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Interview With Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su; Work Continues to Open Temporary Channel Near Baltimore Bridge; Trump Campaigns in Michigan and Wisconsin; Iranian Target Hit; Israeli Prime Minister Facing Protests. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Completely destroyed, that is the description of the Al Shifa Hospital, according to Gaza's Civil Defense force, after Israeli forces finished a two-week siege there, this happening as the White House pressures Israel not to launch a new offensive into Rafah.

And Donald Trump's campaign tackling the Midwest and two states crucial to his campaign for the White House. Can he win Wisconsin and Michigan? He lost them in 2020, but his campaign may need wins there to beat President Biden.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Plus, a March Madness matchup for the ages, Iowa and LSU staging a rematch of last year's women's final, but the drama has been ratcheted up this time around.

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

KEILAR: In Gaza today, utter destruction at Al Shifa Hospital after two weeks of an Israeli siege there.

Gaza officials say they have discovered 300 bodies at the medical complex which they describe as destroyed. CNN cannot verify those numbers because of a lack of media access to Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that more than 200 militants were killed in the two-week operation, and he's eying Rafah next. Netanyahu says Israel's victory hinges on a plan defensive into that southern corner of Gaza, where more than a million Palestinians have been forced to flee.

Today, senior White House officials are trying to convince Israel against the move, the prime minister facing his biggest domestic backlash since the war began on October 7, over the weekend, huge protests calling on him to step down.

We have CNN's Melissa Bell live from Jerusalem for us.

Melissa, let's start with the protests. Are they affecting the Netanyahu regime? MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is at a time,

as you say, of great international pressure, not least from the American administration, on the question of Rafah and what happens next that he's seeing this huge domestic pressure as well.

Let me just show you what's happening all around me here, Brianna. We're here just not very far from the Knesset. And all the way down there, the protesters have gathered. They have got -- on that screen, they're hearing from the families of hostages. They have tents lined all the way up to the Knesset, their plan, to remain here for the next few days in order to keep the pressure up on Benjamin Netanyahu.

And you have a remarkable collection of people that have come out here to protest. And just to show you, Brianna, how we're in here for the long haul, they have set up little stands where they're selling bread. They intend to go nowhere.

What's interesting is that you have got people here who are gathered. Some of them were in favor of -- many of them, of that initial military intervention.

But now they say, six months on -- and we have been hearing from many different voices, including a lot of former soldiers, who've turned out in this crowd, to say, the way this war has been prosecuted, the way blood has been spilt, and the fact that more than 130 hostages are still in the hands of Hamas, to them, is a sign that the way Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have gone about trying to get the hostages out has been completely misguided.

Many of them extremely concerned about the signal and the image of Israel now abroad. And what they're out here calling for, these many different people, some from the left, some further to the right, is to say that they want elections now.

Many of the placards that we have seen over the course of the last couple of days saying, look, this isn't even a time for protest. It's time for elections, and this particular prime minister has to go. Until now, what we have seen, Brianna, was remarkable national unity. In the days after October 7, left and right came together. That appears to be falling apart.


KEILAR: And walk us through, Melissa, the aftermath of Israel's siege of Al Shifa Hospital, two wildly different accounts of what happened there.

BELL: That's right, as we have seen over and over again over the course of the last six months, Brianna, very different accounts of the very same reality.

We have been hearing from the IDF, saying, look, it is 900 terrorists, as they call them, that were arrested. They say 500 of those were found to belong either to Hamas or to Islamic Jihad. And the IDF says a number of them were senior commanders. What we're hearing from the ground and what we're seeing from the

videos that emerge from Al Shifa are truly apocalyptic scenes, with locals rushing to get in, the civil defense trying to get in to see who might still be rescued. And we're hearing of many hundreds of dead and seeing with our own eyes the scenes of devastation around what was Al Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza before the war, and, the IDF claims, a part of the country in the north where Hamas had been regrouping -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Melissa Bell, live for us from Jerusalem, thank you -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Let's get some perspective from the White House now with CNN's Kayla Tausche. She's there for us live.

Kayla, Netanyahu has repeatedly said that this offensive into Rafah is happening no matter what the White House says. But the White House seems to think that that position is malleable. They think they can persuade Israeli officials.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Boris, that continues to be the goal of the U.S. in these conversations.

U.S. officials stress that the meeting today that is happening virtually to discuss Rafah specifically at the principal level, that the U.S. wants to continue to highlight alternatives to a new ground offensive in Gaza, where more than one million civilians have sought refuge and where the U.S. continues to warn that vast civilian casualties would occur if Israel were to go in there.

Here's Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre just moments ago, asked what the goals are today.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If they're going to move forward with the military operations, we have to have this conversation. We have to understand how they're going to move forward.

We -- and I will say one more thing. When Jake Sullivan was here at the podium not too long ago, he believed and he said there are alternate -- alternative ways of doing this, alternative ways of going after Hamas.


TAUSCHE: But those alternatives have been the subject of discussions for several weeks at this point at various levels of the two governments.

Just last week, the defense secretary here in the U.S. shared with his counterpart the desire for a credible and implementable plan on the ground if they were to go in. We should note this meeting was expected to be in person. It was delayed after being abruptly canceled last week, but the White House still hopes to hold it in person at some point soon.

But they have stressed the urgency of having a conversation in whatever format they can as soon as possible -- guys.

SANCHEZ: Kayla Tausche live for us from the White House.

Thanks so much, Kayla -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And we're joined now by CNN military analyst retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

When you hear they're having these discussions about an alternative to Rafah, what could be on the table?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Brianna, I think several things could be on the table.

One of them may be that they will do an encirclement of Rafah and move things into position, but not go into the camp itself. That's one possibility. The other thing is that they might not do Rafah at all. They may position their forces in a way that it looks like they might go into Rafah, but they won't do it.

And that might be because they want to set different conditions for the Israeli Defense Forces and, of course, for Hamas. It could also be that the international community will exert so much pressure on Israel that they won't move forward with something like this.

KEILAR: That's the south.

When you look at the north and the Al Shifa Hospital, this two-week siege that has ended, and just the apocalyptic scene there, it's interesting because, back in mid-January, the IDF was saying the high- intensity operation in Northern Gaza had ended.

And yet, here, you hear them saying they're reconstituting here. They tried to regroup. And I wonder what that says to you about the way they are prosecuting this war, Israel, and how effective it is or is not when it comes to sustainability of results.

LEIGHTON: Yes, I think one of the key things -- you're pointing out something really important here, Brianna, because one of the key things was that the Israelis had basically assured us back in January that they had really finished off everything in the north.

That has proven not to be the case. And what this means is that Gaza is not going to be an easy thing for the Israelis to move into and to control. It also means that they're not going to be able to really tell us exactly how successful they are until much, much later. And they're going to have to revisit the basic areas, the basic targets that they had gone after before.

So they're not done, and they're not going to be done as quickly as they want to be.


KEILAR: And when you look at how all of this speaks to the goal of the war, as Israel sees it, you have Netanyahu saying there is no victory without entering Rafah.

So considering, though, what you're seeing there in the north, is there a victory possible in the way that Netanyahu is describing it?

LEIGHTON: I'm very skeptical that there is because of the way in which Hamas has really integrated itself into Gazan society.

The other thing is that, in terms of military operations, they're really everywhere. And that's what the Israelis are finding. They're seeing themselves having to go into hospitals like Al Shifa many times, not just once, but many times, in order to get rid of intelligence cells, in order to get rid of weapons caches, in order to get rid of fighters.

And that's going to be a really difficult thing for them to do constantly. So there's not going to be a complete victory in the sense that Netanyahu seems to be describing it.

KEILAR: They can't hold what they're clearing, right, in the north.

LEIGHTON: That's right.

KEILAR: So, when you look at the south, and all the civilians that are there, which we mentioned, more than a million who have fled there, how do you -- if there is a possibility of some kind of encirclement, as you mentioned, of Rafah instead, how does that play out with the civilians and the humanitarian crisis?

LEIGHTON: Well, this is going to be a real problem, because what the Israelis should be doing is, they should be moving the civilians out of that area and just doing it in a way where they can actually go into the area in a military sense and then have the women and children and the older people move out.

That would be the ideal. The reality of the situation is, is that they have no mechanism -- it appears that they have no mechanism in place to do that kind of thing. So, all of these one million, 1.5 million, whatever the actual number is, is, they are going to be there. And that's going to complicate any military operation.

KEILAR: All right, Colonel Leighton, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. A lot going on there in Gaza. Thank you.

LEIGHTON: You bet.

KEILAR: Boris.

SANCHEZ: We're also following some breaking news.

State media in Iran says that an airstrike destroyed an Iranian consular building in the Syrian city of Damascus.

CNN's Nic Robertson has been monitoring developments from London.

Nick, what more do we know about this attack in Syria? NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, we have

heard now from the Iranian ambassador, who was in the building next door to the consulate, the embassy, when the consulate was hit.

He says that six Israeli missiles that he claims were fired from an Israeli F-35 fighter jet hit the consular building, collapsing it. He says five to seven people are injured in that attack. Now, Israel, as it usually does when there are reports of strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria, says it's not going to comment on what the foreign media are reporting, meaning Syrian and Iranian media are reporting.

But Iranian media is also reporting that a senior IRGC commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Zahedi, was killed in the attack. If that is correct, as Iranian media is saying, that would be potentially the most senior Iranian IRGC commander killed since the United States killed Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander, back at the beginning of 2020.

So that would be very significant. And the fact that a diplomatic building was hit as well in this strike is also significant. If it is Israel that committed this attack, it would be the first time that we're aware of that Israel has hit Iranian diplomatic facilities inside of Syria, perhaps indicative of a high-value target they specifically wanted to reach out and hit -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes, also a bit of irony. I'm not sure if you could see it in the video that we have been showing, but there is a giant portrait of Qasem Soleimani, the former Quds commander, outside the building next door that you pointed out.

Nic Robertson, an important development to monitor in Damascus. Thank you so much.

Still to come on NEWS CENTRAL: Donald Trump using his Easter message to attack prosecutors and judges, as he begins one of his most important months, legally speaking, yet.

Plus, crews are working around the clock to remove debris after the Baltimore bridge collapse. We have got the latest on how they plan to get ships moving in and out of the port and keep port workers on the job too.

And King Charles attending Easter service, making his first major public appearance since revealing his cancer diagnosis. Two royals were noticeably absent, though. We will discuss in just moments.



SANCHEZ: Former President Donald Trump getting back on the campaign trail for the first time in more than two weeks.

Tomorrow, he visits the critical swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin, both expected to play key roles in November's presidential election.

Trump's events follow several controversial social media posts, including this video he posted, the back of a pickup truck, a decal on it showing an image of President Biden hog-tied.

Trump also put out a scathing Easter message berating judges and district attorneys over his many ongoing legal battles.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Steve Contorno.

Steve, from the courtroom to the campaign trail, what is Trump's campaign trying to accomplish with these Midwest visits?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: As you mentioned, Boris, Michigan and Wisconsin are two key battlegrounds. President Biden visited them in recent weeks.


Now it's President's Trump -- President Trump's turn to go there. And Michigan, we're being told, is a place where Trump intends to deliver remarks focused on immigration. Obviously, Michigan is about 2,000 miles away from the U.S.-Mexico border, but his campaign believes that this is a salient issue, no matter where he goes, especially among those independent voters in these battleground states.

From there, he will go to Wisconsin for what will be his first rally in the Badger State in almost two years. You have to go all the way back to August of 2022 since he held a public event there. And part of the reason why Trump has not been on the campaign trail so much lately is, in part, because of the fund-raising crunch he is facing due to the mounting legal bills he has.

He's had to spend a lot of time trying to raise money. To that end, he will hold a fund-raiser on Saturday that his campaign hopes will bring in upwards of $30 million.

And, also, this hectic and increasingly aggressive campaign -- or -- excuse me -- legal calendar is starting to really take up a lot of his time. Let me go through some of the upcoming dates that we're going to see the president's -- former president's legal issues really come to a head.

This Thursday, for example, the deadline to secure his $175 million bond in New York is coming due. In two weeks, the trial that will determine whether or not is owed -- excuse me -- whether or not he illegally made hush money payments to former adult film star Stormy Daniels, that begins with jury selection April 15.

And then, at the end of the month on April 25, SCOTUS will hear arguments in that presidential immunity case, where Trump is arguing that he has -- he had blanket immunity for any action he did while he was president, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And, Steve, we should point out that, the last two weeks, a lot of those visits to court have been voluntary for Trump. He hasn't actually had to be there. It was his choice to skip the campaign trail and go to court.

Steve Contorno, thanks so much for the update -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Coming up: Crews are rushing to open a new channel for ships near the destroyed bridge in Baltimore, as cleanup crews begin moving debris from the water.

And convicted killer Alex Murdaugh back in court today, where a judge just handed down his final sentence. How much time he will get for stealing from his clients and law firm.



SANCHEZ: Happening now, crews working at the site of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse in Baltimore are preparing an alternate route, a temporary channel to get around the wreckage that would allow for essential vessels to get in and out of the harbor. It could also help keep workers on the job in one of the busiest ports in the country.

Meantime, the bodies of four victims are believed to still be trapped beneath the tangle of steel and concrete at that site.

Let's get you an update on the effort now with acting Labor Secretary Julie Su. She's near the wreckage site and has been meeting with local officials.

Secretary, thanks so much for being with us.

How long do you think this effort to open a temporary channel is going to take? How long before it's open to traffic?

JULIE SU, ACTING U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well, we don't have that information yet. But thank you for having me here.

And you're right. This has a really big impact on workers. There's obviously the first category of workers, the support that's needed for the families of the workers who tragically lost their lives. Then there's the workers who are already out there and will be out there doing the cleanup, as well as doing the rebuild. We want to make sure that is all done effectively and responsibly.

And then there's the workers who are impacted because of things like the port not being able to operate fully until the channel is cleared. And there's tremendous economic displacement and anxiety that comes from that.

I just met with some of those workers here today and pledged to them that this is -- the president is on board and is telling us every single day that we need to do everything we can to both support them and to ensure that the port is reopened as quickly and responsibly as possible.

SANCHEZ: Yes, we learned just a short time ago that President Biden is going to be traveling to Baltimore on Friday. As you said, he's promised the full backing of the federal government for relief and recovery efforts.

I'm curious. Will federal aid include relief for the 8,000 workers on the docks that have been impacted by this closure?

SU: Well, so, since this happened, right, there's been $60 million of emergency funds from the Department of Transportation that is helping to cover costs.


SU: We are -- you know, it's a whole-of-government approach. The Small Business Administration also declared a disaster, which is going to free up some loans for small businesses.

And we are looking at every -- everything we can do to make sure that workers also have the protections that they need. Immediately, when the bridge collapsed, the president's first thought was of the working men and women who keep this country going, and recognizing the importance of the port, which supports directly over 15,000 workers and indirectly about 140,000.

We saw during the pandemic that our safety net for workers when they are put out of a job through no fault of their own is inadequate for everything that we need to do. And so we have to take the lessons from the pandemic and -- and the needs that are here now and do everything we can to make sure that working people feel economic security when things like this happen.