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National Transportation Safety Board Examining Black Box from Ship that Collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore; Mayor of Baltimore Brandon Scott Interviewed on Ongoing Rescue Efforts after Bridge Collapse; Attorneys for Sean Combs Criticize Authorities' Raids on His Properties; Source: Diddy Briefly Detained, then Released in Miami; Hunter Biden Seeks to Dismiss Felony Tax Charges at Court Hearing; Judge Imposes Gag Order on Trump Ahead of New York Hush Money Trial. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 08:00   ET



JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And some of the candidates that are out there, particularly in North Carolina and Ohio, the Senate candidates and gubernatorial candidates the Republican have nominated are on the wrong side of this thing. And I think it's making the Senate even more competitive in 2024 in November.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we'll leave it there for now. Joe Trippi, Alice Stewart, good to see you both. Thank you.

All right, another hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the breaking news, divers are back in the water searching for bodies in that as we just learned that the black box is now onshore. The NTSB chair just told us for the first time overnight investigators were able to get onboard the vessel that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge. They retrieved the blackboard boxes. They're analyzing the data right now. And sometime later today, they do expect to be able to tell us what they have learned about what possibly went wrong.

New details on the investigation into Sean Combs. He was briefly in custody. His lawyer now accuses investigators of military-level force.

And a showdown in Los Angeles courtroom as Hunter Biden pushes to get the felony tax charges against him dropped.

Kate and Sara are out today. I'm John Berman with Fredricka Whitfield. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

All right, this morning, the breaking news, divers are in the water trying to recover bodies. And the black box is now on shore. The chair of the NTSB just told us investigators were able to get on the DALI, the vessel that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge overnight. They are analyzing the black box data right now, and later today, they do expect to have some answers as to what caused the crash. They also told us they will begin conducting interviews with those onboard the vessel and people on shore who might have information about what happened. Some of what has been mentioned publicly, officers say the ship experienced a total blackout, we've all seen the video footage of that. They also say there was engine failure. And an official told "The Wall Street Journal" the smell of burned fuel was everywhere.

We're also learning this morning that a Coast Guard team that specializes in hazardous materials is monitoring the threats of leaks. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, John, we also just found out divers are now back in the water resuming their recovery effort for the six missing construction workers who are now presumed dead. Many of them were longtime residents of Maryland. CNN's Gabe Cohen is live for us from the scene with more on their lives, the challenges that the recovery crews are going to have while trying to, once again, being in very chilly, unpredictable water, Gabe.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, that's right. Conditions could be very difficult for those crews today as they do this search and recovery. We're expecting cold temperatures again and some rain, choppy waters potentially. There's even concern about flooding, and so they're going to have their hands full as they search for those six missing presumed dead construction workers.

And we're learning more about those six lives. As you mentioned, these were people, many of them longtime Maryland residents with families that dearly loved them. We've learned about 38-year-old Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval. He was an immigrant from Honduras who had been a U.S. resident for 18 years. He was a married father of two, an 18-year-old son, and a five-year-old daughter. His brother told CNN describing him as a really beloved, a member of their family.

We've also learned about Miguel Luna. He's a father of three from El Salvador who had lived in Maryland for more than 19 years. You can feel, Fred, the heartbreak as you talk to people here in the Baltimore community about the lives that have been lost. And as John mentioned before, this investigation into what went wrong is really kicking into high gear this afternoon. The NTSB has said they have boarded the DALI, their investigators, they have posted two dozen of them here at the scene. And they've started collecting electronics, including that data recorder, which is essentially the black box of the ship to try to piece together a timeline that we're expecting to get a little bit later today. They're processing it in their lab right now.

But that could tell us what caused this total blackout on the ship, the reason the pilot might have lost controls, lost the ability to operate the ship as he tried to slow it down, tried to drop anchor, couldn't pull that off, Fred, before colliding with the column of the bridge causing that collapsed.


A lot of questions, but it is promising that the NTSB has said they are hoping we now have a much better timeline by later this afternoon.

WHITFIELD: We look forward to that. I mean, amazing to hear that losing the ability to steer, but all having the wherewithal to be able to issue that mayday and potentially save a whole lot of lives. Gabe Cohen, thank you so much. John?

BERMAN: With us now is the mayor of Baltimore, Brandon Scott. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We did just hear that divers are back in the water. What are you hearing from the recovery efforts?

MAYOR BRANDON SCOTT, (D) BALTIMORE, MD: Well, listen, that's the focus, is to recover those who are in the water that we lost in this unthinkable tragedy. Right before getting on with you, I got an update from my fire chief, and they had just broke the meeting with the divers as they went back out to do their incredible work.

And as has been noted already this morning, that work is already dangerous, but will be even more so today with the expected rain, the choppy waters, and we all know about the debris and other things that they'll be dealing with. So we also have to lift those first responders up who are putting their own lives at risk to be able to bring home those who we lost to have some sort of closure for those families.

BERMAN: Is there still a state of emergency in Baltimore this morning?

SCOTT: Yes, there's still a state of emergency. We will have that for the foreseeable future. We know that our governor, Governor Moore, has also issued a state of emergency, and my counterpart in Baltimore County has done the same thing. This is an unthinkable tragedy that impacts our city and our community and our state in so many different ways. And while we're focused on making sure that we are recovering those who we lost, those who were simply working and trying to make transit better for the rest of us, we also understand the weight of how this is going to impact our city and our state.

BERMAN: What is happening on the shipping docks today? I was reading there are some 15,000 workers there. Are people even at work today? Can they work?

SCOTT: Well, I think, listen, we know that there's efforts that are being made to try to offload some of the vessels and things. But this is going to be an impact to those workers. Those folks are, as long as the port is closed and ships can't go in and out, we know that the level of work that they're accustomed to, being -- this port being the ninth largest in the country and number one for automobiles is going to be directly and deeply impacted. And we'll have to figure out how we're going to wrap our arms around that community, those workers, those families who depend on the port, and really the supply chain that depends on the Port of Baltimore. But we are all right now still focused on recovery. That's what we're talking about today is recovering of those who we lost.

BERMAN: What is your message to the families of those who are now presumed lost, some of whom that we're learning very well may have been heroes? SCOTT: Yes, I think the first thing is that the entire city of Baltimore is with them. My heart and my prayers are with them, but we're going to be with them for the long haul. Once the phone calls go away, once the cameras go away and focus onto another issue, we'll be there to support you in every way that we can to make sure that we help you heal as much as possible from the loss of their loved one.

BERMAN: Mayor Brandon Scott, I know how difficult this has been for you and the city of Baltimore. Thank you so much for being with us today. Best of luck as the day moves on.

SCOTT: Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right, new details about what Sean Diddy Combs was about to do before he was briefly detained as federal investigators raided his home.

And Donald Trump now under a new gag order in the New York hush money case. What he said to spark the judge's order.

And if you're tossing and turning every night, a workout may be the solution. Details from a new study.



BERMAN: New this morning, a source close to Sean Diddy Combs tells CNN he was about to leave Miami for a pre-planned trip with his twin daughters when he was stopped by law enforcement at the airport. One of his associates, we're learning, is now under arrest for drug charges. And this comes as a lawyer for Combs is slamming the raids on his properties, calling them, quote, a gross overuse of force.

With us now, CNN's Elizabeth Wagmeister. What's the latest, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, good morning. So, as you said it, Diddy's attorney is slamming these raids on his homes in Los Angeles and Miami. His attorney is calling these raids a witch-hunt. Those are the words that he used. Now I have a statement from Diddy's attorney, I want to read you part of that, John. He says, quote, "Yesterday, there was a gross overuse of military-level force as search warrants were executed at Mr. Combs's residences. There is no excuse for the excessive show of force and hostility exhibited by authorities or the way his children or employees were treated."

Now, that is just part of a lengthy statement that we received. But as you see there, Diddy's legal team was shocked, that is what they say, by the scope of these raids on his homes. Now, as you said, I have learned from a source close to the rapper that he was on his way out of Miami where he owns a residence with his two twin teenage daughters.


They were on their way out for a spring break trip, that is what I hear, and that is when he was stopped by authority and spoke with them briefly, but then was released. There was no arrests made.

Of course, this is an investigation at this point. Diddy's team is maintaining his innocence. They say that he is going to fight to clear his name, but of course, this all comes after Diddy is facing five lawsuits right now with very serious allegations, John.

Back in November is when the first lawsuit came against Diddy from the singer, Cassie. He was in a long-term relationship with her. She has accused him of rape, of grooming, of about a decade of abuse. So these are very serious allegations. And of course, while this is an investigation, the Department of Homeland Security is saying that Diddy is a target, and this is a department that investigates for sex trafficking.

So again, very serious, but Diddy's team is saying he is innocent and I am also hearing, John that Diddy's team believes that the media was tipped off on these raids in Los Angeles.

They say that the chopper from local news was above his home in Los Angeles before his home was breached. So they believed that the media was tipped off and they believe that this is a witch hunt. That is what they are saying.

BERMAN: Look, Combs is obviously a huge figure and has been in the entertainment industry for several decades, but these allegations swirling around him are very serious. What has the reaction been inside the industry?

WAGMEISTER: It is a great question because as you've said, Diddy is one of the biggest figures in not just music and entertainment, he is a mogul. I mean, just in September of last year, he received the Global Icon Award at the MTV Video Music Awards. Then you fast forward two months and he is hit by this lawsuit.

He is responsible for launching the careers of people like Usher and Mary J. Blige, and yet, we have not heard anything, anyone defending him, right? The silence is very, very loud when you are looking at all the people that Diddy knows, all the people that he has worked with.

Nobody is coming to defend him and that is because these allegations are incredibly serious. His team can continue to deny them and they are and again, at this point, they are just allegations there has been no arrest. There has been nothing criminal at this point.

But there is a pattern here. If you look at all of these five lawsuits, these are people who do not know each other, who worked with Diddy or came across Diddy at different points throughout the years, and there are very similar accusations of sexual assault, of abuse, of grooming, of drugging women, of minors.

So there are some patterns here and I have covered many stories throughout the #MeToo Movement, John, and just because there is one allegation doesn't mean that's not true, but certainly when you establish a pattern of behavior from different accusers, that leads you to believe that when there is smoke, there is fire.

BERMAN: Elizabeth Wagmeister obviously, an investigation is what we are looking at right now. Keep us posted as to what you hear -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, happening this morning. Hunter Biden will try to get the felony tax charges against him dismissed, the new arguments from his lawyers that will be brought before a judge today.

And was the 2020 election stolen? That's one of the top questions to potential new hires at the RNC.



BERMAN: All right, new this morning, we've learned that attorneys for Hunter Biden will try to persuade a federal judge to dismiss felony tax charges against him. His lawyers say he is "being targeted because of his political and familial affiliations." They contend that the special counsel caved to pressure from Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is all over this story. What do we expect to see play out here in a few hours?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE SENIOR REPORTER: Well, John, this is going to be arguments and there are going to be midi arguments where Hunter Biden's team is asking a judge in California, a federal judge, to dismiss the indictment he is facing on tax evasion crimes.

This is one of the moments that is going to put Special Counsel David Weiss and the indictment here in California, the federal charges against Hunter Biden before the judge, and really stress test them.

Some of the things that Hunter Biden's team will be challenging is the ability of the special counsel to file these charges. The fact that they were filed in California where Hunter Biden's team says he wasn't living at the time, he was alleged to have violated or evaded paying taxes.

And then on top of that, they are going to be talking to the judge about the politics around the investigation because they say Hunter Biden should not have been charged here and he was treated improperly. His privacy as a taxpayer was invaded because of this investigation and some of the things that played out in the political sphere afterwards related to him.

So all of this coming also in an election year, what happens here, there is not going to be a decision today from the judge very likely, but what happens here in this case, if it moves forward or if it is tossed, that has major implications for the president's son and the conversation around Hunter Biden as he is a criminal defendant -- John.


BERMAN: Yes, a lot of lawyers and campaign strategists, no doubt, watching this hearing very carefully.

Katelyn Polantz, great to see you. Thank you -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now is defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu to talk more about all of this. Good to see you, Shan.

So Hunter Biden and his attorney will try to get these charges involved having nine tax offenses dismissed. What do they need to argue or perhaps even produce in order to achieve this?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think there are two areas that they got a little bit of traction on. One is easier than the other.

The first is they're going to argue that really the prosecution is flawed because they had reached an agreement previously. We remember that plea agreement that rather spectacularly crashed and burned and they want to argue that Hunter Biden didn't do anything to violate that agreement, which involved diversion on the gun charges and all of these other charges. That one is probably not going to fly with the judge.

But the second one, which is really a selective prosecution issue, saying that he is not being treated the same as similarly situated people facing tax evasion charges who have already paid the money back. That's going to have a little bit of traction. I don't think it will ultimately succeed, but in making his arguments, they're going to put the Special Counsel David Weiss, under a lot of pressure because it is really going to be opening up the history of this case.

It has been over a half decade at this zero point, so Weiss is this going to have some tough questions to answer before the judge and is probably going to preview some of the difficulties Weiss is going to have in prosecuting this case at trial.

WHITFIELD: And more on that latter point, you just made, I mean, Biden -- Hunter Biden is alleged to have failed to pay taxes on time, missing deadlines, even filing false returns, but Hunter Biden claims that he has paid all of it back. So why doesn't that matter?

WU: Well, I think, he is also claiming his refund. This might make things worse for Weiss. It doesn't matter because at the time that the crime was committed, if he failed to file, if he failed to evade, they simply show in the indictment probable cause that that happened and now they have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it happened.

So technically, it doesn't matter whether you paid it back or not. The problem for David Weiss is that numerous prosecutors, including myself have noted that it is rare when a defendant has paid back the money, that they would still go after them criminally, unless with some really ginormous amount of money, which this is not, I think it is about a million or so. So that makes it an unusual situation, and worse for Weiss, there is going to be a big jury nullification factor, which is it is so well- known that Biden's notoriety is one of the main reasons why he is being looked at for over half a decade, that that's going to make an uphill fight to get the jurors to want to convict you.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's move on to another case. New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan placing a limited gag order on Donald Trump because of prior extra-judicial statements, the judge says. So how affective might this be?

WU: Well, judging from the past record, it may not be that effective.

We remember that in the earlier at trial with Judge Engoron, there was some very small fines that were slapped on Trump. He may be a little bit more careful here at this point, having experienced that before.

I think the order itself is very reasonable. It is very similar to the other ones that have been imposed on trump. And again, the order does not include Trump's "remarks," the really disparagement of the actual judge or the actual prosecutor. I don't think that's right.

I think it shows a lot of disrespect and taints the system for Trump to be talking about the judge and the prosecutors. It is one thing to say I disagree with the ruling, it is another to come out and call people names and claim that they are corrupt.

That taints the jury pool. It affects it, and really taints the whole process too. It is wrong.

WHITFIELD: What will be the penalty if Trump defies the order?

WU: Well, theoretically the penalty could be fines and even jail time for a contempt of court. I think almost everyone thinks unlikely he would be put in jail unless he totally goes off the rails repeatedly.

I think you'll see some escalating fines going on. I also think that probably, Trump will make some effort to control himself. I don't think it is up to his lawyers, his lawyers have no control over him whatsoever, but he will probably rein it in a little bit, so we will see.

WHITFIELD: All right, frankly said by Shan Wu. Thank you so much -- John.

WU: Good to see you.

BERMAN: A new federal investigation into TikTok. Is the social media app collecting data on children without parents' consent?

And who is the boss? Find out which Emmy winning actor is in talks to play Bruce Springsteen in a brand new film.