Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Mass Protests, Strikes, Closures Over Israel's Judicial Overhaul; New York Grand Jury Meets Today as Indictment Decision Looms; More Severe Storms Today After Weekend Tornadoes Kill 26 in South. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2023 - 10:00   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour on this Monday morning. Hi, everyone. I'm Jessica Dean.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good to have you, Jessica. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Today, a New York grand jury is reconvening as it continues to weigh potential charges against former President Trump. We might see an indictment today. CNN is outside the courthouse.

Plus, this happening right now, massive protests in Israel, not just protests, crippling union strikes, store and restaurant closures, even hunger strikes by several Israeli mayors. All of this over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned overhaul of the judicial system, his firing of the country's defense minister for opposing him in that plan. Is the U.S., its closest ally in the region, moving further away from democratic principles? Many Israelis fear so. We're going to the latest from Jerusalem.

DEAN: Also today, another round of severe weather is expected to strike the southeast after devastating tornadoes ripped through the region this weekend. At least 26 people are now dead, several others injured. We are alive in Mississippi, where a very powerful tornado flattened an entire city.

But first this morning, we begin with those mass protests. CNN' Hadas Gold is live in Jerusalem. Hadas, the images that we're seeing are really stunning. Walk us through what you've been seeing all day.

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's even more stunning than these protests, which we've been seeing protests here for more than 12 weeks against this judicial overhaul, it's the massive general strike that was announced that has brought this country to a screeching halt, literally everything, almost as far as we understand, is on strike, everything from even embassies abroad to nurses, the ports, including the largest ports in Israel in Haifa and Ashdod, even the airport at some point halted takeoffs, even McDonalds is closed as part of this massive general strike against the judicial overhaul.

Now, what sparked this latest round, this escalation is Saturday night, the defense minister gave a speech where he came out against these reforms, saying the divisiveness being caused by them is a threat to Israel's national security. 24 hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired him for that speech, and then overnight, we saw massive protests sparked in the streets, especially in Tel Aviv. People were blocking the highways late into the night. The Israeli police used water cannons against these protesters to try to get them to clear it. And then this morning is when we heard about this massive general strike and even more protests ending up in Jerusalem.

I do want to remind you what this judicial overhaul is actually about. Now, Netanyahu and his government want to fundamentally change how Israel's judiciary works. At its core, it would give incredible power to the politicians, to the Israeli parliament, not only in selecting judges but also even possibly the opportunity to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.

Now, as I said, there have been protests now for more than 12 weeks against this. And week-by-week, day-by-day, the voices joining these protests against these reforms is only growing now.

Now, there are reports earlier this morning that as a result of this general strike and the massive protests in reaction to the firing of the defense minister, that Netanyahu was going to give a speech, saying that he was going to freeze the legislative process and essentially give into the protesters. But we've been waiting now for hours. We have not heard anything from him. The only thing he has said so far is actually a tweet, calling on all demonstrators in Jerusalem from the right and left to behave responsibly and not to act violently. We are brotherly people.

This is in reference to the fact that there are right-wing groups, fringe right-wing groups who say they're going to come out and counterprotests against these protesters. There are fears that would lead to bloodshed. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Yes, the possibility of clashes there. Hadas gold in Jerusalem, thanks so much.

Well, earlier this year, in January, CNN's Jake Tapper sat down with the Israeli prime minister for an exclusive interview. At the time, protests over the proposed judicial reform plan were beginning already. Jake pressed Netanyahu on the concerns that his proposals could ignite the kind of protests and chaos we're seeing right now. Here was Netanyahu's response.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, first of all, I haven't changed my view. I think we need a strong, independent judiciary.


But an independent judiciary doesn't mean an unbridled judiciary, which is what has happened here. Here's a country that has exactly this provision. It's called Canada. Is Canada not a democracy? Is Britain out of democracy? Is New Zealand not a democracy? Because they all have -- either have this provision of such a provision or have no ability of the court to strike down laws.


DEAN: Joining us now is Aaron David Miller. He's a former Middle East negotiator for the U.S. State Department. It's great to have you with us this morning.

We just heard Hadas kind of describing the scene, these massive strikes, really shutting down essentially the everyday comings and goings in the nation of Israel. We've got the trade union there with this massive list of closures and strikes, banks, ports, government ministries. What do you think happens next? Look ahead for us in the next 24, 36 hours. What do you think we can anticipate?

AARON DAVID MILLER, SENIOR FELLOW, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: Over the next over the last four or five hours, it seemed clear that the prime minister was surrendering to the inevitable, that strikes folks in the high tech sector threatening to pull their money out, Israeli reservists not reporting for duty, universities closed, credit agencies threatening in the future, judicial reform, actually, it's more of a judicial coup than it is reform, will lower these rules credit ratings. But the prime minister has not come out.

And what is happening, I think, Israeli journalists are reporting is that the word is going out to right-wing Israeli groups to rally in Jerusalem. It may well be with familiar tropes. No one is going to, quote, steal this election from us, unquote. It may well be that Mr. Netanyahu is waiting for a demonstration of force, not necessarily physical violence, but a show of force, with respect to his supporters.

So, I think this is this has taken a very dark turn, it seems to me. And when you have hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands of people demonstrating and you have the prospect of counterdemonstrations, you really run the risk of, -- well, you run the risk of this going to a much darker side. I sincerely hope that's not what we're about to expect.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you that, because are you saying that the Israeli prime minister wants to show that there are people who back his plan here or that he wants to see or is at least open to the possibility or comfortable with the possibility of those two sides clashing in Israeli streets?

MILLER: Yes. I mean, I don't want to put that judgment. I don't want to make that judgment. I can't read his mind. I will say this. This is not the Benjamin Netanyahu, the risk-averse, cautious, temperate Benjamin Netanyahu of old. This is a risk-ready, desperate prime minister who, it seems to me, is willing to do just about anything in order to maintain himself in power. I still believe Jim that, in a sense, he understands that the game with respect to this concessional passes of this judicial reform is over, but I think it's obviously painfully difficult for him to come out and admit to the fact that it's going to have to be suspended. You're supposed to do this three or four hours ago. And now amidst these reports of calls for right wing protests, I think it's a disturbing sign.

DEAN: Yes. And what do you what do you say to the Biden administration? This is, of course, the country's closest ally in that region. What should the Biden ministration and the president be doing right now?

MILLER: Well, I think the president has interceded twice on the issue of judicial reform once in a column, New York Times by Tom Friedman, and, again, in a phone call last week, which I'm told was very tough call on the issue of judicial reforms.

I think he's really hamstrung. Politically, you have a Republican Party that is much more supportive. And I think it's just waiting for the administration to sort of hammer the Israelis either on this issue or on the other burning issue, of course, which is inexorably linked to this one, which is what to do about the issue of a relationship, peace in the Israeli occupation with respect to the Palestinians.

So, I think that the administration is counseling caution. Tony Blinken was up on the Hill talking about the fact that Israel has a democratic system and they're going to have to work this out. Mitch McConnell has said the same.

I think there's very little, frankly, that the administration can do in order to affect matters. They are allowing the Israelis to do with the walking and to do the talking.


And, frankly, by the looks of things, now this is the 13th week, Israelis are out in the streets wanting to safeguard and preserve their democracy. It's an inspiring tale. Perhaps there's a lesson or two for us in this hmm.

DEAN: Well, yes, the next 24 hours, and even just the rest of today will be quite telling. Aaron David Miller, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

Today, the Manhattan grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump is set to meet again as it considers a potentially historic indictment over the former president's hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

SCIUTTO: It is not yet clear if and when the jury prosecutors will make a decision.

CNN's Kara Scannell, she's live outside the courthouse in New York. Kara, this has been a day-to-day thing. I'm sure there's some frustration from people watching here that there hasn't been a decision made yet. Do you have any sense of timing?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I wish I had that answer for you, but we are still in this waiting game mode. We do know that the Manhattan grand jury that has been hearing evidence related to the hush money investigation is scheduled to meet today and it's possible that they may hear from at least one witness. So, we know that their work is still continuing and that's all secretive and done behind closed doors.

Now, in this void, former President Trump has been lashing out against the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, over the weekend, leveling some more verbal attacks against him, calling him a degenerative psychopath. And also the House Republicans saying -- doubling down over the weekend that they want Bragg to come in for testimony, saying that maybe they will consider legislation to stop state and local prosecutors from investigating current and former presidents.

Now, Bragg has struck back. He said over the weekend that, you know, essentially, again, that he will not be intimidated, that they should stay in their lane, that this office's work is continuing, that they're following the rules and the law and they're putting aside what the Congress wants to do, saying that Congress' interest is unprecedented.

But, again, we're still in this waiting game. The D.A. is conducting this investigation. We're waiting to see if Bragg is going to move forward to seek an indictment and then bring it to the grand jury for a vote. But, again, we're just waiting here looking for signs and signals to see who this next witness could be. Jim, Jessica?

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

DEAN: And joining us now is Laura Barron-Lopez, CNN Political Analyst and White House Correspondent for PBS Newshour. It's great to see you, Laura.

I believe we have a clip of the president. He was in Waco, Texas, for a rally over the weekend. He had a lot to say about this. Let's listen to that.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. 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.


DEAN: And, of course, the Manhattan D.A. has pushed back through his office against any allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. But, Laura, what do you make of Trump really leaning into this? He really wants to play the victim here and really rally his supporters around him. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. This is a pattern by the former president, which is that an attempt by him as well as his allies to discredit efforts by law enforcement to seek accountability, whether it's in the hush money payment case, and District Attorney Alvin Bragg's investigation or also the investigation by the Justice Department into the classified documents.

We saw Trump used these same tactics just last summer when after the FBI rated Mar-a-Lago to look for those classified documents, where he attacked the FBI and attacked law enforcement, and, ultimately, there was some political violence after that, an attack on an Ohio FBI office.

And so I've been speaking to extremism experts who are very concerned about the fact that the president -- the former president went to Waco, which is a symbol of the white power movement and of anti- government militias to deliver this message.

SCIUTTO: There was a darker side to his comments this weekend. He warned of death and destruction if he were to be arrested. You spoke to extremism experts who are consistent in their message and their warnings about the effect that this has. We know that in private, many Republicans will say the same thing. In public, that's much more rare. To hear those words this weekend and also hear the president praised the January 6th rioters, how many Republicans have come out and said this is not acceptable?

BARRON-LOPEZ: There have been very few Republicans, Jim, who have come out to explicitly condemn the president's remarks. There was House Majority Leader Steve Scalise on the day that Trump posted that on his Truth Social media site warning of death and destruction, and Steve Scalise said that there is no room for political violence or calls for political violence in America.


But there has not been widespread condemnation by Republicans.

And that's the issue here, is that we've seen time and again when the president has threatened potential violence that there is not some big disconnect occurring between the majority of the Republican Party and its leaders and the former president.

DEAN: And, Laura, just keeping with Congressional members, Republican, the House GOP, really, they leapt to his defense, and I've called on the Manhattan D.A. to testify. They've really been in his corner. Does that surprise you at all that we're really seeing them once again like rallying around the former president, and for what it's worth, they're all having to talk about it much more than any agenda item or any legislation that they want to get passed?

BARRON-LOPEZ: They're choosing to talk about it because we've seen it in poll-after-poll that a majority of Americans would like government officials to put this on other issues. But House Republicans in particular -- I'd say there's a little bit of a difference with Senate Republicans, but House Republicans, in particular, are, again, saying that they're going to investigate the investigators, investigate D.A. Alvin Bragg. They're also attempting to discredit investigations into the January 6th select committee, as well as the DOJ's investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the election.

And --

DEAN: I think we've lost Laura.

SCIUTTO: Yes, froze up there.

DEAN: Unfortunately. But our thanks to Laura Barron-Lopez for joining us this morning.

Still to come, under new ownership, First-Citizens Bank has officially purchased Silicon Valley Bank. Will the sale boost confidence in the banking industry as a whole? We're going to see how Wall Street is reacting this morning.

Plus, a little bit later, court resumes in the trial over a ski collision involving Gwyneth Paltrow. The man who says she crashed into him could take the stand.

SCIUTTO: And the just unimaginable tornado damage in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, as residents and survivors returned to see what, if anything, is left.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say you lived right here. What's it like to look at all of this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never seen anything, like you could -- I wish it was all a dream.



DEAN: Today, another round of severe weather is set to slam parts of the southeast after powerful storms pummeled that region this weekend. At least 26 people are dead, dozens more injured after tornadoes simply leveled some neighborhoods. Look at that video.

The vice mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, said she's one of many who lost their home.


VICE MAYOR LADONNA SIAS, ROLLING FORK, MISSISSIPPI: You know, you're looking at neighborhoods where homes have been totally demolished. It is heart-wrenching, it is overwhelming at times. You have your moments, you know, where you breakdown 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: CNN Correspondent Nick Valencia is in Rolling Fork getting a firsthand look at just how bad it is there. Help viewers understand what kind of swath this tornado cut through that town.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you see behind me, this neighborhood, Jim, took the brunt of that EF-4 tornado. Behind me, that tornado ripping through that open field with nothing in its way to break up its strength. And this neighborhood really just obliterated by the force of those winds.

It is sad to report here but the home, we understand, it is owned by the Pierce family, we're told by the vice mayor. Neighbors just told us that their bodies, the married couple, were found underneath one of these cars. Their home just gutted by the force of these winds.

Much of this town has not been left standing. Their police department has been wracked. Their fire department has been wrecked. The first responders are out there trying to help the community, they too have been impacted by this, and we met one of them.

A five-year-veteran of the local police force here, 27-year-old Antwan Jones, he's a police officer, and he heard the winds howling outside of his window, got in the bathtub with his girlfriend to take cover. They were lifted up literally off the ground, took flight and crashed with just a few scratches, knowing that much -- many people were worse off than he was, Jones put on his uniform and then immediately went to work.


ANTWAN JONES, TORNADO VICTIM: About to have left from over us, and the storm actually placed us down with a bell to what 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 were -- that we were going to die. I think I was going to die.


VALENCIA: The scene behind me really tells it all. Look at these cars here just flipped up on their side, wedged in. You know, we saw an 18- wheeler in this community. We're told that it wasn't even really from this neighborhood. One person told me a couple hours ago that they thought it was parked across the street, but this potentially could have come from miles away.

Last night, more anxiety for Rolling Fork as another round of severe weather just walloped this community that has already just been hit so hard. It's muddy here. The cleanup effort is certainly impacted by this. But that is the focus, 25 souls last year, among them reportedly children. And it is going to take a long, long time for any of this to be back to functioning. Jim, Jessica?

SCIUTTO: So many lives, so many more homes as well. Nick Valencia, thanks so much.

Well, it's been less than three weeks since the failure of Silicon Valley Bank. Branches are opening today, but under a new owner.


What it took to get there, what it means for the markets, that's coming up.


SCIUTTO: This morning, 17 branches of the failed Silicon Valley Bank will reopen but under new name. First Citizens Bank and Trust Company has officially bought SVB and all of its deposits and loans. Good news for depositors.


DEAN: Right. Regulators shut down SVB on March 10th after clients withdrew $42 billion in one day. It was the second largest bank failure in U.S. history.