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Port Worker: Dali Ship Shouldn't Have Been Allowed To Leave; USCG: Ship's Bow Sits On River Floor Because Of Bridge Debris; Obama, Bill Clinton To Join Biden For Campaign Event; Netanyahu Tells U.S. Delegation Victory In Gaza "A Few Weeks Away". Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: A treacherous situation underwater and a challenging one, to say the least, above water. While divers hope to recover the remains of six missing workers from the bridge collapse in Baltimore, experts are tackling the critical task of reopening the port to save the city from another potential economic crisis.

Plus, coming off the bench, Barack Obama hoping to help his former VP and current President Joe Biden in his rematch with Donald Trump. Why Joe Biden's predecessor is worried about Biden's re-election chances.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And an online star stunning his followers with a cancer diagnosis at just 32 years old. Why oncologists worry this diagnosis and others like it are part of a troubling trend.

We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: As federal investigators rush to nail down the potential cause of the cargo ship collision that brought down the Key Bridge in Baltimore, we've just gotten some new and alarming details about the lead up to the incident. A port worker in Baltimore says the Dali ship had extensive power issues in the days preceding the deadly crash. Listen to this.


JULIE MITCHELL, CO-ADMINISTRATOR, CONTAINER ROYALTY: It was just having power failures left and right. So whenever it left port, some of us feel like it should have left when it was daylight so they could take care of and see what issues they were having too. But we can't stop the ships from leaving port. The issues that it was having and the shipping line knowing probably the issues it had, they shouldn't have let the ship leave port until they got it under control, honestly.

It was here for two days because it was a two-day working ship. And those two days, they were having serious power outages.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: Power issues for two days before the ship took off in that now fateful moment. As we know, the ship's lights were flickering before the impact. The crew made a mayday call at that point. Officials agree that the mayday call saved lives, but it still wasn't enough to fully prevent a tragedy. Divers are now searching for the remains of the six missing victims who were working on a construction project on the bridge at the time of that collapse.

CNN's Brian Todd is on the scene for us.

Brian, obviously this news from the port worker about electrical issues on the boat, somebody at NTSB investigators will look closely at.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly they will, Boris. We should note that regarding that lady who spoke to our affiliate ITN about those electrical issues in port, CNN has reached out to the ship's operator Synergy Group for response to her account there of those electrical problems while the ship was being checked out. We have not heard a response from Synergy Group yet.

We do have to note that those clearly some very disturbing accounts of what may have taken place before the ship set sail early Tuesday morning. What we can tell you is that the grim news from on the ground here and in the water is that none of the apparent six victims who are believed to have perished in the water, none of their bodies have yet been discovered.

And as you can see behind me, the conditions here have really drastically worsened between yesterday and today. It's been a steady driving rain all day long.


And that means that the water has gotten much murkier, the water visibility under the water for the divers was never very good to begin with, now it's almost nothing. The water is very, very cold, dangerously cold for anyone in the water, divers included. So that is a factor as well.

So you've got really terrible weather conditions here complicating this. We were told in a briefing a short time ago from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and a top Coast Guard Vice Admiral that the entire crew of the Dali, which is still stuck behind me with the bridge kind of - bridge debris draped all over it, the crew is still on board that ship and that they are cooperating with investigators.

Some other information, they said there are about 4,700 containers on board that ship, including 56 containers that contain hazmat material. But those containers they say are secure. They do not believe there's any threat to the public with those containers still on board the ship, Boris. They did say, interestingly, two containers went overboard, but none of those containers had hazmat materials in them. Right now, there's no threat to the public, no threat to drinking water, according to officials, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And Brian, we are learning more about those who perished in the apparent accident. Tell us more about them.

TODD: Right. CNN has been reaching out to family members for the past day and a half to try to ascertain what they know about this, what they've been told by officials here. We did speak to a gentleman named Carlos Suazo Sandoval. He is the brother of one of the gentlemen who's believed to be one of the victims, Maynor Sandoval. Here's what Carlos Sandoval said to CNN a short time ago.


CARLOS ALEXIS SUAZO SANDOVAL (through interpreter): They have found cars, but they have not yet moved any cars because there is a lot of steel framework. And they must be careful because they are human beings. Even if lifeless, we, the family members, need them to rescue the bodies, at least to see them and have them handed over to my family, his entire family, the people who are from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and in, our case, Honduras.


TODD: So really heartbreaking accounts from the families. And, of course, everyone's hearts go out to them. That's an account that's kind of been repeated, at least in part by other family members, other relatives of those who are believed to have been killed. Just kind of the lack of information they're getting.

But again, Boris, with no bodies being discovered and divers still really undertaking some very dangerous work to try to find them, there may not be a lot of information they can give to these families right now. And it's worth saying also that as horrible as the conditions look above the surface and they're horrible, there's a lot of twisted metal and other debris below the surface that divers are navigating. So there's no telling when those bodies could be discovered.

SANCHEZ: Yes, just a tragic situation and very difficult for those teams trying to locate the bodies.

Brian Todd from Baltimore, thank you so much. Brianna?

KEILAR: Let's talk more about this with structural engineer Troy Morgan. He is a spokesman for the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations.

Troy, just a short time ago, the Coast Guard was talking about how difficult clearing the debris from on top of the ship is going to be, that the bow of the Dali is actually sitting on the bottom of the bay there because of the weight of the bridge on it. What are your concerns about the dangers of removing the wreckage?

TROY MORGAN, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Well, I think, first of all, I just want to recognize the tragedy that's happened here and how many of our thoughts go out to those that gave - that are affected by this heartbreaking incident. And in terms of the wreckage, these things have to be very carefully planned. There has to be a sequence as to how components of the collapsed bridge are removed just to maintain the safety of any workers that are involved. KEILAR: I mean, this is really tough, right? When you describe how you go about moving some of these things, give us a sense of the type of equipment and the difficulties here.

MORGAN: Well, there's going to be heavy equipment involved. There'll be cranes, there's going to be rigging, and the sequence has to be done such that you're not causing further unintentional collapse to other portions of the bridge that may already be unstable following the original collapse. So, yes, the mixture of engineers, contractors, various stakeholders and it's going to be very well orchestrated and, yes, we'll have to see how it progresses, but it's a very carefully performed operation.

KEILAR: This is a bridge that was built in the '70s. No doubt if it were built today, it would look differently, but many observers have wondered why there wasn't more protective structure around the piers of this bridge. I want to play something that the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a short time ago at the White House.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: It's difficult to overstate the impact of this collision we're talking about. It's not just as big as a building.


It's really as big as a block. A hundred thousand tons all going into this pier all at once. Part of what's being debated is whether any design feature now known would have made a difference in this case. We'll get more information on that as the investigation proceeds.


KEILAR: Is there any design feature, Troy, that could have made a difference in this case that could have withstood the Dali?

MORGAN: So I - it's important to realize that structural engineers really spend a lot of time analyzing the probability of extreme events like this, and the point is to minimize the likelihood or the risk of a collapse such as this, but it's - I can't be reduced to zero. And it's frankly impractical to design or construct bridge piers to withstand the impact, the direct impact of a cargo vessel such as this.

So there are protective measures that are in place, things like these dolphins or piles that act kind of like bollards or berms of soil and rock that may slow down a vessel prior to impact or simply measures such as using tugboats for - as part of guidance. But to actually just through brute force strengthen bridge piers to absorb impact isn't really a practical approach from a design or construction standpoint.

KEILAR: Yes. I wonder, we've been hearing from officials, clearly this is going to take years to rebuild this. It took five years in the first place, but they're not giving an estimate. How long do you think it could take considering this needs to be completely rebuilt and parts of it that remain demolished as well? How long do you think?

MORGAN: Yes, it's obviously hard to say at this early stage, but given the amount of time it will take to clear the debris and then to go through the design and reconstruction process, I would say years is the right way to frame it.

KEILAR: Years. All right. Troy Morgan, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

MORGAN: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Boris?

SANCHEZ: Pivoting now to politics. Tomorrow, President Biden, former President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton will all take the stage together to headline a high dollar fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Sources tell CNN that Obama is planning to ramp up campaigning for Biden as the general election draws closer, and that he's made it clear that the 2024 election marks a all hands on deck moment.

Let's take you now live to the White House with CNN's Kayla Tausche. Kayla, tell us more about Obama's plans to help his former running mate.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, President Obama has been lending his support both in private conversations with his former vice president and former staffers, as well as public fundraising appeals aimed at energizing voters and filling Democrats' coffers.

I'm told that the Biden campaign has largely been instructing former President Obama on how exactly he can be most helpful. And I'm told that he's been more than happy to oblige, especially when it comes to bolstering support among demographics like Black and Latino voters, as well as young voters.

And while President Obama won't feature prominently on the campaign trail until really later this fall, leading up to the November election, he has already recorded a series of fundraising videos that are expected to be released in succession in the coming weeks and months. And then there is that big high dollar fundraiser that you mentioned that's happening tomorrow night in New York City at Radio City Music Hall, where three sources tell CNN that the hall there is expected to be well above the initial $10 million estimate set for the fundraising for that event, just underscoring the financial firepower that Democrats have going into November.

Now, comedian Stephen Colbert is going to be moderating a conversation on stage with those three presidents, what some leading Democrats are calling a once-in-a-lifetime conversation. But I'm told that that conversation is going to be more thematic than substantive. It's going to highlight what President Biden has accomplished in the last four years and what they believe the stakes are for the 2024 race.

And to that end, Boris, Obama's 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, tells CNN that the fact that Donald Trump is likely to be the opponent for President Biden in the race just underscores the urgency of that mission and his willingness to help this year.

SANCHEZ: Kayla Tausche, live for us from the White House, thanks so much, Kayla. Let's expand this conversation now with Leon Panetta. He's a former White House chief of staff under President Clinton. He also served as defense secretary and CIA director under President Obama.

Secretary, thanks so much for being with us. Given the reporting, I'm wondering what role you expect former President Obama to play in the 2024 election.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, look, I think it's a good step that the President is having a fundraiser with both former President Clinton and President Obama.


They both got re-elected as Democrats in the White House. They both were very popular. And they both had a good sense of messaging to the average American. And I think that's where, obviously, President Obama can be very effective. I mean, I think they have to be careful about where they use the former president. I would probably wait until we get closer to the convention and then to the election in the fall. But I think he can be a tremendous asset in terms of reaching not just the average American, but obviously the Latinos, the young people, the minorities that are going to be critical to Joe Biden if he's going to win this election.

SANCHEZ: And specifically on certain issues, he can be an effective messenger. We know that during his visit at the White House, he participated in an organizing call to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. I'm wondering how critical do you think messaging on health care generally is going to be in 2024?

PANETTA: Well, I think messaging is going to be very critical to the ability of Joe Biden to be able to win this election in November. And that messaging has to be about health care, about the Affordable Care Act. That messaging has to be about the economy and what needs to be done to make sure we continue to improve the economy. That messaging has to obviously deal with reproductive rights, which is a critical issue we just saw in a House race in Alabama that was to be a Republican district, I think. A Democrat won campaigning on reproductive rights, and in vitro fertilization.]

So there are some very critical issues here that I think could be very helpful to the president with the right message.

SANCHEZ: So yesterday, President Biden finished up a tour of all 2024 swing states that he started after the State of the Union speech. The campaign is now apparently heeding Obama's warning to step up the number of events that he's holding. Do you think they should be doing even more?

PANETTA: Well, I think it's a critical moment here. Look, I think Trump is in a difficult position. He's going to be going into a trial. He's not able to go out and do a lot of campaign events. This is a moment where Joe Biden can basically dominate in the campaign arena. So it is important that he get out to the country. It's important that they well plan these campaign events to make sure that they are successful and that he continues to fundraise.

All of those things are critical to his ability to be able to lay the groundwork for a strong campaign in the fall.

SANCHEZ: Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, thanks for being with us.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

SANCHEZ: Still plenty more news to come on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, including Gaza ceasefire and hostage talks again stalling very close to the finish line. And we're hearing a woman's dramatic account of her time as a hostage to Hamas.

Plus, the two year long feud between Disney and Florida may be cooling off after a new settlement. We'll dig into those details.

And he's one of the most popular names in the world of video game streaming. How a new announcement from Ninja is highlighting a scary health trend among young adults. Those stories and much more coming your way in just minutes.



KEILAR: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is telling American lawmakers that Israel is just a few weeks away from claiming victory in Gaza. He told members of Congress visiting Jerusalem today that his country has no choice but to push forward with its ground offensive in Rafah. That's where Palestinian health officials say Israeli strikes killed at least 11 people in a residential building this morning, while Israel's military says it wasn't aware of any strikes at the time in that location.

But even as the U.S. pushes for a solution, ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas have reportedly hit a stalemate, with one diplomat calling the negotiations stuck, but ongoing.

CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us now live from Jerusalem.

Melissa, what are the major sticking points in these negotiations?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, there had been such hope about the agreement that had been reached, at least on the question of the ratio of Palestinian prisoners to be exchanged for the Israeli hostages that Israel is hoping to get out as part of this deal. It is the other sticking points that had proved such a formidable challenge, so much so that the Israeli negotiators had actually left Doha Tuesday morning. I think the fact that we're now hearing that there are proposals going back and forth, there is cautious optimism being expressed both by Israeli and American officials is, of course, good news, and leading to some prospects that this has not so much been a stalemate as a pause, and there might be an actual resumption of the talks themselves.

The sticking points, Brianna, very clearly beyond that ratio having been settled, the question, for instance, of the movement of Palestinian civilians within Gaza from the south towards the north, how quickly that could happen and what large numbers, what the sizes of the groups would be, the positionment of Israeli soldiers within the Gaza Strip.


And, of course, the question of humanitarian aid.

These broader issues remain outstanding, but the subject of intense speculation. We've been hearing some of that cautious optimism from the State Department itself.


MATTHEW MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: And so some of the remaining issues that need to be resolved are some of the most difficult ones in areas where there is the most disagreement between Israel and Hamas. We do think it's possible to bridge those differences, and we're going to continue to try to bridge those differences.


BELL: It was those maximalist demands on the part of Hamas that had seemed to kill these latest talks, but still hope then that they might resume. And with them, of course, the possibility that everyone's hoping for, and that would be the six-week ceasefire that would go with it, Brianna.

KEILAR: And Melissa, for the first time, an Israeli woman has spoken to the New York Times about the violence and sexual assault that she experienced after she was kidnapped and held captive by Hamas. Tell us what she's saying.

BELL: Amit Soussana is a young Israeli lawyer who spent 55 days, Brianna, in the Hamas tunnels, in some residences inside the Gaza Strip. She was one of those kidnapped on October 7th, released as part of that big exchange of prisoners versus hostages from November. And really, what she's delivered to the New York Times is a remarkable account, given over eight hours of interview that really tell the story of the length of her captivity.

Her fear, the way she was shackled by her ankle. And for the first time, of course, the revelation, the explanation, the fairly graphic detailing of the sexual assault that she had long felt coming, and in the end became a victim of. It really is a harrowing read. And, of course, it comes at a time when there is this intense pressure, adds to the pressure on the Israeli authorities that they find some kind of deal. In fact, we've heard one of the mothers of another woman being held hostage say, look, this is not just a horrific account in and of itself. It's an important reminder of what so many of these women are likely going through.

And remember that the U.N. has pointed out just this last month, not only that it believes that there were rapes and gang rapes committed on October 7th, but that it believes that there are ongoing sexual abuses being committed on the women hostages. So another layer of pressure on the Israeli government, and I think a sense in the consciousness of Israeli citizens of - a reminder of what their fellow citizens might be going through across the border, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. They need to come home. Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that report in Jerusalem. We appreciate it.

We're learning more about the construction workers now presumed dead after Tuesday's collision and bridge collapse in Baltimore.

And the legal troubles continue to pile up for Sean "Diddy" Combs. What we now know about the sex trafficking investigation that prompted raids at two of his homes on opposite sides of the country.