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Massive Protests In Israel; Martin Indyk is Interviewed about the Protests in Israel; Rolling Ford Begins Cleanup after Tornado; First Citizens Bank Buys Failed SVB; Grand Jury Meets Today as Trump Indictment Looms; Sophia Cai is Interviewed about Donald Trump. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Jim. Great to be with you. I'm Jessica Dean.

And happening right now, massive protests in Israel. A crippling general strike. And several mayors launching a hunger strike after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister for opposing his plans to overhaul the judicial system. This as many Israelis fear the United States closest ally in the region is moving further away from democratic principles. Ahead, we will have the very latest from Jerusalem.

SCIUTTO: Remarkable events there in Israel.

Plus today, another round of severe weather expected to strike the southeast in this country. Parts of Alabama and Georgia bracing for large hail, damaging winds. This after just devastating tornadoes ripped through the region this weekend. At least 26 people are dead, several others injured. We're going to take you live to see scenes of that damage.

We do begin this hour, though, with those protests, the ongoing general strike in Israel.

CNN's Hadas Gold, she is in Jerusalem. Kylie Atwood at the State Department.

To Hadas first for the latest from inside those protests.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, Jessica, protesters continued to stream into Jerusalem towards the supreme court and the Israeli parliament as Israel has essentially ground to a halt today as part of the largest strike ever called in Israeli history. The largest labor union calling for a general strike. Everything from the malls to McDonald's have shut down. Even the airport. Even planes taking off for the airport for several hours was completely halted as part of the strike.

Some of the major Israeli ports in Haifa and Ashdod, their workers are also striking. We're also hearing from nurses striking. Never before in Israeli history has there been such a massive general strike and it's all about this massive judicial overhaul.

Now, the latest drama over this overhaul started on Saturday evening when the Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, dared to make a speech calling for the reform to be halted, for the legislation to be halted. Keep in mind, he's a member of Netanyahu's own party. He is the defense minister. And he was warning that the divisiveness over this reform was causing a real and credible threat to Israel's security, as hundreds of Israeli military reservist have said they would not heed the call to serve because of this massive overhaul that, I should remind you, what allowed the Israeli parliament to overturn supreme court decisions amongst a litany of other issues that they play -- that they want to push through.

Now, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he ended up firing the defense minister 24 hours after that speech. That led to spontaneous, massive protests throughout the night in Israel. Those - while we've seen more than 12 weeks of protests in Israel against this massive overhaul, the protests overnight, they felt different. They felt angrier, and they felt more violent. And they lasted well into the night.

Then today we had these massive strikes. And now more protests, more people out to the street.

Now, while Benjamin Netanyahu has not yet come out and spoken specifically about these judicial reforms, we have heard him say in the last hour or so, a tweet saying, I call on all the demonstrations in Jerusalem, on the right and on the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently. He says, we are brotherly people. But yet no word on what his plans may be over the judicial overhaul despite reports that earlier today he was going to announce a freeze. So far, though, nothing.

Jim. Jessica.

DEAN: All right, Hadas Gold for us in Jerusalem. Thanks so much.

Let's go now to the State Department. Kylie Atwood standing by there.

Kylie, how are U.S. officials responding?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, yesterday from the NSC, they said the Biden administration is deeply concerned about what is going on in Israel after, of course, we heard the news that Hadas was telling you guys, that Prime Minister Netanyahu had fired his defense minister. And we're also hearing from the NSC that they're urging Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. They're talking about democratic values being really core to U.S./Israeli relations and that fundamental relationship between the two countries.

And we're all also learning this morning that the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., is going to be closed today until further notice. That is according to the spokesperson from the embassy. Now when asked if the ambassador is going to join the strike, along with the other diplomats who are part of that union that called for all of its members to strike today, the spokesperson said that the ambassador is following the unions instructions.


That indicates that the ambassador won't be headed into the office today either. This is extraordinary for all of the diplomats to be staying home as part of this strike. It really demonstrates that this is an issue that is not only a political crisis at home, but it's turning into a crisis that has reverberations around the world for Israel and its diplomacy.

Now, it's not clear if any of these diplomats are actually going to join any public strikes, any public protests. They're going to be striking today. They're not heading into work. But we'll wait and watch to see if there are any other demonstrations around the globe that mirror what we're seeing on the ground in Israel.

SCIUTTO: Truly remarkable.

Kylie Atwood, thanks so much.

Joining us now, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk.

Ambassador, thanks for taking the time this morning.

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Thanks, Jim. Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: The confluence of events here is truly remarkable. Not only those protests we're seeing there, but a general strike. You have several mayors going on hunger strike and you have members of Netanyahu's own government publicly opposing him here. Has the Israeli prime minister -- is the Israeli prime minister losing control of his government and of the country?

INDYK: I think he is. It's clear that he's lost control of the country. As Hadas reported, this - there's never been a general strike like this, which is shutting down the ports, the airport, the hospitals, the schools. I mean it's an extraordinary reaction. And it's because Netanyahu's now playing with Israel's security. He's not the Netanyahu that I knew and worked with in earlier years whose instincts for survival were very good. He's done something. He's crossed the line here and it's going to be very difficult for him to cross back.

DEAN: And, Ambassador, I think we have some bullet points just to help remind people kind of how we got there, that these protests have been going on for several weeks now and kind of the lead up to all of this. There it is there on your screen. Just trying to help give people some perspective as to how we arrived at this moment. But if you can help people understand too just how unique of a moment this is and kind of give us some historical perspective here.

INDYK: So, the essence of this is that Netanyahu formed a far right wing government together with religious -- orthodox religious parties. And as part of the agenda of some of his ministers, who actually - Likud minister for justice, and he could easily fire, but he's embraced this -- this judicial reform movement -- it's actually a revolution movement -- to try to give him the ability to stack the courts -- the court, I should say, the supreme court, in a way that people -- Israelis generally suspect is designed to protect him from the consequences of the prosecution that he's now -- trial that he's now going through. So, it looks like there's more of a personal agenda than a national agenda that he's pursuing.

Plus, he has these other members of his coalition. The far-right religious people are basically settlers who don't want the supreme court to interfere to protect Palestinian land rights in the West Bank. And the religious parties that don't want the supreme court to promote equality. Of course there -- there (INAUDIBLE) students to serve in the army. So, all of his -- his coalition members have a stake in this judicial revolution that he's trying to push, apparently for personal reasons. And that's why I think he's --he's stuck with it despite the widespread opposition of hundreds of thousands of Israelis going into the street every Saturday night for three months now to protest it. And it's just been building and building and yet it doesn't turn back when the defense secretary, defense minister, says this is going to affect Israel's security, and he fires him, it's like Nixon and the Night of the Long Knives.

SCIUTTO: Well, and, listen, we should note, there have been protests for a number of months. A major difference today is now a general strike with real implications just for the running of the country, the economy.

The U.S. expressing concerns with what it's seeing right now on the ground. We know that behind the scenes the U.S. has also expressed concerns about these judicial reforms. President Biden has a long decades old personal history with the Israeli prime minister. What is Biden -- what does Biden need to communicate to the Israeli prime minister now? And what is the state of the U.S. relationship given Israel going ahead or the Israeli prime minister attempting to go ahead with these changes?

INDYK: Well, the way in which this is dividing the country, and the security chiefs, not just the defense minister warning about the impact this is having, its undermining Israel's deterrent capability. And Israel's enemies are watching this and rubbing their hands in glade (ph).


At that effects American national security interests as well because we depend on Israel to stabilize the region. And if its deterrence is undermined, then it's going to become a problem for us. So, joe Biden, as you say, good friend of Bibi Netanyahu's for more than four decades, I think needs to adopt the friends don't let friends drive drunk approach, put his arm around Bibi and say, listen, old, pal, you need to back off and you need to do it quickly, not just for the sake of Israel, which we care about deeply, but also for the sake of American national interests.

DEAN: All right, Ambassador Martin Indyk, thank you so much for your expertise there. We sure do appreciate it.

INDYK: Thank you.

DEAN: Back here at home, millions across the southeast are bracing for another round of severe weather after powerful tornadoes killed at least 26 people over the weekend.


LADONNA SIAS, ROLLING FORK VICE MAYOR WHO LOST HER HOUSE IN TORNADO: You know, you're looking at neighborhoods where homes have been totally demolished. It's heart wrenching. It's overwhelming at times. You have your moments, you know, where you break down, but then you have to, you know, get yourself together, get your bootstrap back up, get your feet planted solid and you got to keep moving on.


SCIUTTO: That's the vice mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi. She's one of many people who lost their homes when a powerful EF-4 tornado tore through the city. Those are hurricane force winds, 200 miles an hour.

CNN correspondent Nick Valencia is there in Rolling Fork getting a firsthand look at the devastation.

Nick, I wonder if you could describe to people just how extensive this is and how powerful these tornadoes work.


The scene behind me really says it all. This town, there's very few of it -- very little of it, I should say, that has been untouched by the tornado that came through here, ripping through this community. An EF- 4 tornado. And just look at the force of these winds, what it did to this 18 wheeler right here behind me. This was parked on the other side of the street we understand according to neighbors.

This block, it was hard hit. This family that lived right here was actually a couple, a married couple. We're told by eyewitnesses that they died as a result of the impact to their home. Their roof completely ripped off. Their home just gutted.

It is a small community. A predominantly black community Impoverished community. Many people here don't have home insurance. But one of the things that we've really seen that's, you know, striking to us is, even those who have lost their homes or chipping in to help.

We spoke to an officer here on the police force. He's been on the force for five years. His name was Antwan Jones. And he took cover in a bathroom tub with his girlfriend. They were literally picked up and floating around in the air. They crash landed, survived with just a few scratches. And after he survived, he went into first responder mode.


ANTWAN JONES, TORNADO VICTIM: The bathtub lift from over us. And the storm actually placed us down where the bathtub was originally.

VALENCIA: I mean you have to think that this is maybe the end for you. You're up in the air. You're floating around.

JONES: Yes, sir. We thought we was - we though we was going to die. We thought we was going to die.


VALENCIA: And behind me, some residents of this neighborhood have started to come back to get the first-hand look at this -- you know, what they went through here on Friday night. They're shell shocked. They're grieving. There's more than two dozen people that lost their lives. Reports include, you know, some of them children.

Last night, another round of severe weather tore through here, adding salt to the wounds here, of after they went through so much. Their police department wrecked. Their fire department wrecked. You know, these first responders, they're out there working, helping people, and the elected officials out delivering food even though they've all been impacted by this.

And looking at this scene and the aerial footage and just how extensive and widespread this damage is, it is, no doubt, going to be a long time before they get this town back functioning again.

Jim. Jessica.

DEAN: Yes, the devastation is just simply overwhelming. And trying to wrap your head around everything just being wiped out in just a matter of minutes, it's a lot. It's a lot.

Nick Valencia for us. Thanks so much.

Also this morning, 17 branches of the failed Silicon Valley Bank will reopen under a new name. First Citizens Bank and Trust Company has officially bought SVB and all of its deposits and loans.

SCIUTTO: Yes, some relief to those depositors. Regulators shut down SVB, you may remember, on March 10th after clients withdrew some $40 billion in a single day. It was the second largest bank failure in U.S. history.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now.

Christine, I mean there was speculation the auction might draw multiple bidders. There's still clearly some concern out there about banks. We saw concerns about even Deutsche Bank in Germany in recent days.


SCIUTTO: How significant is this sale? And has it settled things in terms of bank contagion here in the U.S.?

ROMANS: It's a really important milestone, you guys, in this banking drama that we've had.


And it does help settle things. This is how it's supposed to work. When a bank flounders or fails, you find a buyer. And so they found a buyer in this particular instance. And this buyer is a Raleigh, North Carolina, based company and its chairman and CEO saying that there's a good fit here, actually. That they have innovation hubs and they like the kinds of deposits and loans that Silicon Valley Bank has. So, the 550 branches of First Citizens now and the 17 branches of Silicon Valley Bank will be together here. Silicon Valley Bank, people who bank there still will be able to still use their banking apps and use -- go to their local branch if they like today when those open up because everything is still functioning here smoothly. And you can see First Citizens Bank shares are up 26 percent here this morning.

The saga has been incredible. It was March 10th when this bank failed so quickly. Just two days earlier, it looked completely solid. And then it fell apart. The government had to step in. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation stepped in and created a bridge bank to sort of hold all these assets until this buyer could be found.

And I think it's really helping to draw a line under all of the concerns about banking stresses that we have seen. You've got some of those banking stocks up today, you guys.


DEAN: Yes. Yes. I mean, and, look, an incredible unfolding of events over, what, not even a month now.


ROMANS: Right.

DEAN: Christine Romans, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

DEAN: Still to come this morning, we are live outside court in Manhattan where a grand jury is reconvening for its investigation into former President Donald Trump and a hush payment to adult film start Stormy Daniels. Is this the week we'll get a decision on an indictment?

SCIUTTO: Plus, as Russian President Vladimir Putin reveals plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, I'm going to sit down with the Belarusian opposition leader. Her message now and warning to western leaders.

Later, a spring break travel rush could break records this year. Some airports telling people get there three hours early for domestic flights.



SCIUTTO: The New York grand jury investigating former President Trump and hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels is meeting again today. We do not know when the grand jury will make a decision on possibly recommending an indictment of Trump.

DEAN: At a Texas rally over the weekend, the former president claimed he was being politically targeted by the Manhattan D.A. And online, Trump warned there would be, quote, potential death and destruction if he were to be indicted.

CNN's Kara Scannell is live outside the courthouse in New York.

Kara, this has been days and days now of kind of anticipation over some sort of decision. What is the expectation for today?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Jessica and Jim.

So, today we understand that the grand jury is meeting. It is possible that they will hear from at least one witness. But this whole process is secretive and it operates behind closed doors. We're not supposed to know what they're doing. So, we're all waiting, as you say, in anticipation for there to be a decision by the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, on whether to move forward and ask this grand jury to seek an indictment, or to not and to drop the investigation without charges.

But in the void, what we've heard a lot is House Republicans doubling down over the weekend, saying that they want the D.A., Alvin Bragg, to testify. They're also talking about having -- coming up with possible legislation to prevent a local prosecutor, like Bragg, from investigating a current or former president going forward in the future.

Now, Bragg's office has swung back. Bragg has said that, you know, this is unprecedented interference by a federal body, Congress, into a state and local investigation. And he said the only purpose it serves is to hinder, disrupt and undermine the work that his office is doing. He also says that they will continue to follow the rules and the law.

You know, but, again, we are all waiting with anticipation to see what will happen today, if we get any shot of any of the witnesses or potentially one or more witnesses coming in, but we really have to wait for Bragg to make a decision on what he wants to do.

And so, here we are. We'll be here again tomorrow.

Jess. Jim. SCIUTTO: Kara Scannell, in New York, thanks so much.

Joining us now is Sophia Cai. She's a congressional reporter for "Axios."

Sophia, thanks for joining us this morning.

I think we need to take a moment to highlight what happened this weekend with the leading Republican candidate for the nomination in 2024 warning of death and destruction to his supporters if he is indicted. He attacked Alvin Bragg for what he said was prosecutorial misconduct. You say as well - and I want to ask you to share some details, that he went after a reporter. I mean these are all things that this former president has done before. Sometimes with great criticism from Republicans. We haven't seen a great deal of it right now.

Tell us first what you learned about the president's interaction with a reporter on the flight home.

SOPHIA CAI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "AXIOS": Yes. So, the president really got very frustrated by an NBC reporter who continued to ask about the Manhattan D.A. probe and suggested that the former president was frustrated, you know. And he really didn't like that. He called the reporter fake news. He told the reporter to not ask any more questions. And it became a very confrontational gaggle on the plane.

DEAN: And, Sophia, look, the former president has spent the last week really trying to control the narrative around all of this as we wait on a potential indictment, not to mention the other cases and investigations that he's in -- that he's the target of at this point. What was the sense you got from the people at the rally this weekend? He really wants to make himself somebody who's being persecuted and targeted by the law unfairly. Is that really what they're taking away from it as well?


CAI: Yes, I think, for the most part, they agree. I mean, the former president, he used the first 30 minutes of the rally to talk about all of the investigations that, you know, in his view have been unfair. He says they came after him. They got all of this information and came after his family members.

And, you know, two things can be true for all of this, including, you know, currently the most pressing one with the Manhattan D.A. and the hush money. He both, you know, on the one hand, wants to appear very defiant of the investigations for his supporters. He wants to appear strong to that base, to the voters, including those at the rally. And at the same time, you know, he does feel pain. And he used that word. He says, you know, it does really take a huge toll on me and my family. So, I think there's some really conflicted emotions here.

And the last thing I should mention is that he feels really bothered by the uncertainty around this current investigation into the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. And that uncertainty you see on social media. You see it -- you saw it in the gaggle with us, you know, on his plane, on their way back. He, in one conversation, he said, look, I have no idea what's going on, and I think that's true. He has no insight into the case. And he suggested, and this was new this weekend, he suggested that that probe was dropped. He said, think it's dropped. I think -- you know, and that, I should say, no evidence -- no evidence whatsoever. You know, of course it's ongoing. But he's in all of these different places at once, yes.

SCIUTTO: Let's separate this from the president's feelings here for a moment. He was celebrating at this rally the January 6th assault on the capital for which hundreds of people have been convicted of crimes and jailed for. And there were some who were convicted of crimes since freed who were at the event here. How have Republican lawmakers reacted to see the president there, including playing video at the rally of the assault on the Capitol? Have they criticized him publicly in any sort of numbers?

CAI: You know, I haven't seen that. There were a number of Republican congressman at the Waco rally. And you sort of -- the overarching Republican reaction on The Hill is to do his dirty work for him. You know, I don't know another way to describe it. Especially coming from the top Republican investigators, Comer and Jordan. And these are two folks who, whatever the most pressing investigation has been, that has been what they've, you know, attempted oversight over, shooting out these letters and - and so I think that -- that is the most accurate way to describe the reaction from The Hill.

You know, a number of the congressional Republicans have already endorsed him for '24.


DEAN: Yes. Y Es. And the House GOP demanding that the Manhattan D.A. testify before them because they're thinking that he has prosecutorial misconduct and whatnot, really jumping to Trump's aid immediately on that.

Sophia Cai, thanks so much for your reporting. We appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Well, still ahead, as the Russian president reveals his plans to put tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, right across the border from Ukraine, I'm going to sit down with the exiled Belarusian opposition leader. That's coming up.