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Biden Campaign Raises $26 Million at Campaign Fundraising Event in New York City with Former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton; Sources Say Trump Campaign Hopes to Raise $33 Million at Fundraiser Next Week; WSJ Journalist, Evan Gershkovich Marks One year in Russian Prison; Beyonce Drops New Album, "Act II: Cowboy Carter". Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 08:00   ET



JUDGE REGGIE WALTON, U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: -- someone making comments about a judge, and it's particularly problematic when those comments are in the form of a threat, especially if they're directed at one's family. We do these jobs because we're committed to the rule of law and we believe in the rule of law, and the rule of law can only function effectively when we have judges who are prepared to carry out their duties without the threat potential of physical harm.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Have you been on the receiving end of more threats since you've had the January 6th defendants in your court?

WALTON: Yes, I've had more threats than what used to be the case. Yes, I have received a greater number of threats as a result of that incident, and the fact that cases arising out of that incident have appeared before me. I mean, it was rare. I've been a judge for over 40 years, and this is a new phenomenon. I'm not saying that it didn't happen before, but it was very rare that I would ever receive any type of a threat, regardless of what type of cases I was handling. And unfortunately, that is no longer the case. I know the Marshal Service has seen a significant increase in the number were threats against judges, and I think obviously that's very, very, very concerning.

COLLINS: It's rare that we get to hear from a sitting federal judge. But obviously this is a gravely important issue. I wonder what made you speak out tonight and speak publicly?

WALTON: Well, I am concerned, because, like I say, we have had judges who've lost their lives or family members have lost their lives as a result of individuals who have been litigants in their courtroom. And I think it's important in order to preserve our democracy that we maintain the rule of law.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Brand, new pictures from inside what is being billed as the biggest political fundraiser ever. But that title might not be held for long. We have a new claim this morning.

And then jail for journalism, new reporting on the future for reporter Evan Gershkovich one year in prison today.

The album is out, now the new secret messages in Beyonce's lyrics.

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

This morning, big money energy. You didn't know that was a thing. That is what Democrats are putting off after a blockbuster event overnight. We're getting a look at pictures from inside the event that raised $26 million, though it was a closed event, so we're only getting still pictures and reporting from insiders about what actually happened.

CNN's Arlette Saenz live at the White House. Luckily, we have you to tell us what went on because, of course, we don't have moving video from closed fundraisers.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. And President Biden's advisers are really hoping that this show of force from Democratic presidents last night will help build momentum as this election is kicking in to high gear. The campaign touting the fact that they raised more than $26 million from this one-night event alone. And they're hoping that this will add to the cash advantage that they currently have over former President Donald Trump as they're gearing up for that November fight.

Now, President Biden, President Obama, and President Bill Clinton spent about an hour with late-night host Stephen Colbert, really laying out the stakes of this election, trying to warn of the threat that Trump poses to the country. They never named Trump by name, according to the reporters who were there in the room, but they did issue very stark warnings. President Biden saying that democracy is at stake and pointed to the January 6th insurrection, saying that there was no president in the United States that day as Trump sat here at the White House, as that unfolded.

The president also said in his remarks, quote, "We're at a real inflection point in history. This guy denies global warming. This guy wants to get rid of not only Roe v. Wade, which he brags about having done, he wants to get rid of the ability of anyone in America to have the right to choose. All the things he's doing, they're so old, a little old and out of shape."

And the campaign also has provided a video from last night. Reporters who were in the room were not allowed to record any video from this event. But the campaign is trying to highlight a bit of a lighter moment between President Biden and Colbert. Take a listen.


STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: -- Milwaukee, Phoenix, Vegas, Hot-lanta, the Philly suburbs, Manchester, Dallas, and Houston. Donald Trump as far as we can tell, has just been trying to win a third champion in his own golf course. (LAUGHTER)


COLBERT: My question to you, sir, can voters trust a presidential candidate who has not won a single Trump International Golf Club trophy. At long last, sir, have you no chip shot?

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, look, I'd be happy to play. And I told him this before when he came into the Oval, when he was being -- before he gets sworn in. I said, I'll give you three strokes if you carry your own bag.



SAENZ: But jokes aside, the fundraiser also laid bare some of the frustration within the Democratic Party over the president's handling of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside of Radio City Hall before and during the event, and the presidents were actually interrupted several time from protesters in the hall itself, some mostly protesting the war in Gaza, but also one relating to Russia.

And it was notable that President Obama took a moment to address those protesters, as well as Biden did. And Obama said that they need to not just talk, but also listen. He said that just talking is something that the other side does. And it really highlights the fact that this is an issue that the Democratic Party will continue to grapple with heading into November's election.

Now the president is continuing his push in New York City today. He's expected to meet with top donors at a spring retreat of the Biden National Finance Committee. Senior campaign officials, I'm told will also be briefing top donors on their strategy as they're really trying to have this all hands on deck moment as they're preparing for that face off against Trump in November.

BERMAN: Arlette Saenz at the White House, I have to say, the old and out of shape line and the joke about Donald Trump carrying his own bags, I hadn't heard those before, actually. And that's an interesting twist, pivot for President Biden to try to turn the issue of literal fitness into a campaign issue for Donald.


BERMAN: That's the word I was looking for. That's what the kids say.

SIDNER: That's the word. And guess what, there's a bit of response here. Donald Trump's campaign is confident, they say, that they can surpass Bidens $26 million haul. Sources saying the Trump campaign hopes to raise $33 million at a fundraiser next week. What is unclear this morning, whether or not former first lady Melania Trump will be there. She's pretty much been largely absent from the campaign trail. Shat may soon change. Kristen Holmes is joining us now. What can you tell us about this April 6th fundraiser?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we've previously reported on this fundraiser. It is going to bring some of the biggest GOP donors to Palm Beach for what they say is going to be record numbers. They say it's going to be more than $33 million, as you noted. But again, it is still early. We are still waiting to see what actually comes in. And they've released those numbers on a day that Biden was announcing that he was raising more than $25 million. But this is significant really for three reasons. One, overarching when you talk about more than $26 million and you talk about more than $33, this is setting up to be one of, if not the most expensive general elections in history.

But this is also particularly significant for Donald Trump for two reasons. One, as we have reported, he has been facing somewhat of a cash crunch on the campaign trail. They are bleeding money out. This is going to help them, even if it's not $33 million, millions of dollars from some of the richest GOP owners are going to help the campaign.

The other reason why this is so significant is the fact that we had seen so many of these big donors really turning their back on Donald Trump, or at least sitting on the sidelines during that primary season, waiting to see who the nominee was, or in some cases, just hoping that there was going to be an alternative to Donald Trump. What this signifies is that the Republican Party is really coming around the former president. They have decided that this is their candidate and they're going to back that up financially as well.

SIDNER: You've got some news reporting now about the role that Melania may play, because we haven't been seeing her on the campaign trail recently.

HOLMES: Well, Sara, the role of her is still a big question mark. I mean, that's' what the reporting is right now. Right now we still don't know what role she's going to play. We've seen her on the campaign trail one-and-a-half times. And I say half times because one of the times we saw her was when she was casting her vote in the primary in Florida. She was alongside her husband. She did speak a few words. She said, stay tuned when she was asked whether or not she was going to be back on the campaign trail. So I give her a half time for that.

The only other time we've seen her on the campaign trail was during his actual announcement back in November of 2022 at Mar-a-Lago, which is where she lives. She wasn't even present at his Super Tuesday event, which is arguably the biggest event he has had so far, which was also at their Mar-a-Lago home. Now, sources close to the former first lady say she determines when and what she does on the campaign trail, and they don't have any insight into whether or not she's actually going to join until she does in fact make that decision.


SIDNER: It's pretty unusual that the spouse of -- the former first lady is not by his side for all of these things. We'll have to wait and see what happens. Kristen Holmes, thank you so much. Fred?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, one year. How detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich's family and colleagues are still pushing for his release from Russia.

And hundreds of thousands of cars under a brand new recall this morning because there's a risk that they could roll away.

Queen Bey goes country. Beyonce dropped her new album overnight. We'll be unpacking the musical Easter eggs.




BERMAN: Today marks one year since American journalist, Evan Gershkovich was wrongfully detained in Russia. He was there reporting for "The Wall Street Journal" when he was suddenly arrested and charged with espionage. Gershkovich, "The Wall Street Journal," and the US government all deny that charge.

This morning, President Biden said, he will never give up hope for his release.

We me now is Josh Rogin. He is a columnist for "The Washington Post." Josh, thank you so much for being here. One of the reasons I love reading and listening to you is you're blunt. You call it like you see it and when you look at the last year, you call Vladimir Putin a kidnapper here.

JOSH ROGIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that's right. I think there are two things going on. One is that Vladimir Putin is a criminal, a thug, a gangster, and one of the things he does is he sends murderers and weapons dealers around the world to commit crimes, and then when they get scooped up and put in foreign prisons, he captures some foreigners and tries to make a trade -- and that's straight up mafia behavior.

But at the same time, he is also a dictator and ever since he came into power, but especially since the war in Ukraine began, he has been crushing dissent inside of his country by rounding up foreign journalists, Russian journalists, dissidents anyone who talks about the war at all in a way that he doesn't like.

And this is what dictators do. They combine external aggression with internal repression every single time. So when you think about Putin in those terms, on the one hand, a gangster who is committing crimes and then try to get his criminal henchmen back into the fold and secondly, as a dictator who is trying to battle something greater called the truth, you can really understand why this situation is as bad as it is.

BERMAN: Is his kidnapping working? ROGIN: Well, I mean in Putin's mind, he has consolidated control. He

is thoroughly propagandizing his own people. He has driven western journalists out of Russia, western NGOs, and so in his mind, I am sure he thinks it is working.

The problem, of course, is that the truth can never really be suppressed. That eventually, it will get out even inside of a closed society like Russia and over time, the people will realize that they're being lied to, so it is a losing game in the long run, but meanwhile, the people who paid the price are innocent people, not just Evan, who did nothing wrong, but Paul Whelan, a former Marine, Vladimir Kara-Murza, "Washington Post" contributing columnist who is sentenced to 25 years in prison, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, dual citizen, Alsu Kurmasheva and countless others.

So yes, Putin may think he is winning in the short term, but in the long term, all dictators eventually lose.

BERMAN: You know, in the long term in the moral arc of the universe, which bends towards justice as Martin Luther King said, journalism is not a crime in the universal sense, though it may be criminal in Russia right now.

What do you think the prospects are for Evan, Josh?

ROGIN: Well, I think the good-ish news for Evan and his family and his colleagues is that we have seen that even though US-Russia relations are at a low point, even though there is a war going on, these deals can get done and they operate somewhat on a separate track, largely in private for good reason, so there is a pattern and a history of these deals getting done even under these crazy circumstances where these two countries otherwise don't really talk to each other.

The bad news is that it is going to likely take a while because Putin's pattern is to maximize the suffering of the hostages and their families in order to maximize his leverage at the negotiating table.

And so the pattern that we've seen is that, usually the deal comes after the conviction, that's not always the case, but is sometimes the case.

And as we are now seeing by Evan's fifth pretrial detention extension, we don't even know when that sham trial is going to even begin.

So I think, there is a good chance that Evan will get back to his family. We just can't say when.

BERMAN: Josh Rogin, thank you so much for doing what you do and for being with us this morning. Appreciate it.

ROGIN: Anytime.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, ahead. An invitation no one would want, House Republicans inviting President Biden to testify in their stalled impeachment inquiry into him.

And Tennessee lawmakers cracking down on local laws, including laws aimed at curbing police brutality. We will have those stories coming up.



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, that was Beyonce singing with Miley Cyrus on her new track, "Most Wanted," the highly anticipated second act to Beyonce's Renaissance Project, "Cowboy Carter," well, it dropped last night and hold onto your horses because it is a journey through the black roots of country music.

And the album is full of symbolism and hidden gems, also known as Easter eggs. Let's look at the calendar. There is also deep messaging about justice and history.


CNN anchor and Beyonce superfan Victor Blackwell, channeling some Johnny Cash this morning. I like it, Victor, that topper is looking really good on you, so talk to me about --


WHITFIELD: Yes, give me your reviews. You listened to the whole album in its entirety and you've got some favorites and tell me about your -- you know, your real visceral responses here.

BLACKWELL: You know, Beyonce said that this is not a country album. It is a Beyonce album. I agree. There is a mix here of a lot of genres and she plays with the question of genre, but this morning, I am here for the country.

Twenty seven tracks and interludes, you've got Dolly Parton there, Willie Nelson there, but also some names that I guess people have not heard. Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Willie Jones, Shaboozey as well, and some references to Patsy Cline and Nancy Sinatra. There is a lot here.

She starts this by answering the question of some of her critics about moving into the genre of country.

When "Texas Hold 'Em" was released on the night of the Super Bowl, there was a lot of backlash. There was one country performer who said -- compared her to a dog peeing on a tree to claim territory.


BLACKWELL: Well, she talks about that criticism in "Ameriican Requiem." Here's a portion of that track.


The grandbaby of a moonshine man. Gadsden, Alabama. Got folk down in Galveston, rooted in Louisiana Used to say I spoke, "Too country," And the rejection came, said "I wasn't country 'nough." Said I wouldn't saddle up, but ...

If that ain't country, tell me what is?


BLACKWELL: So she kind of put that to rest in that track.

There's also a picture she posted on social media. She is eating spaghetti on her jet. Now, "Spaghetti" is the name of Track 12 here, and she starts with Linda Martell. And if you've never heard the name Linda Martell, Martell is a country singer from the 1960s. She was criticized for moving from R&B and gospel into country, had early success here.

One of the first Black women to have commercial country success. She was signed at Plantation Records in the 60s. Here is Linda Martell on Beyonce's album.


BLACKWELL: Now, that's not the audio. We've got the words that you might not be able to see at the bottom of your screen, what Linda Martell actually says is that genres are a funny little concept speaking about how she was in some way pilloried for moving into a different genre.

I find it interesting though, for all the questions of genre, there are two White artists two are in duets with Beyonce on this album. Miley Cyrus and Post Malone.

I don't think it is a coincidence that she chooses artists who had been able to fluidly move between country and rock and hip-hop and pop when she gets and many other Black artists get so much criticism.

So a cultural and historical awareness and consciousness in this album, as we expect now from Beyonce.

WHITFIELD: All right, we all look forward to the journey as well, when we get a chance to listen to it as you have already a couple of times.

BLACKWELL: After the show.

WHITFIELD: Victor Blackwell, I am tipping the hat to you.

All right, good to see you. Thank you so much.

And watch more with Victor tomorrow and every Saturday morning on "First of All," starting at 8:00 AM -- Sara.

SIDNER: I think he should do whole show that way, frankly. WHITFIELD: Yes.

SIDNER: Just the whole show.

WHITFIELD: I agree. I hope he does.

SIDNER: We are moments away now from brand new data on inflation. Will it continue to show improvement so that you pay less?

The dataset now for when the Senate will take up the impeachment trial for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, details on that ahead.