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Deadly Storms Batter California; Silicon Valley Bank Collapse; Trump Invited To Testify Before Grand Jury Next Week; Mediterranean Migrant Crisis; Saudi Arabia And Iran Agree To End Years Of Hostilities; Wagner To Open Recruitment Centers Across Russia; France Protests; Alaska's Willow Oil Drilling Project; Kristin Smart's Murderer Sentenced To 25 To Life; Trump's Air Force One Color Scheme Scrapped. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired March 11, 2023 - 04:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, nearly 10,000 people are under evacuation orders in California as excessive rainfall leads to raging flood waters. The Fresno County sheriff joins me in a few minutes.

New legal woes for Donald Trump. The former U.S. president is considering whether to testify before a grand jury about his alleged role in a hush money scheme.

And a look at what's behind the second largest bank collapse in U.S. history and how it happened in just 48 hours.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: Another atmospheric river has been pouring massive amounts of rain and snow on California. At least two people have died in powerful storms battering the state.

And the Weather Prediction Center put parts of California in the highest warning level possible for excessive rainfall with the worst of it out along the California central coast. Officials issued warnings for almost 10,000 residents, including these folks, who say the rain is unprecedented.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go up there and check on the scene in case they need a ride down to the senior center in Lake Isabella (ph). I've never ever seen it, this much water here in Kernville.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told us we need to leave, so we did.


BRUNHUBER: More than 40,000 homes and businesses are without power right now. Meanwhile, President Biden has approved Governor Gavin Newsom's request to declare a federal state of emergency. CNN's Nick Watt is in central California with more on how residents are dealing with the storms.


NICK WATT, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Water everywhere causing chaos across central California. Some 25 million are under flood warnings. The Kern River usually runs at about 6 feet. It's up over 17. Snow is the issue up at altitude.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a quick sec, where I lost control but I caught that back.

WATT (voice-over): In SoCal, they're rushing to rebuild some sort of road for 450 households. This is their only way out. Springville's Pleasant Valley Road now, anything bad. In my 40 years, never seen it like that. So the man who shot these images.

A major artery in Oakland closed at rush hour nearby a Peet's Coffee warehouse roof collapsed, killing one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A longtime employee beloved by everyone.

WATT (voice-over): Around 25 times the volume of water that flows in the Mississippi is flowing through the air and this is the 10th so called atmospheric river to hit California this winter. Low pressure from the north meets moist air near Hawaii, they call it a Pineapple Express. Sounds fun?

It's not. Essentially a fire hose aimed at the state usually famed for its sunshine.

Throw in a couple of other winter storms that dumped a couple of years' worth of snow on some upland areas and this is the result. Today's storm is a warm one. So along with all this rain, some of that snow is melting. The residents of Felton flooded in January once more told to evacuate. Here and elsewhere, yet more upheaval.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now we have to go home, pack our stuff and leave once again when we were just able to come back a couple of weeks ago.

WATT (voice-over): Good news, all the water this winter is significantly rolling back the years long drought suffered in the West. Bad news, yet another atmospheric river is forecast to hit this state early next week.

WATT: Some places in California have had more than a foot of rain dumped by just this system alone, in this little farming town about six inches so far and look at what has happened. And it's not over. Here, this town is not going to stop raining until the middle of next week -- Nick Watt, Watsonville, California.



BRUNHUBER: And joining me now is Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni, thanks so much for being here with us. To start off, how bad is the flooding you're seeing in your area right now?

SHERIFF JOHN ZANONI, FRESNO COUNTY: Well, we're seeing significant flooding in our area. It's mainly along our Kings River corridor, which comes from Pine Flat Lake.


ZANONI: And then extends down through the city of Reedley, all the way down to the Fresno County line, into Tulare and, at some point, it actually heads out west toward the city of Coalinga in Western Fresno County.

BRUNHUBER: We're just showing some pictures of the flooded rivers right now. It's really dramatic. I know some people in your area have needed to be rescued. Walk us through some of the situations folks are finding themselves in.

ZANONI: Well, what we've really noticed is individuals are out there and especially near the Kings River area near Wonder Valley. CAL FIRE had to conduct a rescue earlier today with the use of a boat, because what we're seeing is, with the excessive flooding, homes are becoming surrounded by water, which really leaves those residents no way to get out without having emergency crews come in and rescue personnel extract them.

Earlier near Yokuts Valley, former known as Squaw Valley, our office used our swift water rescue team and a small boat to rescue three elderly women from a residence that became trapped and surrounded by water.

One of those women was over 100 years old. They're OK; they were able to get out to neighbors' or friends' homes and they're resting comfortably this evening. But it's been a busy day.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, we're showing pictures of that. We're seeing the water, it's running so fast, if you get caught up in that, you know, it could be deadly, much less if you're 100 years old, gosh.


BRUNHUBER: I know some of the folks you've encouraged to evacuate, they decided to stay put.

So are you worried you'll have to go back in after them later, when the conditions possibly get even worse and a rescue is harder to pull off?

ZANONI: Yes, that is always a concern that we have when conditions get to a certain point. We would like people to sort of self-evacuate and move out. But at this point, we don't have anybody under an actual evacuation order. All we have are areas that we call under evacuation warnings.

That's basically telling people, hey, you need to be prepared to leave at a moment's notice. So have your stuff in what we call like a go bag or a small bag, ready to go if you need prescriptions and things that are essential.

Have those ready to go so if we come and we have to actually evacuate, you can go at a moment's notice, which reduces your risk and the risk to safety personnel that are there to help.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, I mean, the pictures we're showing of the flooding that you and others have been posting are so awe inspiring. But there's another danger, a sign of the times, that some folks are out there, trying to take pictures or video, like those for social media, and then they're potentially endangering themselves and others.

ZANONI: Yes, we've seen some of that. Some folks are out there taking these photos, you know, trying to see what the action is, what's going on.

But really, what -- the message we want, we've been trying to send to people all day, since yesterday afternoon through today is, don't put yourself in a situation where you're going to need to be rescued. Don't create a problem because we have a lot of emergency personnel out there.

But we need to make sure that they're available for actual rescues and people that are, you know, in distress. Don't put yourself in a bad situation and create an emergency.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. Looking at the sort of what we've been seeing in the last, you know, couple of weeks, I mean, California is not -- you know, it's used to seeing both drought and flooding.

But how unusual is the extremity of the weather that you're seeing these days?

ZANONI: Well, this is a very unusual situation. We probably haven't seen anything like this here in the Central Valley since 1997. And then prior to that, we'd probably go back to the winter, which was 40 years ago this year, the winter of 1982 and 1983.

But this year, the snowfall has outpaced any of those prior years. Our local ski resort up here, China Peak, at the top of the mountain, they're reporting over 600 inches of snow, which is 50 feet or more of snow, have fallen during this year.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, it's just incredible. Fortunately, things have kind of slowed down right now. But you're far from out of the woods. There's more rains expected next week, along with potentially more snow melt.

How worried are you about the one-two punch? ZANONI: We're very concerned. Here in Fresno County, we have our emergency operations center open. And the sheriff's office here has been working with local agencies, local government. We've been working with CAL FIRE.


ZANONI: We've been working with our own Office of Emergency Services along with the California Office of Emergency Services and we've declared this, you know, an emergency. So we've gotten resources from the State of California, which is going to help.

But we're going to have a little bit of a break in the action, we think, Sunday into Monday and then, looking at the weather forecast, we're going to be right back at this again, come Monday afternoon through Tuesday all the way into Wednesday.

So we are very concerned.


ZANONI: And it's -- with the rain is one thing. But also looking at the snow that is -- the record snowfall below 5,000 feet that's going to melt as a result of this rain is going to multiply the problem by 5-10 times.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. You're far from out of the woods, as I say. Listen, all the best to you and your team, as you try and keep folks safe and hopefully they listen to all of the warnings that you're putting out there. Fresno County sheriff John Zanoni, thanks so much for being here with us.

ZANONI: Thank you for having me on, have a good night.


BRUNHUBER: So now to the Americans killed in Mexico. And take a look at this new video CNN has obtained.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): It was taken by one of the four Americans who were kidnapped. CNN geolocated it and it shows them driving in the north of Matamoros, just after they crossed into the country.

The FBI has set up a digital tipline for their investigation. Mexican authorities concede the case is very confusing. Journalist Stefano Pozzebon is following the story from Bogota, Colombia. He has more details on how the kidnapping and killings unfolded, the latest arrests and the repercussions for the Mexican government.



STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mexican authorities on Friday arrested five people in connection with the kidnapping of four U.S. citizens in the border town of Matamoros according to the local attorney general.

The four U.S. citizens were abducted on the 3rd of March after they crossed into Mexico to go to a doctor's appointment. They were in Matamoros for almost four hours before they were abducted by the cartels, according to new video analyzed by CNN.

They were located four days later but two of them were found dead. The two survivors returned to the United States on Tuesday. And the bodies of those killed were repatriated on Thursday, the U.S. ambassador Ken Salazar to Mexico said on Friday.

Salazar also urged the United States and Mexico to join forces to fight crime in the area.


KEN SALAZAR, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MEXICO (through translator): These cartels that wage so much power in that area must be dismantled. It's a job that we need to do together with the Mexican government and respect Mexico's sovereignty.


POZZEBON: The border region between the two countries has been controlled by various criminal organizations for years. While U.S. tourists are already the targets of kidnappings and murders, more than 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico in recent years, mostly local and migrants who were heading toward the U.S. southern border from Central America and whose bodies have never been found.

This, week the Mexican government has come under fire for failing to rescue so many of its own citizens while these four U.S. citizens were located in a matter of days -- for CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon, Bogota.


BRUNHUBER: The kidnapping could impact Mexican tourism. Texas is advising residents not to travel to Mexico for spring break.

In a statement, the Department of Public Safety says, quote, "Drug cartel violence and criminal activity poses a safety threat to anyone who crosses into the country right now. Based on the volatile nature of cartel activity and the violence we're seeing there, we're urging individuals to avoid travel to Mexico at this time."

The U.S. labor market is stronger than analysts expected. Friday's jobs report shows 311,000 positions were added in February. That's far more than predicted. President Biden touted the figures and other improving economic factors. Here he is.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And while we still have more to do and there may be setbacks along the, way inflation is now down 30 percent from what it was this summer. Gas prices are down more than $1.50 since their peak. At the same, time take home pay from workers has gone up.


BRUNHUBER: But the jobs figures did little to calm the markets which were rattled by the swift collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank. Its demise marks the second largest financial failure in U.S. history. The lender was a big player in the tech start-up world and, as Matt Egan reports, it's not clear how much money its clients can recover.


MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS SENIOR WRITER: Silicon Valley Bank may not be a household name but it has more than $200 billion in assets. That makes this the biggest collapse of a bank in the United States since Washington Mutual back in 2008.


EGAN: Now the FDIC has seized control of the bank. They say that depositors will get their money by Monday morning up to the $250,000 insurance limit.

But we know some individuals and start-ups have more than that in the bank. And it's not clear what's going to happen to them.

How did this happen and how did it happen so quickly?

Look at this dramatic decline in the share price of the parent company. It dropped 60 percent yesterday alone after the bank warned they needed to rapidly raise cash. That appeared to spark a panic and a run on the bank.

This is also a symptom of the Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes, designed to tame inflation. We know that these rate hike spikes tend to break things in financial markets. They also hurt the value of tech start-ups, like the ones this bank caters to.

All this is rattling investors, the market; the Dow closed down almost 350 points, 1.1 percent, after a selloff yesterday.

Investors are wondering, is this a canary in a coal mine or a one-off?


BRUNHUBER: And U.S. officials are trying to tamp down fears of other banks meeting a similar fate.


WALLY ADEYEMO, U.S. DEPUTY TREASURY SECRETARY: Our regulators are paying attention to this financial institution. And when we think of the broader financial system, we are very confident in the ability and the resilience of the system. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: And he went on to say that the Treasury Department has the tools necessary to deal with any other incidents that may come up.

Former president Donald Trump plans to huddle with his legal team at Mar-a-Lago this weekend to weigh his options and decide whether to appear before a New York grand jury next week.

That's according to a source familiar with the matter, Manhattan prosecutors invited Trump to appear before the grand jury investigating hush money allegedly paid to adult film star stormy Daniels. Jessica Schneider has more on the story.



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In what would be a historic case, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg one step closer to bringing criminal charges against former president Donald Trump in a long-running investigation.

BRAGG: We're going to look at the facts and the law and let the investigation and justice and what justice requires will dictate how much time we take.

SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors are now giving Trump the chance to testify before a grand jury investigating his alleged role in that $130,000 hush money payout to adult film star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to cover up their alleged affair a decade early.

Since potential defendants in New York are required by law to be invited to appear in front of a grand jury, it all indicates a decision on whether to charge Trump could come soon.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: It's one thing to turn around and to lie on your untruth social. It's another thing to turn around and lie before a grand jury, which all I don't suspect that he is going to be coming.

SCHNEIDER: Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, meeting with prosecutors again Friday. He was sentenced to three years in prison in part for his role paying off Stormy Daniels and then getting reimbursed by the Trump Organization. That reimbursement would be at the heart of any case brought against Trump.

Prosecutors could charge Trump with falsifying business records, for improperly recording his repayment to Cohen. That would be a misdemeanor. Prosecutors could also charge Trump with a felony for falsifying business records in connection with violating campaign finance laws. It could be a risky case to proceed with.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: If the prosecutor's plan is to rest their case on Michael Cohen, that's a big gamble.

SCHNEIDER: Though some argue it's straightforward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty simple. I mean, he paid money to keep her quiet. They took the money. They laundered it and hid it in the papers of the Trump Organization. And ultimately, it meant that the Trump Organization paid tax on something and filed an income tax return that was false.

In New York State law, no, that's a felony.

SCHNEIDER: Several key people have already testified before the grand jury, including former top White House aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks. Trump has repeatedly denied any affair with Stormy Daniels or any involvement in the payoff.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


SCHNEIDER: And a spokesman blasted the D.A.'s investigation saying, "The Manhattan district attorney's threat to indict President Trump is simply insane. For the past five years, the D.A.'s office has been on a witch hunt, investigating every aspect of President Trump's life. And they have come up empty at every turn and now this."

Trump has already said that he will not leave the race if he is indicted and legally he wouldn't have to since there is nothing barring presidential candidates from running if they're charged or even convicted.

But Trump, of course, would be the first former president ever indicted and this isn't the only case Trump is facing. He's also under investigation in Georgia for allegedly working to overturn the 2020 election.


SCHNEIDER: And then the special counsel Jack Smith was investigating Trump for his role in January 6 and also Trump's handling of classified documents after he left office -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, Italy's Coast Guard rescues hundreds of people at sea amid a huge uptick in migrants crossing this year. We'll head to Rome for a live update.

Plus German authorities are working to understand why a 35-year-old German national opened fire in a Jehovah's Witnesses center. More on the investigation after the break, please stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: Italy has launched more than a dozen rescue operations to save hundreds of migrants off its coast. The Italian Coast Guard says they rescued a boat with 500 people on board just hours ago and escorted it to shore.

It also says that the Italian navy was called in to assist with the rescue operations to reach more than 1,000 people on boats at sea. Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 migrants in 41 boats arrived at Lampedusa Island within 24 hours.


BRUNHUBER: The latest influx of migrants comes in nearly two weeks after more than 70 migrants were killed when a boat broke up off the coast of Calabria.

Let's go to CNN contributor Barbie Nadeau, who joins me live now from Rome.

This influx seems unusual.

What more can you tell us?

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is unusual. You know, with these 1,800 people now involved in rescues all across the Mediterranean over the last 24 hours, it's going to bring the number close to 20,000 arrivals this year so far.

By March last year, there had only been 5,000-6,000 arrivals. A huge number of people are trying to make it and looking at ever larger boats. This boat that had 500 people on that it, was escorted to shore, all of these rescues put pressure on the rescue operations.

The Coast Guard has to call in the Navy. There is not any NGO boats out there right now assisting in the rescue. That's because the government has really clamped down on those. So we're just looking at unprecedented numbers for this time of year. It's still winter in the Mediterranean, Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, it's a problem other European countries are also struggling with; obviously France and the U.K. just made a deal to help tackle the issue. So take us through what was agreed there.

NADEAU: Yes, and that deal is going to be particularly important with all this influx of people coming into Italy. They agreed to build a detention center on France to help -- to stop people from trying to cross the Channel.

Now a lot of the people who are arriving in Italy are not intending to stay. Many are trying to reach family in other parts of Europe and in the United Kingdom. So when you look at this agreement that the U.K. and France have put into place, a lot of that is going to affect the people that are arriving in Italy right now. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Thanks so much, Barbie Nadeau in Rome. Ukraine is honoring a decorated military hero who died on the front

lines. Still ahead, an emotional farewell for an officer who spent his entire adult life fighting for Ukraine.





BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you in the United States, Canada and around the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are restoring diplomatic ties after a seven-year rift. The bitter rivals made the agreement in Beijing on Friday in a deal brokered by China. They will also reestablish trade and security pacts. Nada Bashir is following developments for us in Istanbul.

Take us through how this came about and what it will mean for both countries and the region.

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've seen efforts in the past to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran to the negotiating table, for a reconciliation in the past, to no avail. Talks were held in 2021 and 2022 led by Iraq and the sultan of Oman, with no success there.

This latest deal comes after five days of intensive talks in Beijing, mediated by the Chinese government. And we had high-level delegations from Iran and Saudi Arabia taking part in these talks. That deal was signed on Friday.

And this is a lot more than just a reinstatement, a reopening of their embassies. This is, as you mentioned, a security corporation agreement that will be brought to the fore after being signed back in 2001.

Also we'll be seeing Iran and Saudi Arabia now closely cooperating on technology and trade, a framework for which was established back in 1998. They also both agree to commit to not interfering in each other's internal affairs.

We'll see them cooperating on counterterrorism, drug smuggling and money laundering. So this is a wide-reaching agreement between two countries that have been at odds for the last seven years. This is a significant development.

And, of course, China playing a key role in mediating these talks, these efforts, a big shift, considering the fact that the Gulf has long been considered under the sphere of influence of the United States.

The U.S. government as well supporting previous efforts led by Iraq and Oman. So this will be a huge development for the region. We've heard from Iran's foreign minister saying, this is a big step not only for the two countries but for the Muslim world as a whole and for the region.

And saying that Iran is actively seeking to establish and improve diplomatic relations with the rest of its regional neighbors.

BRUNHUBER: Then, Nada, finally, President Biden was asked what he thought about this.

What's been the reaction from the U.S.?

BASHIR: Well, we've heard a former White House spokesperson saying the U.S. government welcomes this reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has welcomed any efforts to mediate peace and establish security in the region.

Now we've already seen efforts in the past by Iraq and Oman. Those were supported by the United States. However, the U.S. was not involved in this latest round of talks. According to John Kirby, they were kept fully aware of the progress being made over the course of the last week by the Saudi government.

But look, this is clearly a sign of China's expanding diplomatic presence, influence, as well as perhaps its economic intentions and goals in the Middle East region, a region long under the sphere of influence of the U.S. government.

And it is a signal that Saudi Arabia now is willing to work closely with one of the U.S. government's key adversaries; namely China. This is a huge development on that front. But of course, the U.S. government has also been focused on ensuring there is stability in the Middle East, particularly when it comes to Yemen.

The rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia has played a key role in deepening that conflict since 2015, both sides throwing their support, their backing, behind opposing sides. So this is perhaps a shift closer toward establishing peace in Yemen.

BRUNHUBER: All right, thanks so much, Nada Bashir, appreciate it.


BRUNHUBER: Ukraine says Russia's regular army is starting to replace Wagner mercenaries near Bakhmut. Ukraine has been holding onto the city, despite months of attacks by the mercenaries, often recruited from Russian prisons.

Kyiv is attributing the change in front line personnel to a public feud between the military and Wagner's boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Wagner is opening new recruitment centers in more than 40 cities, following his comments last month that Wagner would stop signing up prisoners.

The U.N. human rights office still slammed the practice on Friday, saying it's concerned Wagner is now doing the same thing in the occupied parts of Ukraine.

[04:35:00] BRUNHUBER: In Kyiv, Ukraine has bid its final goodbye to a fallen hero, who died fighting in Bakhmut. As Ivan Watson reports, the late officer made his name in the military at a very young age.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Funeral for a fallen warrior and honor guard and thousands of mourners gathered to remember Junior Lieutenant Dmytro Kotsyubaylo, better known by his codename The Vinci.

He was the youngest battalion commander in the Ukrainian army, killed this week in the battle for Bakhmut. A months-long deadly test of wills between the Russian and Ukrainian militaries over a small city of questionable strategic value.

WATSON: This is how Ukraine is honoring one of its fallen heroes and also proof of the terrible cost that the Ukrainian military is paying in the battle for Bakhmut.

WATSON (voice-over): In 2021, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy officially declared Da Vinci, a hero of Ukraine. On Friday, the President paid his respects to Da Vinci's surviving family members, accompanied by the prime minister of Finland.

Mourners gathered on their knees around Da Vinci's coffin in the Maidan, the Square in central Kyiv, where in 2014, Da Vinci then just a teenager, joined thousands of demonstrators in a bloody battle against Ukrainian security forces.

They ultimately sent the country's pro-Russian President fleeing to Russia. Soon after, The Vinci joined a nationalist militia and fought for years against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region, before formally joining the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Many of the people attending Da Vinci's memorial never met the young commander face to face.

SERGIY IVANNIKOV, KYIV RESIDENT: He lost his life for us, for me, for my children, for my family and who want to live good life and I am here to celebrate his life and to say final respects to him.

WATSON: What did Da Vinci fight for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Ukraine, for freedom, for us.

WATSON (voice-over): This woman knows the stakes all too well.

WATSON: Your husband is fighting in Bakhmut right now.


WATSON (voice-over): There is a price for freedom, she says. One life dies so that other lives may be born.

Though only 27, Da Vinci knew the risks he was taking. "I'm ready to go to victory with you," he told his troops, "and, if need be, to give up my life for you."

Nearly everyone in Ukraine has lost something since Russia's invasion one year ago. A war in which far too many have made the ultimate sacrifice -- Ivan Watson, CNN, Kyiv.


BRUNHUBER: The U.S. and European Union say they will soon begin talks to resolve a lingering trade dispute over American-made electric vehicles. Those negotiations were announced following Friday's one-on- one meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and the European Commission president Ursula van der Leyen.

The dispute centers on the sourcing of raw materials for electric car batteries, like nickel and lithium. The U.S. currently offers tax credits to certain suppliers of those materials but not those from Europe. Here's what the E.U. chief said after her meeting.


URSULA VAN DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION: We have agreed that we will start work now with a clear goal.

The goal is to have an agreement on critical raw materials that have been sourced or processed in the European Union, that these strategic supply chains are able to access the American market, as if they had been sourced in the United States.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, workers across France kept up their pressure on the government over its proposed pension reforms. They continue to block fuel deliveries from two French refineries, calling for the strike to go on until Thursday.

And in a letter to the unions, President Macron refused to agree to their request for a meeting, saying reform must go ahead. Unions are planning more nationwide marches today. CNN's Jim Bittermann has more.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the demonstrations against pension reform look familiar, it's because you've seen them before. Nearly every government since the presidency of Jacques Chirac in 1997 has tampered with France's retirement system.

Some have succeeded in making changes. But it remains one of the most complicated systems in Europe. French president Emmanuel Macron, like his predecessors, has run into fierce opposition from the streets, trying to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

[04:40:00] BITTERMANN (voice-over): Strikes are growing by transportation, energy and even garbage workers, despite what seems like a logical approach to reform.

BITTERMANN: In a country where the average life expectancy has now increased to the age of 82 years old, it seems reasonable to expect that, with France's pay-as-you-go retirement system, that, in fact, the retirement age would have to increase as well.

After all, as it stands now, if you retire at 62, it means collecting pension benefits for, on average, 20 years. And the money has got to come from somewhere.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): But it's not that reasonable to everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are going on an unlimited, renewable strike as long as this reform has not been withdrawn.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Economists will explain that, while people are not especially happy with the present system, any further meddling with it is viewed with suspicion and anger.

PHILIPPE AGHLON, COLLEGE DE FRANCE: Anything that would move you away from it would be seen as a social regression. Also, there is the problem in France, to be honest, that people are not very happy at work.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): Therein lies a real danger for the government beyond the retirement age issue, that the demonstrations and strikes expand to include all kinds of social and economic grievances.

AGHLON: There is the feeling of many people that the president is too aloof. They may feel that the only time he listens is when he sees that the Champs-Elysees is on fire. And that would be a very bad thing now.

BITTERMANN (voice-over): For now at least, there doesn't seem to be an indication that signal has been received -- Jim Bittermann, CNN, Paris.


BRUNHUBER: Investigators in Germany are working to understand why a 35-year-old man opened fire at a Jehovah's Witness center on Thursday night. Six people, four men and two women, were killed. Another eight were injured, including a woman who lost her unborn child.

Hamburg's interior minister said the crime was unlike anything the city has seen.


ANDY GROTE, INTERIOR MINISTER, HAMBURG (through translator): It is the worst crime, the worst crime in the recent history of our city. It is most likely due to the very fast and determined intervention of the police that there are not more victims.


BRUNHUBER: Police have identified the suspect only as Philipp F., a German national, who shot himself as police closed in. They say he was once a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and apparently did not leave on good terms.

A major U.S. oil company could begin drilling in the Arctic if the Biden administration approves the controversial Willow project. Critics and supporters are both speaking out. We'll have details just ahead, stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: A highly controversial oil drilling operation in Alaska could get federal approval as early as next week, although the White House insists no final decision has been made.

Known as Willow, the project is being sought by ConocoPhillips oil company inside a vast area of Alaska's North Slope. As CNN's Rene Marsh explains, Willow has evoked strong emotions both for and against.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At this point, the only way this project can be stopped is --

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On TikTok and Instagram, calls for President Biden to stop Willow Project, an urgent calls that's gone viral to block a controversial a controversial Alaska oil drilling project.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please help stop Willow.

MARSH: The videos racking up tens of millions of views, spurring more than a million letters to the White House and more than 3 million signatures to a petition.

ELISE JOSHI, GENZ FOR CHANGE: In order to stop Willow, people need to know about Willow.

MARSH: Twenty-year-old Elise Joshi is a senior at the University of California/Berkeley is one of the social media activists.

JOSHI: It will not just impact Alaska. It will not just impact this country. It will not impact the world but the amount of carbon emissions that it will emit, we will see an increase in frequency and intensity of natural disasters. MARSH: ConocoPhillips, Willow Project would be located in northwest Alaska on the National Petroleum Reserve, federal land roughly the size of Indiana. The project would tap as much as 600 million barrels of oil but it would take years for it to make it to market.

It's messy politics for President Biden pitting his climate promises against the desire to produce energy at home and lower gas prices.

The project would release as much planet warming carbon emissions per year as adding 2 million gas powered cars to the road annually.

That's according to a government estimate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lose of taste and smell, dizziness.

MARSH: Siqiniq Maupin's family lives near the proposed site and she recently traveled to Washington to protest outside the White House against the Willow Project, despite its economic benefits.

SIQINIQ MAUPIN, SOVEREIGN INUPIAT FOR A LIVING ARCTIC: We've been held in an economic health situation. We chose our health, our children's health, our way of life or being able to have plumbing and infrastructure and running water.

MARSH: Nagruk Harcharek's family has also lived in the region for generations. He supports the project. His non-profit represents 2 dozen native communities, corporations and local governments who say the project would be an economic boon and help the U.S. wean off foreign oil.

NAGRUK HARCHAREK, THE VOICE OF THE ARCTIC INUPIAT: The economics a project like this would bring into the region mainly to the North Slope Borough in the form of taxes to help provide and maintain first world conditions.

MARSH: Meantime, the Arctic is warming four times faster than anywhere else on the planet due to climate change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We cannot keep drilling for new fossil fuels if we want to address climate change.

MARSH: We expect a decision from the Biden administration as soon as next week and as for the proposed Willow project, they tell CNN it will create good union jobs. And the project has undergone a comprehensive regulatory process for nearly five years with extensive public input -- Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: A man convicted of a murder that happened nearly three decades ago was sentenced on Friday. Paul Flores had been found guilty last year in the death of Kristin Smart in 1996. On Friday, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison without parole, according to CNN affiliate KSBY. Smart's mother and father were in court and welcomed the decision.


STAN SMART, KRISTIN'S FATHER: As the judge pointed out, it's a sentence but it doesn't bring back your loved one. So from that aspect, we don't have closure.

DENISE SMART, KRISTIN'S MOTHER: Today is a day not really of joy. It's a day of relief that Kristin's voice was heard. We're very fortunate that her voice was heard today.


BRUNHUBER: Smart vanished in May 1996, when she and Flores were attending the same college in central Florida. Her body has never been found.


BRUNHUBER: Six months orbiting in space is obviously a long time. Now the journey is almost over for four crew members of the International Space Station. We'll have that story just ahead. Please stay with us.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): All hooks open to part burn 1 has fired. Dragon Endurance undocked, 262 --

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): The International Space Station is a bit less crowded right now. NASA's SpaceX Dragon capsule gently undocked a few hours ago. It's carrying four crew members who had been orbiting the Earth since last October.

Taking their place is a new crew, who arrived last weekend. Splashdown off the Florida coast is expected late Saturday night local time.


BRUNHUBER: The color scheme for the new Air Force One has been revealed and it gets rid of many of the changes that former president Trump wanted. He had wanted the two planes painted red, white and blue.

According to the Air Force, those paint colors would have created delays. Most problematic was the dark blue, which could have overheated certain electronics. The first plane is scheduled to be delivered in 2027.


BRUNHUBER: A quick reminder for most people here in the United States. Daylight Saving Time is upon us. On Sunday March 12th at 2:00 am most of the nation will move their clocks forward one hour and that means many of the people you know in the U.S. will be losing an hour of sleep.

Now those who live in Hawaii and much of Arizona aren't affected.

Well, this Thursday is My Freedom Day. CNN is partnering with young people worldwide for a student-led day of action against modern-day slavery.

These students in Kosovo are pledging to take action. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Small actions go a long way. Let's stay united in fighting against human trafficking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Knowing the signs saves lives. Let's take action together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's end modern-day slavery.


BRUNHUBER: You can join CNN on March 16th for My Freedom Day and you can tell us what freedom means to you and share your message on social media using the #MyFreedomDay.

That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'll be back in a moment with more news. Please stay with us.