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Mitch McConnell Treated For Concussion; Russian Bombardment in Ukraine; Bodies of Americans Killed in Mexico Set to Be Returned to U.S.; Fight Breaks Out on Southwest Airlines Plane; Norfolk Southern CEO on Capitol Hill. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 09, 2023 - 13:00   ET



KRISTIN FISHER, CNN HOST: I'm Kristin Fisher in Washington.

Today, the CEO of embattled rail company Norfolk Southern testifies for the very first time. Alan Shaw told senators that the company will be part of the recovery effort in East Palestine, Ohio, for the long haul more than a month after a toxic train crash devastated the town.

People who live there are still worried about potentially hazardous conditions, as members of both parties call for more safety regulations. Shaw admitted that the company's current systems are lacking.


ALAN SHAW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NORFOLK SOUTHERN: It is clear the safety mechanisms in place were not enough. The events of the last month are not who we are as a company.


FISHER: So, Shaw's company is now responsible for not one, but two high-profile train derailments in Ohio in just a matter of weeks and, according to one senator on the committee, 20 derailments involving a chemical spill over the past eight years.

This week, the NTSB launched an investigation into Norfolk Southern's safety practices.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is in Washington. Jason Carroll is on the scene in Ohio.

Sunlen, we will start with you, since you're here in Washington.

I mean, these senators in this hearing today, they did not go easy on Shaw.


And you could really sense the frustration in their voices. They were asking some very sharp questions of the CEO, Andy (sic) Shaw, of Norfolk Southern. And they went right after him about the accountability, trying to hold his feet to the fire at how they will show up for the residents there and how they will make this better for their lives that no doubt will be made harder going forward.

I want to highlight this one exchange that just happened in the last hour between Senator Markey on the committee, and he was going right out after Andy (sic) Shaw, asking specifically if they intend to help compensate the homeowners who now have very diminished property value in the area of the derailment.

Now, here's that back-and-forth. Happened just a moment ago.


SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): When you say, do the right thing, will you, again, compensate these families for their diminished lost property value for homes and small businesses?

SHAW: Senator, we have already committed $21 million. And that's a down payment.

MARKEY: That is a down payment. Will you commit to ensuring that these families, these innocent families, do not lose their life savings in their homes and small businesses?

The right thing to do is to say, yes, we will.

SHAW: Senator, I'm committed to doing what's right for the community.


SERFATY: So, no specific commitments there from the CEO. And that really set off Senator Markey, who, moments after that, he said: I suspect that, once the cameras are off of this moment in that area, that these residents are going to find themselves in the crosshairs of the accountants of Norfolk Southern.

So, some pointed words there from Markey. Now, we did hear, Kristin, earlier in his testimony the CEO apologize, admitting, as you said, that mistakes were made. But, specifically, the senators on this panel today wanted to hear specific commitments that they feel that he did not go far enough in making today during that panel.

FISHER: I imagine the sound bite that you just played, someone -- is going to really impact and be of great interest to the people, the residents, the small business owners in East Palestine.

So, Jason, do you know of residents in East Palestine, are they closely following today's testimony?


And I have to say, look, he -- I'm sure, as you know, Kristin, that getting the trust of the people here in East Palestine is a tall order. Still a lot of unanswered questions that they have about the long-term specifics about who's going to be monitoring health, who's going to be taken care of the economic scare in town.

One of the nearby residents, Cathy Reese, who we spoke to, she lives in nearby Negley. Leslie Run runs right behind her home. In the days following the derailment, there were dead fish in that run. So, as you can imagine, she's got a lot of questions. And she felt as though that Alan Shaw was light on specifics.


CATHY REESE, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO, RESIDENT: Well, I don't think he's really ever answered any questions. He just keeps saying: I'm committed. I'm committed. I'm committed.

But, like, even when they said yes or no, it's uncommitted. He never answers yes or no. So I think he's full of it.


CARROLL: And there you have it right there, Kristin. I mean, you did hear Alan Shaw say that, again, he had a personal commitment to making East Palestine whole, making it thrive.


But folks like Cathy Reese want to know, what does that mean specifically? So what they were looking forward were any sort of specifics in terms of what they plan to do to help these people economically years from now, whether that's putting a dollar amount on that, and what are they specifically going to do in terms of monitoring people here in terms of their health and the environment?

Again, some folks here are feeling, though, that Alan Show was just a bit light on specifics -- Kristin.


And, once again, he said on Capitol Hill moments ago: I'm just not committed.

He committed to the $21 million down payment, but would not say yes or no if he was committed to those -- to compensate specific amounts for that lost property value.

So, Jason Carroll, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you both so much.

So, from trains to planes and another fight on board, this time on a Southwest Airlines flight. Watch this. So this brawl broke out as people were boarding the plane in Dallas. Other passengers, you can see, they kind of jumped in to try to break it up.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Dallas for us.

So, Ed, if it's not a near collision a runway these days, it's a fight between passengers. Any idea how this one started?


If you listen to the man there in the video who was throwing punches alluded to the fact that he felt that the man that he was punching had acted aggressively toward his family. We also heard from one witness on the plane who believed that the man who was sitting in his seat had perhaps bumped in to the punching man's family.

But that's how it started, clearly escalated very quickly. We're told that the video actually started after the man throwing punches had already landed three or four different strikes on the man. And, obviously, you see the passengers there in the plane trying to help the crew get the situation under control and get the men separated.

We are told that both men left the plane. Dallas police officials say that criminal charges were not filed against anyone in this particular situation. Southwest Airlines says they commended the actions of their crew for handling that situation safely and that the Monday flight did go -- continue as scheduled. It was going from Dallas Love Field to Phoenix, Arizona.

But, clearly, as spring break season continues to heighten here in the weeks ahead, really kind of highlights that, as flights are full, tensions are also high, Kristin.

FISHER: Yes, it seems there's always something going on with the airlines these days.

Ed Lavandera in Dallas, thank you so much.

So, also in Texas, CNN has learned that the bodies of two Americans kidnapped and killed in Mexico will be returned to the U.S. today. And the remains of Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown will be transported to a funeral home in Brownsville, Texas, and a second round of autopsies will be conducted on U.S. soil.

Their two friends who survived the kidnapping are in Brownsville right now recovering. Today, Mexico dispatched hundreds of soldiers to the border city of Matamoros, where the incident happened on Friday.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is in South Carolina. The victims are from there. And also with us, CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst John Miller.

So, Carlos, let's start with you in South Carolina and the two survivors. How are they doing? What's their condition?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristin, good afternoon.

We know that the one American that was not hurt in this kidnapping was LaTavia Washington McGee. She is doing just fine. And, according to her mother, she could be back here in South Carolina as early as today. The family had had some hope that she might be able to make it back to South Carolina yesterday. However, that was not the case.

As for Eric Williams, the other person that survived this kidnapping, he is recovering in a hospital in Texas, where he was shot several times. Now, the bodies, as you mentioned, of the two other Americans that died in here, Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard, as you noted, they're expected to be brought back to the U.S., to Texas, at some point today.

We're told that another autopsy will take place, and then, presumably, the bodies will be released to the families. All four of them were from the South Carolina area -- Kristin.

FISHER: Such a sad time for those families in South Carolina.

So, John, let's bring you in here, because Mexican authorities are saying that one person has been detained for undertaking -- quote -- "surveillance functions of the victims."

Can you interpret that for us? Because, I mean, the ambush happened less than three hours after they crossed into Matamoros, and that's really not a lot of time.


So that individual, whose name is Jose N., as Mexicans -- authorities have identified him, basically is an expendable in this model. He was the person assigned to guard them while they were being held in that wooden shack, before Mexican authorities rescued them.


And his job was just to make sure they didn't get away. Obviously, he's someone that has been questioned in this. But, in the scope of the Gulf cartel, given that he was placed alone on guard duty, he would be pretty low level.

FISHER: So, based on CNN's reporting, it appears that Mexico has started cracking down on security in that border town.

Do you think that's actually going to change anything there on the ground, or is it just optics?

MILLER: Well, it may be both.

I mean, it's more likely to be temporary. But the Mexican government has to do something to demonstrate they are taking a stand, and that they have some control of that territory, which most people will tell you and believe that that territory in Matamoros is controlled essentially by the cartels and its armies of armed people.

So I think what you're seeing, by flooding that area with soldiers, by gaining control, two things may be going on. One, they may be looking for people and trying to make arrests to bring this further towards some kind of close for the Mexican government, but also asserting themselves in the area, so tourists who have been told by the U.S. State Department, don't go there, it's too dangerous, will be assured, well, there's a security presence now, and it's still OK to go for these medical procedures and other reasons.

FISHER: Still seems a bit risky. Do you think that -- what should happen next here?

Because some lawmakers here in the U.S. say that the U.S. needs new tools to help stop this violence near the border. Mexico's president doesn't like that idea. What do you think the solution is here? I mean, is there one?

MILLER: I mean, there have been solutions. There have been times when the U.S. government and the intelligence community and the Mexicans have worked successfully to do damage and create setbacks for cartels.

The best example we have, historically, is the work we did with Colombia, which took years and cost thousands of lives, mostly Colombian lives. As we have seen in Mexico, the cartels have killed hundreds and, yes, thousands of people, mostly Mexicans. And this is only a flash point, because we see four Americans, two of whom have died, caught up in that -- in that net, and a Mexican woman who was on her way to pick up her children from school who was killed in the crossfire of that same incident.

So, if you ask the Mexican government, we're the problem. If there weren't millions of Americans buying fentanyl and other drugs, the cartels wouldn't exist. We're the market. And we need to cure our need for drugs.

If you ask the Americans, the Mexicans have let vast criminal organizations get far too powerful for far too long. So, in some measure, we're talking past each other. But we have seen, in the Colombian example, if we work together close enough for long enough, there can be real progress. We're not seeing that yet.

FISHER: John, what do you think is the likelihood that some of the other suspects in these killings will be apprehended?

MILLER: I think that the likelihood is getting higher, and that you're seeing an influx of not just police authorities, but now military authorities, into the area. That is usually a sign or a signal that the Mexican enforcement arms are getting ready to make a move.

But the question is, what are we going to get? Are you going to get the boss of the Gulf cartel? That's a possibility. Or are you going to have the cartel turn over, either dead or alive, the people that we have seen on that videotape involved in the shooting as further expendables and say, you can have these and let's bring this to a close?

And that's something that we will have to be watching very carefully, today and tomorrow to see how that develops.

FISHER: All right, John Miller, thank you so much for your expertise.

MILLER: Thanks.

FISHER: And Carlos Suarez in South Carolina for us.

Thank you both so much. So, Russia just unleashed its most intense assault on Ukraine in

weeks, striking cities across the country with more than 80 missiles, including hypersonics that Ukraine says it has no way to stop. We're going to go there live next.

Plus, new trouble for Tiger Woods. His ex-girlfriend claims that she was tricked out of the house and then locked out. Now she's taking him to court.

And what we're learning about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's condition after that fall in a D.C. hotel last night.



FISHER: In Ukraine, Russia has launched massive aerial bombardments, more than 80 missiles targeting Ukraine's infrastructure, including this power plant in Kyiv far away from the front lines. In fact, the attacks hit major cities across the country.

CNN's Melissa Bell is in Kharkiv.

Melissa, was that city hit too?


There were about 15 of those missiles that you mentioned that hit the wider Kharkiv region around Kharkiv city. But you can maybe see the result behind me. This city is in complete darkness and has been ever since those strikes overnight, so people, because of those infrastructure strikes, without heating electricity, water.

This is part of that war of attrition that is really designed to make the lives of people across the country as uncomfortable as possible. You never know exactly when they're going to come, and you don't know how long the damage is going to affect you.


Now, there have been several people killed across the country as a result of the strikes. It had been about a month, Kristin, really since we'd had any of those major nationwide strikes. It isn't simply the missile strikes, the Shahed drone strikes that we have had overnight, some of them, many of them intercepted, but a lot of them getting through.

It's also that we have seen an uptick in activity along the front line, not just around the city of Bakhmut, but some of those other flash points along the front line, places like Lyman and Kupiansk further to the north. We're also seeing an uptick of activity along the northern border, so here where I'm speaking to from, with Ukrainian authorities warning that they're seeing a lot of activity along the Russian border.

And what have seen over the course of the day have been artillery strikes, mortar attacks in places like Chernihiv, Sumy, and here in Kharkiv. So, we could be looking at another difficult night. We have just heard the air raid sirens, first the nationwide one, but a more local one as well just a moment to go.

The fear is that this may carry on, now that the Russian equipment is in place to cause that kind of damage that we saw last night. What Moscow says is that this is revenge for what it describes as terrorist activities over the course of the last few days across their border in Bryansk region.

Remember that they accused a Ukrainian national of being responsible for firing on civilians. And what Ukrainian authorities say, Kristin, is that the only terror activity is what continues to go on in Ukraine day in, day out.

FISHER: And you're right. You can really see the impact of those strikes in the background behind you, absolutely no lights, except those cars.

Melissa Bell, thank you so much.

So, let's bring in former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark.

General, you just heard Melissa Bell's report, so many missiles fired overnight. And Ukraine's military says that Russia is firing types of missiles that they haven't seen before and even a hypersonic rocket that they can't defend against. How much do those types of rockets change the game on the ground?

WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, they don't change the immediate game on the battlefield.

These are directed against infrastructure, and the infrastructure can be rebuilt. And it's a question of how intensive these strikes are, how often they're conducted. So it's been about a month since the last big strike by the Russians on the infrastructure. The Ukrainians got their electricity system back and operational before this latest set of strikes.

It's a long-term problem. We have got to find a way to secure Ukraine. And, however this war ends, Ukraine can't be left under attack by Russian missiles. So, although we're trying to push air defense there, we don't have it there yet. Some of the missiles probably wouldn't be intercepted even by our technology.

So we have got some real challenges ahead to help Ukrainians protect their own people question, Kristin.

FISHER: General Clark, thank you so much. I'm going to have to leave it right there, because we have just a little bit of breaking news happening now on Capitol Hill regarding Mitch McConnell, who was injured when he had some kind of incident in a D.C. hotel last night.

CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill, I believe, to give us this update.

Manu, what can you tell us? How's he doing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're learning for the first time the -- what Senator McConnell's injury was when he indeed fell last night at a Washington hotel, was taken to the hospital, was admitted overnight to an area -- Washington area hospital.

And a statement from his office says that he is being treated for a concussion and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days.

I will read you the statement from his spokesperson, David Popp, in full.

It says: "Leader McConnell tripped at a dinner event Wednesday evening and has been admitted to the hospital and is being treated for a concussion. He is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days of observation and treatment. The leader is grateful to the medical professionals for their care, to his colleague -- and to his colleagues for their warm wishes."

Now, this has been a question pretty much all day here in the Senate. A lot of people concerned about his condition had reached out to the leader, had not heard directly back from him. Last night, he was at an event for his super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, that he often goes to these big money events when he's in town here in Washington.

One of them was last night at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, not far from the White House. At that event, he made some remarks. He thanked his supporters. And as he left that event -- or, during that event, and towards the end of the event, it appears that he tripped and he fell.

At that point, about 9:17 p.m., to be precise, emergency personnel in Washington were dispatched to the hotel to take him to the hospital. That's where he has been treated overnight. So, the news here is that Mitch McConnell is being treated for a concussion. So, it sounds like he had some sort of head injury where he felt last night, and that he will remain in the hospital for some time.


It does not exist precisely say when he will return to the Senate, but as -- the statement says that he will be there for at least a few days of observation, after the Senate Republican leader, the longest- serving Senate Republican leader, Senate leader of any party in history, 81 years old, has been treated for a concussion, but he is expected to be there for a few days.

And we will see when he's able to return to the Senate -- Kristin.

FISHER: Yes, I mean, any time you're 81 years old, and you trip and fall and hit your head, it's a serious thing, but we're obviously very glad to hear that it's a concussion and that he's expected to be OK.

Manu Raju, thank you so much.

So, a bad breakup, or something more? What Tiger Woods' ex-girlfriend is claiming a new lawsuits against the golf superstar.