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Trump Pushes to Dismiss Georgia Election Charges; House to Send Mayorkas Impeachment Articles to Senate; Baltimore Bridge Salvage Operation Begins. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A global crisis. Maryland's governor detailing the urgent need to reopen the Port of Baltimore, as at least one Republican raises objections to President Biden's promise that the federal government will pay for a new bridge.

We're also learning more about what happened in the moments before that cargo ship slammed into the bridge.

And shortcuts everywhere. New reporting on how Boeing prioritized speed over quality, current and former employees talking about the rush to get planes in the air at the expense of safety.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: And a disturbing trend, women being punched in the face at random on the streets of New York. They're taking to TikTok to document their assaults.

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

KEILAR: Right now, crews in Baltimore are beginning the long and difficult process of tearing down and removing the remaining debris of the Francis Scott Key Bridge that is now blocking entry to one of the nation's busiest ports.

Officials say the recovery effort there has now turned into a salvage mission. Four construction workers who were on the bridge when it collapsed are presumed dead. And the bodies of another two workers were recovered yesterday.

We're also seeing some new video of the final moments before the tragedy. You can see there near the top of the frame that is the doomed construction crew's flashing lights and the ship closing in there on the right of the frame, the video cutting out right before impact.

In the meantime, federal investigators are focusing on the roughly five minutes before the Dali container ship slammed into the bridge. These are images of investigators on board, where they secured the ship's voyage data recorder, which is also known as a black box.

Let's go now to CNN's Gabe Cohen, who is in Baltimore.

Gabe, give us the latest.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we just got a significant update on that salvage mission, with news that a heavy-lift crane vessel, the first one is going to be arriving here at the bridge scene later today, that according to a senior White House adviser.

And that's significant, because, as those four workers are still missing in the water, authorities have said that it's just not safe for divers to be in there, given how much debris and wreckage there is. And so now the process of clearing it out begins.

And that could take many days. But getting that lift crane vessel in is the first step. Once that is done, officials say divers are going to go back in and they're planning to try to recover those four men and bring closure to their families. But there's a lot of concern that they could be pinned, along with several vehicles, under all of that rubble.

Meanwhile, there's also a roadblock from hazardous material that's been discovered around the bow of the ship, where the bridge came down, more than 50 containers, more than 700 tons of flammables, corrosives, lithium batteries that are making the area, according to officials, unsafe for crews to actually come in.

They're trying to figure out how to clear that. And, Brianna, it's also been a very busy day for investigators. You talked about that timeline, how frantic the scene was in those few minutes before the collision with the bridge.

We have learned as well that investigators are speaking with the two pilots of that vessel again today. And they're really trying to zero in on what caused that power outage, that total blackout where the pilot lost control of the ship, lost the ability to steer, a lot of questions there.

The NTSB is saying even a preliminary report is likely a couple weeks away. And all of this could take a couple years, Brianna. But, again, the focus today largely is starting to clear the bridge. And that update of a crane finally arriving, that is significant, if it does in fact happen later today.

KEILAR: Gabe, they did recover two bodies yesterday, which is meaningful, certainly, to those families of those victims.

What can you tell us?

COHEN: It's a meaningful update and a very sad update.

They had discovered a pickup truck, divers, down below the surface, and they identified two men, Alejandro Fuentes, a 35-year-old Mexican national, and Dorlian Cabrera, a 26-year-old Guatemalan. They have also already -- we have identified through family, through friends Miguel Luna from El Salvador, a father of three, and Maynor Sandoval, a 38-year-old from Honduras, also a father.

[13:05:00] And we're hearing these heartbreaking stories, Brianna, as more information comes out about these men, who have been described by many people as humble husbands and fathers, family men who were just trying to provide and hard workers.

And it is just a really devastated feeling among so many here as we learn more about their stories.

KEILAR: Yes, it really is.

Gabe, thank you for the latest there from the Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Let's talk a little bit more about this now with CNN transportation analyst Mary Schiavo. She served as inspector general for the Department of Transportation.

And, Mary, ships managed by Synergy Marine Group were involved in at least three deadly incidents since 2018. This is a new detail that we have learned. Is that unusual, or is that an unfortunately common occurrence in this line of work?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, in line -- in this line of work, it's common.

What you look for is to see if there's a pattern, if all the prior incidents are of the same, if they were continually hitting things, running aground, having what's called an Allison (ph) event, which is what this is, or if they're different.

Sometimes, it's crew injury. Sometimes, it's difficulties with other parts of the ship. Sometimes, it's difficulties with the port. And these seem to be different kinds of incidents, not all the same. It's not always running aground.

There was one incident where they hit a birthing dock a number of years ago, but the ship was repaired after that. So there's no common thread to all of them, but there were prior problems.

KEILAR: What remaining questions do you have at this point about the power outage that preceded the crash into the bridge?

SCHIAVO: Well, and my questions are probably those that the NTSB are looking into right now.

They announced their working groups last night. And so one of them is, of course, engineering. One is human performance. Could there be anything else that the crew could have done? They're looking at nautical operations. How was this ship operated? When did they know about these problems? Was there an issue with them going ahead and sending the ship out knowing there were problems?

On the human performance side, why did they release the tugboats and proceed on into the channel, although, with that problem, they weren't having issues? And, of course, the engineering team, what went wrong with this ship? Why was it having power outages? Did it have power outages on the dock, while it was docked, rather, in the days and hours before?

Who repaired it? What did they find? And one of the -- by the way, one of the NTSB working groups is the records group. They will be having -- getting all of the records of the problems, the repairs, the records from Singapore on prior cruises and work on this ship.

And then the recorder group, they're downloading it right now. And they will probably have pretty soon -- I'd be surprised if they don't have another announcement tonight of what they have learned from the ship's recording devices, both the data recorder and there will be some voice recording on the ship.

So, all those are my questions, but I know the NTSB is looking at those and many more.

KEILAR: Mary, we are also reporting on just a slew of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories that ran rampant and continue to run rampant after this crash.

What kinds of problems could that create, including for investigators and perceptions around the crash?

SCHIAVO: Well, conspiracy theories and misconceptions are always a problem, but investigators, NTSB and other investigators, FBI, criminal investigators, investigators are trained in your investigation school, in your training not to have these biases going into the investigation.

That's why the NTSB and other trained investigators, when they look at accidents, you're trained not to have any biases going in. And you look at all possible theories and rule them out one by one. You don't have a bias going in saying, oh, it has to be this element, and then you overlook other elements.

So, yes, all the various possibilities will be looked at, but they will be examined and then discarded one by one. They won't automatically jump to conclusions, because that's what you're trained in investigator school. Don't get your opinions formed before you actually get the facts and the evidence.

KEILAR: Yes, can get in the way of where the facts will lead you.


KEILAR: Mary, great to have you. Thank you so much.

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

KEILAR: Jessica.

DEAN: In the 2024 race, New York City is the backdrop to a sharp contrast in campaigns today, President Biden set to attend a sold-out star-studded fund-raiser tonight with former Presidents Obama and Clinton at Radio City Music Hall.

The president and Obama just reached New York, the campaign calling it -- quote -- "the most successful political fund-raiser in American history," raising some $25 million.

Meantime, Donald Trump will attend the wake of a fallen New York City police officer, Jonathan Diller, who was gunned down during a traffic stop three days ago. The Trump campaign says the former president has been invited to that gathering.


Joining me now, CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes and CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston.

Great to see you both.

Kristen, let's start first with you.

The Trump campaign is slamming, no surprise, this fund-raiser tonight.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they have gone on the complete attack here, saying that the entire reason that they are doing this is because they want the celebrity backing, essentially drawing a contrast to what Donald Trump is doing, which, as you said, is going to the wake of this fallen NYPD officer.

And I'm going to read the statement here of what the Trump campaign put out. "President Trump will be honoring the life and legacy of Officer Diller and paying his respects to his family, friends and the NYPD for their terrible loss. Meanwhile, the three stooges, Biden, Obama and Clinton, will be at a glitzy fund-raiser in the city with their elitist out-of-touch celebrity benefactors."

Now, a lot of that is just Trumpian language, but there is something to the fact that Donald Trump is often trying to appeal to working- class voters, and he does appeal to working-class voters, and he has the ability to paint Democrats, and particularly when it comes to Clinton, Obama and now Biden, as elitist and out of touch.

So while, yes, this statement is very Trumpian, they're trying to contrast these two things, there is something that works when Donald Trump does this.

DEAN: Right, it's a very stark contrast and one that has been successful for him in the past.

But, Mark, we have these two former presidents with the sitting president, a lot of star power. You have to think that -- put the elitist thing to the side for a second, because there's going to be a lot of celebrities there and performances and that sort of thing.


DEAN: It's New York City. It's at Radio City Music Hall.

But this is about, I would think, rallying the base, making sure that the Democratic Party is united as they head into November. That's what it seems to be targeted at, the Democratic voter.

PRESTON: No question.

And it's a little bit of nostalgia and let's tie in a little bit of youthful exuberance in that. And you will say, why would you say that? Well, if you look at Barack Obama, he is 62 years old. He's not very old.

Sixteen years ago, when he first ran for president, he was in his mid- 40s, OK? So if you look at him coming out now, he was able to pull together these coalitions, whether they were African-Americans and specifically young people. Everybody remembers hope, the big poster of hope.

Well, Barack Obama is going to come out and try to capitalize on that and try to bring some hope to this campaign. Now, Bill Clinton, a little bit different. Probably most voters do not remember Bill Clinton when he was in office, but there still is that sliver of folks that could potentially go for Trump.

These tend to be a little bit older Americans who may remember the fact that Bill Clinton, who will stand beside Joe Biden tonight, also created basically the center way for American politics. He was the -- really, the quintessential moderate Democrat from way, way back then.

So, a lot of youthful exuberance, age 62, but also a lot of hope.

DEAN: Yes.

And, listen, in this race between this redo between Trump and Biden, there isn't a ton of hope that floats around in that race, right? So it will be interesting to see that interjected.

Kristen, we mentioned this big number; $25 million in one fund-raiser is astounding.

HOLMES: Huge, yes.

DEAN: Trump has been lagging behind when it comes to fund-raising.

What do they say about that?

HOLMES: Well, you get a lot of back-and-forth saying essentially, well, they're not the incumbent, Donald Trump's team, that they had to go through a primary, they had to spend money in a primary, that Nikki Haley didn't drop out soon enough, so they had to actually go to each of these places, go -- have these events.

And they will say that they are very aware of how big the gap is. I mean, Donald Trump has largely been behind closed doors for the past several weeks doing meetings with donors, having fund-raisers, having people over for lunch to Mar-a-Lago or up at Bedminster.

I mean, they are really pounding the pavement here. And when I talk to the campaign advisers and staff, they think it's paying off. Yes, the numbers are still very stark, they're very different. But they do start to feel like they can breathe again as these checks are being written. And on April 6, they're having their own glitzy fund-raiser, just to note, at -- in West Palm Beach or Palm Beach at a donor's house. So they will bring together some of the biggest conservative donors from across the country for that. So it's not as though they're not having their own high-profile events.

DEAN: And, Mark, money's good. You want to have more money than your opponent.

PRESTON: Money is great.

DEAN: But how does the Biden campaign take all of that money? They still have work to do. They still got to convert that into votes.


DEAN: What do you -- how do you do that?

PRESTON: Well, you -- I think you're right when you say money's good, money's great. We all love money. I mean, gosh they have made songs about it. Pink Floyd did.

No, but the reality is, is that Donald Trump has the ability to get earned media, which means he's not paying anything. Any time Donald Trump decides to go out and he wants to say something to the conservative base, the conservative media will immediately amplify that.

Now, when it comes to Joe Biden, what does he do with this $25 million? We don't even know how much it costs to put on this event, by the way. There are costs associated with all these things. At the end of the day, for Joe Biden to win and for Donald Trump to win is, you got to put that money not only into TV ads and targeting people through the Internet and what have you.


The fact is, you have got to get into a handful of states and really get the vote out. I know we say that all the time, but you have to go and knock on doors.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, these are all states that you're going to have to see a lot of a ground game, folks out knocking on doors every weekend, and really, really big grassroots operations in those states.

DEAN: Yes, a lot of person-to-person contact there.

All right, Mark Preston, Kristen Holmes, thanks so much. Great to see you guys.

PRESTON: Thanks.

DEAN: We -- Brianna, let's send it over to you.

KEILAR: Yes, we have some breaking news here in the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Melanie Zanona is live for us on Capitol Hill with the very latest.

Mel, not on Capitol Hill, but reporting on Capitol Hill. Tell us, Mel, what's going on.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, so we officially have a date now for when the House plans to send over impeachment articles for Secretary Mayorkas over to the Senate.

Speaker Mike Johnson announced in a new letter just this afternoon to Senate majority, Chuck Schumer, that they plan to send those articles, walk them over from the House to the Senate on April 10. That is the week that the Congress returns from their current Easter recess.

As a reminder, the House impeached Mayorkas all the way back in February by a very narrow margin after failing to do so the first time, and made Mayorkas just the second ever Cabinet official to be impeached.

But Speaker Mike Johnson decided to hold on to those articles until after government funding was resolved and that's what is happening now. So they're going to send those over, but that does not mean that the Democratic-controlled Senate is going to convict Mayorkas.

In fact, even some Senate Republicans have said they have little appetite to go down that route. Now, Schumer's office did put out a statement saying that: "After the House impeachment manners present the articles of impeachment to the Senate, senators will be sworn in as jurors in trial next day." So they could dismiss those articles pretty quickly.

But, regardless, this is going to tee up a huge showdown over the border just ahead of 2024, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, no coincidence, just ahead of 2024.

Melanie Zanona, thank you so much for that report.

And ahead this hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, we are live from Georgia, where lawyers for former President Trump are fighting to get the election interference case there dismissed. They argue that Trump can't be prosecuted for making false statements.

Plus: shortcuts everywhere. A new investigative report on Boeing uncovers multiple in-flight incidents that were never widely reported and claims that Boeing put speed over safety.

And we have learned a man has just been arrested after multiple women came forward with similar accounts, all claiming they were randomly punched while walking around New York City.


[13:22:04] KEILAR: Right now, the judge in the Georgia election subversion case is weighing whether the charges against Donald Trump should be dismissed on free speech grounds.

The former president's attorneys were back in an Atlanta courtroom this morning, and they argued that when Trump peddled conspiracy theories and baseless claims of voter fraud after he lost the 2020 election, he was protected by the First Amendment.

The prosecution, though, says those statements are fair game for an indictment because they were an integral part of a criminal conspiracy.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live outside of the courthouse.

Nick, walk us through these arguments today.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, things were noticeably less dramatic than they have been in previous hearings over the course of the last two months.

Things were very quiet in court compared to those disqualification hearings, but today an important day nevertheless, as we saw Trump's attorney here, Steve Sadow, attempt to get his charges dismissed and the indictment thrown out on First Amendment grounds, the argument basically being that Trump, when he was peddling conspiracy theories, saying that the election was stolen, that the election had no integrity, that that, at its core, was political speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

But the DA's office was saying, not so fast. Not only were they lies, but they were lies with the intention of inciting a crime under Georgia law. Listen to that exchange in the court earlier today.


STEVEN SADOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: There is nothing alleged factually against President Trump that is not political speech.

So what this court has to decide is, is the state's position that fraud or false statements under these circumstances, which I suggest really is alone, is that enough to get it by an as-applied challenge? Our position is, it's not.

DONALD WAKEFORD, CHIEF SENIOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA: It is very interesting to hear counsel for Mr. Trump tell us about the usefulness of lies. He's not being prosecuted for lying. He's being prosecuted for lying to the government, a state -- an act which is illegal because it does harm it to the government.


VALENCIA: It's worth noting that there have been other defense attorneys who have tried to get their charges dismissed on First Amendment grounds, and those attempts have failed. There are still big questions that remain around this case. McAfee did

not issue a ruling from the bench. We don't know exactly when he will issue a ruling, but big questions remain around this case. When will we see Fani Willis? She was not in court today. And will she be able to get this case back on track for that August trial date she wants?

We recently spoke to her last weekend, and she did say the train is coming, but, Brianna, that remains to be seen -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Nick Valencia live for us in Atlanta, thank you -- Jessica.

DEAN: All right, let's talk more about with CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams.

Elliott, we're trying -- we were just saying...


DEAN: ... there's a lot to kind of take in with all of these different cases, but really zeroing in on this particular one, former Trump co-defendants in this case tried to kind of make a similar argument, and it didn't work.


Did Trump's attorneys make any headway there?

WILLIAMS: I really don't think they did.

Now, again, pulling back a little bit, this is Fulton County, Georgia, the local district attorney bringing election subversion charges against the former president.

Now, the argument here is that the First Amendment, which protects all of our free speech, protected some of the president's statements with respect to this conspiracy. Now, that argument has been shot down before with respect to other people who've tried to raise it.

And it's sort of a thin one. It's important, because we all have free speech rights. But I don't think there was anything new today that was raised by the former president.

DEAN: And in response to this argument, the Georgia prosecutors pointed to this decision by Judge Tanya Chutkan in that federal case in D.C.


DEAN: What do you make of them invoking that?

WILLIAMS: And it's back to the conversation you and I had off-camera, so people didn't see this, about how confusing some of this can be.

DEAN: Yes. WILLIAMS: And a lot of people may not realize that that is a federal case, not a state case, but a judge reviewing similar charges against the former president, totally different court.

Now, what a judge, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., says or writes has no bearing on what happens in a Georgia state courtroom. It's a different jurisdiction, a different sovereign. It doesn't matter. But it's persuasive.

She's talking about the First Amendment and shooting down this idea that the First Amendment free speech rights allow you to lie and commit crimes. And so it I think it's valuable. I would have done it. I would have pointed to it and said, look, there are courts not just in Atlanta, Georgia, all around the country, and at the federal and state level who are making this argument that you can't hide behind the First Amendment in committing crimes, yes.

DEAN: Yes, just kind of layer it on.


DEAN: And Trump's attorney defended this concept of making false public statements and saying that that's OK, that's allowed.


DEAN: At any point, do they have to say, yes, I mean, he did lie about the election?

WILLIAMS: Well, they don't have to, because they're defending him.

But that would be the honest thing to do, based on what the allegations are. Look, it is up to defense attorneys to zealously advocate on behalf of their client. And his attorneys seem to be doing that.

But that's not a -- they don't have to agree with prosecutors on that point. But there seems to be quite compelling evidence that they're going to lose there.

DEAN: Right. Right.

And, so far, a trial date in this trial has not been set.


DEAN: Can they continue to kind of push this down the road?

WILLIAMS: Yes, they sort of can, only because I don't believe -- I'm almost certain this can't go to trial if this motion to dismiss is not resolved relatively soon.

It's a major motion brought by lawyers that they have a right to bring to sort of throw the charges out. But you got to make sure that you still have a good case before they can bring it. Now, again, August is the date. If the judge were to rule relatively quickly on this, then, of course, they could get to trial pretty soon, but everything is in the judge's hands right now on timing, yes.

DEAN: Right. Right. So we will just see what plays out.

All right, Elliot Williams, always great to see you. Thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: Yes, thank you.

DEAN: I appreciate it.

Up next here: More than two dozen former and current Boeing employees come forward to paint a picture of a company more concerned with speed than quality. They're troubling stories.

That's next.