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Tornadoes Devastate Parts of Indiana and Ohio; At Least 38 People Injured and Numerous Homes Destroyed in Randolph County, Indiana, Due to Tornadoes; At Least Three People Reported Dead in Logan County, Ohio, Due to Tornadoes; Any Moment: Judge to Rule on Whether to Disqualify DA Fani Willis; UN Draft Resolution: Truce Should Lead to Sustainable Ceasefire. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 08:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Reminder to keep your seatbelt on when you are seated on a flight, because you just never know with all the turbulence. And then you have this issue. We heard from a passenger who said that when they asked the pilot what happened as they were leaving, that he said that the controls just went blank. Is that something that could happen with this when you are pushed into the control panel?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Investigators I've talked to don't know what to make of that one, and I don't think that is being actively pursued as a top issue potentially in all this. That might have been something that kind of got put through the rumor mill in the wake of something like this. So we'll see. I find that particular issue, the blackening of the entire panel as related to this, to be hard to figure out. So I'm going to put that in the category of a kind of a bad piece of data that came out of the wake of this.

SIDNER: And Miles, you showed us, we have this picture next to you, showing how it works with the seat going forward. It seems like it's going slow -- there it is. It seems like it's going quite slow, but you're saying he was turned sideways, trying to get trying to get the meal, and his legs are crossing, and so he then gets pushed into it. I mean, it's fascinating to see what little can happen to cause a plane to nosedive. So again, seatbelts always, that's what I learned from this. Right?

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Now, in the past there have been situations where drinks have spilled on consoles shutting down engines, cameras have gotten stuck in seats causing nose dives as well. I think we can safely say when you're in a flight deck, in a cockpit, you should move rather gingerly. Theres a lot of buttons there and you just don't know which one might cause trouble. That kind of, hey, watch this. That's a bad idea.

SIDNER: Miles O'Brien, it's always a pleasure to see you. Thank you.

The next hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts right now. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Deadly tornadoes in the Midwest ripping

through parts of Indiana and Ohio. At least two people have been killed, dozens hurt, and rescue crews are searching for survivors right now.

An attack in Gaza, the Hamas-run Palestinian health ministry claims 20 people were killed waiting for food.

And we are standing by for a major ruling and Fulton County, Georgia. The judge could announce at any time whether or not a D.A. Fani Willis will remain in charge of the election subversion case against Donald Trump.

I'm Kate Baldwin with Sara Sidner and John Berman. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SIDNER: Breaking overnight, deadly and disastrous multiple large tornadoes tearing through towns across several states in the Midwest, destroying homes, and leaving at least two people dead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my gosh, that's a -- there's one coming right at us.


SIDNER: That's a monster of a tornado. Right now, as daylight breaks, the urgent search for survivors has begun. Officials fear many people maybe trapped in the piles of debris that used to be their homes. First responders are now going door to door, digging through what is left. This is video from Winchester, Indiana, one of the worst hit towns. More than three dozen people were injured there, and one official says several buildings have completely collapsed.

That's where we find our Whitney Wild. She is joining us now. Whitney, we have been told two people have been killed. What can you tell us about injuries and fatalities and what those numbers look like as daybreak happens, there.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Sara, here in Winchester, in Randolph County, rather, Indiana, 38 people are injured. The destruction here is just so shocking. I'm going to take you on a walk around of this area. This is between a Goodwill and a Walmart here in Winchester. This is a Jeep Laredo flipped over and crushed like a soda can. If you take a look behind me here, you see so much debris spread across this parking lot. This is a Traverse, a midsize SUV. The windows are almost completely blown out except for the windshield just from the sheer force of this storm, so much debris landing basically direct directly on that car.

And then let me show you something else here. This is a backed security door. This is a heavy metal door. I'm lifting as hard as I can and I can barely move it a centimeter. That is how powerful this storm has been.

And then finally, I'll take you over here and you see this this larger SUV with a wood pole just shot right through the windshield.


This debris and this damage spreads across the street here at Winchester. We'll take a look over here as well, where you can see the length of the damage here. And then we'll go to the mast cam, which is a camera we have on our live truck. And it's really, Sara, from the air where you can see the sheer scope of the damage. It goes on for blocks here. Again, 38 people injured here. Here in Indiana, the latest data we have is that 5,000 people and businesses, 5,000 homes and businesses are without power, 20,000 in Ohio, were there was additional fatalities and destruction there as well.

Here in Indiana state police are now working with cruise here because this is very much a rescue mission at this point. Here's what state superintendent, state police superintendent Doug Carter said.


SUPERINTENDENT DOUG CARTER, INDIANA STATE POLICE: Governor Holcomb has approved to activate task force one. So they are on their way here now. And as you know, there's nobody better on the planet at doing this kind of work than that group of incredible people. So they will be on site here supporting the city and supporting Randolph County for an undetermined period of time. But I've got that they'll stay -- I know they'll stay until the work is done and every single individual and person is accounted for.


WILD: And Sara, I'll leave you with a data point here. Radar from the counties that were affected by this supercell storm system that just ripped basically from Texas to western Pennsylvania, in this area where the counties were most affected, radar data shows that some of this debris was tossed up to 15,000 feet in the air, Sara.

SIDNER: Wow, you showing us that door and how heavy it was and that it was just thrown about, incredible pictures there. Whitney Wild, thank you so much. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: With us now from Logan County, Ohio, Sheriff Randall Dodds. Sheriff, thank you so much for being with us. Let me just ask you right at the beginning, what are you hearing in terms of fatalities, where you are?

SHERIFF RANDALL DODDS, LOGAN COUNTY, OHIO: I can confirm right now that we have three, as of right now.

BERMAN: Three fatalities in Logan County, Ohio. And I know you have been bringing in cadaver dogs to help with the search and rescue. Do you anticipate that over the course of the morning as the sun continues to rise, light comes up, that that number could increase?

DODDS: Unfortunately, I do, yes. We've got many homes that have been completely collapse and we're going to have to have some heavy equipment to remove the debris just so that we can conduct a search.

BERMAN: And as I said, it is now just getting light there. What are you seeing in terms of damage?

DODDS: I can best describe it as a bomb going off. And I -- the damage I saw from last night, so as daylight now is here, we're going to be able to appreciate the damage much more. But unbelievable damage. I guess I can't describe it any more than just like an explosion.

BERMAN: What's the biggest need this morning?

DODDS: Right now, we are teaming together you go into more detailed serves. Like you said, we're bringing cadaver dogs in. We're going to team up in teams. We've already searched a lot of areas, but we need to go back in, so we're going to team up with cadaver dogs, fire and EMS and law enforcement, and, again, go door to door, so to speak.

Prayers is what we really need, more right now, prayers, absolutely prayers. I'm sure that as time goes on here, there's going to be people here that are going to have all kinds of needs. They may even have lost their homes. They lost everything.

BERMAN: What are you hearing in terms of number of homes lost, and also maybe numbers of injured?

DODDS: I can't really give you any of those numbers. Numerous people were injured. I don't know how many. We don't have a count on that. And the homes that are destroyed, I couldn't begin to count how many. This is devastation.

BERMAN: Devastation. Sheriff Randall Dodds, three dead so far in Logan County. It's going to be a difficult morning. We know you have a lot of work to do. We really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us this morning. We're thinking about you.

DODDS: Thank you.


BOLDUAN: And anytime you hear that they're going to be bringing in cadaver dogs, that's always a saddening thought as they continue to try to work through this.

Coming up for us, police kill a teenage boy with autism who was holding a gardening tool at the time. Now his parents are demanding accountability.

And new details on the sentencing to come for James and Jennifer Crumbley, they are now the first parents in the country to be held criminally responsible for the deaths caused by their child in a mass shooting.


And today, the Biden administration will hold its first event on marijuana reform after President Biden named it as a priority during his State of the Union address.


SIDNER: Any moment we are expecting a monumental ruling in Georgia from a judge overseeing Donald Trump's election subversion case in that state. The big question is, will he disqualify Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis over financial misconduct allegations? The judge says he expects the answer to that question should come today, and he promised politics will not be a factor in his decision.

With me now to discuss, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig and former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here.


Elie, I am starting with you.

If DA Fani Willis is disqualified from this case in Georgia, is the case essentially over?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It is pretty close to that if she is disqualified, big if, we will find out in a moment.

Here is what happens if she is disqualified under Georgia Law, because she is the DA, the office essentially is her, it all acts under her authority. So the entire case would then be sent to this independent body of prosecutors. They would have to decide what to do with the case.

They could just let it sort of die on the vine, they could reassign and it to another county in Georgia. But the problem is that's going to take a long time and we know that because Fani Willis was disqualified off of a piece of this case, a couple of years ago where she had a political conflict of interest. That piece of the case is still sitting with that independent committee two years later.

SIDNER: So the entire office cannot try the case. It is not like you can go to some other attorney in the case.

HONIG: Right. Exactly.

SIDNER: So if she is not disqualified, let's just go ahead as planned, like nothing happened?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: It can go ahead as planned. Also, the judge could say we want some oversight. It can be referred because of potential ethical violations to the Georgia Bar. So it can go forward and go forward in the regular trajectory because she will still be in control, she will still run that case.

But there is certainly going to be a sideshow. It is certainly going to be something that Donald Trump and we will call it the Trump co- defendants will seize on and push this witch hunt narrative and no matter where it goes for him, it is kind of a win because look, even the judge didn't hear the law, the judge is allowing this to happen.

Alternatively, if he does win and she is off the case and as Elie said, it works really well for him.

SIDNER: For him, public relation win, even if it is a legal loss.

SALAND: Yes, I think so.


Elie, what are the -- what is the main legal question that needs to be answered by the judge here to make his decision.

HONIG: There is so much drama around this thing, right?

SIDNER: Really.

HONIG: Here is what it really comes down to. First of all, the judge has to decide, is he going to use an appearance of a conflict standard which is much lower? Could the public reasonably perceive there to be some conflict or the higher tougher standard, which is an actual conflict of interest?

If he uses the higher standard, the defendants, Trump and the other co-defendants have the burden. They have to show that there is some financial conflict of interest, but I want to make this point, it is really important.

They do not have to demonstrate that this was some grand scheme by Fani Willis and she only brought this case because she was hoping to get a couple thousand bucks for vacation. Even if she is getting some sort of incidental financial benefit or unintended financial benefit, that can be enough.

SIDNER: I want to go to just remind people of Fani Willis who took the stand in this case. This is her on the stand defiantly responding to a question.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Youve been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're confused. You think I'm on trial.

These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.


SIDNER: Jeremy, isn't she on trial, though? I mean, in this case, it is not a criminal case, but they are looking into whether or not she can perform her duties?

SALAND: And she had to have a little bit of a performance there as well for the cameras and she is certainly fighting for her political life and she is fighting for her life in terms of this criminal case. SIDNER: Yes.

SALAND: So when you use the term "trial," I mean, she is not literally on trial like the Trump defendants.

SIDNER: Right.

SALAND: But she is no doubt the subject of this investigation internally, and now before a judge to say is there a conflict actual or is it the appearance? In either way, what happens next to this case?

So, it is a trial in the figurative sense, but it is a trial also for her personally.

SIDNER: All right, I want to ask you, I want to go to another soundbite where she is out -- the case is going on. She goes to a congregation and she speaks to the congregation about the case.

Here is what she said.


WILLIS: I hired one White man, brilliant, my friend, and a great lawyer; and I hired one Black man, another superstar, a great friend and a great lawyer.

First thing they say, oh, she is going to play the race card now.


SIDNER: All right, could what she said here, since it is happening while the judge, the case was going on, could what she said outside of the court and what she said here play a role in the judge's decision.

HONIG: I think it is a real issue. I think those comments were wildly inappropriate. They violate any prosecutorial ethics.

If you look at the Georgia Code, it says, no prosecutor should ever make a public statement that might inflame or influence a potential jury pool.

So here she is, obviously outside of court. The defendants have just filed the motion...

SIDNER: Right.

HONIG: ... that led to all this, and they've said that her hiring of Nathan Wade is sort of caught up in the conflict of interest, and she makes those statements in a church with the cameras rolling and her defense is, I wasn't talking about the defendants, they, I was talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene, which is a tough one to accept.

I mean, look, every single media organization, including CNN and every I think sane thinking person saw that and said its obvious she means the defendants. No one thought it meant Marjorie Taylor Greene. [08:20:08]

I actually think in some ways that is a cleaner case for disqualification than all of this financial stuff.

SIDNER: Jeremy, you're shaking your head.

SALAND: Yes, I'm in agreement and I think that a field prosecutor is going to take a lesson from Jack Smith, and that means, both special prosecutors and state prosecutors. You know, stick to the four corners of your indictments, stick to the four corners of your case, stick to the four corners of the courtroom.

This is not a spectacle before the TV because you lose people, you lose potential people who are going to be on that jury, and you lose trust in the public and our public loses that trust.

So I completely agree. This shouldn't have happened and, you know, was it egregious? I don't know, but it is certainly significant.

SIDNER: Something the judge could look at.

Elie Honig, thank you so much. Jeremy Saland, you as well -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So civilians in Gaza killed while waiting for food and now conflicting reports this morning on what happened and who is to blame?

People in Russia, they're voting right now in Russia, but this event is merely a formality, as Vladimir Putin looks to secure a fifth term in power.



SIDNER: Within the past hour, a new US-led draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council said that the truce should lead to a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, and a diplomatic source is telling CNN, ceasefire negotiations are moving in a positive direction now, but this comes as a new round of attacks in Gaza left 20 people dead and 155 people hurt while they were desperately waiting for food. The death toll is expected to rise.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining us now.

Jeremy, first of all, explain what happened in this attack while people were waiting for food and whether or not this is going to affect aid going forward.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is no doubt that aid distribution has been a major challenge in Northern Gaza because of the desperation of people, but also because we've seen a number of deadly incidents surrounding this aid distribution, and this is certainly among the most tragic that we have seen so far. The Palestinian Ministry of Health saying that 20 people were killed

and 155 wounded, they say that this attack was carried out by the Israeli military. They blame Israeli shelling for the death toll here, but Israel is denying having targeted this aid distribution point in Northern Gaza.

They say instead that it was Palestinian gunmen who opened fire on this aid distribution point about an hour before an aid convoy was set to roll through.

They said that the gunfire continued as that convoy arrived and as crowds of desperate people began looting those trucks. They also say that they carried out an initial review that showed that no Israeli tank fire, airstrikes or gunfire were carried out there.

But the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as well as eyewitnesses on the ground tell a very different story. People on the ground tell us that they heard what sounded like tank or artillery shelling and certainly the images on the ground of the destruction indicates something far more serious, far more deadly than simply gunfire with rubble all around, dust covering bodies, pools of blood, and many people obviously killed and wounded in this attack.

What is clear though, is that all of this is amplified and made worse by the desperate humanitarian situation, particularly in Northern Gaza and as we look for some kind of relief for that humanitarian situation, the entry of much, much more aid which could only be provided by a temporary ceasefire, we are now getting indications that things are trending, at least in a positive direction with Hamas apparently submitting a latest counterproposal that has at least one US official cautiously optimistic.

The Israeli War Cabinet, we are told, Sara, is set to review that latest proposal today.

SIDNER: For so many, the ceasefire could not come soon enough.

Thank you so much. Jeremy Diamond there live for us from Jerusalem -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A tragedy in seven seconds, a teenager killed by police. What led to the deadly confrontation? And what might have prevented it.