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Trump's Pick Wins in Ohio; Trump Signals Support on Abortion Ban; NCAA Tournament Kicked Off with Big Wins; Accessing Princess Kate's Medical Records; Warning of Cyberattacks on Water Systems. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 20, 2024 - 08:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the candidate the both Donald Trump and Democrats wanted to win in Ohio won the Republican Senate primary. So, while Trump has to be happy about that, one in five Republican voters voted against Trump in several of the primaries overnight, including Ohio. And compare that to President Biden, one in ten Democrats voted against the current president.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Columbus, Ohio, with the results of this really closely watched Senate contest.



The premier battle for the control of the Senate is now set with Bernie Moreno riding Donald Trump's endorsement to a very strong victory here in Ohio yesterday. So now he will take on Senator Sherrod Brown.

Yes, there was a hangover effect, if you will, from some non-Trump voters, but that certainly was not nearly enough for his chief rival, Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians, to win over Bernie Moreno, who's a Cleveland businessman.

So, there is no doubt, John, this is going to be one of the most expensive and most important races for control of the Senate in November.

But you said Democrats also got their man. That is true. A super PAC with the links to Senator Chuck Schumer was promoting the candidacy of Bernie Moreno, spending some $3 million boosting him. They believe he is the easier candidate to beat in the fall.

So, this game of three-dimensional chess, if you will, playing out yesterday.

But last night, at a victory speech in Cleveland, Bernie Moreno said he's going to make this race all about Joe Biden.



BERNIE MORENO (R), PROJECTED OHIO PRIMARY WINNER: Under Joe Biden everything is objectively worse. Here's what I wonder. I wonder whether Sherrod Brown is good aware with honor his 99 percent voting record with Joe Biden. Whether Joe Biden is the kind of person that he likes to associate with. Because I will predict this, if Joe Biden enters Ohio, Sherrod Brown is going to fly out of here like a scared cat.


ZELENY: So, unclear if there will be any animals in his race.

But one thing is clear, this race, of course, will be a referendum on the Biden administration and perhaps the Trump administration and Trump record as well.

But, John, Ohio is not exactly the presidential battleground it once was, that for years we spent so much time, you and I here covering this, but it will be a Senate battleground. And the challenge for Sherrod Brown is, can he outrun and outperform Joe Biden? That's a key question that we'll have answered in the coming months.


BERMAN: Yes, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat that has survived quite a long time in a state that is getting increasingly red.

Jeff Zeleny, our thanks to you. Appreciate it.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump says he is inclined to support some form of a federal abortion ban. The way he put it, in a new radio interview, is he's thinking about something in the realm of a 15-week national abortion ban.

Now, CNN's Alayna Treene has much more on this and she's joining us.

It's - you don't have to - you know, you don't have to explain how important the issue of abortion is to this election, how important the question of any federal abortion ban is to this election into so many people's lives. But where is this coming from?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, there's a few things here, Kate. One is that Donald Trump is kind of test driving this messaging, right? He's putting up feelers to see how this resonates. And some of this is coming from conversations he's been having with people who advise him on this issue. That includes Marjorie Dannenfelser. She's the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-life, as well as Senator Lindsey Graham, both people who have been talking to Donald Trump about this for over a year now. But look, this language that Donald Trump is using in these interviews

isn't entirely new. For the past year he's been talking about, you know, I've been hearing 15 weeks, I've been hearing 16 weeks. He's been very vague in that language.

What is new, though, is that he's starting to say this more in public now and he's saying this in media interviews.

And I do want you to just take a listen to how he put it yesterday during that radio interview.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The number of weeks now, people are agreeing on 15, and I'm thinking in terms of that. And it will come out to something that's very reasonable. But people are really - even hard-liners are agreeing, seems to be 15 weeks, seems to be a number that people are agreeing at. But I'll make that announcement at the appropriate time.

TREENE: Now, Kate, I have been discussing this with many of Donald Trump's senior advisers, including and - as - or as late as last night that I spoke with some of his team about this. They insist in our conversations that there is no, at least from the campaign side, some sort of policy rollout or national ban that they're going to be rolling out anytime soon.

And the interesting thing, though, about this is, you know, all throughout the primary there were a lot of people, including some of his own campaign advisers, who thought that he needed to come out with firm language on abortion, especially as some of his Republican primary challengers were making very clear where they stood. But Donald Trump personally brushed off that pressure and argued that he didn't think it was politically helpful. He recognized that it was better to toe the line, try to, you know, throw red meat to the more conservative side of it and tout what he had done by putting conservative justices on the Supreme Court that helped overturn Roe versus Wade, but then also being vague enough that he doesn't alienate key voting blocs that he knew he would need in a general election.

So, it's interesting that we're hearing more of this come out of his own mouth now, even though he is a general election candidate. But again, we're not hearing that any real policy is going to be coming out anytime soon from his campaign.


BOLDUAN: Can he stay in the gray area, in the vagaries, on abortion -- on abortion? We will see.

Great reporting, Alayna. Great to see you.


BERMAN: All right, with us now, former Mitt Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden, and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

Hello to you, both of you. Friends, I haven't seen you in a while.


BERMAN: Kevin, it feels like Donald Trump thinks he's threading a needle here. It there a needle to be threaded when it comes to a ban on abortions after 15 weeks?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO MITT ROMNEY: Well, it's increasingly difficult, I think, to Alayna's reporting, about Donald Trump test driving a 15 or 16 week ban. I think that just underscores how uncomfortable Donald Trump is with the issue and just how much tumult there is right now inside the party when they're trying to find both a legislative and political solution going forward.


This is -- this is not an issue that Donald Trump comes to with a very long history on, in the sense that this is a party that was always driven by the fundamentals on the abortion issue that were driven - that those fundamentals were driven by, you know, a deep belief in the policy, a deep belief in the principle of everything as it related to life, and as well as federalism.

And now it seems like they're, you know, trying to go through a grab bag of what should be our message, what should be our policy going forward. And I think that just is very problematic when you consider the fact that we're eight months away from an election and they've yet to settle on a real - a cohesive message and legislative strategy.

BERMAN: And, Kevin, just very quickly, you spent a lot of time trying to appeal - make Republicans appeal to voters in the suburbs. Is this something that suburban voters, suburban women would buy?

MADDEN: Well, look, we just - we have to look to the 2022 midterms to just to see how important this issue was for many those suburban swing voters who care about this issue. I think what they want to see is clarity. What they want - a lot of those voters want to see is somebody that has - has a position that's on their side. Increasingly we're seeing with the polling that Republicans are sort of at odds with many of these voters on that issue. And many of these voters, independents, even Republican-leaning independents, are starting to align themselves with Democrats. So, it's certainly an issue in those suburban swing areas.

BERMAN: And, Maria, this was an interview Donald Trump did in his own voice where he was talking about a ban after 15 weeks. But I could have seen it being a Democratic press release almost.

CARDONA: Yes, absolutely. And what was interesting about what Donald Trump was saying is, you know, he's always very vague when he talks about what he is trying to land on in terms of policy. He talked about, well, he's hearing from people that this is where they're landing on, 15 weeks. What people? Certainly not women. Certainly not the majority of Americans who agree that this is a personal decision that should be in the hands of women, their families, and their doctors, and that's it. But maybe he doesn't consider women people either.

And so I think that this will continue to be political kryptonite for the Republican Party who doesn't understand that this is not an issue that they should be deciding. It should be an issue that is private, that should be had with women and with their liberties and their freedoms and it's going to give Democrats the ability to continue making the stark contrast between Joe Biden and the Democrats and, frankly, a lot of independents and Republicans to who agree with us that this is something that should be left in the hands of women. Every woman's position and circumstance is different, and it should not be legislated by men.

BERMAN: So, the presidential primaries are effectively over. There's not much left to decide any more. But there are still people voting in these primaries and we're getting results.

And Aaron Blake of "The Washington Post" points out this morning, about one in five voters voted - Republican voters voted against Trump in Florida, Illinois, and Ohio. About one-quarter voted against him in Kansas. This is the Republican presidential contests, Maria. When no one is running against him, is there anything that can be read into that?

CARDONA: Yes, I think that that is something that we have seen throughout the primary process and that is that Donald Trump does have a weakness within his own Republican Party. And I think the problem for him has been up until now is that his campaign and he has focused on gathering the full strength of his MAGA supporters. And there's no question that he has that, right? This is a group of supporters that will never leave him.

But we all know that for the general election, that is not enough. That was what his downfall was in 2020. It is what is going to be his downfall this November as well because he has yet to make the pivot, or to make any kind of argument, to say to the Nikki Haley supporters, to those in the Republican Party who say, and understand how unfit Donald Trump is for office, he is not going to pivot. His language continues to be more chaotic, more crazy than ever.

And so I think those numbers really yell red flags for Donald Trump going into this general election.

BERMAN: Kevin really red flag or just maybe a very pale shade of pink?

MADDEN: Well, it's - yes, it's certainly a challenge.

Look, I think these voters are essentially what I would call like conscientious objectors inside the Republican Party. They've just never been happy with the stamp that Donald Trump has put on the party and so they're showing up to register their sort of dissent there.

But this is - they are this swing voters that are going to make or break whether or not Republicans have control of the Congress or control of the White House in November. [08:45:04]

So, the - it's certainly a charge for the - for the Trump campaign right now is, what are they going to do to get these voters back?

The bigger risk, John, I think, is that some of these voters stay home. Donald Trump can afford to have, you know, 50,000 voters in Georgia or, you know, 25,000 voters that are conscientious objectors, Nikki Haley supporters, in the suburbs of places like Wisconsin and Georgia and Arizona, going to need them to show up on Election Day. And so I think that's why you're going to see this campaign really be a hard negative campaign where each candidate is trying to disqualify the other in order to get those voters to come out and vote for them.

BERMAN: And negative campaign. Imagine that.

MADDEN: Yes, imagine that.

BERMAN: Kevin Madden, Maria Cardona, our thanks to both of you.


CARDONA: Thank you, John.

BOLDUAN: What a fun group of people. And I had to stand by and just watch. I am not jealous.

BERMAN: That's what made it fun.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Not jealous at all.

All right, coming up for us, back-and-forth on the border. Overnight, a controversial Texas immigration law blocked once again just hours after the Supreme Court gave it the green light. We're going to try to work through it all.

And we have the first victory dances of March Madness. You should see John Berman's victory dance. It's something to behold. Why one coach told his team to play like roaches.



BOLDUAN: It is almost 9:00 a.m. Do you know where your bracket is? It's officially the most wonderful and statistically least productive time of the year. March Madness is upon us. So, what happened last night? What comes today? And, of course, then, tomorrow.

CNN's Coy Wire is here.

Coy, who should I put in my Final Four? I'm kidding. What do - what do we need to know?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Auto pick. Auto pick, Kate, that's your secret. BOLDUAN: No. No, no, no.

WIRE: Yes.

The buzzer beaters. The Cinderella stories. One of the greatest sporting events in the world, right?

Last night the men tipped it off. Wagner facing Howard. Wagner overcoming all sorts of adversity. They'd lost four of their last five games but rallied do win their conference title and now found themselves shorthanded. Only seven active players against Howard.

Melvin Council Jr. had 21. Wagner was up 17 at one point, but Howard goes on a 14-2 run. And with only ten seconds ago, they need a three to tie it. No good.

Well, how about another chance? This one is no good either.

One more time. Come on. No. Wagner hanging on for their first NCAA tournament win in school history. Embracing the moment before they will now face number one North Carolina next.

Here they are in the locker room.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big time win, you know, for your careers, man. Like, you know, what - is that the first -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First ever, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And let's go give North Carolina everything we can, all right?


WIRE: All right, next, Colorado State coach Niko Medved said he wanted his team to play like cockroaches. Not only did they find a way to survive, they thrived, getting the school's first tournament win in more than a decade, dominating Virginia, 67-42. At one point Virginia went more than 50 minutes of real time without scoring a single point, 0-19 in that stretch. Colorado State faces number seven Texas next on Thursday.

Two more games tonight on our sister channel, TruTV. Colorado-Boise State at 9:10 Eastern, following Grambling State in their first tourney appearance ever against Montana State. And Grambling coach Dante Jackson says he can't wait to show the nation what his boys can do.


DONTE JACKSON, GRAMBLING STATE HEAD COACH: I always say, you know, when you walk at Grambling, you know you're at a football school. There's just no if, no ands or no buts, like it - you know, but it - I also want people to understand, we play good basketball a Grambling also.

I want to feel like we're - we're - we're making our own basketball history now and we're trying to set the traditional where basketball is going to be great for a long time.


WIRE: And the women's field. Get hyped. Sixty-eight teams, one dream, starting their quest tonight. The women's game has shattered viewership and attendance records all season. First game of the women's tourney, Presbyterian at Sacred Heart. They're fighting for the right to face top seeded South Carolina. Then Columbia facing Vanderbilt. The winter of that one will play Baylor.

And, Kate, the - it's tough to argue that in all of college hoops this season, Caitlin Clark is the biggest star, hands down. Her Iowa will play on Saturday for the first time.

But I have to say, go Stanford, because our fighting Tara VanDerveer, have a chance this year to win at all.

BOLDUAN: I mean, I'm not going to - I'm not going to fight you on that, but, you know, hitting autocorrect for my Final Four is what I'm going to dispute, though, because that's nonsense. That is nonsense.

WIRE: Yes, autocorrect would be a great option, but auto pick. Let's do that one. Auto pick.

BOLDUAN: Oh, yes, I mean auto pick. Well, I - yes, I just need to autocorrect my life. OK. There we go. Let's start there.


WIRE: Good to see you.


All right, new this morning, the U.K. health minister has warned hospital staffers, if they access Princess Kate's medical records without permission, they could be prosecuted. Why is this coming out? Well, there's a report in the British tabloid that claim someone at the hospital allegedly tried to get into the private files of the princess of Wales after her hospitalization in January.

Emily Nash is with us now.

This is something, right? I mean whatever you think about the clear lack of transparency that has surrounded the health issues of not just the princess of Wales, but the king, someone breaking into her private medical records while she's in the hospital receiving treatment, that's alarming.


EMILY NASH, CNN ROYAL COMMENTATOR: John, you're absolutely right. This was when Kate was at her most vulnerable. And here you have someone, you know, acting illegally, essentially, trying to have a look at her private medical records, which are very strictly protected in the U.K., not just for princesses, but for all members of the public, whether you're in an NHS (ph) hospital or in a private facility. And this is something that's been taking incredibly seriously, both by the London clinic, but also the information commissioner in the U.K., and police are now also looking into this.

BOLDUAN: How harsh could the punishment be here? I mean it would - it's - for breaching the medical records of anybody, but especially when you're talking about the - a royal here?

NASH: Well, at the very least it could be a civil claim, you know, for - for the princess if she wants to take that forward. It certainly, I think, would, you know, raise questions about a future employment for whoever's responsible. We understand it's at least one member of staff. But it really speaks to the almost insatiable curiosity and interest that this case has generated. This desire to know and this almost approach of a feeling like we should be told because she's a public figure, when, in fact, she has as much right to privacy as everyone else.

BERMAN: Well, two things can be true here. And I do suspect this will shift a little bit of the focus of the discussion here. There's no one who should ever have their private medical records breached in an illegal or unethical way inside a hospital. In the United States we've got laws, very clear laws, against that.

The other side of that, which isn't related to breaking into the medical records here, is do - does the royal family, who are state officials, depending on how you define it, do they owe the public more of an explanation about the medical conditions of the princess of Wales, and the king for that matter here? And I do wonder if this - these reports of the breach will shift the focus of the discussion.

NASH: Look, I think that absolutely they are public figures and there is a lot of interest in them from the public. But you can't confuse that with what is in law a private piece of information. You know, that applies to anyone, whether they're the head of state or - or, you know, someone working on the street outside. It makes no difference.

Understandably, people want to know, and Kingston Palace has suggested, you know, privately that she may talk about this going forward. It's still a recent development for her. It wasn't something that was anticipated at the start of this year. She had a full diary planned. It could just be that she's taking some time to get her own head around what's happened before sharing it further.

It's slightly different also to the king, who is constitutionally responsible as head of state. I think that there's much more impetus on him to explain his whereabouts. And, in fact, Buckingham Palace have kept him very visible throughout his cancer treatment so far. I think in the fullness of time we will have more of an explanation from the princess too.

BOLDUAN: Emily Nash, thank you so much.


BERMAN: All right, this morning there is fresh attention on the safety of the country's water systems. The Biden administration is calling on states to do more to protect them. It says China and Iran are behind recent cyberattacks.

CNN's cybersecurity reporter Sean Lyngaas is with us now.

Sean, what are you learning?

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: John, this is a pretty stark warning. It's not based on a ton of new information in the last, you know, week or two, but it's more in recent months we've seen examples, as you mentioned, of alleged Iranian hackers and alleged Chinese hackers infiltrating computers that are used in water facilities.

Now, the more stark example came in the fall after the Hamas-Israel war flared up. Pro-Iran hackers that the U.S. government later attributed to the IRGC intelligence agency conducted these sort of low-level attacks on computers used in water facilities. A sort of anti-Israel message. Very attention getting. Didn't - didn't affect the drinking water, but certainly was a shot across the bow.

And now we have NSC adviser, Natural Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, writing a letter to governors across the country saying, we really need you to shore up your systems because the sense that happened in the fall, we haven't seen enough progress in terms of securing those systems.

And, yes, if the U.S. and China do get into some sort of conflict over Taiwan or something else, U.S. officials are very concerned that the Chinese government could use their access to critical infrastructure to try to disrupt life here.


Now, we're a long way away from that, but they're trying to avoid having to scramble in that moment of conflict, John.

BERMAN: Sean Lyngaas, thank you so much. It's sobering