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New Severe Storm Threat Hangs Over Tornado-Ravaged Areas; Concerns Over Philly Water Supply After Chemical Spill; Interview with Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) about Trump's Rally in Waco, Texas; Ukraine Confident It Can Control Russia's Actions in Bakhmut; Israeli Prime Minister Fires Defense Minister Who Broke Ranks on Reforms; Elian Gonzalez Set to Become a Cuban Lawmaker; Judge May Force Rupert Murdoch to Testify in Defamation Lawsuit. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 26, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

We begin in tornado ravaged Mississippi, where people have lost their homes, their possessions and, sadly, some have lost their own loved ones. But right now there are new concerns hanging over the ruins of these communities, a new threat of severe storms, including tornadoes, is looming over some of the hardest hit areas. That includes Mississippi where 25 people are confirmed dead from Friday night's tornadoes.

Today, top state and federal officials saw the damage for themselves, and they vowed to help these communities face the years long challenge of rebuilding.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: What we've come to do we've come to see it in person to communicate to the people of Mississippi that we are here, not just today, but for the long haul. It is heartbreaking to hear of the loss of life, to see the devastation firsthand. It is also, as the governor expressed, inspiring to see the people of Mississippi come together.

The president has directed us to be here to assist the people of Mississippi, to be here on an enduring basis, not just through the response, but through the recovery as well. We are mindful of the fact that that will take time. But we are here for the time it will take.


ACOSTA: And let's begin this hour with CNN's Nick Valencia in Rolling Fork -- Nick.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, with all of those who were unaccounted for on Saturday now being found the focus entirely here in Rolling Fork is on the cleanup effort. There is debris scattered everywhere in this small community of about 2,000 residents, and it's something that the governor of Mississippi said will take some time. He spoke earlier today at a press conference and underscored just how everyone here in this community is chipping in.

It's something that we have noticed as well, even those who have had their homes completely just leveled by this tornado that ripped through here on Friday night are chipping in to help. We spoke to the vice mayor who also lost her home, she said, though she was out, giving meals to her constituents yesterday and continuing that today. It's something that the governor underscored during his press conference earlier.


GOV. TATE REEVES (R), MISSISSIPPI: What we've seen over the last 36 hours in Mississippi, on the one hand, has been heartbreaking to see the loss and devastation of these communities, but on the other hand has been inspiring, and gives me great reason for optimism and quite frankly, it makes me damn proud to be a Mississippian because Mississippians have done what Mississippians do in times of tragedy, in times of crisis, they stand up and they show up.


VALENCIA: Part of what's giving us a better understanding of the scope of this devastation is the aerial footage, which shows that very little of this 2,000-resident community was untouched by the storm that ripped through here on Friday, and with the threat of another round of severe weather later this evening there are many people here in this community who are nervous -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Nick Valencia in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Thank you very much.

Let's take a closer look at the severe weather threat that's unfolding on the Sunday evening. Meteorologist Britley Ritz is in the CNN Weather Center.

You know, across the south, the southeast, there's some folks who are worried this evening about whether or not one of these big, dangerous storms will roll through their community.

BRITLEY RITZ, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We've already, Jim, had several severe thunderstorm warnings in place and currently still dealing with that. We're watching this bulk of storms moving through north and central Louisiana, pushing into Mississippi at the moment, and that's just going to continue to track over the same areas.

These are areas of concern. You'll see some of the darker reds. Those are stronger thunderstorms. Hence the tornado watch that's now been extended until 11:00 Central Time into southern Mississippi and the yellow that you're seeing from Montgomery down into the panhandle of Florida starting to get trimmed back. That's a severe thunderstorm watch that goes until 6:00 Central Time.

[18:05:06] Regardless, we're dealing with severe thunderstorms capable of producing wind gusts over 60 miles per hour, hail at least golf ball sized in some cases, and, of course, the threat for flooding and isolated tornadoes, again hence that tornado watch that's in effect.

We've had numerous hail reports, you'll see that all across the deep south, rolling up into the Carolinas over the last 24 hours, a handful of tornado reports as well as damaging winds and that again over the same areas dealing with this once more tonight and into tomorrow morning. Areas highlighted in red Alexandria back into Jackson and Montgomery. Notice they're highlighted in red. That's where we have the greatest threat for an EF three or stronger, long-lived tornadoes, also damaging hail, golf ball sized or larger, and of course damaging winds that will extend back on up into parts of Georgia up into the Carolinas.

The strongest threat happens now through the rest of this evening, then pushing further south down into the Florida panhandle and up into the Carolinas as early as tomorrow morning. Flooding also another big concern -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Britley Ritz, a tense night there in that part of the country. Thanks so much.

For more information on how you can help the storm victims in Mississippi, and there are many of them, go to

Severe weather also wreaking havoc on parts of west Georgia. The governor there declaring a state of emergency after a tornado injured at least two people and caused significant damage north of Columbus. The storms also allowed -- listen to this -- two tigers to escape their enclosures at an animal safari park. Both were eventually found and returned safely to their facility. Thank goodness.

In Philadelphia officials say the city's tap water is safe for now after a chemical spill in the nearby Delaware River. Residents are taking precautions, however, after the city issued a bottled water advisory earlier today, but officials say they're confident that supply running through the pipes at this moment at least through tomorrow is uncontaminated because it was treated before the spill happens.

CNN's Danny Freeman is in Philadelphia for us, live for us at this hour.

Danny, public health officials I suppose we're trying to walk folks through all of this. You know why they can have faith in the tap water that's coming out right now, but that they might need to take precautions as the hours go on. What did you learn?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Jim, and I'll say it's been an interesting day because we had first -- you know, the entire city of Philadelphia got an alert on their phone saying, hey, we're recommending to drink bottled water if at all possible out of abundance of caution, but just in the past 10 minutes, we actually got another public safety alert that says exactly what you said.

Based on the latest sampling, results-slash-data, the Philadelphia Water Department is now confident tap water from the main water treatment plant will remain safe to drink, to use at least through 11:59 p.m. Monday night, so at least through tomorrow night. So we got the first alert with the warning and now, 10 minutes ago, we got the second alert saying that exact message that the city of Philadelphia says the water is safe to drink.

So it's been a bit of a flip-flopping day. But I can also tell you that the residents of Philadelphia still took that first alert very seriously, and they went out to supermarkets like the one behind me in South Philadelphia, and they bought bottled water. You can see in supermarkets across the city, we've been taking pictures, we've seen images of just empty shelves from supermarkets to, you know, pharmacies, all these places people swarm to to get water.

My photographer actually went to this South Philly one right here, and this was the only one that we were able to get this vitamin water in there. And I want to give you some sound from a resident that we spoke with about her experience inside just not too long ago.


MIKE CARROLL, DEPUTY MANAGING DIRECTOR, PHILADELPHIA OTIS: What we expect is that a matter of days of the water in the Delaware should be OK. Like I said, though, we do need to take in water tonight. And so we need to test that water that enters our system tonight and we will be testing that water throughout the day and that water will take about 24 hours for it to work its way through. And if at any point we find contamination, then we will let people know about that.


FREEMAN: And my apologies. That was, of course, a representative of the city speaking about this water issue, so I want to say the manufacturing company who made or rather caused this chemical spill, it's called Trinseo PLC. They said the spill came from an equipment failure and there were 8100 gallons of I would say a latex palmer, but the city of Philadelphia saying none of that is in the drinking water right now and it's safe to drink -- Jim.

ACOSTA: OK. Danny Freeman, I'm sure there's some concerned residents in that area right now wondering when it's going to be fine to turn the tap water back on and safely drink that water there.

Danny, thank you very much.

Former President Donald Trump is back in campaign mode, rallying supporters in Texas. But what he said will surely raise the eyebrows of people like Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. She will join me live next.

Philadelphia officials, they now say the city's water supply is safe through tomorrow after telling all its residents to use bottled water, quote, "out of an abundance of caution." We'll have the latest on that. [18:10:09]

Plus, we all remember the story of Elian Gonzalez, the little Cuban boy, remember him, whose custody battle sparked international attention. That was more than 20 years ago. Well, now he's about to take on a high-profile new job in Cuba. That story coming up.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: Former President Donald Trump is officially back on the campaign trail, holding what they described in the campaign as the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign to return to the White House yesterday in Waco, Texas. The event featured all of Trump's familiar lies about the 2020 election. He also called for the elimination of the deep state.

But as he is facing legal investigations in three different jurisdictions, Trump complained about what he sees is the newest weapon in the Democrats' attempts to steal the next election. This is how he put it.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Prosecutorial misconduct is their new tool, and they are willing to use it at levels never seen before in our country. We've had it, but we've never had it like this. We must stop them, and we must not allow them to go through another election where they have yet another tool in their tool kit.


ACOSTA: And joining me now to talk about all of this, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California. She was a member of the January 6th Select Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you for being with us. What do you make of Trump's comments about these investigations swirling around him? He's talking about prosecutorial misconduct. And we as we mentioned with Daniel Dale, our fact checker in the previous hour, he's not offering any evidence of that. He's just saying it.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, there is no evidence and I think obviously he appears to be worried that he will be indicted. I don't know if he'll be indicted, but certainly he engaged in criminal conduct. I mean, our committee did criminal referrals. Of course doing the referral and, you know, being the prosecutors, two different things. They have to make sure that not only do they have probable cause, but I think given the high profile of the potential defendant, they're going to want to ensure that they have sufficient evidence to convict.

So there's no evidence whatsoever that there's anything improper on the part of the prosecutors, although the ex-president certainly tried to weaponize the Department of Justice when he was president.

ACOSTA: And he called the 2024 campaign the final battle last night. He did this in Waco, Texas, during the 30th anniversary of the infamous standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian cult in that area. Let's listen to that.


TRUMP: And 2024 is the final battle. That's going to be the big one. Our enemies are desperate to stop us because they know that we are the only ones who can stop them. All of the hatred, rage and contempt, the radical left has for you and your values, and this nation, has been very much directed on me. Either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state. They're not coming after me. They're coming after you, and I'm just standing in their way.


ACOSTA: It's the same language of incitement that we've heard time and again from the former president. We know that late last week, the House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries was talking about how he was worried that somebody could get killed with all of this rhetoric flying around. Are you worried about that, too?

LOFGREN: Well, I think it's a concern the rhetoric that he's using today is not dissimilar to the type of rhetoric he is part of January 6th. In fact, in some ways, it's more overt and blatant than the events leading up to January 6th. I mean, he posted a picture of himself holding a baseball bat next to the prosecutor in Manhattan, calling the prosecutor a number of horrible names like an animal and thug.

He disparaged the idea that his followers should remain peaceful. You know, this is cause for concern. We know that certainly not all of his followers are inclined to take up arms. But there's enough of them who are willing to do battle in his behalf that someone could get killed and people were killed obviously on January 6th.

ACOSTA: And he kicked off this rally with a version of the "Star Spangled Banner." Perhaps you've seen this, and this version was sung by a group of inmates currently jailed for their role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. As the song played, Trump was standing on the stage with his hand over his heart and so on, as images from the attack on the Capitol played on screen. What did you think of that?

LOFGREN: Well, he's elevating the violence. We know from our investigation that he tried various ways to overturn the election, but he was left only with mob violence by the time January, 6th rolled around. To elevate people who have been either convicted or, in most cases, pled guilty to violent assault. These were individuals who viciously attacked police officers in the assault on the Capitol.

That's not patriotism, and that he would elevate them as admirable, I think tells me a lot about where the ex-president is in terms of honoring and encouraging violence.


I think it's something that's cause for concern. I am worried frankly that my Republican colleagues, I think many of them don't agree, but they are not speaking up, and they need to do that or else once again we'll see potentially violence brought into the political arena, and that's not American. That's the absolutely opposite of being pro- American.

ACOSTA: And finally, a federal judge ruled this week that some Trump allies, top Trump allies, names you would recognize, would be compelled to testify before a grand jury about the events surrounding January 6th. You served on the House January 6th Committee. I mean, you tried mightily on that committee to have some of these people, people like Mark Meadows, come and testify. You couldn't compel that testimony.

It sounds like they'll have to cooperate with this grand jury. What questions need to be asked?

LOFGREN: Well, I have a lot of questions. I mean Meadows was involved on a day-to-day basis with the president on these various schemes. I'd like to know frankly what documents Mark was burning in the fireplace that's been reported by several people. I'd like to know about the conversations they had and what the ex-president was doing on January 6th itself. I'd like to know the details of the meeting on December 21st where members of Congress came over to plot with the ex-president and Mr. Meadows overturn the election.

But you know, he still has his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself, and I think he certainly does have some criminal exposure. You know, one of the people I'd like to talk to was Dan Scavino, who again was there the entire time on January 6th. He could tell us what the president, the ex-president was doing. And also he was, you know, right by the president's side every time there was a digital message that was sent out.

And I think he could tell us a lot about that, too. He also of course, has the Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself.

ACOSTA: All right, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it as always.

LOFGREN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And still ahead, new images in from Ukraine show an eastern city completely razed to the ground, according to one Ukrainian commander, plus the latest on Putin's efforts to ratchet up the rhetoric in that war.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: A Ukrainian official says Bakhmut remains Russia's primary focus of attacks and military officials tell CNN there were 17 combat engagements in and around the city in just past 24 hours. Still, they say, they're able to control the Russians' actions and hold the frontline. But that's not the only city under Russian fire.

This is Vuhledar, far from the fighting in Bakhmut. It's been completely destroyed by constant shelling and rocket launcher attacks. A Ukrainian commander says the civilians there are exhausted and living in an emotional state of despair.

CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton joins us now.

Colonel Leighton, great to see you. The battle for Bakhmut rages on. What is your assessment of the fighting there? It just sounds incredible the level of devastation that people in that area are going through.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, it really does, Jim. And it's great to be with you again. The situation in Bakhmut is one that, you know, kind of reminds you of a mini Stalingrad. You know what we're looking at here is so many different aspects of it, a very much house-to-house fighting. You know, some fighting underground. Some issues, you know, with a logical plan to that the Russians, at least, the Wagner Group says it has occupied. It may or may not be true.

But, you know, it clearly shows that there's a lot of things, moving parts here in this type of environment, but when you go to some of the other cities like Vuhledar and Avdiivka, you know, you see a lot of efforts by the Russians to move forward in those areas, so it sounds to me like they're proving the frontlines. They're trying to move in different -- you know, in different areas, move forward in those different areas.

In Bakhmut, they have been stopped. The Ukrainians seem to have had a chance to stall them at the very least for seven months. It's pretty incredible. And you know, they're going to try to do the same thing in the two other cities, Vuhledar and Avdiivka.

ACOSTA: Yes. I mean, the Ukrainian resistance has just been remarkable, and it's proving it to be that way once again.

Colonel Leighton, Vladimir Putin, we've been talking about this over the weekend, he announced that Russia will begin stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. A special housing unit for the weapons is expected to be completed in July. It's not very long from now. You know, we were talking to Jill Dougherty about this yesterday. It's hard to parse, you know, and separate out the bluster from, you know, an obvious reason to be concerned here.

I mean, if he's going to be stationing these tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, that is an escalation. That is more than just bluster.

LEIGHTON: Yes, it really is an escalation. Now if there is good news in this, and I'll put that in quotation marks, it is that it won't be until July that these weapons could be launched from a storage facility in Belarus. [18:30:10]

And of course, there won't be directly launched from the storage facility. They'll have to be put on a rocket launcher or on an airplane in order to go after their targets. But nonetheless, it's moving things closer to, you know, three areas basically. Obviously Ukraine would be the possible target area for something like that. Then of course you've got Poland, which is right next to Belarus, on the western side, and then the north you've got Lithuania.

Two of those countries, Lithuania and Poland, are NATO members, and that very fact, you know, really puts things more in play in terms of Article Five from the NATO treaty. Those kinds of elements could be used against Putin should he employed these kinds of weapons. So the risk of escalation is definitely layered, Jim, but it is something that we really have to, you know, have to watch very carefully.

ACOSTA: And let's turn to Syria. Over the last couple of days, Iranian forces in Syria launched at least five drone attacks on us U.S. In retaliation the U.S. launched strikes of their own. These Iranian groups in Syria left the U.S. with a stern warning, saying that their revenge will not be easy. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby made it clear the U.S. is not going to back down. And let's listen what he had to say.


JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NSC: The mission in ISIS is not going to change. We have under 1,000 troops in Syria that are going after that network, which is, while greatly diminished, still viable and still critical, so we're going to stay at that task.


ACOSTA: Yes, Colonel, how concerned are you about this prospect of escalation there, mission creep things perhaps advancing a little faster than maybe the U.S. would like? Any potential for any of that? What do you think?

LEIGHTON: Yes, I do think that there is potential for mission creep, so this has to be managed very, very carefully. You know, clearly, you know, the United States has to respond whenever one of our personnel be they contractors or military person are either killed or wounded because these groups should not be able to act with impunity against U.S. forces who are conducting an anti-ISIS mission.

And, you know, it also is something that we should think about is the fact that Iran also does not want ISIS to be powerful so they really -- the Iranians should really be careful about going after U.S. forces in Syria or in Iraq. But having said all of that, it's pretty clear that we have to really pay attention to what the Iranian proxies are doing.

We don't want them to get too powerful either, but we also want to make sure that ISIS is kept at bay and kept under a lot of control, whether it be from us or from others like the Kurds, our allies in that particular fight.

ACOSTA: OK, Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you very much as always. Good to see you. Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: Still ahead --

LEIGHTON: Good to see you, Jim.

ACOSTA: Good to see you.

And still ahead, Elian Gonzalez, remember the little Cuban boy whose custody battle sparked international attention? Well, he is about to take on a high-profile new job in Cuba. Some live pictures here from Havana, Cuba. That report is coming up. Fascinating report coming up in a few moments. Stay with us.



ACOSTA: Now to the protests happening in Israel, and you're looking at live pictures right now of Tel Aviv, where demonstrators are flooding the streets in response to a dramatic move from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firing his defense minister after that minister called for a pause on the government's controversial judicial overhaul.

The response has been swift and clear. Israel's consul general in New York is resigning in protest, and now Israel's universities are planning to go on strike.

Let's go back to journalist Elliott Gotkine in Tel Aviv for us.

Elliott, I think you're on the phone right now, mainly because of all the communications issues that I imagine there present where you are. What can you see? What can you tell us? We've got some of these live pictures over your report. So go ahead and let us know what you see.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST (via phone): That's right, Jim. And I'm right by the Island Highway. This is the main highway that goes down through Tel Aviv. And there are fires, several fires have been lit, and there's one in front of me with black acrid smoke kind of billowing into the sky, and almost, well, almost blotting out some of the iconic skyscrapers in the center of town here.

Now it's now 1:30 in the morning here in Israel, so perhaps, unsurprisingly, the many tens of thousands of people that were here earlier in the evening have now gone home. But it does seem to be hardcore here. Still protesting, demonstrating, waving Israeli flag. As you say they are not just angry at the sacking of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant but of course the sacking of the first minister who came out to call for this pause in the judicial overhaul.

So they're reiterating their opposition to these plans by the government to effectively remove checks and balances on it, to allow it to fill the Supreme Court with its allies and prevent the Supreme Court from striking down laws passed by the government. And, of course, in addition to those actions you've mentioned, the resignation of Israel's envoy to New York and universities trying to go on strike, the Histadrut, the main labor union here in Israel has also called for a general strike on Monday.

So, although Netanyahu may be quashing dissent in his own ranks, and certainly sending out a signal to anyone else in his own Likud Party who would dare to challenge him and his plans for passing this judicial overhaul, opponents to it and opponents to this government certainly seem to be escalating their actions. They've been protesting for the past three months on Saturday evenings and in the middle of the week, on Thursdays, but this is a Sunday evening here. This is not normal for them to come out onto the streets.


And certainly not in a kind of numbers that I saw here earlier this evening. Definitely tens of thousands, possibly more. It's now been down to perhaps just a few single digits, thousands, but it looks like they're planning to stay here. But for somewhat longer.

And the interesting thing, Jim, as well, is that, although there are police here and there, the police are not trying to do anything. They're not trying to clear the highways. They're not trying to put out the fires. At some point, presumably, they will. But for now, the protesters remain here. The fires are billowing on the main highway through Tel Aviv. And the protests against this judicial overhaul will continue -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Elliott Gotkine, pretty interesting development there in Tel Aviv. Some very, very large demonstrations, and they appear to be growing.

Elliott, keep us posted on all of that.

In the meantime, on Thanksgiving Day, 1999, a 5-year-old boy was found floating off the coast of Florida clinging to an inner tube. Elian Gonzalez quickly became the center of an international custody battle. His father wanted the boy returned to Cuba, but his Miami relatives fought to keep him in Florida to honor the wishes of his mother who died trying to bring him to the U.S. After U.S. courts sided with his father, armed federal agents took Elian from his Miami relatives. He returned to Cuba with his father.

And CNN's Patrick Oppmann joins us now from Havana.

And Patrick, that was nearly 23 years ago. We now have a big update on Elian. He's not a little boy anymore. He's now a grown man and he has some very specific goals. Tell us more.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much. You know, one complain I often hear when Cubans go to vote today is, one, Cubans are going to approve a list of candidates for their legislature. One complaint I often hear from Cubans is that one there's only one candidate per seat and that as well that oftentimes they don't really know much about those candidates. But certainly one of these candidates for their parliament here needs no further introduction.


OPPMANN (voice-over): Elian Gonzalez walks with his wife and their daughter in his hometown of Cardenas, Cuba. Preparing to step back in the public view. Gonzalez is here to vote for himself and the other candidates for Cuba's National Assembly. Candidates run unopposed, so he's all but guaranteed to win. It will be Gonzalez's first official role since the legal battle that brought him back to Cuba roughly 23 years ago.

Early on in our interview, Gonzalez makes it clear the U.S. is still on his mind.

I'm someone the American people know and I can help bring the American and Cuban people together, and not just the people, he says. That our governments reach an understanding and remove all the barriers between us. Our country doesn't have any sanctions on the U.S.

Now that he's a father himself of a 2-year-old girl, Elian says he better understands the ordeal that his own father went through during the bitter custody fight with his Miami relatives, as well as the pain of all Cuban families separated by political divisions.

It's helped me to understand my father, he says. It's made me more sensitive. It's helped me understand how all the Cubans feel who are separated from their families and fathers who aren't able to give all the attention and things their children want.

By joining the 470-member National Assembly, Gonzalez could become a high-profile spokesman for the government, something his Miami relatives said they were afraid would happen if he was returned to the island.

(On-camera): Despite being one of the most famous people on this island, Elian Gonzalez says he's led a pretty low-key life since returning to Cuba. Now that he's going to become a member of the Cuba's National Assembly, though, he could be returning into the public spotlight and no doubt using his celebrity to defend the revolution that brought him home.

(Voice-over): Even as he is an unabashed supporter of Castro's revolution, Gonzalez also strikes a conciliatory tone rarely heard on either side of the Florida straits.

Cuban exiles, what we want one day is that they are no longer exiled, that they come home, that everyone understands that all the youth that has left that when they're willing to work for Cuba, the well-being of Cubans beyond the political party and ideologies, he says, that our doors are open to build a better country, which is what we need.

It's a hopeful sentiment of someone uniquely connected to both Cuba and the U.S. And Gonzales may prove to be instrumental in uniting Cubans and rebuilding the island even if he has a long road ahead of him.


OPPMANN: And Jim, certainly the expectation is all the candidates, including of course Elian Gonzalez, will be approved by Cuban voters. But all eyes are on the abstention rate, which has been creeping up during past elections, past recent elections because that is one of the rare ways that Cubans by not voting can show their dissent, something that is usually not a lot on this island.


ACOSTA: No. There's not a lot of that at all.

Patrick, you mentioned in your story that his Miami relatives have always feared that he would become a symbol, an emblem for the communist government. That's essentially what he has become to the point now where he's running for office. But I think you're reporting that he has that he envisions a world where all Cubans, including the exiles here in the United States, can kind of come together? What is he talking about there?

Do you think that could have any kind of an effect on the Miami Cuban community. I mean, I know it well, myself, that's pretty optimistic on his part if he's genuine about that.

OPPMANN: It is, and he seems to be. And certainly if there's one figure who kind of appeals to both sides, it is Elian Gonzalez. And I have to say in the many years of reporting this I never remember a Cuban official, which is what Elian Gonzalez will be very soon, saying that exiles are welcome back in the way that he said it to me. I had to listen to it a couple times afterwards because I didn't quite believe.

It's a very different tone, and let's hope that that continues in the beginning of his new career here, but for him to say that he welcomes exiles back to help rebuild this country despite the political beliefs, that's something that is not often said here if at all.

ACOSTA: Right. And Elian certainly, even if he does get elected, does not speak on behalf of the government. They have a much more hardline stance on things than it sounds like we're hearing from Elian Gonzalez.

But incredible report, Patrick. Thank you very much. It's amazing to see Elian Gonzalez after all these years. Thanks very much. Patrick Oppmann in Havana, Cuba for us.

The head of FOX News could soon find himself in court. Still ahead what to expect next in the case the network faces over its handling of 2020 election lies.

First, programming note, Adam Sandler and his funny friends are coming to CNN. The Kennedy Center presents the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor celebrating Adam Sandler. See you tonight at 8:00 on CNN.



ACOSTA: FOX corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch may be forced to testify in Dominion's case against FOX News. The Delaware judge in the case signaled that he may want to hear about how FOX executives are involved in the editorial process. Previous testimony uncovered the network's promotion of Trump's 2020 election lies among its biggest stars on the network.

CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy joins us now.

Oliver, you know, it's interesting. I mean, how many texts and other testimony we got during the build up to this potential trial if it in fact takes place next month, and I think one of the biggest prospects in all of this is that the potential to see Rupert Murdoch actually testified. Do you think that could happen?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: It seems like that could happen, Jim. Dominion has obviously expressed interest in calling Rupert Murdoch to the stand. And earlier this week, a judge -- the judge that's presiding over this case suggested that he might want to also see Rupert Murdoch take the stand.

Now this could come via Zoom or some other form. It doesn't have to necessarily be in person. But it will be notable particularly because Rupert Murdoch himself ironically gave some of the most damaging -- in his deposition it was one of the more damaging depositions. He admitted in his deposition that some of his top stars, Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and others, endorsed election lies. So they weren't just covering those lies like FOX has been arguing. They endorsed those election lies. So particularly damaging stuff from Murdoch and he could take the stand.

ACOSTA: And this past week, I mean, there was a lot that we learned in this case. Help us sort through it, what stood out to you?

DARCY: Well, this past week you saw both Dominion and FOX News in court, making oral arguments. They're basically both asking the judge to declare them the winner without a trial. That's a high bar, and that's probably unlikely to happen in this case, but it was interesting to see how the judge received some of FOX News' arguments and he was pretty skeptical at times. At one time, he said that he thought that the argument of FOX was advancing seemed intellectually dishonest, and he really did question their lawyer in court. So that was interesting.

And Jim, I should also note that we're still waiting to hear what witnesses Dominion would call to the stand should this go to trial and you could see outside Murdoch. You could see people like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, FOX News CEO Suzanne Scott. They could all potentially be on that witness list if this does go to trial in a few weeks.

ACOSTA: And it's starting to be that FOX has allowed this case to get this far. Is there still the potential that they could try to settle this before it actually goes to trial? I mean, I think that the trial starts, what, April 13th or something like it? Might we see a settlement on the night of April, 12th? I mean, I just wonder, I can't imagine that they would want this kind of PR nightmare stuff to continue.

DARCY: I can't imagine either, and the lawyers I speak to they say that a settlement always possible up until the last minute. That said, they have allowed this to progress pretty far, including, you know, the release of these discovery materials, these text messages and e- mails, so it's possible they do want to move into a trial.

I do think outside the legal risk, it's a huge reputational risk for FOX. I mean, you could again have some of their most high-profile personalities take the stand and admit under oath, as they did in that depositions, that they knowingly advanced election lies that they knew were not true.


And I think, you know, again outside the legal risk there, that's going to be really damaging for FOX reputationally, and it will be cover for weeks and weeks on end if this does go to trial, so we'll see what happens, Jim. I would imagine that they want this to go away. But so far it looks like this will go to trial in mid-April.

ACOSTA: It's just a remarkable case. All right, Oliver Darcy, great to see you. Thanks again. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, CNN is in tornado ravaged Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where a new threat -- that's right, there's a new threat of storms this evening that is looming over that area. We'll talk about that next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: You're alive in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.