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Paul Wiedefeld is Interviewed about the Baltimore Bridge Collapse; Supreme Court Hears Abortion Drug Arguments; Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) is Interviewed about the Abortion Drug Debate; Search Efforts in Bridge Collapse; Weather Conditions for the Search in Baltimore; Jamilah Lemieux is Interviewed about the Combs Investigation. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 08:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: How close do ships normally get to that support structure?

PAUL J. WIEDEFELD, MARYLAND TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY (via telephone): That - if you look at it, it's off center of where it should be, if you - if you see the video before the collapse.

BERMAN: All right, I am going to show the video. People can take my footage here, the screen, if you guys can take me, OK, because the secretary was talking about this. This is the vessel right there. That is the moment it strikes the pylon. You say it is off-center. Is it normally supposed to be in the middle of that large span?

WIEDEFELD: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

BERMAN: Oh, that is interesting.


BERMAN: So, it's supposed to be in the middle of that large span. So, if it - given that it hit the pylon, it was off course - it had to have been off course well before it got under the bridge.

WIEDEFELD: It - you know, again, we'll go figure (ph) all that out later. But, obviously, it should be in the main channel, which is under that main span.

BERMAN: The main channel, which is under the main span, not obviously close to the pylons.


BERMAN: Do you know the status of the people onboard the vessel itself right now?

WIEDEFELD: Yes. Basically, they're being - you know, they're being contacted. I don't believe there's any injuries there.

BERMAN: How much communication is there normally between people on board the vessel - I mean for people who don't understand shipping, and that's most of us frankly, is this like an air traffic control situation? Are there people on board the vessel who'd normally be talking to people on shore to control its movement in and out of the harbor?

WIEDEFELD: I don't have all those details.

BERMAN: I can appreciate that. Obviously, it is a complicated situation.

What do the people in Baltimore, who normally use that bridge, what do they need to know today about what they have to do, how they can help?

WIEDEFELD: Yes, I mean, it's a major thoroughfare. It's part of a beltway around, you know, the city of Baltimore. So, it's basically one of the major links. We have two others that go over the harbor, two tunnels. So, basically, we are basically, you know, (INAUDIBLE) people around that, but it is a significant part of the transportation system in Baltimore.

BERMAN: Listen, Mr. Secretary, Paul Wiedefeld, I know how busy you are. We really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us, bring us up to speed on what's happening there as these search and rescue operations continue. Thank you so much for your time, sir.

WIEDEFELD: Thank you, sir. Bye-bye.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we have another major story happening now.

Right now, outside the Supreme Court, protesters voicing their concerns about an abortion drug is experts warn of a seismic shift in abortion care in the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abortion hurts women.

CROWD: Women deserve better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abortion hurts women.

CROWD: Women deserve better.


SIDNER: You've got two different groups out there chanting some anti- abortion, some pro-abortion availability as the justices are getting ready to hear arguments in the most important case when it comes to female reproductive care since Roe versus Wade was overturned.

Joining us now a CNN's senior legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig.

Good to see you, Elie.

Can you give us exactly what the court is weighing right now?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Sara, so really important to understand. The Court is not weighing a potentially complete ban on Mifepristone. Mifepristone will not be banned from the market entirely. The question here is, how broad will access be?

Now, the FDA, back in 2000, first approved Mifepristone. And then in 2016 and 2021 it expanded access, for example, by allowing Mifepristone to be mailed to patients rather than dispensed in person. And so those expansions and access are what's being challenged today.

Now, the consequences here are enormous either way because many patients apparently rely on these expanded procedures in order to get Mifepristone, and that's the specific legal issue that's going to be argued in the court today.

SIDNER: Can you give us some sense of how the - how the Dobbs ruling played into where we are right now and where the court is right now?

HONIG: Yes, so that's crucial context. Of course, the Dobbs decision back in 2022 reversed Roe versus Wade and left it to the states how they would enforce abortion regulation. And since that happened, Sara, two years ago, about 20 states have either eliminated or - or scaled back availability to abortion substantially. And so as a result, as you saw in the last hour from Meg Tirrell, our medical expert, the reliance on Mifepristone and use of Mifepristone has gone up because it's become a more important alternative for women seeking abortion.

So, it's all interrelated here. That will certainly lurk large in the policy background.

SIDNER: Elie Honig, thank you so much for coming on. This is a really important story.

HONIG: Thanks, Sara.

SIDNER: I know you'll be watching it and we'll come back to you throughout the morning.


Appreciate it.


BERMAN: Obviously, the Biden-Harris campaign is talking about abortion access as it travels around the country. Both the president and vice president will be in North Carolina today, where the issue of access to abortion has been front and center.

With us now is the governor of North Carolina, Democrat Roy Cooper.

Governor, thank you so much for being with us. And just to remind people what has happened in your state is the state legislature overrode a veto of yours to enact a ban on abortions before, I believe it's, what, 12 weeks in your state right now? So, this is something you've been dealing with every day.

What are you watching for in the Supreme Court today? How important is this decision to the people of your state?

GOV. ROY COOPER (D-NC): It's very important. We need to protect women's reproductive freedom as much as we can. And it's really outrageous that this case has even gotten to the Supreme Court. It's clear that extremists brought this case in order to reduce access to reproductive freedom for women.

And what's so ironic is that the Supreme Court, when they took away a woman's constitutional right, at the same time they gave the states the ability to regulate abortion care. With this case they're considering now, they can take part of that regulation authority away from states who have legalized abortion. So, they would be going back on what they said.

Mifepristone is a safe and effective drug being used for more than two decades by 5 million people. It's so much safer for women. If they don't have this avenue, in many situations, they have to use surgical procedures. So, we're hoping that the Supreme Court does the right thing today. And I know that President Biden and Vice President Harris will be talking about this today in North Carolina. Protecting reproductive freedom will be on the ballot this year.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the ballot this year and North Carolina, because the results in the presidential races in North Carolina have been incredibly close the last several elections. In 2012, Barack Obama lost by about two points. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost by about three points. And in 2020 Joe Biden, who was not - not yet president lost by about one point.

My question to you, Governor, is, why do you think that 2024 Joe Biden can be different here? How can President Biden win in North Carolina?

COOPER: We're the third fastest growing state in the country. Our blue counties and cities are getting bluer. Joe Biden has done so much to help the rural parts of America with high-speed internet. He's fighting to control drug prices. He knows what the American people need right now. And it's critical that he win these swing states.

I think the presidency will go through North Carolina. This was President Biden's closest loss last time with the increasing number of college-educated people have - that we have with reproductive freedom on the line, with the fact that Republicans have nominated a real slew of extreme candidates for governor, attorney general, superintendent of public schools, that are probably the most extreme slate in the country I think you're going to see such attention paid to North Carolina that this is a state that President Biden can win.

BERMAN: So, you think he can win even though he didn't in 2020? Talk to me about the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robertson - some - Robinson, someone you know well. Why do you think that could impact the election at the presidential level?

COOPER: Well, first he's independently elected. He is a Republican, and I'm a Democrat. He has denied the Holocaust. He has said that there should be no abortions with no exceptions. He's said the LGBT community is filth. He says he has his AR-15 in order to shoot government officials if they get too big for their britches. He's said that men should lead, not women.

This is a candidate who wants to go back to the culture war. North Carolina's been through this before with our bathroom bill. We were able to get that repealed. Now, we've been the best state for business two years in a row. We're attracting clean energy jobs. We're moving forward in a positive way.

North Carolinians don't want to go back to that. And when you look at the team of Donald Trump and Mark Robinson and the attorney general candidate and the superintendent of schools, all extreme candidates, I think North Carolinians are going to come to the polls and say, we've had enough of this. We want bipartisan cooperation.


Just like we've done with expanding Medicaid in North Carolina in a bipartisan way. We're going to get health insurance to 600,000 more people. And President Biden and Vice President Harris today are going to meet with some of them. And they'll see firsthand what it's doing for the working people of North Carolina, our childcare workers, our people who are looking after our seniors. It's an amazing thing that's happening. Health care is something that we know will be on the ballot because Donald Trump wants to take those health care cards away from North Carolinians who've just gotten them.

BERMAN: Just so people understand, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, while he has said those things or some version of those things, his campaign has tried to explain that his positions on some of those issues are more nuanced than that.

But, Governor Roy Cooper, I do appreciate your time being with us this morning.


BERMAN: Thank you so much.


COOPER: Thank you. And we're certainly thinking about the people in Baltimore for sure.

BERMAN: Yes, we all are.

Sara. SIDNER: We certainly are and we are following that breaking news in Baltimore and the impacts on the shipping and transportation in such a critical port area. You are looking at live pictures there of this disaster unfold - which unfolded at 1:30 in the morning. There is still an urgent search and rescue apparatus out there looking for up to - more than potentially seven people at this hour.

Also, breaking overnight, Sean "Diddy" Combs is now the target of a federal investigation according to sources. What we're learning about raids on two of his homes.


SIDNER: All right, we want to bring you back to our breaking news.


These are live pictures at the scene there in Baltimore. As you see the crumpled Francis Scott Key Bridge over the major shipping container that slammed into one of the pylons, causing that collapse. When that happened, people were sent plunging into the frigid waters below. And there is an urgent search and rescue effort happening as we speak.

We just learned this hour that they have finally been able to get divers into the water to try and look for anybody who has survived this tragedy.

CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us now with more details on this story.

Hey, Tom.


This is a busy area, as you can see, any hour of the day, even at 1:30 in the morning, a lot of traffic there. That's why there's been so much concern about trying to find anyone there.

The technology they've deployed from the beginning as best they could, even in the darkness, infrared detectors operating from the air and land, above the water, looking for any heat signatures of anybody out there. Surface, searching by boat and aircraft. Divers now in the water, as you note. Very difficult in the dark to do anything. And side scan sonar, which they had down there, which they said did detect some cars under the water.

This is, however, very grim work in these temperatures. Remember, most people in 10, 20, 30 minutes lose most of their motor skills to do much of anything, even if they want to rescue themselves. So, as I said, grim work, difficult work right now, even by the daylight.

At the same time, a lot of the attention is turning towards the investigation as to what exactly happened with this ship because early information will really matter. This is a massive cargo ship. It's not the biggest, but it's still plenty big. More than three times as long as a football field, about half as wide as a football field is long. One way of looking about it is to say that this would be the equivalent of having a building in a town turned sideways because the ship itself weighs more than 100 - more - close to 100,000 tons, and then it carries much, much more than that. It's like tipping a building sideways and having it go down the river.

We've looked more at the tracking of it here as it headed out toward the Chesapeake Bay. Back here, when this ship started out, as it first pulled out it was doing about three miles an hour based on tracking mechanisms that you can look out there. By the time this happened, it was about nine miles an hour. So, that's not fast for most of us in our cars, but with that amount of weight, tremendous power.

And one thing I really think we're looking at, and I know investigators are looking at, a short while ago John was talking with one of the officials there and they were talking about how this ship more likely would have been somewhere about here, which would have been where the center of that span when it came through here. Instead, it's over here to the right. And you can just barely see it here. It's not easy to see on this, at this distance. But when you watch the video, all of it, very carefully, of the ship approaching, you can see there really does appear to be a fairly marked swerving to the right as it approaches the bridge here.

This would have been under the control of one of the harbor pilots, one of the people who works here, not a ship pilot, as was confirmed a short while ago. These are people who are expert, some of the highest paid government workers in this country, harbor pilots all around the country, because it is such delicate, such difficult work. And yet for some reason there was this slight hook to the right as it approached the bridge there. Maybe already headed that way, but then you see this movement toward the right.

All of this being looked at investigators. Maybe some of it doesn't really mean anything. Maybe it means everything. But as daylight comes on and they continue looking for those survivors, we hope - we hope, they also have to look at why did this happen and what happens now.


SIDNER: Yes. There are really two things going on now. One, the main concentration on the search and rescue. It is now, as you mentioned, it's been a long time. It's been about eight hours since this incident happened. And in those frigid temperatures, very, very difficult to survive that.

The other is, how did this happen and how to keep it from happening again.

Tom Foreman, I think it's really interesting that you talk about 100,000 tons. That is how much this ship weighed. How difficult it would be to maneuver it once it's gone off of course.

Tom Foreman, I always appreciate you. You always bring great facts and great knowledge. Appreciate it.

John. BERMAN: Yes, Sara, we're getting some new footage in right now that I'm going to look at for the first time alongside you that I've been told is close up footage of the damage of the vessel itself. You can see - wow. Oh, in that first shot you can see - well, this is the bridge. Tat's the bridge in the water there. It seems that this footage comes from Baltimore Fire Rescue.


That shot right there, you can see the damage to the hull itself. You can see the bridge just crashing in and damaging the structure of the boat. And then those twisted shipping containers there, like tin foil just torn. The force with which it fell.

That is the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the water this morning, that span of the bridge. One of the longest steel truss spans -- this is the footage that's really interesting. You can see how much damage was done to the hull of that ship from that steel truss bridge when it collapsed. Obviously, unclear whether that was the weight of the bridge falling onto the boat itself, which damaged it, or the force of the impact into the pylon holding up the bridge. But nevertheless, a great deal of damage to the boat itself.

We have been told, we should note, that there are no injuries of those who were onboard the vessel itself. This is a boat registered out of Singapore.

We are told - we were just told by the secretary of transportation in Baltimore that it's a local pilot - they put a local pilot onboard the vessel to guide it out of the harbor. And one more piece that Tom Foreman and the secretary were talking to us about, this boat should have been - it may seem obvious, in the center of this span, of this long span of the steel truss bridge. It should have been here. Obviously, it was not. It was here, where it should not have been.

What's unclear is where it went off course. Was it right before it went under the bridge or had it been off course for some time and for some reason not able to get control of it.

Again, all important, new information. We are following the breaking news out of Baltimore where search and rescue operations are still underway inside that water. As many as seven people believed to have fallen into the water when that bridge collapsed.

This is CNN's special breaking news coverage.

Stay with us.



BERMAN: All right, the breaking news, those are live pictures from Baltimore where you can see that huge cargo vessel rammed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The bridge has collapsed into the water. There are search and rescue operations underway for at least seven people believed to have fallen in. The water temperature's around 48 degrees.

But let's get a better sense of the conditions in the water and the weather conditions overall. CNN's Derek Van Dam is with us now.


DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Forty-eight degree water temperature is just downright dangerous for the human body not to be prepared to enter into water that cold. You can get hypothermia. You can get cold shock. Remember, cold water actually drains body heat four times faster than cold air physically does.

So, here's a look at the Key Bridge. It's located right there, 695. You are looking at the Chesapeake Bay. And, of course, into a more hyperlocal look, this is the Patapsco River. And right now, with these types of water temperatures, the survivability rate of people who have come in contact with that type of water is roughly between one to three hours. We're now entering into the seventh hour of this event.

And for search and rescue operations, other things complicating matters, not only on the surface of the water, but out of the water, are the wins and also the tides and the currents. We currently have a coastal flood advisory across the entire Chesapeake Bay, including where the bridge collapse occurred, roughly at 1:30 this morning. And we just passed high tide, which was at 8:20 this morning. So now we're going to experience a reversal of the tides. And remember, tides, at the moment, with a full moon, are exaggerated. So we get higher than high normal tides and lower than low normal tides. And so that is going to create some currents as they try to navigate these very difficult waters.

Not to mention, John, winds will increase with the approach of our next weather front.

BERMAN: All right, a difficult situation, but an urgent one.

Derek Van Dam, thank you so much.

VAN DAM: Right.


SIDNER: All right, thank you so much, John.

A source is telling CNN that rapper and producer Sean "Diddy" Combs is a target of an ongoing sex trafficking investigation. The Department of Homeland Security, and this is video of the time that they rated his home in Los Angeles and Miami Beach just yesterday. The raids come after months of controversy and civil lawsuits surrounding the rapper. He is facing at least for lawsuits that include allegations of rape.

Joining me now is writer and communication strategist Jamilah Lemieux. She is also the former senior editor of "Ebony." Jamilah, can you first just tell us how did we get to the point where

there are raids happening at two of Sean "Diddy" Combs' properties, one in LA, one in Miami.

JAMILAH LEMIEUX, WRITER AND COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: Well, you know, the ball all started rolling when Diddy's former partner and former artists, Cassie, hit him with a devastating suit at the end of last year. And he settled for an undisclosed amount of money the very next day. And that set off a series of events where other people started coming forward and saying they had been victimized by him. One of the lawsuits alleged sex trafficking. The Cassie lawsuit alleged sex trafficking. And so now it seems that there's been a serious inquiry into that.

SIDNER: Because of your role, you know, at "Ebony" and because of your role looking at the culture here, have some of these things been sort of whispered about or surrounding Sean "Diddy" Combs for a long time now?

LEMIEUX: You know, there have been allegations of violence surrounding Diddy for many years. Violence against women. But nothing to the extent that we've seen in these lawsuits. You know, he's not somebody who has a reputation for being a rapist or hanging out with under age girls. So, the things that have come out in recent months are really shocking, even if you did, you know, know him to allegedly be a violent person.

SIDNER: Give us some sense of his place in society, in culture, in the rap culture and his - and his power.

LEMIEUX: Diddy is an icon. You know, he's responsible for one of the biggest moments in hip hop history, the bad boy era of the late '90s, early 2000s. The responsible for the career The Notorious B.I.G., Maize Faith (ph), so many just iconic black, you know, artists have come through Diddy's tutelage. Usher. He's a mogul. You know, he has taken a lot of pride in being one of the first billionaires in hip hop.


And for many years he was beloved by a lot of people, you know?