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Putin, Xi Affirm Unity In Highly Anticipated State Visit; Stephen Smith Case In SC Now Being Investigated As A Homicide; Manhattan Grand Jury Won't Meet On Trump Case Today; DeSantis Dismisses Trump Nicknames, Says "Call Me A Winner"; Biden Admin Plans To Overall U.S. Organ Transplant System. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 22, 2023 - 14:30   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Right. And you know it's interesting, Douglas, because yesterday we saw Xi and Putin together there in Russia.

But then we also saw the Japanese prime minister on the ground, making that surprise visit to Ukraine. Of course, the key Western ally, key U.S. ally, Japan.

And this really underscores, it would seem, just how pivotal this war in Ukraine is and what a role it is playing in this push and pull that we're seeing but between these two worldviews.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Absolutely. It's like, which side are you on?

You know, when I was growing up, you do a globe of the world and you paint Communism in red and democracy in blue. Something like that's happening now. And Japan, thank goodness, is declaring their continued alliance with the United States.

They're upping up, they're upping their military spending to historic heights. They're standing in solidarity with democracy in the Ukraine. And so it is reassuring to have an ally like Japan.

And you know, but, nevertheless, China is the big player now in international affairs.

And you wonder if this is going to start leading - if American suspicion of China is going to create in the political sphere here in 2024, more than "Made in America," you know, kind of economic program for both Biden and whoever the Republican might be.

Because we can't build cars in America if we can't get - if all of our products that are being made in China. They can, in many ways, hold our economy hostage in addition to great cyberwar, cyber mischief problems to come.

So we're at a nadir in our U.S./Chinese relations right now. I haven't seen this happen since, you know, the pre-Nixon years where the tension seems to be this tight. BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes, and part of what you just described

about American manufacturing, so many of our chips come from Taiwan. And that's why it's such an important geopolitical ally

Douglas Brinkley, thank you so much.

BRINKLEY: Thank you, guys.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

So Florida governor and potential 2024 candidate, Ron DeSantis, responding to Donald Trump's "DeSanctimonious" nickname. Hear what he has to say about it when we come back.



SANCHEZ: The family of Stephen Smith, a South Carolina teenager who was killed in 2015, wants a new investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. So far, they've raised more than $89,000 on GoFundMe to have his body exhumed for a private autopsy.

DEAN: Originally, his cause of death was ruled as a hit and run. But investigators who were looking into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh said they found information that led them to open a homicide investigation into Smith's death.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is joining us now live with the latest.

Dianne, tell us about these new developments.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So look, this is the first real update that we have received from state investigators since they announced that they were opening that investigation into the killing of Stephen Smith back in June of 2021.

If you remember, they said the reason they were opening that investigation was because of information gathered during the course of a different investigation into the murders of Paul and Maggie Murdaugh.

Now look, there's never been any official connection made between the Murdaugh family and Stephen Smith's death. SLED has never explained what information they gleaned.

But in this conversation with an attorney for Stephen Smith's mother yesterday, they said that they, too, believed that he had not been hit by a car and was not the victim of a hit and run. This mirrors what highway patrol said at the time.

Now look, there are a lot of questions about the Murdaugh connection here. Again, no suspects. No one's ever been arrested. No one's ever been named as a suspect in Stephen Smith's death.

But the name of Buster Murdaugh has been thrown around in rumors, documentaries, social media, podcasts, things like that.

The Murdaugh name was brought up by witnesses in highway patrol investigations back in 2015 but, again, no connection.

Buster Murdaugh, releasing a statement this week, calling these vicious rumors, saying he's just been trying to grieve the death of his mother and his brother. His father, of course, was convicted to life in prison without parole for those murders earlier this month.

Buster Murdaugh, saying, "This has gone on far too long. These baseless rumors of my involvement with Stephen and his death are false. I unequivocally deny any involvement in his death. And my heart goes out to the Smith family."

Look, as far as the Smith family is concerned, his mother has said that all she cares about now is getting justice for her son.

State law enforcement officials are asking anybody who may know anything about the death of Stephen Smith to contact them in South Carolina.

SANCHEZ: Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much for the update on that story.


DEAN: As former President Donald Trump wants to see if the Manhattan district attorney will indict him, his 2024 presidential campaign is getting more complicated. We'll explain.


DEAN: This weekend, former President Donald Trump is set to headline the first rally of his 2024 campaign in Texas. But the big question, of course, that's overshadowing this event, will he be indicted by the Manhattan D.A. on his alleged role in the hush money case?

SANCHEZ: And we just learned we're going to have to wait a bit longer for that. The grand jury hearing evidence in the case says it is not going to be meeting today.

With us now, Olivia Troye, former adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, and Joe Walsh, former Republican congressman and host of the "White Flag" podcast.

Olivia, starting with you, our reporting indicates that former President Trump has sort of resigned to the fact that he could potentially be indicted. He believes it's going to happen.

But he's apparently also considering turning it into a media spectacle. Being an alumni of the Trump administration, I bet that doesn't surprise you.

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER ADVISER TO FORMER V.P. MIKE PENCE: Not at all. I think it's all part of the Trump playbook. I think he started that spectacle when he decided that he was going to announce that he would be indicted and he had set a date for it.

No one else had said this and confirmed it. It's all coming from him.

And look, he's running the playbook that works every single time very efficiently. Because what happened? Republican officials still in line right behind him.

And people are sitting here wondering, why is he still the front runner in the Republican Party? Why is he gaining traction?


Well, he's gaining traction because the pundits out there and the Republican officials are helping him by pushing these narratives and standing behind him.

DEAN: And, Joe, I want to go to you for a second, because, once again, Republicans are talking about Donald Trump. And he is, of course, not only - we were just talking about, kind of created this media spectacle around what's going on.

But he's under investigation in multiple cases. Republicans want to be talking about agenda items. When I'm in the halls of Congress, they didn't want to be talking about Donald Trump.

But what does this mean for the 2024 presidential race? But even the House and Senate races, as we look ahead to all of that?

JOE WALSH, (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN FOR ILLINOIS & HOST, "WHITE FLAG" PODCAST: It's a great question. What it means is Donald Trump is the front runner, and, in all likelihood, he'll be the Republican Party nominee.

And in all likelihood, the Republicans will lose that House and, continue out of power in the United States Senate.

Look for Republicans who were living in Donald Trump's world, I know for the rest of us, this is crazy, right? Trump could be indicted two, three, four times this year.

And you know what? In a weird way, that will - it's not a weird way. That will help him in the Republican Party because Republican Party voters look at him as a victim. The deep state is after him.

And if you're Nikki Haley or Mike Pence or Ron DeSantis, you can't disagree with that, because that's not what Republican voters want to hear.

So Trump's actually strengthened with all of this potential criminal activity.

SANCHEZ: Joe, I'm glad you mentioned Ron DeSantis because we have a sound bite from his interview with Piers Morgan that I want to play for everyone. Listen to this.


nickname that Trump's given you so far? Is it Ron DeSanctimonious or Meatball light (ph)?


MORGAN: Why can't he went off Meatball wrong?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I can't. I don't know how to spell DeSanctimonious. I don't really know what it means.

But you know, I kind of like it's long. It's got a lot of vowels. I mean, so we'll go with that. That's fine.

You know, you can call me whatever you want. I mean, just as long as you, you know, also call me a winner. Because that's what we've been able to do in Florida, is put a lot of points on the board and really take this state to the next level.


SANCHEZ: DeSantis joking about the nicknames that Trump has given him.

But also pointing out that, in contrast to Trump in 2020, he won re- election in the state of Florida by a sizable margin. Joe predicted that Donald Trump was likely to be the Republican nominee.

Olivia, as you watch Ron DeSantis's here, where do you put his odds of potentially beating Trump?

TROYE: Well, I think he's still trying to separate himself from Trump. But the reality is, if you look at what Ron DeSantis is doing, he's parroting Trump's talking points. He parrots all the actions. He parrots all of these initiatives. So he's Trump's Mini Me, right?

And so I think when it comes down to the voters, I think they're going to turn around at some point and be like, well, actually, he's Trump and we're already behind Trump, so why not stick with him?

And again, like I don't see any differentiating between the two of them. I don't see any actual substantive policy initiatives behind DeSantis.

But, unfortunately, if you look at the polling, it's Trump and DeSantis certainly at the top. None of these other people that I think would be more traditional, responsible conservatives that are behind in the polling.

But look, this is still Trump's party and all of these people are helping him, including my former boss, Mike Pence, who was out there pushing this is a political hit job, talking points with the potential Trump indictment.

I mean, that's absolutely shameful. I don't know what kind of path he's on for political suicide there, but why not just speak about this honestly and stop undermining our judicial system? DEAN: And I hear what - Olivia, what you're saying in terms of

DeSantis kind of parroting the same policy initiatives and whatnot.

But, Joe, he seems to be trying to, based on the comments he had a couple of days ago, kind of thread the needle where he has the Trump policies. But he's going to try to make the case that he doesn't have the Trump baggage.

Do you think he can sell that to primary voters?

WALSH: No. I think that's an impossible needle to thread. And I don't think DeSantis has the skill to thread it because he's not real, and he's not authentic.

Look, the polling after the midterms between Trump and DeSantis were neck and neck. And now Trump is way up. Why? What changed?

Well, Trump's in the news every day, and you've got New York going after Trump and soon Georgia will go after Trump and then the Justice Department may indict Trump for criminal behavior.

But from the Republican Party base voters' perspective, this is the deep state going after our guy. And Republican Party base voters are going to rally around their guy. And there's really nothing DeSantis or Haley or any of them can do about that.


DEAN: All right, Olivia Troye and Joe Walsh, we've got to leave it there. Thanks so much for your insight. We appreciate it.

SANCHEZ: So major news for folks looking for an organ transplant. The U.S. government is planning a massive overhaul of the organ transplant system. We'll explain what's in the new plan when we come back.


SANCHEZ: The Biden administration is planning a major overhaul of the U.S. organ transplant system. This new proposal seeks to break up the current monopoly over the system by one organization in an effort to shorten wait times and reduced the death toll among patients.


CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now with more details on this.

Elizabeth, this is big news for anybody out there waiting for an organ transplant.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is big news. The organ transplant system in this country has basically been run by the same people for more than 30 years. They've had a contract with the federal government.

This group is called the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS.

And let's take a look at the state of organ transplantation in the country.

Right now, the numbers are not fabulous, 100,000 people are waiting for organ transplantation that includes kidneys, lungs, hearts, everything.

And 6,000 people a year die waiting for transplants. And 70 deaths have been reported due to system failures from 2010 to 2020.

That's according to a Senate Finance Committee report that was done last year. That report was scathing. Rarely have I seen a report that was so critical.

Let's take a look at what they said. They said, "From the top down, the us transplant network is not working, putting Americans lives at risks. The UNOS information technology system is outdated, mismanaged and insecure."

The report went on to say that technology is, quote, "decrepit," and that they see no apparent solution in sight.

So we reached out to UNOS to see what they think about this, and here's what they said.

They said, "UNOS supports Hersus (ph), which is a part of HHS, Hersus (ph) plan to introduce additional reforms into the nation's organ donation and transplantation system."

"We also stand united with Hersus (ph) our shared goal to get as many donor organs as possible to the patients in need, while increasing accountability, transparency and oversight."

So here's what the federal government is going to do. They are going to seek others to get this contract, not UNOS - Jessica, Boris?

SANCHEZ: Wow, 70 deaths caused by systemic failures. That is unacceptable.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for your reporting.

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