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Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg On Bridge Collapse; Hunter Biden Seeks To Dismiss Felony Tax Charges At Court Hearing; Sources: Obama Believes 2024 Election Will Be Gravely Close. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 07:30   ET



PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: That means getting the bridge back up and getting the port back open. Neither one of those things will be simple.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There are reports from overnight that when this ship was in port that there were problems with the power even then. People had noticed power issues even before it left the other day.

How concerned are you that warning signs were missed?

BUTTIGIEG: So that's going to be part of what the Coast Guard and the NTSB are investigating. By design, that investigation is independent and I can't comment on it.

What I will say is that the impact of this incident is going to be felt throughout the region and really throughout our supply chains. We're talking about the biggest vehicle-handling port in the country that is now out of commission until that channel can be cleared and a bridge that took five years to build.

The president has been very clear that every federal resource will be directed toward getting back to normal --


BUTTIGIEG: -- both for the traffic that counts on the bridge and supply chains that count on that port. But this is going to be a big, long, and not inexpensive road to recovery.

BERMAN: No, not inexpensive at all. And you said that the federal government, you assume, will pay for this.

But why should taxpayers pay for all of it if there was negligence involved? If there was something preventable there? Shouldn't one of the shipping companies involved be paying here?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, to be clear, if any private party is responsible for and accountable for this, then they will be held accountable. And again, that's part of what the law enforcement and NTSB investigations will determine. But we can't wait for that to play out to get to work right now to get this up and running.

So what we know is that we've got to tear down every obstacle -- physical, financial, administrative. That means using all of the tools that we have as a department and very likely, working with Congress as well. And that was the commitment that the president and that I made yesterday with Gov. Wes Moore. We were with him and his leadership team. So were the congressional delegation of Maryland, clearly determined to make sure that every resource is made available.

I've never seen anything quite like this. But there have been experiences in the U.S. that we are drawing from, including the 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse where, really, the federal government and the whole country stepped up to get that reconstructed. We're learning from that and a lot of other moments in U.S. history as part of the playbook on what to do next. So much depends on getting that bridge back up and that port back open quickly.

BERMAN: You said a lot has been learned. One of the things that has been learned over time as ships -- big cargo ships have hit bridges is there have been fenders placed around the base of pylons in bridges like this.

You said you're not so sure that any bridge could have withstood a ship of this size. There are bigger ships than this. There are a lot bigger cargo vessels than this.

How concerned are you about bridge safety in the rest of the country? I know the Delaware Memorial Bridge, not terribly far from where this accident is, is actually going under a multimillion-dollar refurbishment to put some fenders around the base.

BUTTIGIEG: You know, after 30, 40, 50 years of underinvestment in U.S. infrastructure, this is one of the reasons why President Biden made infrastructure a top priority and it's why roads and bridges are the single biggest category in his infrastructure package that we're delivering across the country. And that's for all kinds of design issues and resilience issues that are at stake.

For example, we're doing a seismic retrofit right now on the Golden Gate Bridge to make it better able to withstand earthquakes. We're designing the new I-5 bridge that's going to go in the Pacific Northwest to make sure that it is more resilient for the future. And after a collapse in Tampa -- the Tampa region in the 1980s, there have been new elements of bridge design that have been added in the newest, latest, and greatest engineering since then.

Again, it's really too soon to speculate on whether those designs or any designs would have -- would have changed the outcome here where you had a vessel. It's really difficult to express the physics -- the mass of this. We're talking about 100,000 tons, so two million pounds of force hitting that support pier that is critical to the entire structure. Just a shocking --

BERMAN: Uh-huh.

BUTTIGIEG: -- level of impact that, as everybody saw, was enough almost instantly to take that bridge down.

BERMAN: Do you have any estimates as to when this channel will reopen and you'll be able to get maybe some of the shipping that's been trapped now inside the harbor out or to get things through?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, as you mentioned, not only do we need to get those ships in, there are some ships that are already in there that can't get out. So it's very important to get that channel back open.

I have not yet received an estimate. Right now, the focus, obviously, is just shifting from search and rescue to recovery. But we've already started the work to try to engage all of the relevant parties on what that's going to take. I think the Army Corps and the Coast Guard are going to play critical roles in this as well.


This is not going to be a simple thing. You've got the bridge -- the wreckage of the bridge. We don't know about the conditions of the piers so even the part -- what you see now is the central span is down. Too soon to really know about the condition of the parts of the bridge that are still standing, which also, of course, have an impact on the entire channel.

What we do know is that we have tools that we didn't have a few years ago to help manage supply chains in the U.S. The president's infrastructure package helped us stand up a new multimodal freight office. We're using that to coordinate among the different players.

This is not like air traffic control where there's one authority that tells the planes what to do and where to go if a runway goes out. We've got a lot of independent players -- different ports, different terminals, different shipping companies, and cargo owners -- who are all going to have to come together and work out how to reroute this traffic while, of course, the focus is how to get that port back up and running as quickly as we can.

BERMAN: And you have your work cut out for you, we do know that. And we appreciate you being with us this morning, Mr. Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Thank you very much.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hunter Biden will be back in court over the future of his felony tax indictment. Will a judge agree to his argument to throw out the nine charges?

And Republicans lose in Alabama. A Democrat flips a state House seat with a campaign focused on reproductive rights. Is the GOP looking at a big warning sign for this November?


[07:41:12] WHITFIELD: A courtroom showdown in Los Angeles today. Attorneys for President Biden's son, Hunter, will try to persuade a federal judge to dismiss felony tax charges against him. Special counsel David Weiss charged Hunter Biden with nine tax offenses in December. He has pleaded not guilty.

His lawyers say he is, quote, "being targeted because of his political and familial affiliations," and contend that Weiss caved to pressure from Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is joining me right now. So, Katelyn, what are we expecting in court today?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Fred, this will be a meaty hearing where Hunter Biden's lawyers are going to be arguing to the judge all of the ways they think that this case should be dismissed. Now, if the judge will buy those arguments remains to be seen. But this is the stress test of the indictment that special counsel David Weiss filed against Hunter Biden.

It is the type of hearing that typically happens in one of these cases -- in a criminal case -- before it goes to trial. So it is a big opportunity for Hunter Biden's team.

One of the things that makes this hearing a little bit unusual is that Hunter Biden's team is going to be pulling at the threads in this case that make the prosecution of Hunter Biden unusual. They're going to be talking to the judge about how they don't believe that this case should ever have been charged because he had a plea agreement with the Justice Department or an agreement with them previously that fell apart.

They are also going to be arguing that he shouldn't be charged out in federal court in California because he didn't live there at the time of the alleged tax evasion violations.

And then, they're also going to be talking to the judge about how they believe politics spoiled this investigation and revealed too much about Hunter Biden and his private tax business that shouldn't have been revealed.

So all of those challenges will be before Judge Mark Scarsi. We will see how the judge reacts, though we don't expect a decision today on whether this case can move forward.


And then, separately, a California judge is expected to rule on whether former Trump attorney John Eastman should be stripped of his law license. What are we watching there?

POLANTZ: Yeah, Fred. This is a special judge overseeing attorney discipline in the state of California and we are expecting a decision from the judge out there today. This is following a trial of John Eastman regarding attorney discipline proceedings that were brought against him. So what's at stake is the possible loss of his law license. It would

have to be certified by the courts in California if that's what the judge decides the penalty should be for John Eastman for the work he did for Donald Trump after 2020. But this is one of those trials where you're seeing the consequence of 2020 and that election -- the efforts of lawyers on behalf of Donald Trump -- play out even well before those cases go to a criminal trial.

We will see what happens with Eastman today. There's also proceedings happening for others in the system who are lawyers -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Katelyn Polantz. Thanks so much -- John.

BERMAN: All right, new CNN reporting. Sources say that former President Obama is calling it an all-hands-on-deck moment. New details on how he is planning to help the Biden campaign.

And the FDA approves a new drug that could stop a deadly condition in women that doctors are calling a ticking time bomb.



BERMAN: So, one lucky person in New Jersey woke up this morning more than $1 billion richer. Actually, that's not true. It's highly dependent on whether they take the lump sum payout and it's before taxes, so really it's disappointing. It was the fifth-largest jackpot in Mega Millions history. Tonight, a Powerball jackpot worth more than $800 million is up for grabs.

Two of the world's largest credit card companies, Visa and Mastercard, agree to settle a decades-long antitrust suit. The settlement is set to lower swipe fees by $30 billion over five years. There are the fees that businesses have to pay when customers use a card.

New overnight, CNN projects that an Alabama Democrat who made reproductive rights a central part of her campaign will flip a Republican-held statehouse seat in Alabama. Marilyn Lands won the election. It is one that Democrats across the country are no doubt watching very closely.


We've got new reporting on former President Obama and how closely he is paying attention to the current presidential campaign. CNN has learned that he is in regular contact with both White House officials and President Biden.

This comes as the current President Biden is set to attend a fundraiser here in New York with former presidents Obama and Clinton and all kinds of high-powered stars.

CNN senior White House correspondent MJ Lee is with us now. Talk to us about former President Obama and what exactly he's doing, MJ. MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John. We know that the former president has told people around him that he expects the Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch to be extremely close and that he sees the 2024 election as an all-hands-on-deck moment. And now that we are sort of fully headed into the general election we fully expect that the former president is going to become increasingly engaged with the Biden campaign.

For example, the president -- the former president was here at the White House last Friday and spent several hours with President Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, taping an organizing call for the campaign. We're also told that they taped a number of other sort of content videos that the campaign is going to be rolling out in the coming weeks.

You know, the view that the former president thinks that this is going to be a close election obviously is shared by most people here at the White House, other national Democrats, and certainly, Biden campaign officials, but it does speak to sort of the urgency of the moment.

And one thing that we are going to see tomorrow night in New York City is going to be this pretty blinged-out fundraiser event that the former president is going to be participating in. He'll be on stage with President Joe Biden and also former President Bill Clinton in a conversation that is moderated by comedian Stephen Colbert.

So a really striking moment where we're going to see three presidents, essentially, banding together to try to stop former President Donald Trump from getting -- returning back to the White House.

And this is going to be an affair where we'll see a number of celebrities in attendance. These tickets range from $225 to a whopping half-million dollars. And some of the people in the audience -- they'll have an opportunity to get their photo taken, for example, with the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz. So this is the kind of event where I think it won't be surprising if it, at the end of the day, ends up being one of the highest-grossing single fundraisers of the Biden campaign cycle so far.

Now, I think it's clear that the former president's sort of popularity and draw and appeal has been pretty undeniable to the Biden campaign. So far, he has helped raise some $50 million just through the grassroots outreach that he has been a part of.

We've also seen him, of course, help the Biden campaign try to make that contrast with the former president, particularly as we were talking about before on an issue like Obamacare -- something that he, of course, worked with so closely with the current president when he was vice president.

Now, in terms of his plans -- as we were saying before, he is going to become increasingly involved and we expect even though none of these plans are sort of firmed up yet that he should be visiting some college campuses and some big, important cities in battleground states. And that, of course, has so much to do with trying to do outreach to

younger voters, progressive voters, and also voters like Black and Latino voters. These are people that were so key to the Obama coalition going back years and people that are now so key to the coalition that Joe Biden is trying to capitalize on come November -- John.

BERMAN: MJ Lee on the blinged-out Biden reelection campaign. MJ, so great to have you on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. Thanks so much -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Joining us right now, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi; and, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Alice Stewart. Good to see both of you.

All right. So, Joe, are you going to be there at that blinged-out affair?

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, SENIOR ADVISER, THE LINCOLN PROJECT, HOST, "THAT TRIPPI SHOW" PODCAST (via Webex by Cisco): No, I won't be there, but I do think it is all-hands-on-deck. I think this is a -- tomorrow night will be another fundraiser that, again, will widen the gap between Biden's money and the Democrats' cash on hand compared to very dismal Republican National Committee dollars and dwindling Trump campaign finances.


So I'm glad that Obama is out there. He's right to call this all- hands-on-deck -- it is. It's not just for Biden and for democracy itself, it's all-hand-on-deck this November. And I think that will be part of the rallying call that President Obama, Clinton, and Biden, of course, make.

WHITFIELD: But, Joe, how influential would this dinner -- this gathering be? I mean, obviously, people who had at least $250 or hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a ticket -- they're already on board.

TRIPPI: Well, I think Obama is -- first of all, Democratic grassroots fundraising is on fire, whether the -- whether it comes from Obama or Biden. And I think this -- but I think the dinner and the event will bring more attention at every level.

And I think right now, Democratic activists and donors -- and I'm talking about $10.00 to hundreds of thousands -- are realizing there's an advantage here. It's time to pile on. It's time to widen that gap. And so, I think you're seeing, at least in the fundraising that I'm -- we -- our firm -- my firm does a lot of fundraising for progressive and other groups. And we're seeing a big uptick, particularly in the defense of democracy. So I think this event tomorrow will just fuel that.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Alice, this kind of gearing up for Biden's reelection -- I mean, certainly, this is signaling a shift that perhaps maybe the Trump campaign needs to be rethinking its opponent. ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Not at all, Fred. Look, I think when Obama says they are all-hands-on-deck it's more of a freakout amongst Democrats. Look, they're going to need every penny of this money they're raising. And look, that event sounds pretty cool. I wouldn't mind attending and getting my picture taken by Annie Leibovitz.

But they're going to need all that money. This campaign and this administration is in overdrive trying to convince Americans that the economy is good, the border is secure, and our nation is safe -- and none of that is true. They're even spending millions of dollars, Fred, on trying to shore up Hispanics and African American voters -- really, part of the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. And they're spending money to keep those people on board because they're losing those to the Trump administration.

So there's no amount of money that's going to make people feel as though their economic situation is better. They don't feel that way and the polling indicates this. And you look at every battleground state poll. The RealClear Politics average shows Donald Trump ahead of Joe Biden in those polls, and that's a major factor for this Biden administration. They've got to raise a lot of money to turn things around.

And there's no amount of star power that's going to make Joe Biden any younger and make people feel like the economy is good when it's not.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's shift gears to Alabama. A Democrat who made reproductive rights a main focus of her campaign will win Alabama's special election. So might this be an indicator for the GOP down-ballot and, of course, the presidential race, Alice, that women's reproductive rights are front and center and very influential and it could change everything?

STEWART: Look, it's no secret Alabama is in the Bible Belt and Alabama is a red state and it is very pro-life, and that is a big issue. But at the end of the day, people in Alabama are looking at what the economy is right now and they want to see a change. They know that things under this Biden administration -- the economy is not good. And they're concerned about immigration, and they're also concerned about safety on the streets.

And they realize that Republicans that have a new vision for the future are better for the people of Alabama, and that's a big issue. People aren't single-issue voters. And while the pro-life issue is a big topic of conversation with many pundits and those in the news media, you look at what voters are concerned about and issues that turn them out at the polls. It is the economy, immigration, and safety. WHITFIELD: I don't know, Joe. Might reproductive rights --

TRIPPI: Yeah, that -- the --

WHITFIELD: -- be at the center of how people vote? It really can be a single issue that influences them and this might be it. TRIPPI: Yeah. I mean, what Alice just said doesn't make any sense -- I'm sorry. But, like, OK, so all that's true but the -- we won in Alabama. And as somebody who ran -- or was the chief strategist for Doug Jones' race in 2017 when he became the first Democrat to win statewide in the Senate race there, this is an amazing thing to see something like this happen in Alabama.

And it's just -- it confirms what we've seen in special election after special election and it -- since Dobbs. Women have come out and a lot of Republican women are breaking with the party on this issue, particularly with Trump.

And some of the candidates that are out there, particularly in North Carolina and Ohio -- the Senate candidate and gubernatorial candidates that the Republicans have nominated are on the wrong side of this thing.