes some appeal issues. And frankly, you could have moved forward in this case with a much more truncated type of -- type of indictment and criminal charges.

So moving ahead is not going to hurt him. It's not going to change the ultimate outcome at all. It just simply is these six kind of technical counts have now been removed.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about what -- the kind of pending decision from the judge on whether or not Fani Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, will remain the lead -- will remain overseeing and running this case against Trump and others.

If Fani Willis gets dismissed what happens? Does the case go to another county? And I even wonder what is the significance of where the case would then land.

MOORE: Yeah. Georgia has what's called a prosecution -- prosecuting attorney's council and that council at the head of that agency -- they would find a district attorney who would be willing to accept the case. So they would basically become special prosecutors if you will, or specially-appointed D.A.s for Fulton County for this particular matter to move the case forward.

But remember that if that happens every decision about the case then rests with that new prosecutor -- that new district attorney that's brought in. So he or she may say well, you know, we're moving forward just like we have. She may also say you know something? I just have looked at it and I don't think this is appropriate, and I'm going to end the prosecution of the case. So a lot of discretion moves forward if that happens.

Now, I do think it's likely that this case will not be heard this year, and I think the judge signaled that in this very recent order he -- when he talked about the ability to appeal.

And I also think the further we get into the calendar with all these things that have been happening and these speed bumps that the state has been running into that it's a pretty clear indication that we won't get there before the election. And I also think that if there's a new prosecutor appointed there's no possible way to get the trial on the books and in the courtroom before the election.

BOLDUAN: All right, we'll see. We could get some answers to this -- some of this even today.

It's good to see you, Michael. Thank you -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Happening now, we are standing by for a highly anticipated SpaceX rocket launch this morning. The window open shortly and the weather looks good. This will be the third test flight for the company's giant starship rocket after two previous attempts ended in flames. They need this ship to stop blowing up as part of their mission to put humans on Mars.

CNN's space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher is with us this morning watching and waiting for this launch, which they really need to work, Kristin.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: They do. And NASA is certainly watching this one, too, because, of course, Starship absolutely critical to NASA's Artemis program to return American astronauts to the surface of the moon since the Apollo program.

So, John, what we're hearing right now is that the weather is about 70 percent favorable for launch. They're dealing with some slightly higher-than-normal winds and some fog down in Boca Chica, Texas, which is right on the border with Mexico there.

But if all goes according to plan, Starship is going to lift off at about 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time this morning. And then what you'll see is the super-heavy booster and the Starship rocket on top -- they should separate. That should happen at a successful hot-stage separation. And then the booster should splash down fairly gently in the Gulf of Mexico while the Starship rocket on top should reach orbital speeds and then splash down in the Indian Ocean.

And, John, that is different from what we have seen in the previous two Starship flight tests. It was supposed to splash down in Hawaii -- of the coast of Hawaii. This one different in the Indian Ocean.

And that's part of the reason for this delay, John, in the FAA license. They were doing an environmental assessment on the impact of a Starship splashdown in the Indian Ocean. And so, SpaceX only got its launch license yesterday evening --



FISHER: -- at about 5:00 p.m. So they've turned this around quite quickly.

But so far, all systems go for launch and, John, we're looking at liftoff in just under an hour now.

BERMAN: All right, fingers crossed. So, yeah, they want this to end in different oceans. They also want this to end not in flames like the previous two. Watching it very closely.

Kristin, thank you very much -- Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The White House is now urging the Senate to take swift action on the bill that could end up banning TikTok nationwide, but Senate leaders remain uncommitted on if and when they might do that. The House quickly passed it yesterday with huge bipartisan support.

The bill would force TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance to sell it or the app would become illegal to download in the United States. This all stems from concerns the Chinese government could use TikTok to spy on Americans and spread disinformation.

Joining me now is CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller.

What exactly is the government worried about when it comes to TikTok and its influence?

JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, two things. The first thing is the amount of data they collect on users and where that goes. So the name, date of birth, browsing history. What videos you look at. What videos you share. What videos you post. Who your contacts are, browsing history.

But TikTok has also been accused of keylogging, which is following what --


MILLER: -- you're putting in the keyboard, which could lead to passwords, personal messages, and so on.

Now, TikTok testified in Congress that they only do that to seek our robots to debugging. But you can't know for sure because it's a Chinese company.

The second thing is what they do with that information when the Chinese government, from an intelligence standpoint -- a hostile foreign power wants it. And the problem there is they may represent that we're not a government agency. We don't share that.

But there's a 2017 law in China that says, and I quote now, "All organizations and citizens shall support a system and cooperate with the national intelligence efforts" meaning if the government asks for a flow of data -- all of it or some of it, or one individual person -- the answer no from a company is not an option.

SIDNER: Right. The law says otherwise. They have to comply or face consequences.

I do want to ask you though when it comes to sort of the gathering of information and misinformation -- I know that's been thrown out there as well -- I mean, what's the big difference between Google, Facebook and what we saw them do, especially during election time, and how they collect information from Americans?

MILLER: And how they share it --


MILLER: -- and sell it, and everything else.

And the big difference is that last point, which is if the U.S. government wants that information -- people in America have this two- tiered system of suspicion. One, if their credit card, their bank, their internet provider is collecting all that information they have a much lower threshold for well, that's OK. I signed the user agreement.

SIDNER: Right.

MILLER: When the government wants it, that threshold goes up. Why? Who said? What's it for? Again, in China, that's not an option.

But I think if you look at it in the bigger picture -- and this is really important to consider -- let's just not look at TikTok in a vacuum. Look at the activities of the Chinese government and its intelligence services.

In 2014, they hacked the U.S. government's Office of Personnel Management. They stole 4.2 million sets of data, including the records of every government employee with a security clearance from secret to top secret to higher. Now, that is a gold mine of information.

Then they allegedly hacked the Anthem health provider records --

SIDNER: Yikes. I remember that.

MILLER: -- and got 7.2 million records, which gave them a baseline of government employees -- which Anthem did health for the federal government -- that they could use to compare those records -- correlate them. Make sure that they had the right people when they were doing a profile.

Imagine the U.S. intelligence asset -- a CIA agent, an intelligence officer arriving in China, putting down a passport, and a red light goes on to the Chinese intelligence services. Here's who comes in. This person has a security clearance. We have correlated and disambiguated his record. Here's his entire life story.

And then add into that here's his browsing history. Here's his TikTok history. Here's his keystrokes.

They're digging and digging and digging. Remember, there is this Volt Typhoon program that China is running, which is literally hacking into government critical infrastructure across the country.

SIDNER: It's terrifying.

MILLER: So when it comes to collecting information and using it for purposes that we wouldn't like, this is a full-time occupation for the Chinese government -- and TikTok, as a private company, is a potential vulnerability there.

SIDNER: And there is a key difference in the United States where the government is not allowed to do that by law -- to just go and start investigating everything that they're doing.

MILLER: They've got to go to a judge --

SIDNER: Right.

MILLER: -- get a warrant --

SIDNER: Right.

MILLER: -- and so on.

SIDNER: There's a whole process. [07:45:00]

John Miller, always fascinating. Thank you so much. That was great.

MILLER: Thanks.


BOLDUAN: So police are asking for help in Nashville -- help to find a college student who has been missing since Friday. The surveillance video that we now have that shows the last time that he was seen.

A new treatment strategy is offering some new hope to patients battling aggressive and hard-to-treat brain cancer.


BERMAN: This morning, a new medical treatment is giving hope to patients living with Glioblastoma, an aggressive, hard-to-treat brain cancer. This is the type of brain cancer that claimed the life of Beau Biden, the president's son, Sen. John McCain, Ted Kennedy. And look, I think we all have friends.


Recent studies show this new treatment called CAR-T cell therapy is causing tumors to completely disappear from brain scans of some patients, at least temporarily.

CNN medical correspondent Meg Tirrell is with us now. Meg, I have to say, of all the stories we're covering today this is the one that caught my attention because as I said, we all do know people who have suffered from this.

MEG TIRRELL, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John. There's a lot of excitement about these findings, although they are early. And as you mentioned, unfortunately, some of these results were temporary but they do show a potential path forward for this technology.

Now, as you mentioned, Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive form of primary brain cancer. It affects about 12,000 people who are newly diagnosed each year in the U.S. and it's very difficult to treat. The median survival right now is about 14 months with current treatment, which involves trying to take out the tumor if you can, radiation, and chemotherapy. But we need better options.

CAR-T is what's known as a living drug. You're actually taking a patient's cells out of their body and then they're getting reprogrammed to express proteins on their surface that help them hone in on cancer better and to better fight cancer. Then you're multiplying those cells and you're giving them back to the patient. So it's actually their own souped-up cells that's trying to fight cancer.

This has been successful for a number of blood cancer. But so far, so- called solid tumors -- things found in the brain or the lung or the breast -- there has not been success with CAR-T there. And so this is a very early-stage study, phase one. We've actually

seen three different early-stage trials just published in the last week.

Tom Fraser is one patient who participated in a trial at Mass General in Massachusetts. That study was published last night in the New England Journal of Medicine. We've got pictures of him and his wife we can share with you.

But also, really excitingly, you can see the pictures of his brain. His tumor was in his brain. He got the CAR-T treatment. Then a couple of days after the treatment they saw that tumor had shrunk by almost 20 percent. Sixty days later it had continued shrinking by 60 percent and continued to improve over six months.

Unfortunately, there were two other patients in this trial. Theirs came back within one and two months.

So there's a lot more work to do here, John, to try to make sure this can last.

BERMAN: Well, talk to me about that work that is ahead. What is next?

TIRRELL: Well, there's a question of whether this can be re-dosed. This was a single injection of this therapy into patients' brain, so can they give it again and will that extend the durability? There are also different ways of maybe giving chemotherapy beforehand to try to increase the durability.

So there's a lot of work being done. And this is phase one. Typically, you've got to go through phase two and even phase three before you get to market, so it's years away. But it does provide hope in this very difficult-to-treat cancer.

BERMAN: Yeah, hope for people who need it. As I said, I think we all know people who have dealt with this.

Meg Tirrell, thank you very much for that -- Sara.

SIDNER: Thank you, John.

A tense interview, then an abrupt about-face. Don Lemon says Elon Musk called off his partnership with X just hours after the two had a 90- minute sit-down interview. The former CNN anchor says there were no restrictions on the interview, which will be on Monday's debut episode of his show on the social media platform.

But when Lemon asked Musk about hate speech this is how it went.


DON LEMON, HOST, THE DON LEMON SHOW, X: Hate speech on the platform is up. Do you believe that X and you have some responsibility to moderate hate speech on the platform? That you wouldn't have to answer these questions from reporters about the great replacement theory --

ELON MUSK, OWNER OF X: I don't have to answer questions --

LEMON: -- great replacement theory as it relates to Jewish people? Do you think that?

MUSK: I don't have to answer questions from reporters. Don, the only reason I'm doing this interview is because you're on the X platform, and you asked for it. Otherwise, I would not do interview -- this interview.

LEMON: So you don't think -- do you think that you wouldn't get in trouble or you wouldn't be criticized for these things or that there --

MUSK: I'm criticized constantly. I could care less.


SIDNER: That was just one of the many tense moments during the wide- ranging interview.

I'm joined now by NPR Television critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Thank you for being here this morning.

You know, you heard Elon Musk say, "I'm criticized constantly. I could care less." And then after being asked tough questions by Don Lemon, he literally cancels Don.

What does this tell you about how Musk really feels about free speech and openness?

ERIC DEGGANS, NPR TELEVISION CRITIC, MEDIA ANALYST (via Webex by Cisco): Surprise, surprise. He's a hypocrite.

So, I mean, we've seen this from Elon Musk since he bought Twitter and sort of took it over. It seems as if his talk about free speech is really just a mask. It's -- he seems to want license to elevate toxic content that normally people would be heavily criticized for supporting and elevating. He does not want to be criticized for supporting and elevating his content.


And clearly -- you know, even when Don asked perfectly reasonable questions about what kind of content has been elevated since he took over the platform, he reacted negatively and seemingly canceled his deal with Don after the interview was over.

So, of course, he's been a hypocrite a couple of times he's been running Twitter on this free speech issue of free speech. It's about him wanting license to do whatever he wants without pushback or without criticism, and that's just not going to happen in a free society.

SIDNER: Yeah. Don really made a lot of news with this. He spoke to our Erin Burnett last night. Here's what he said about his sort of takeaway from his long interview. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: During the course of that interview I never -- I never raised my voice. I told him, you know, I think this is important for people to hear, especially considering how -- the type of discourse that we're having in the country right now. And he supposedly says this is a public square for all. Maybe we're learning that a public square should not be privately owned by someone who doesn't think that there should be any moderation on that platform.


SIDNER: What do you -- what do you think about that argument that maybe the public square should not be privately owned?

DEGGANS: Well, one of the -- unfortunately, one of the things that we're seeing is that government has tied itself in knots through partisanship and gerrymandering and the rest of it. So I'm not sure that we would get a much better result if it was owned by the government or owned by the public in that way.

But certainly, what we're seeing is the complications and problems that result from single individual people having so much power. Not just Elon Musk but Mark Zuckerberg and his control of Facebook. Amazon and the way it has dominated retail, and Jeff Bezos.

We have -- you know, Kara Swisher has a great book out now -- the tech journalist -- called "Burn Book." And she talks extensively about the problem with having single people have so much power over communications and business in society.

And this thing with Don and Elon Musk may feel like a tempest in a teapot but it is emblematic of the idea that a single person can get upset and suddenly remove someone from a communications service that reaches so many people.

And the thing that's odd about this situation is that Don is still going to put his show on X. The company may not support it in the way that they had agreed to and, of course, they're going to argue about whether or not Don is going to get paid what they had agreed to pay him, but it's still going to be out there. It's still going to be on YouTube. It's still going to be on other social media platforms.

It may not be elevated on X but we are talking it now in a way that we probably wouldn't have talked about it if Elon Musk had just kept his mouth shut and let the interview go. So, in an odd way, Don is getting a lot more publicity out of this than he would have gotten if Elon Musk had just played ball and acted like a regular interview subject.

SIDNER: It's really interesting and there's a lot of shenanigans that seem to be going on, but we'll see how that all plays out. Certainly, the interview will be out there so I'm sure a lot of folks will be watching that.

Eric Deggans, thank you so much for coming on. Appreciate it -- Kate. BOLDUAN: So, police in Nashville are asking for help as they are searching for a college student who has been missing since Friday. Riley Strain was last seen in the city's Broadway district and there is now this security camera footage that has been released showing him stumbling down the street minutes before he disappeared.

His stepfather told a CNN affiliate that Strain was trying to settle his tab when he then got kicked out of a bar.

CNN's Ryan Young is following all of this for us and he's joining us now. Ryan, what is the very latest?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, so many questions about this, Kate. Of course, that surveillance video will probably be a key because you know all up and down Broadway there are those surveillance cameras. So you can kind of track this young man as he walks down the street. Not sure how much video police have. We do know he went missing around 9:52.

They've been trying to search with a helicopter. They put boats in the water to try to see if they could see anything on the shoreline. And beyond that, they've done a lot of canvassing.

And you talk about it. He went to a bar with a group of friends and then got kicked out. And since then, everyone's been trying to ping this young man. One thing that stands out, he's six-five and has that thin build. Has blue eyes. So police are hoping all this extra attention helps them sort of gather more information.

But listen to his heartbroken stepfather talk about this search for this missing young man.


CHRIS WHITEID, RILEY STRAIN'S STEPFATHER: This is definitely the worst nightmare. Riley talks to us, whether it's me or to his mom. He talks to his mom three or four times a day. I mean, it's -- for him to go this long without talking is not normal by any means.


RYAN: Yeah. The University of Missouri put out a statement that says, "Our thoughts are with the Riley family as this search continues. We are offering any support that we can provide them."