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Biden Campaign: Tonight's Fundraiser with Obama, Clinton Raises $35 Million; Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis Returns to Courtroom to Ask for August Start Date for Election Subversion Trial of Donald Trump; Captain Uses Simulator to Recreate Conditions before Ship Collision that Collapsed Bridge in Baltimore. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 08:00   ET



SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D-MD) APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE: -- the inner harbor that helped turn around these ships. The boats were not accompanying the ship as they passed under this other bridge.

But, again, these are all possibilities. We just need to wait for the NTSB. And of course, we're also going to be watching our effort to rebuild the bridge itself that carries about 35,000 people every day.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Chris Van Hollen from Maryland, the whole country is with you this morning, Senator, know that. Thanks so much for being with us.

A new hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts right now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: She's back and says nothing will stop her from trying Donald Trump in the Georgia election subversion case. District Attorney Fani Willis returned to the Fulton County courtroom after Donald Trump's legal team failed to have her removed from the case. Today, the former president hoping to get the case thrown out altogether.

Plus, the stars will come out for a massive fundraising event tonight that has already hauled in millions for President Biden, who you might expect to see tonight.

And caught on camera, the frantic effort to free passengers trapped inside a vehicle.

I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman. Fredricka Whitfield is here for Kate Bolduan today. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

BERMAN: This morning, we are standing by to see Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis enter the courtroom for the first time since efforts to disk qualify her failed. This is a hearing in the state's election subversion case against Donald Trump. Trump is trying to get the case dismissed this morning on free speech First Amendment grounds. Those similar efforts from other defendants have failed. We can also here the D.A. push for a trial date soon. We know she wants to start in August. CNN's Zach Cohen watching all of this. Zach, what do you expect to see


ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, John, today's hearing really underscores how this case against Donald Trump and his co-defendants in Georgia continues to move forward, even as were waiting to see if an appeals court is going to review Judge McAfee's decision to allow Fani Willis to remain on the case.

But look, today we're going to hear oral arguments on a variety of different motions, including one filed by Trumps lead attorney, Steve Sadow, in the Georgia case. He's going to argue that, look, the whole indictment against Trump should be thrown out because the actions described in there and in the criminal charges against Trump are protected by the First Amendment, by the political speech protections in the First Amendment. I want to read what Sadow wrote in his in his motion submitted to the court before today's hearing. He wrote, "The First Amendment in affording the broadest protection to political speech and discussion regarding governmental affairs not only embraces but encourages exactly the kind of behavior under attack in this indictment."

As you mentioned, too, we've heard similar arguments that have been made in front of Judge McAfee and in other cases that have not been successful. So it'll be interesting to see if McAfee, how he questions Trump's attorney and how prosecutors push back against Sadow's argument today in open court. As you mentioned, it's all going to be broadcast live, so we'll get to see it for ourselves.

But meanwhile, big picture, Fani Willis is really trying to shift attention back to the case, back to the criminal charges against Donald Trump and his remaining co-defendants. We've spent about two months talking about Fani Willis's personal life. Take a listen to what she said when we caught up with her at an unrelated event in Atlanta and asked her about the state of the criminal case in Georgia.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: That's not something that I find embarrassing in any way, and I know that I have not done anything that's illegal.

There are efforts to slow down this train, but the train is coming.


COHEN: So as you mentioned, were still waiting for a trial date to be set. Fani Willis has asked Judge McAfee to put an August 5th start date on the calendar, and I'm told that she could re-up that request at some point in the near future. But we're going to have to wait and see if Judge McAfee does ultimately set a date, and is that before the 2024 election.

BERMAN: There are Republican efforts to investigate Fani Willis. Where do they stand? COHEN: Yes, it looks like one of the people that are trying to slow

down this case that Fani Willis is talking about is Congressman Jim Jordan, the Republican close ally of Donald Trump. He issued a subpoena to Willis for documents from her office related to their financial records several months ago. Fani Willis responding yesterday, providing some documents, but also hitting back at Jordan, accusing him of conducting a political investigation into her office. She wrote back in her letter yesterday saying "Nothing that you do will derail the efforts of my staff and I to bring the election interference prosecution to trial. My family, my staff, and I have been threatened repeatedly by people making violent, often racist attacks. Neither those threads nor anything your colleagues and you say or do will deter us from fulfilling our duty to bring this case to trial."

So obviously, Willis defiant, just on the heels of this effort to disqualify her, still pushing for a trial date before the 2024 election, and not letting it get sidetracked by efforts by Trump's allies in Congress, even, to slow down her case.


BERMAN: Again, this hearing we're expecting this morning, it will be televised. Some of the interpersonal dynamics will be very interesting to watch. Zach Cohen, great to see you this morning. Thank you very much. Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, John. So where is Trump today? What is his mindset and what's his plan ahead of today's hearing in Georgia? CNN's Kristen Holmes has something new formation this morning and is joining us right now. Kristen, what are you learning?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So in particular, let's start with Georgia, because this is where his team is going to be monitoring today. I talked to a number of advisors who said that they are aware that these First Amendment cases in the past have not been successful. But last night, one adviser reminding me that Trump's lawyers, which they do often, get paid a lot of money to exhaust every single avenue, all of this being their efforts to try and delay any sort of trial until after the election. That has been their goal the entire time.

And I will remind you, they felt very good after the Fani Willis decision, despite the fact that Willis could stay on the case, they felt that it was a scathing report and damaged her publicly. But they will keep an eye on that.

The other thing of what Donald Trump is doing today, you are going to see him in New York. He is going to the wake of the NYPD officer who was shot and killed at a traffic stop in Queens earlier this week. Again, that is in New York, and there is a reason that you're going to hear about this trip from Donald Trump's team. They are going to try and contrast Donald Trump, again, going to the wake of this fallen NYPD officer with Joe Biden also being in New York and attending this glitzy, as they say, glamorous fundraiser, to see a little bit of a political angle there as well. But when it comes to Georgia, they will have their eye on this hearing to see if anything does come of it.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kristen Holmes, thanks so much. Sara?

SIDNER: All right, four dead, seven injured in a stabbing rampage outside of Chicago. What police are saying about the man accused of terrorizing a neighborhood in the middle of the day.

We'll take you also aboard a cargo ship simulator that can help investigators find more answers in the Baltimore bridge collapse.

And a robot police dog taking a bullet in the line of duty, possibly saving the officer's life. We will have more on that story ahead.



SIDNER: We are seeing new traffic camera video this morning showing the moments before the bridge collapse in Baltimore. If you take a look, you can see there on the right side of your screen the lights flashing there. Those are the construction vehicles blinking on the bridge. And you can also see your bottom right, the lights from that huge cargo ship. The video cuts off just before the bridge falls into the water. Video like this, of course, will help investigators as they're trying to figure out all of the details of exactly how this happened. CNN went on a ship simulator to recreate the moments leading up to the collision. Here's CNN's Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So we are on a cargo ship about the same size as the DALI, but we are navigating San Francisco harbor in this case. This is all a simulation, but we have a real captain, Captain Morgan McManus, who is going to walk us through possibly what could have happened in a total blackout situation, as you call it, aboard the DALI.

CAPT. MORGAN MCMANUS, INSTRUCTOR, SUNY MARITIME COLLEGE: Yes. So we have the cadet simulating the mate on watch. We have another cadet on the helm. Go left 15, please.

MARQUEZ: And the DALI would have lost both propulsion and steering?

MCMANUS: At a full blackout, they would have lost everything.

MARQUEZ: Full blackout, they call it.

MCMANUS: Yes, correct. So we could run the blackout right now from the control room. There we go. Alarms will start going off on the bridge, start getting alarms. The mate on watch is going to try to figure out what the alarm is. The engine room is now calling to tell us what's going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bridge, mate on watch.

MARQUEZ: And in this situation where you can see the pylon coming and you know it is disaster, can you drop the anchor? What are the -- you guys trained for these scenarios?

MCMANUS: Right, you're going to try to do everything you can to stop from hitting it, whether its running the engine full stern to take the speed off. We've already come down to almost stopped in the water now. And then we'd be letting the anchors out. If we couldn't get the speed off the vessel, you can lower both anchors down and have them drag or catch along the bottom to create resistance to slow the ship down. But for that to work, you need time, and you need distance.

The captain is going to be dealing with the engine room and getting on the phone and figuring out what's going on. So that they will be going over --

MARQUEZ: So that room would be -- I think that's where the real chaos is.

MCMANUS: That's where the real chaos is. So now if they call back and say we have power, the first thing we're going to do is then go emergency full stern to try to stop --

MARQUEZ: Because it looks like they do establish power just before they hit the pylon, before they hit the bridge.

MCMANUS: A little smoke comes out. They start trying to go astern, get the speed off.

MARQUEZ: This must have been high anxiety at this point on the bridge trying to deal with this.

MCMANUS: Incredibly stressful. Watching that first video clip, when I saw the total power go out on the ship, I knew there was a major problem going on.

MARQUEZ: So one other thing we wanted to show you was what it would look like at night. We shot the simulation during the day so we could see everything. But this is much more what it would have looked like for the DALI in Baltimore Harbor. It complicates things at night, I take it.

MCMANUS: It does. You have -- you need the bridge dark so you can see the lights outside, but you also have ambient light from the skyline or the terminal coming in. Also, in darkness, you lose some depth perception, which makes it a little challenging to actually judge your distances as well. So it complicates moving around the bridge at night.


MARQUEZ: And this is, you teach at State University of New York Maritime College. I take it what happened in Baltimore Harbor will be studied for decades.

MCMANUS: It will. It will become one of those tragic accidents that we take lessons learned from, and then we apply them to what we are teaching the students of what to do in an emergency on the bridge of a ship. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: And Miguel is with us now.

That was so instructive, to be able to see it from the perspective of the captain, and anxiety provoking.

MARQUEZ: It was stressful for me to be in there when he was trying to direct these cadets and that information from the engineering room is what they were trying to get more than anything, that they will be looking for from the black boxes.

But more importantly, all the metrics from all the different systems on the ship. And as they said in the press conference last night, they may not have a lot of that information, but what systems were going up, what systems were going down when they were and why is what they will -- they will study that for decades to come.

SIDNER: The timing of all this, it was interesting to hear the captain say the timing was so crucial because they could have dropped the anchors and dragged slowly to try to get out of the way.

MARQUEZ: If they had a half-mile more to try to stop, that may have made all the difference.

If they were a quarter-mile further along, they could have cleared the bridge, they would have been in the Chesapeake and that would have been a different story.

It was just horrendous timing.

SIDNER: Miguel Marquez, thank you so much. It is a really good piece.

MARQUEZ: You got it.


BERMAN: All right, what is that sound you're hearing across Manhattan? POLITICO calls it a money bomb. What the Biden campaign calls the most successful political fundraising event in US history.

And Cabernet catastrophe, Merlot meltdown, Zinfandel zinfan-don't. Ninety percent of the world's wine in serious jeopardy.



BERMAN: Brand new this morning, the Biden campaign released projections of what it is calling the most successful fundraiser in American political history, $25 million.

President Biden, former Presidents Obama and Clinton will be there. They will be joined by Lizzo, Mindy Kaling, Queen Latifah, Stephen Colbert.

CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny, a celebrity in his own right is with us this morning.

This is a lot of money for one event -- Jeff.


I mean, the Biden campaign is calling this the most successful fundraiser ever and $25 million and counting. They say it could go even higher because there is a big, small dollar contribution. People can still send in 25 bucks or so to watch some of this event online.

But look, the bottom line of all of this is the Biden campaign is doing quite well in the fundraising. They have surpassed the Trump campaign and the RNC significantly and it always helps when you have a few former presidents at your side.

But John, that is perhaps what is so interesting about all of this. There has been so much intrigue of course, about what the former presidents think about President Biden's re-election bid, of course, both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are younger than President Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden ran for president before either of them, so just the history of this alone is so extraordinary. It is a rare meeting of the Democratic side, of the presidents club, if you will, of course, absent Jimmy Carter, who is still in Georgia and George W. Bush, of course, also not there, but they are running against Donald Trump, so that's why this is so extraordinary.

But John, if you think back to history, sometimes presidents are the best explainers of presidents themselves. So Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will be called upon by the Biden campaign to try and not only unify the Democratic Party, but also sort of build up some of those coalitions, that fraying Biden coalition that really has happened.

But the fascinating part of tonight, Stephen Colbert will be holding a conversation with all three Democratic presidents -- Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden. They're supposed to be talking about the Biden accomplishments, but you almost have to wonder if they will be a venturing into their own nostalgia as well -- John.

BERMAN: Well, have you ever heard a conversation with a former president where they don't delve into their own accomplishments? It is generally, generally the first, second, or third thing, or maybe all three of the first, second, and third thing.

ZELENY: All three.

BERMAN: Yes, it will be interesting, very interesting here.

Jeff, this comes at a moment where Democrats across the country are trying to push the notion. They are feeling they say a little better the last few days about the campaign, at least that's what they're saying.

ZELENY: Look, that is exactly what this is designed to do, to show Democrats that President Biden has got this and we are told that there was a very interesting meeting last Friday at the White House, actually with President Biden and former President Barack Obama.

They were coming together to celebrate the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, arguably one of the biggest achievements they had together, but former President Obama in a private conversation, we are told with the president said that he really liked the State of the Union message and he believes that that is something that is going to begin to get Democrats on their side.

And the reason this matters, John, if you look at President Biden's approval rating, it has been historically low. One of the reasons is, Democrats, people on his own side don't necessarily really think he is doing well. So, they are trying to first get Democrats in line and then work on those Independent swing voters later.

But there is no doubt that this is designed to sort of give President Biden a lift, a boost. But there is also no doubt that this is an incredibly tough election, talking to former advisers, to the former president, President Biden, he is gravely concerned I am told about the closeness of this election.

But look at him to be an active player at the end of this campaign in the fall when the voting begins, not necessarily every week, every moment until November.


BERMAN: Jeff Zeleny, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much for coming on -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, John and this CNN exclusive, you never know what Larry David is going to say. Well, he is weighing in on President Trump and you don't want to miss this.

And incredible new video, how several bystanders jumped into action to save a trapped driver.