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Russia: Death Toll In Concert Attack Rises To 139; Netanyahu Cancels Israeli Delegation To Washington After U.S. Abstains From UNSC Vote On Gaza Ceasefire; Study Shows Medication Abortions More Common Post-Roe; NBC Anchors Rip Network For Hiring Former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 25, 2024 - 14:30   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Here today, Russia's Investigative Committee is asking the court to arrest three more people in connection with Friday's brutal terror attack on a concert hall.

It comes after four suspects tied to the massacre appeared in court Sunday. Russian state media saying three of the men have pleaded guilty to all charges.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: ISIS has claimed responsibility for Friday's rampage, which Russia says killed 139 people, including kids. It was the deadliest terror attack in Russia in two decades.

CNN's Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us.

Matthew, what are investigators saying about all of this?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, I mean, this is a massive nationwide investigation that's continuing. We've seen seven people now appear in court -- in court, including the four attackers who are suspected of actually carrying out the killings in the Crocus City Hall on Friday night.

I mean, you take a look at some of the images of that Moscow courtroom and you can see the suspects are appearing to be badly beaten amid reports that they had very brutal interrogations.

In fact, video has appeared on social pro-government social media channels showing people essentially being electrocuted. One of them is shown having his ear cutoff whilst being interrogated by an investigator. And things like that, people being kicked and beaten.

The Kremlin -- and we've asked them about this -- have refused to comment on any reports of torture.

But clearly, the Russians want to send a potent message that, despite all these reports that they didn't take the intelligence given to them by the United States seriously, they are now dealing with this in a ruthless, uncompromising way. And that definitely seems to be the message the Kremlin and the

security forces and the investigators are putting across.

There has been three more people appear in court today as well, linked with and charged now with sort of assisting in this terrorist act.

It's basically a father and two sons from the same family, who are believed to have owned the car. It's a white car, white Renault car, which the -- the gunman, the attackers escaped with and were eventually captured -- captured in.


It's -- it's not clear whether they knew that the car was being used by the attackers or not. But nevertheless, they've been taken into court in Moscow as well and charged now with sort of aiding and abetting a terrorist act.

And so, as I say, this is a big investigation by the Russians. They're moving very quickly. And they are not taking any chances or not being compromising at all with anybody who has even got a slight sense of suspicion hanging over them.

DEAN: And, Matthew, is Putin still blaming Ukraine for the attack, despite what we know?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, yes, he is.

In fact, within the past few minutes, Vladimir Putin has been on state television again talking about how he understands that or accepts that the attack was carried out by Muslim fundamentalists, by ISIS, the terror group that has claimed responsibility repeatedly for carrying out this -- this attack on this concert hall outside of Moscow.

But he said he doesn't just want to know -- he wants to know who carried it out. He wants to know who ordered it. And so he's, again, sort of like implying that it was Kyiv, it was the Ukrainian government that had something to do with orchestrating this attack.

Something, certainly, of course, the authorities in Kyiv have categorically denied.

SANCHEZ: Matthew Chance, live for us from Moscow, thank you so much.

There were some dramatic developments today at the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council approving a draft resolution for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Now the U.S. abstained from that vote, paving the way for it to pass.

In a response is really Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a planned Israeli delegation trip set for this week in Washington.

I'm joined now by Evelyn Farkas. She's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, also, the executive director of the McCain Institute.

Evelyn, thank you so much for being with us.

The U.S., through John Kirby at the National Security Council, responded to this news of the canceled delegation by saying that the United States is "perplexed by it." How do you read the state of U.S.- Israel relations right now?

EVELYN FARKAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MCCAIN INSTITUTE: Yes, Boris, well, first of all, thanks for having me on today.

Second, I would say that the U.S. government is coming out now much more publicly using the leverage it has to pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to the table and essentially agree to a ceasefire or a hostage, a hostage exchange.

And to a long-term diplomatic solution that would result in a two- state outcome. And this is something that Netanyahu has been resisting.

And the United States, reportedly behind the scenes, has been trying very hard. But people like me have been and urging now for months that, that our government get out from behind the scenes and put the pressure on publicly. And that's what they did today.

SANCHEZ: It strikes me that you also had Donald Trump today, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, calling on Israel to finish up its war in Gaza, saying that, quote, "The country's losing a lot of support."

What does it tell you that even someone like Donald Trump, who touts his relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu, is now hedging his support?

FARKAS: Well, I don't know that he really is, Boris, because if he's saying go and finish up the job, then it sounds like he's actually siding with Netanyahu.

And let's not forget that the environment here is really weird because U.S.-Israeli relations, unfortunately, have become very a partisan, polarized.

This started when Netanyahu was unhappy with President Obama's position on Israel. And so he started to essentially just use the right as kind of support for his policies, mirroring, I guess, the fact that he had also moved to the right, but even farther to the right than even the U.S. has politically.

And so Donald Trump is basically giving a little bit of a handout or an olive branch or, I don't know what the word is, but he's -- he's actually supporting Netanyahu who wants to go back in and finish the job.

But the thing is, there's no finishing the job. You're not going to go into Rafah and take out every last Hamas terrorist fighter. It's impossible.

So our government is saying, not the former president, the current government of the United States is saying, hold on a minute, we don't believe that you can do this without causing a lot more suffering.

And remember, there are people in Gaza now in the north, millions of people on the brink of starvation. Some of them maybe already tipping into starvation. So we have a humanitarian disaster.

And the Israelis want to continue pounding and launch a new military operation. Our government is saying that's not the right approach. Let's talk about a better military approach. And one that includes a hostage exchange and a ceasefire.


And so today, rather than veto the U.N. resolution, the United States abstained. Normally, we veto. That's our way of saying we're with you, Israel. This time we said we're with you, but by abstaining.

SANCHEZ: Evelyn, let's quickly pivot to the terror attack in Russia. The death toll of 239. ISIS-k has claimed responsibility for the attack.

So far, Vladimir Putin has refused to comment on their involvement. He seems eager to somehow tie this to Ukraine, which denies any connection.

Is it fair to say that he's using this attack to justify a more aggressive posture against Ukraine?

FARKAS: Absolutely. And the thing is that he probably was planning on ramping up the feeling of insecurity in Russia anyway.

Because it sounds like -- I just came back from Ukraine, so I literally flew back yesterday not from Ukraine, because obviously you can't fly in and out of Ukraine crane yet safely.

But I was in Ukraine last week for almost the whole week. And all the Ukrainian officials think that the Russians are going to plan a new offensive in the spring, which is coming soon, or the summer.

Either way, the Russians need more forces. And so in order to mobilize more manpower, Putin has to he needs a rationale. So you probably was going to be looking for one anyway. And this sort of fell into his lap.

Plus, this shows that he actually can't keep the people in Moscow as safe as he has been pretending he's been keeping them. Because, of course, this horrible attack happened under his watch.

The last thing he wants to do is admit that, on top of having this war that he launched with Ukraine, making Russia less secure, he's also got a terrorist threat domestically.

So he's trying to link the two so at least there's only one threat that the people are fully aware of. And he can use that threat to his political advantage to call up more for men to fight the war against Ukraine.

SANCHEZ: Evelyn Farkas, appreciate your view on things. Thanks for joining us.

FARKAS: Thanks for having me, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Still ahead, a new study shows that medication abortion is becoming increasingly common ever since the Supreme Court struck down Roe versus Wade. The latest findings when we come back.



DEAN: A new study out today shows a significant change in how women are seeking abortions since Roe v. Wade was overturned and more than a dozen states banned abortions.

The research says self-managed medication abortions, which are not supervised by a doctor or nurse to end a pregnancy, surged in the six months post-Roe.

SANCHEZ: The timing of this study is notable. The release comes just a day before the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that would limit access to the abortion pill, Mifepristone.

Let's discuss the findings with CNN's Meg Tirrell.

So, Meg, walk us through the findings of this study.

MEG TIRRELL, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, guys, researchers know from prior research that in the six months following that decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, there were about 32,000 fewer abortions tracked through the formal health care system.

But that left a question, how many abortions were happening outside the formal health care system? These self-managed abortions, which often include medication abortion, many times gotten via telemedicine or through the mail, for example.

What they found using various data sources is that there's an estimated 26,000 abortions obtained this way outside the formal health care system through medication abortion.

And so you're seeing that really large proportion of the decline in those abortions gotten through the formal health care system. Perhaps where instead obtained this way through self-managed abortion.

And it really speaks to how much medication abortion, and particularly through telemedicine, has increased over the years -- guys?

DEAN: All right. Meg, 12th whip for us. Thanks so much for that update.


And still ahead, a growing number of NBC News journalists are speaking out against the hiring of former RNC chair in the 2020 election, Ronna McDaniel, as a paid political analyst. But more on that backlash when we come back.



SANCHEZ: Today, more NBC News anchors are blasting their own network on air for hiring former RNC chair, Ronna McDaniel, as a paid contributor.

On Sunday, former "Meet the Press" host, Chuck Todd, blasted NBC's decision to hire the prominent election denier, and apologized to the current moderator of that show for having to interview her.

DEAN: And today, the "Morning Joe" team on MSNBC also criticizing their bosses for giving McDaniel a job.

CNN senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy, joining us now.

Oliver, what can you tell us about these new comments and also would is NBC saying about this?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Well, it's a disaster for NBC. People inside 30 Rock, I mean, my phone has been lighting up for the last 72 hours or so, since they announced this paid contributorship by former RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel.

People are enraged, they're infuriated. They cannot believe that their bosses have hired an election denier. Not only in an election denier, but someone who actually tried converting the votes in 2020 as a member of the team.

It's actually just shocking to them. It doesn't make any sense.

And this is someone also who's smeared NBC News journalists, who has launched really ugly vial attacks on the organization and MSNBC hosts.

So it's -- they're just -- they're just stunned that this is even happening over there. And you're seeing that reflected on air.

Why don't you take a listen to what Mika Brzezinski said this morning on "Morning Joe?"


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC HOST, "MORNING JOE": We believe NBC News should seek out conservative Republican voices to provide balance in their election coverage.


But it should be conservative Republicans, not a person who used her position of power to be an anti-democracy election denier. And we hope NBC will reconsider its decision.

It goes without saying that she will not be a guest on "Morning Joe" in her capacity as a paid contributor.


DARCY: Now NBC has not commented on the backlash it's getting from its own talent since they announced the Ronna McDaniel contributorship on Friday.

But you've got to imagine that the boss is over there, Cesar Conde, who is the NBC Universal Newsgroup boss, that these guys are looking at -- at this contributorship and deciding what they want to do here.

I mean, they don't have any good moves. But it's not hard to imagine that they might be reconsidering this, given the enormous backlash that they're facing.

SANCHEZ: Oliver Darcy, thanks so much for the update.

Still ahead, a New York judge has set a start date for former President Trump's criminal hush money trial, rejecting Trump's efforts to toss the case altogether or delay it even further. We're going to tell you more about the trial's scheduled start date when we come back.