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New Audio Surfaces Of Trump Pressuring GA Officials To Overturn Election; Pentagon Gives Update After Release Of Downed Drone Video; TX Judge To Issue Opinion On Abortion Pill "As Soon As Possible"; 5,000-Mile-Wide Blob Of Seaweed Headed For Florida. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 16, 2023 - 14:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: So what's on these tapes?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, so this is new to us, just that the call was recorded.

Again, as you said, it was former President Donald Trump and he was essentially urging the late speaker of the Georgia House to try to convene a special session so that they could overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Now, actually, Ralston spoke about this call in an interview. And here's what he said about his conversation with the former president.

He said, "Obviously, he would like a special session of the Georgia General Assembly. He's been clear on that before and he was clear on that in the phone conversation yesterday."

"You know, I shared with him my belief that, based on the understanding that I have of Georgia law, that it was going to be very much an uphill battle."

Now, it would have been an uphill battle for two reasons. Georgia's General Assembly can only be called into a special session in one of two ways.

One would have had to have been through the governor, Brian Kemp. And Trump tried to pressure Kemp. Kemp rejected that. The other way would have been for the General Assembly to convene themselves as a special session.

And what we've learned at that time is that you would have to have the signatures of three-fifths of the House members to actually go forward with this, and they just didn't have enough Republicans at that time.

Again, this was a recorded call. And as you mentioned, these jurors said that they were listening to this as part of their evidence that they were presented with.

And this is, again, just the third recorded call that we know has been presented in this case. When you look at this, it's all different manner. One, you have trying

to convene a special session in the case of Ralston. On the second one, Frances Watson, he was trying to encourage her to find fraud in the election.

And the other one, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. They were trying to get him to, quote/unquote, "find votes."

The reason this is so important, it gives us more of the insight into what exactly the grand jury was hearing and seeing as it was asked to recommend or decide upon these indictments.

BLACKWELL: Kristen Holmes, we'll see how influential this is on the decisions made in this case. Thank you.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: An alarming report from the CDC. The maternal death rate rose significantly once again. So what's driving the uptick and who is impacted the most? That's next.



GOLODRYGA: We mentioned earlier that the Pentagon is giving a briefing today. And we're hoping to get more information about the video that was released about that downed drone over the Black Sea.

So we are going to be checking back in there. We hear from the spokesperson speaking right now, not on this issue in particular. But of course, we're monitoring it for you. And as soon as he does, we will bring viewers there.

BLACKWELL: The video, about 40 seconds, shows the moment of impact of this Russian jet with the U.S. drone. And the longer video is about 30 to 40 minutes, we're told.

But you can see here, the dumping of the fuel over the drone, as described by the U.S., denied by the Russians.

And then there's a highlighting of the damaged propeller that forced U.S. remote pilots to have to bring it down into the Black Sea. It's now under 4,000 to 5,000 feet of water.

The Russians now in the area, who say that they are going to try to retrieve that.

Let's bring in now, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Ahead of, hopefully, the section where they talk about this video at this briefing. We'll take everyone there.

What are you expecting to hear, Colonel, once we check in with Brigadier General Pat Ryder?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, so what I'm expecting to hear is perhaps some more detail, Victor, on exactly what happened. You know, we do know that they dumped fuel on the drone, as you

mentioned. We also know that they clipped the propeller. And we saw that damage, that you pointed out there. So those are things that affect the air worthiness of the drone.

It could have caused serious damage. It could have caused the damage to careen into an area where it could have potentially killed somebody if it had been over land. Of course, it wasn't. It was in the Black Sea.

What's also is interesting is that this occurred in waters that are not only international, but much closer to Turkish waters or Bulgarian waters than to Russian or Ukrainian waters. So it's very interesting to see the story about this.

But I'm expecting more technical details and perhaps some indication of what the DOD response is going to be to this in terms of more flights and more things that they might do from a reconnaissance perspective in this particular area.

GOLODRYGA: Colonel, two bits of information that we got today, I would love to get you to respond to and weigh in on.

One is that we heard from U.S. sources that intelligence suggests that this wasn't perhaps just one or two rogue pilots. That it may have gone up to the head of the Russian military in terms of ordering this interception, right?

And the question is whether or not actually hitting this drone was their intention. But the maneuvering was. It's clear of that.

The other issue is that we heard today from military officials that this aggressive, the increase in these intercepts and Russia's aggression has dramatically increased since March and that the Russian military has been conducting similar-type operations and dangerous maneuvers in Syria.

So does this tell you perhaps that this is sort of a new strategy being conducted by the unction military?

Before -


GOLODRYGA: Before you answer that - I do want to hear you answer - we're going to go to the Pentagon, because they're just addressing this drone.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: If you could talk a little bit more about why the Pentagon decided to declassify the video of the drone. And whether or not releasing it, you know, increases the risks of Russia framing this conflict instead of being a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but being between Russia and the West.



First of all, it's not unusual for us to release imagery of unsafe, unprofessional incidents. We've done that in other situations.

Particularly, in this case, given the reckless and dangerous behavior and to demonstrate publicly what type of actions the Russians had taken, we felt that it was important to provide this imagery.

Certainly, there are certain considerations that we have to take into account when dealing with imagery to include the classification, to ensure that we're not inadvertently putting out sensitive information, but in this case, we're able to work through that and provide that.

As far as Russian perceptions, again, I think it's important to take a step back and look at the big picture here. The United States' focus in the region, the focus with Ukraine is solely on providing Ukraine with the support that it needs to defense itself.

You've heard us say before that Ukraine has a right to defend itself and we have a right to help them alongside the international community to do that.

So the United States does not seek conflict with Russia. We do not seek escalation with Russia.

And so we're going to continue to stay focused on our primary mission in the Ukraine area, which is supporting Ukraine in its fight.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And declassifying the video and releasing it, you know, Russia has suggested that it didn't show the actual contact. How does this really just counter that narrative and show that this happened the way that the Pentagon has said it has?

RYDER: Well, I think that our words and our actions speak for themselves. And similarly, Russia's inaccurate information, false information, obfuscation, grasping at straws, changing narratives also speaks for itself.

We're going to stay focused on the facts and stay focused on our mission.

Let me go to the next question.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: First part of my questions are (sic), did the U.S. ask for an apology from Russia on taking down the drone and did Russia offer an apology?

RYDER: No, we did not ask for an apology. Again, our focus was on highlighting the fact, as we've made very clearly publicly and privately, that the United States will continue to fly and operate in international air space in accordance with international law.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. And my second part is, it's come out that Russian officials ordered the pilots to be aggressive towards the drone and today the CENTCOM commander told the Senate armed services committee that he's seen increased Russian aggression in the Middle East.

Is this something that the U.S. is concerned about? Does the U.S. have any promises that Russia will decrease its a aggression?

RYDER: Liz, what I would tell you is, again, our focus is on conducting our operations in support of our national security interests, our allies, and our partners around the world.

Ultimately, the Russian military and the Russian government is responsible for its own behavior. And when that behavior is unsafe and unprofessional, we'll call it out as we've done in this case.

And so that will continue to be our focus. You've heard Secretary Austin, you've heard the general in Europe and others call on the Russians to be safe and professional in conducting their operations, and that would be the expectation going forward.

Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So, Secretary Austin has said that the U.S. will continue to fly wherever international law allows. In light of that, has the U.S. operated MQ-9s over the Black Sea since the collision and crash?

RYDER: So I'm not going to get into talking about specific missions, routes, timelines of operations. I think Secretary Austin was pretty clear that we'll continue to fly and operate in international air space where international law allows and that includes the Black Sea region.

Thank you.



I had a couple of questions about the Suicide Working Group. I think I heard you say that the secretary is immediately implementing some of the recommendations that the working group will be looking at the other recommendations.

I wanted to confirm whether the recommendation for new restrictions on the purchase and storage of personal firearms on base is included in the first tranche or if the working group is still considering -

RYDER: Thanks, Travis.

That will be something that the working group will examine in further detail and come back to the secretary with their assessment and their recommendation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And if I could just follow up. On the recommendations that the secretary did decide to implement, why did he choose those specific recommendations?

RYDER: Sure. So those recommendations are primarily focused on behavioral and mental health. There are areas where the department already has the authorities necessary to take immediate action.

And so that was the primary driver, was of those recommendations, what are the things that we can move on right now that will make a difference for our servicemembers?

Thank you.

I'll come over here to Roe (ph) and I'll come over here to Chris?



Two questions. First, that Japanese Prime Minister Kishida met with South Korean president today in Tokyo and agreed to normalize the operations -

BLACKWELL: We're getting into some other questions there. But we heard from General Ryder there that the U.S. does not seek conflict with Russia, and essentially, the strategy here is to continue these reconnaissance flights there above the Black Sea undeterred.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent, Oren Liebermann, and bring back retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

First, Oren, headlines out of what we just heard.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: General Pat Ryder hit home on the point that the U.S. seized this as international air space and the U.S. will continue to operate there with surveillance drones and other assets as it sees fit.

The U.S. has every right to do that, as frankly do the Russians. So Brigadier General Pat Ryder hitting home on that point.

Then asked, why release the video, and he said, the U.S. releases videos when it sees fit, after it goes through a declassification process. We were tracking this video as it was moving through that declassification process, essentially.

But it also underscored that the account of the U.S. was the one that more accurately depicted what happened here. This, after the Russian ambassador to the U.S., pretty quickly after this all came out, denied that there was any contact, physical contact between the Russian and fighter jets and the drones.

It was important for the U.S. to put this out there to make clear what actually happened here - Victor and Bianna?

GOLODRYGA: And it was also note that the brigadier general said that no apology was asked for, and none was given. Not that we expect one from the Russians. But, Colonel, we didn't here the same question I posed to you in terms

of whether or not this is a new strategy perhaps, this more aggressive behavior by the Russian military and more of these intercepts not some in the Black Sea, but in the Middle East and in Syria.

He sort of deflected that question. So I'm hoping you, with your expertise, you can weigh in and give us your thoughts.

LEIGHTON: I definitely think that that is the case, Bianna. The key thing here is that the Russians go in waves. Sometimes they will be much more aggressive when it comes to intercepting reconnaissance flights.

Other times they will just allow them to pass through. They'll take a look other than intercept. They will never do things like we see here in the video with the MQ-9.

But with their more aggressive approach, that all changes. The rule book becomes a different one.

And what the Russians end up doing is they end up taking very aggressive maneuvers against manned and unmanned aerial vehicles. And so that can have some significant consequences, not only in the Black Sea area, but in the Baltic and other areas along the Russian border.

GOLODRYGA: Colonel, this drone is now under about a mile of water. Is this the retrieval worth the work for either the U.S., which says that it's unlikely they'll retrieve it, or for the Russians, who have some assets in the area and say they will go after that drone?

LEIGHTON: Yes, it's going to be hard for either side to do this, Victor. The Russians will look at it as getting a propaganda coup if they can get this up in a profitable fashion.

If they can pull up a piece of the MQ-9 and say, look what we have, that will be a propaganda thing for them.

As far as the U.S. is concerned, you know, it would certainly be good if we could take it back, if we could get the pieces and parts that have crashed into the Black Sea and safeguard them from the Russians.

But it is not absolutely essential that we do so. Basically, with the rendering null and void of the software that was onboard, it really takes out all of the intelligence parts that are really important that would be useful to the Russians.

And so if that is true, they were able to in essence zero all the data that was important and it's not that important that we get this back.

But symbolically, it would be good for us to take possession of it rather than having it fall into Russian hands.

GOLODRYGA: It would be questionable also if the Russians would divert any resources to try to recover this drone, given how strapped they are in terms of fighting in the eastern Ukraine, as well right now.

Oren Liebermann and Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you.


BLACKWELL: Look at this mess. This is Key West. There's a seaweed invasion - that's what we're calling it - stemming from a 5,000-mile- wide blob that's currently floating in the Atlantic. Ahead, the threat it poses to Florida's tourism.


BLACKWELL: The Texas judge who will rule on whether to overturn the FDA's approval of the abortion pill Mifepristone says he will release his opinion as soon as possible.

The agency approved use of the drug more than 20 years ago. The plaintiffs, seeking to ban the medication, say it's unsafe, but the majority of the medical community disagree.

GOLODRYGA: CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us now.

Elizabeth, how common are medication abortions? And the big question people are asking because this drug has been around for 23 years now, are they safe?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They are very common, these drugs, and they are very, very safe. So let's take a look, Bianna, at these numbers.

First of all, I think a lot of people don't know exactly how these medications work. The first step is one pill of Mifepristone is taken. Usually, that's in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.


And then a day or two later, four pills are taken, that is a second, a different kind of drug.

And so if you take a look, from the time that this drug went on the market in 2000, the popularity has really grown.

So right now, more than half of abortions in the United States, about 53 percent, are done with these pills. Not as a surgical procedure. That is more than 490,000 medication abortions every year.

Now, let's take a look at the safety. Of course, no drug is completely safe. If you look at Mifepristone, it's about five deaths per million users.

Penicillin, a very common antibiotic, 20 deaths per one million users, and Viagra, 49 deaths per million users. So these drugs are very safe and very common.

If this lawsuit is successful, about 40 million additional women are not going to be able to access these drugs to have abortions.

And remember, these drugs are also used for miscarriages. They're not just used for abortions - Victor, Bianna?

BLACKWELL: FDA approved. So if this lawsuit is successful, what's the potential for the FDA more broadly?

COHEN: It's really - it's kind of an overwhelming, what this means for the FDA more broadly, when you think about it.

Drugs go through an FDA approval process. Actual scientists, teams of scientists spend lots and lots of time making sure a drug should go on the market.

So one judge, just one random judge is allowed to say, no, the FDA was wrong. We're going to take that off the market.

That could be quite scary because what other drugs is the judge going to say, nah, I don't like it, I think it should come off the market.

And pharmaceutical companies might say, do we really want to invest all of this money into developing new drugs, we get them through the FDA, and some random judge says, no, I don't think this belongs on the market.

It's really allowing judges to decide things rather than scientists.

BLACKWELL: We're awaiting the decision from this judge in Amarillo.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

Some Florida beaches are seeing a large amount - and our producer called it a gargantuan amount, I think that's fair - of seaweed coming ashore, and listen, this won't be the last of it.

GOLODRYGA: This thick, bushy, and smelly species, a huge blob of it, stretching over 5,000 miles is reportedly floating in the Atlantic Ocean right now.

CNN's climate change correspondent, Bill Weir, joins us.

We're not really selling this and describing this as, I don't know, surprising and shocking as it is.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It's being described as the blob, the 5,000-mile blob.


GOLODRYGA: What is this?

WEIR: Did you know that in the middle of the Atlantic is the Sargasso Sea? This species is contained by these currents that keep it in place as it breaks down and then sinks.

This chunk got away and is now sort of hitting the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mayan Riviera. Some islands in the Caribbean say we need like 15,000 dump trucks a day to move this stuff.

When it starts rotting, it creates a sulfate gas, which is be stinky and bad for your health.

It's good in the ocean, great for fish and for ecosystems. It's great at pulling down carbon. But hitting the beaches can be devastating to the tourism community down there.

It's been growing. We don't know if it's the result of warmer waters and nutrient pollution, which drives a lot of red tides and toxic algae blooms around Florida.

All your fertilizers run off and hurricanes mix them up in the gulf and then you see these toxic blooms. It could be a similar trend with this stuff.

But it could also be an ally. And there's a fix for this, actually. I was talking to Agua Culture specialists, who are in the business now of capturing carbon with seaweed.

And say, tomorrow, you could have a dozen guys from Maine down there with the equipment to do it, use trawlers and nets. Scooper it up, chop it up on barges at sea and sink it into the ocean, which is a net positive for the earth.

It pulls carbon out of the sea and sky and locks it away below. Right now, there's no incentive for anybody to do that unless, whether the states or cities or -

GOLODRYGA: Or hotels.


WEIR: Exactly. It's to get those guys going down there.

I guarantee, you're going to see an increased call for this as it gets closer to Florida.

GOLODRYGA: Keep the bags packed. If the beaches look like this for the next several months, they're getting a call.


GOLODRYGA: You said it's safe and healthy in the middle of the ocean.

WEIR: Exactly.

GOLODRYGA: Not as much when it's coming onshore.


WEIR: Marty Oddland (ph) is a Maine fisherman who created an ocean healthcare company called Running Tide. He's do this, using seaweed that sinks near Iceland to look at this as a carbon sponge for the good of the planet. Using carbon credits to do that.

Maybe there should be clean beach credits for every fisherman who can ship in and keep that stuff from hitting the shore. Because you don't want it. It's much harder when it hits shore.