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Baltimore Bridge Salvage Operation Ramps Up; Evan Gershkovich Now Detained For One Year in Russia; Biden Campaign Event Raises $26 Million. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Fund-raiser face-off. Former President Trump's campaign betting that it can top Biden's records-setting night in New York with its own event. But can Republicans match the show of unity that we saw last night, a trio a presidents setting the stage for a serious fight?

And Kremlin crackdown. As a "Wall Street Journal" reporter marks one year in Russian detention on sham espionage charges, we're hearing word that Moscow has just arrested six more journalists in the span of a few hours.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN HOST: And Queen B sure knows how to create some buzz. Beyonce's new album doesn't just have people singing. Why her track list is sparking a whole conversation.

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

KEILAR: Counting the cash, that is the stage of the 2024 campaign that we're in right now, after President Biden enlisted his two Democratic predecessors for last night's event that raised a record $26 million.

That's more than former President Trump raised all of last month. With that high-dollar count and high stakes, some low blows. Here's one clip released by the Biden campaign.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": Donald Trump as far as we can tell, has just been trying to win a third championship at his own golf course.


COLBERT: My question to you, sir, can voters trust a presidential candidate who has not won a single Trump International Golf Club trophy?


COLBERT: At long last, sir, have you no chip shot? (LAUGHTER)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, look, I'd be happy to play. I told him this before when he came into the Oval, when he was being -- before he got sworn in.

I said: "I will give you three strokes if you carry your own bag."


KEILAR: Well, as of last count, Biden has more than doubled the former president's cash reserves. Trump hopes to chip away at that lead with a Florida event next week that could bring in $33 million.

CNN's Kayla Tausche is at the White House for us.

Kayla, there were no press cameras at the fund-raiser. We should be clear about that. So, of all the moments, why did the campaign release that golf clip?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the campaign has been seeking to bill this election as a study in contrasts, on one hand, the president, President Biden, focused on governing.

On the other hand, in their telling, you have a former president who is toggling between the courtroom and the golf course. And they have been highlighting this contrast for several weeks now, with President Biden taking a sharper attack against his Republican rival, even saying on Twitter a sarcastic congratulations to Donald Trump when he sent out a message about winning all of the golf tournaments that he had won at his various resorts.

So, certainly, this was a common refrain from the Biden campaign. And they take every opportunity they can to show the president in a jovial and upbeat mood. But there were also some more serious moments in the conversations. There were no press inside. There were no cameras that the press were allowed to have inside.

But, in speaking to attendees, there were some moments where President Clinton, I'm told, talked about how the economy was very good under President Obama and President Trump has been allowed to take credit for that and that he will likely take credit or attempt to take credit for President Biden's historic job creation in his first term.

And there was also quite a bit of conversation about the stakes in the race, which has been a recurring theme from the Biden campaign. And here's one of those additional clips on that topic.


BIDEN: A real inflection point in history. Things are changing. This guy denies there's the global warming. This guy wants to get rid of not only Roe v. Wade, but he -- which he brags about having done. He wants to get rid of the ability of anyone anywhere in America to ever choose. I mean, all the things he's doing are so old -- speaking of old --



BIDEN: -- and a little old and out of shape. Anyway --


TAUSCHE: An applause line there from President Biden, but, of course, a very friendly audience, liberal Democrats paying high-dollar tickets, several thousand of them in a sold-out Radio City Music Hall last night, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, friendly audience and quite the show of unity, which Trump would find very hard to duplicate, of course. It would be impossible for him.

At the same time, the Biden campaign was contending with this huge protest that was going on outside of Radio City. You really couldn't avoid seeing it.

TAUSCHE: You couldn't avoid seeing the protest outside. And there were also about a dozen protesters inside that were sort of heckling the president.

And according to the attendees that I spoke with, Stephen Colbert used that moment to ask the president about his position on the Middle East. And I'm told he received a standing ovation for the answer that he gave, that he talked about the fact that October 7 was a massacre, that it was undeniable, but that it didn't mean that your heart couldn't break for the suffering that's taken place in Gaza since then.

He advocated yet again a two-state solution. And I'm told he got a standing ovation for that response. But, certainly, Brianna, this is going to be a recurring theme for the next few months on the trail.

KEILAR: Certainly. Kayla Tausche live for us from the White House, thank you.

And let's bring in CNN senior data reporter Harry Enten now.

Harry, money-wise, Biden is seriously ahead of Trump. Polling-wise, it's a different story. Tell us where things stand.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, it's a very different story.

You look at those money numbers, you would think Joe Biden was running away with this race, but take a look here. This is the choice for president. We will look now, right? We have got no clear leader, but Donald Trump at 47 percent, Joe Biden at just 44 percent. Compare that to where we were four years ago at this point. What a different picture. Joe Biden was clearly leading in that campaign 50 percent to 43

percent. He never trailed during the course of the 2020 campaign. And now we're in a situation in which we're in a very tight race, although Trump with a nominal advantage, 47 to 44 percent.

Now, I will note that obviously we have Trump versus Biden, but we also have some third-party candidates. So here's the two way race, right, Trump 44. And then we have Biden at 43 percent in my own average of polls.

And then we're looking here at the third-party candidates and what do we have? We have Trump at 41, Biden at 38, and then, look, RFK at 13 percent. But the fact is, there's no real difference that's going on here. There's this whole idea that RFK may in fact make a major difference in this campaign.

But what I'm seeing right now is that it's basically the same campaign, even if Kennedy is pulling 13 percent of the vote, quite a significant share for a third-party candidate, in fact, the highest- polling third-party candidate at this point dating back since Ross Perot in 1996.

KEILAR: Yes, still seven months to go. How much can things shift?

ENTEN: Yes, how much could things shift?

Turns out there's a calendar that we have to all pay attention to. And, right now, obviously, we have Biden and Trump in a race in which there's no clear leader, a very, very tight race, right? Things can definitely shift.

Look at where we are, how far the polls have been off at this point from the eventual margin since 1972. In the average election cycle, the polls have been off by an average of six points. Look at the biggest difference, a 21-point difference. Jimmy Carter was blowing Ronald Reagan out of the water at this point in 1980, blowing him out of the water.

And yet, of course, Ronald Reagan easily won that campaign. So the polls can definitely shift. Yet, at this particular point, you have to say that it is advantage Trump, because we talk about the popular vote, but, of course, it's the Electoral College that really matters.

So here's the race to 270 based on recent polling and past results. Look at this. Trump is ahead. He would win at this particular point with 283 to Joe Biden's 225, with Trump flipping such states at this point, Michigan, where he leads, Nevada, where he leads, Arizona, where he leads, and Georgia, where he leads, all states that Joe Biden carried last time around.

But now, if you're looking at that state polling, it's a completely different picture, which matches what we're seeing nationally with Joe Biden, in fact, probably trailing Donald Trump at this particular point, compared to that four years ago, where, of course, Joe Biden had a clear advantage throughout the entire campaign. KEILAR: Yes, a lot can change. You said 1980, Harry. That was kind of


ENTEN: I like doing that. I like doing that.


ENTEN: It makes me feel young. I think it makes some people feel old. I know Sara Sidner feels old because of it, but it makes me feel young when I'm able to say 1900.

KEILAR: I was born in --


KEILAR: I was born in 1980. You made me feel very old. So, thanks, Harry.

ENTEN: I'm sorry.


KEILAR: Appreciate it.


KEILAR: All right -- Kristin.

FISHER: All right, now, the painstaking cleanup of the Francis Scott Key Bridge is ramping up.

And, here, you can see a heavy lift crane at the disaster site, but even more powerful help is on the way. This is video of the largest crane on the East Coast, the Chesapeake 1000 arriving in Baltimore this morning, and it's set to join this really complex task of removing 4,000 tons of twisted metal and other debris that's blocking the port.


Meanwhile, you have Baltimore's mayor saying that he's hopeful that crews are going to be able to find the remains of those four missing bridge workers who are presumed dead after Tuesday's collapse. Officials say they have detected a larger-sized vehicle somewhere under the water, but it's buried under mounds of debris.

CNN's Gabe Cohen joins us now.

So, Gabe, you have been here from the very beginning. Just tell us a little bit more about what you're learning about this delicate salvage operation as these big cranes move in.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so Kristin, we have learned that that first heavy lift crane vessel, the largest on the East Coast, has arrived here at the wreckage site. We were told by an official at the command center that they were

hoping to get it operational later today, so it could start that work of clearing some of the debris. But that timeline is really fluid at this point. We understand two more, at least, of those vessels are coming to the scene as we speak, that according to the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg.

But this is going to be a tall task. Engineers are still trying to figure out how they are going to cut all of that steel and concrete into smaller pieces, so they can actually remove all of that debris from the river.

And look, they're going to have to do this really carefully, delicately, and sensitively, because there are concerns that those four missing construction workers may be buried underneath some of that rubble. And once this operation is complete, they're hoping that they can send divers back down to recover them, so they can bring some closure to their families.

So, the more that we go through this process, it does seem like this could take days, if not weeks, Kristin. Meanwhile, the Port of Baltimore seems to be almost shut down, with thousands of jobs at risk, potentially millions of dollars in a hit to the local economy here in Baltimore between salaries and business operations.

So, this is a major step forward with this crane arriving. But, look, the scale of pulling all of that debris out and then moving that ship, which is about the size of the Eiffel Tower just on its side, it could take quite a long time.

FISHER: Yes, the amount of metal that needs to be moved is just -- it's hard to wrap your mind around.

Gabe Cohen, thanks so much.

And CNN's Danny Freeman is also in Baltimore. And he joins us now live.

And we understand that there's going to be a news conference soon to honor some of the victims. Is that right, Danny.

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kristin, that's right.

In just about an hour, we're going to have a press conference, like you said, honoring the victims, those construction workers who were on the bridge when it collapsed earlier this week. That news conference is going to be held by CASA. It's an organization that provides aid to immigrant families, to Latinos as well.

And they will also have at this press conference other construction workers from the Maryland area who plan to stand in solidarity with those who were lost.

Kristin, I want to also say we're learning more identities of some of the six victims who are feared to either be presumed dead or have already been found dead. First, there's Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval. We have mentioned him.

He's from Honduras. We spoke to his brother earlier this week.

Miguel Luna, he's from El Salvador, lived in Maryland for 19 years. He was actually a member of that organization CASA. And then the new name that we learned over the past 24 hours is Jose Mynor Lopez, also a husband and a father. And then the two people who already have been recovered,they were pulled from a pickup truck down underneath that wreckage of the bridge, were Dorlian Castillo Cabrera and Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes.

But, Kristin, I just want to say there have also been stories of two survivors who managed to be on that bridge and come away with their lives. The governor of Maryland, Wes Moore, he actually described a conversation that he had with one of those survivors. Take a listen to how he characterized that conversation.


GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): One of the survivors who I had the opportunity to speak with, one of the things he mentioned to me was, as he was moving off of the bridge and literally saw the bridge fall right after he moved off, it was because it was a first responder who was telling him to move off of the bridge.


FREEMAN: And again, Kristin, just remember, as Gabe mentioned, part of the main reason why this crane is here is not just to get ships moving again.

It's to get that wreckage off of the area, so that divers can go back, try to find those four remaining victims, and hopefully bring closure to some of these families -- Kristin.

FISHER: All right, and we will wait to hear what's happening at that news conference, which should be getting under way soon.

Danny Freeman, thank you.

Well, still ahead: Russia arrests more journalists, as "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich marks one year in detention. President Biden has just issued a new threat to Moscow.


Plus, how a crumbling insurance market is pricing people out of their homes, as companies pull out of entire states, refusing to cover anyone there.

And fish in the Florida Keys are spinning in circles until they die. What could be causing this bizarre behavior?

These stories and more coming up this hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) FISHER: Today marks one year since "Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia and accused of espionage, a charge that Gershkovich, his paper, and the U.S. government all strongly deny.


Right now, diplomats are working behind the scenes to get him released, possibly part of a prisoner exchange. A Kremlin spokesperson made a vague statement, saying that certain contacts are ongoing, but really gave no other details.

"The Wall Street Journal" marked today's anniversary by leaving this just gaping blank space on its front page, really representing how much of his work and his life have been stolen. The headline reads in part: "His story should be Here, the crime, journalism."

So let's talk to CNN's Kylie Atwood.

Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Gershkovich to be released immediately. President Biden's vowing to keep pushing to bring him home. But what is the White House saying on this one-year anniversary?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, President Biden put out a statement this morning calling this anniversary particularly painful.

And he went on to talk about his conversations with Evan's family to shone a light on how much effort he continues to put into trying to secure Evan's release. I want to read to you a part of that statement.

He said: "Shortly after his," Evan's, "wholly unjust and illegal detention, he drafted a letter to his family from prison, writing: 'I am not losing hope.' As I have told Evan's parents, I will never give up hope either. We will continue working every day to secure his release."

Now, what we know is that, in December, there was, according to the State Department, a new and significant offer that the U.S. put on the table for Evan and also Paul Whelan, another American who's been wrongfully detained in Russia for more than five years now. That proposal was rejected by Russia.

The State Department this week not updating us as to if there have been any other back-and-forth since that rejection by Russia. But, interestingly enough, earlier this week, we heard from the special envoy for hostage affairs, Roger Carstens. He spoke with our colleague Christiane Amanpour.

He said that he's actually hopeful about the next 90 days, because Russia has actually just pushed forward this pretrial detention for another 90 days. He thinks it's possible that Russia sees a possibility of coming to an agreement to secure Evan's release before a trial actually begins. We will just have to watch and see. FISHER: So, there's definitely hope. And they're hopeful. But as you

were saying, I mean, this week, Moscow lengthened his detention until, I guess that would be June 30.

So what can you tell us about that?

ATWOOD: That's right.

So, what the U.S. thinks is that, when that trial actually begins, it'll be harder to come to an agreement. So that's why they see this period of time as hopeful. But we really don't know the details as to why they're optimistic right now.


Kylie Atwood, thank you so much -- Brianna.

KEILAR: We're joined now by Jason Rezaian, a columnist for "The Washington Post." He was the newspaper's Tehran correspondent when he was arrested in 2014 and jailed for 544 days, including in the notorious Evin prison, before being released as part of a prisoner exchange.

Jason, thank you so much for being with us and for your continued attention to Evan Gershkovich's wrongful detention.

It's been a full year now. What is that signal to you that it has gone on this long?

JASON REZAIAN, JOURNALIST DETAINED IN IRAN: Well Brianna, thanks for you and everybody at CNN for shining the light on Evan's case, but also Paul Whelan and the Radio Free Europe journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who's also being held in Russia right now.

Look, I think these anniversaries are a grim reminder of an injustice against one of our own. I experienced a year marker while I was sitting in prison in Iran. Keeping hope is a really hard thing to do, because there's really no good news until you get on a plane and come home.

But I think that the reality is, these cases are dragging on a long time. And I think it's just a gentle -- just an important reminder that we need to be doing more, and more quickly, to bring American hostages home, wherever they are in the world.

KEILAR: When you see the pictures that we get to see, as he has these occasional court appearances, where they're really just extending his pretrial detention, and you see, in a way, this look on Evan's face, what are you reading into that almost sort of an act of very subtle defiance?

REZAIAN: I know that look. I gave that look. Evan understands very well that he is being subjected to not only an incredible abuse of power, but a process that's ultimately a sham.

We can talk all we want about what pretrial detention means or if a verdict in his case is going to make it harder for the U.S. government to work out a deal to bring him home, but, ultimately, the judicial process is just window dressing. Evan is a hostage. He knows it very well.

And when I see those images of him sort of smirking at the camera, I feel a great sense of admiration, respect, and solidarity. And I hope everyone else does as well.


KEILAR: Is the Biden administration doing enough to bring Evan home? And how complicated is this situation to try to get him released?

REZAIAN: Look, I think that the Biden administration deserves credit for bringing dozens of Americans home.

Are they doing enough in Evan's case, in Paul's case, and in the dozens of other Americans who are being wrongfully detained right now? To borrow from what my brother was asked about the Obama administration's efforts to bring me home, no, they aren't doing enough, because, if they were, Evan would be home long ago.

It's not their fault. They didn't create this problem. But, ultimately, they're going to have to find the missing piece of the puzzle that's going to unlock a deal that will bring Evan home. And I hope that they're able to do that very quickly.

KEILAR: Yes, it is their problem, even if it isn't their fault.

And we see the front page of "The Wall Street Journal" today. I'm going to hold up the print version of it, so that people can see it. This is it, a big hole. And it says: "The story -- his story should be here, a year in Russian prison, a year of stolen memories, joys and memories, the crime, journalism."

There's a number of other articles as well, including what Evan has lost during his year detained. There's a focus on his family and his friends and what they have been through.

What message does that send to the world?

REZAIAN: Look, to me, it's one of not only a horror that's being perpetrated against this family and Evan's entire community, colleagues, friends, but also the resilience of these people.

One of the things that Evan has been deprived of is seeing his parents and his older sister blossom into incredible advocates for him and other hostages. And I look forward to the day that he comes home, and I can tell him about the incredible job that they did supporting him and efforts to bring him home.

KEILAR: Well, we hope that they -- that day comes very soon, as I know you do, Jason.

Jason Rezaian, thank you so much for being with us.

REZAIAN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Next: how climate change is pricing people out of their homes and suddenly making swathes of the U.S. just completely unaffordable.

We're going to talk to a real estate guru. Josh Flagg will be with us.