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American Journalist Arrested in Russia; Blackhawks Crash in Kentucky; Homes Evacuated in Minnesota after Train Derailment; Pope Francis Hospitalized; Pence to Testify to Grand Jury. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Jessica Dean.


New this morning, Russia has arrested an American journalist it says on suspicion of espionage. Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for ""The Wall Street Journal"," was detained in a small town just east of Moscow. ""The Wall Street Journal"" strongly defending their reporter. The Kremlin says he was, quote, caught red handed but refuses to provide any more details. Its track record on this sort of thing does not inspire confidence. Ahead, we will have the latest from Russia.

Plus, overnight, the Army says several people have now been killed. This after two Blackhawk helicopters crashed near Fort Campbell. We're going to be on the ground there in Kentucky.

DEAN: Also right now, homes are evacuated in Raymond, Minnesota, after a train carrying ethanol derailed early this morning. We've got new details for you on that.

We're also keeping an eye on the Vatican as Pope Francis is in the hospital undergoing treatment for a respiratory infection. Ahead, we'll have an update on his condition.

But we begin this morning with that alarming headline out of Russia. American journalist Evan Gershkovich is right now in Russian custody after ""The Wall Street Journal"" reporter, who's based in Moscow, was arrested on suspicion of espionage.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Jeremy Diamond is now standing by at the White House.

First, though, CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chances, is in Moscow.

Matthew, tell us the latest you're hearing there.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, I mean, some quite worrying developments actually, Jim, because it seems that Evan Gershkovich, this reporter for ""The Wall Street Journal"," has now appeared already at a court in a sort of closed hearing in Moscow, Lefortovo Detention Center. And that court has basically remanded him into custody until -- I'm looking at it here, until May the 29th. So, one month and 29 days he's been remanded in custody by that court pending the trial for espionage. The court has formally arrested him, as they call it here. They've basically levied charges of espionage against him.

And it's also been revealed by the press service of the Lefortovo court that the case has been marked top secret, and that's because they say that Gershkovich denies guilt. He's saying he's not guilty of these espionage charges. And so that's sort of interesting developments come to us in the past few minutes.

Just to remind us -- remind your viewers, our viewers, you know, what -- what this is all about. Well, this happened yesterday. The FSB, the old KGB, of course, arresting Evan Gershkovich in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where they say he had been trying to get sort of secret information on aspects of Russia's military industrial complex. Yekaterinburg is a big city. It's got a lot of factories there. There's a lot of people there that can talk about how the military operation in Ukraine is going and, you know, sort of things like that. It's not clear exactly what he was reporting on.

But the FSB say he was in the process of receiving important information, highly secretive information about that Russian military industrial complex. The Russian foreign ministry have reiterated that saying that they believe that -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- basically whatever he was doing there was nothing to do with journalism. And the Kremlin have said, when challenged on this, that they understanding is -- their understanding is that Evan Gershkovich was caught red handed engaging in espionage.

And so the Russians are clearly standing by these charges against this 32-year-old "Wall Street Journal" reporter. And as you indicated, we're expecting to get a formal statement soon from the White House, from the State Department as well.

DEAN: And, Matthew, you mentioned that this case has been designated top secret. I'm curious if you can kind of explain that to us and give us some context. Is that something that's used frequently, this designation of a top secret case?

CHANCE: Yes, I mean, look, I mean I think what it means -- I'm not entirely certain, but I think what it means is that we are not going to be seeing Evan Gershkovich appear in court. The cameras are not going to be let in to see him. We're probably not going to hear exactly what the specifics are of the charges against him. You know, the Russians are regarding this as highly classified. As I say, the court has designated it top secret. And so what that means is that they're not going to reveal the specifics Evan Gershkovich is accused of doing.


We're just going to have to, for the moment -- I mean it may change when we get some - when - you know, as the days progress, but, you know, what we're going to have to, you know, be satisfied with at the moment is this statement from the Russian FSB that he was arrested, as I say, trying to get information about the military industrial complex in the country.

SCIUTTO: The FSB, of course, the successor to the KGB.

Matthew Chance, in Moscow, thanks so much.

Let's go to the White House now.

Jeremy, ""The Wall Street Journal"" released a statement pushing back on this very hard. It says, ""The Wall Street Journal"" is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich.

Let's state a fact here. Russia's track record on these kinds of allegations is lousy, does not inspire confidence. They often Trump up charges or manufacturer charges like this.

How are U.S. officials responding to this now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. We don't yet have an official reaction from the White House or the State Department. We'll bring you that statement as soon as we get it.

But what I can tell you is that White House officials and State Department officials are currently working to get all kinds of information about this situation. In fact, two U.S. officials told our colleague, Kylie Atwood, that State Department officials began tracking this case yesterday before news of Evan's arrest actually became public.

And we do know that this is, obviously, something that's going to become a top priority for the White House to secure Evan Gershkovich's release. We have seen in the past how the White House has worked to secure the release of other Americans, most recently, of course, Brittney Griner in Russia back in December of 2022.

And the administration also has some new powers to impose sanctions as a consequence of wrongful detentions of Americans as a result of the Levinson Act, which was passed back in 2020. President Biden signs an executive order this past summer directing how his administration would handle these types of situations.

What would come next, of course, would be a formal designation of whether or not the U.S. considers Evan Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained. That would take some weeks before that actually happens. But in the meantime, you can be sure that U.S. officials, diplomatic officials in Moscow are going to be working to get information on this case and then to see what they can do to try and secure his release.

But, of course, the fact that Russia has now moved to not only formally arrest him, but also that the Kremlin itself is defending this arrest, alleging that they caught this reporter red handed, does not speak very favorably to the chance of some kind of de-escalation here. Instead, it would appear that perhaps Russia is looking for some kind of a prisoner swap once again. Early to say that, of course, now, but we do know that that is the track record and the way in which Russia has proceeded with these kinds of situations in the past.

DEAN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: And to Jeremy's point, we should note that just last week the U.S. accused a Russian national of -- who was claiming to be a Brazilian student here in Washington, was actually a Russian spy.

DEAN: Yes.

The bottom line here, these are very deeply concerning developments.

Jeremy Diamond, at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Overnight, the Army says several people killed after two HH 60 Blackhawk helicopters with the 101st Airborne Division crashed in southwestern Kentucky. And we want to let you know, we do expect a press briefing within the next hour. So, we'll certainly keep our eye on that and bring it to you as it happens.

SCIUTTO: This is sad. Training exercises, they're dangerous too.

CNN correspondent Dianne Gallagher, she's at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Dianne, do we know anything about the circumstances of this crash?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, Jim, according to the 101st Airborne Division, these two Blackhawks crashed during a routine training mission. It happened in Trigg County, Kentucky. That's about a 40-minute drive from where I am right now, standing just off post.

They said, according to the Kentucky State Police, that the Blackhawks crashed in what they described as a field in a wooded area. Trigg County is relatively rural. But again, there are still service members and their families who do live out there. It's not far from the base.

There were witnesses who heard and saw the crash and said that they could tell something was unusual.


JAMES HUGHES, FOUND CRASH SITE: Two helicopters came over pretty low. And all of a sudden, as soon as they got over the house, something popped -- loud - a loud bang and everything shut down just all of a sudden. So, we jumped in the truck and came over here. That's what we found, two helicopters.


DIANNE GALLAGHER: It's just absolutely tragic.

The governor of Kentucky, Andy Bashir, tweeting out his condolences and saying that he is now on the way here to Fort Campbell to show support for the troops based here, as well as the Army families. Mitch McConnell also sending out his condolences. At this point we do expect that press conference with the U.S. military to begin at the top of next hour where we should get more details on how this crash happened, and, unfortunately, just how many people were killed.


Jim. Jessica.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Those poor soldiers, these poor family members.

Dianne Gallagher, in Kentucky, thanks so much.

Well, there is yet another community in limbo this morning in the wake of a train derailment. This time it was Raymond, Minnesota, about two hours west of Minneapolis.

DEAN: We know that dozens of rail cars went off the tracks overnight, forcing residents in that area to flee their homes.

Here's Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The most important thing for anyone in the affected area to know is that you've got to pay close attention to any instructions coming from first responders regarding the evacuation or anything else that local officials are telling you. That is for your safety.

I've been in touch with the governor already this morning. And while our department doesn't have a direct first responder role, we do have personnel on the ground, making sure that we can provide support.


DEAN: CNN's Gabe Cohen is following this story for us this morning.

Gabe, what more do we know about what the train was carrying? We know it was enough that people had to leave their homes.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, Jessica, the preliminary information is that 14 of those 40 railcars were carrying hazardous material. And that includes ethanol, which was released and led to that fire that we have seen burning now for hours. That according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Now, ethanol is a highly flammable chemical. Exposure can lead to coughing, dizziness, burning, burning eyes, drowsiness. So there were a lot of concerns for the people in Raymond. It's one of the reasons that we have seen those evacuations this morning.

Now, to be clear, according to the fire department and the sheriff's office, there are no injuries at this point at the scene. But we do know that BNSF train derailed around 1:00 a.m. local time, Central Time. The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. But you can see it there, several cars ignited. It forced that small town, population of less than 1,000 in Raymond to evacuate.

And it comes nearly two months after that really frightening derailment in East Palestine, which also caused a large fire and evacuation. And, of course, there have been a lot of environmental and health concerns in Ohio since that derailment.

Now, Secretary Buttigieg says crews and investigators are now at this scene in Raymond. They are looking into what happened and what sort of clean-up needs to happen now. We expect more updates on just how volatile this scene is later this morning. And we know that Minnesota's governor is expected to visit Raymond, or at least that area, in the next couple hours.

Jim. Jessica.

SCIUTTO: That is quite a scene there, no question.

Gabe Cohen, thanks so much.

Well, Pope Francis remains in a hospital in Rome this morning and could remain there for a few more days. Vatican sources tell CNN he slept well during his first night at the hospital. The 86-year-old pontiff hospitalized for a respiratory infection.

DEAN: After holding his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, he was taken to the hospital for a number of scheduled tests. Worth noting, Pope Francis does have a history of lung issues. As a teenager, he had part of his lung removed after a serious bout with pneumonia.

CNN's Delia Gallagher is joining us now live from Rome.

Delia, what's the latest update on Pope Francis's condition today?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, reassuring news from the Vatican this morning on the pope's health. They said, as you mentioned, he slept well, but also that the clinical picture is improving. They say he is going to continue the planned treatments. They told us yesterday to expect a few days in the hospital for those treatments. So, he's continuing that. But they also said that he was able to have breakfast, read the newspapers and indeed do some work in his rooms. Here just behind me, there's five windows on the top floor up there with the shutters down. Those are the rooms where pope stays when he comes to the Gemelli Hospital here in Rome.

The pope, of course, has been here before for 10 days in 2021 for surgery on his intestine. Hopefully this will be a shorter stay, but certainly reassuring news from the Vatican this morning, at least compared to the uncertainty of yesterday when we heard that the pope had been experiencing some respiratory difficulties.

We'll hope for other updates throughout the day. We'll bring those to you when we have them.

Jessica. Jim.

DEAN: Absolutely. It's good to have some more concrete details this morning.


DEAN: Delia Gallagher, in Rome for us, thanks so much.

Still to come, former Vice President Mike Pence says he, quote, has nothing to hide, right, as former President Donald Trump tries to block other critical aids like Mark Meadows from testifying. Just who the grand jury could actually questioned in the 2020 election interference case. That's next.

SCIUTTO: And this just into CNN, brand new data shows the U.S. economy growing at a slower pace than previously estimated. What that means for inflation, the economy, for you at home. We'll have more this hour.

Plus, we're live in Mammoth, California, where, goodness, buried in snow packs once again.


The snowiest season on record. In just 24 hours, more than two feet of snow.

Stay with us.


DEAN: Former Vice President Mike Pence says he has nothing to hide from the grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Judge recently ruling Pence must testify about conversations he had with Trump leading up to the January 6th insurrection.

Here's what Pence told us during a stop in Iowa Wednesday.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: We'll be speaking with our attorneys in Washington before the end of the week and sorting out what our next steps are. I, obviously, have nothing to hide. I've been speaking about those days, writing about them extensively over the last two years.


DEAN: Former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams joining us now.

Elliot, good morning. Great to see you.

Pence says he has nothing to hide. What are his options here?


And do you anticipate that he'll try to appeal this decision or that he'll just move forward and testify?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he certainly has the right to appeal, Jessica, in federal court after an order. Certain types of orders are issued. Parties have 30 days to decide whether they wish to appeal and take it to a higher court.

The problem for the vice president here is that this actually wasn't all that bad a decision for him, and it did protect some of his right or his ability to not testify. If he goes ahead and appeals it, it could actually end up being a worse outcome for him. So, yes, so we'll see. I would think he would not. But, again, he has time to decide.

DEAN: And you said that it wasn't a terrible outcome for him, is that because of this Speech or Debate Clause? It's been talked about as a potential protection for him. Can you help people understand what that is and how it might protect him?

WILLIAMS: Sure. The Constitution sets out the Speech or Debate Clause, which allows members of Congress, and some of their staff, to have protections against their words being used against them in court. Now, the vice president wears two hats in American government. He's both the number two to the president but also the chief executive, for lack of a better term, of the United States Senate. He provides -- presides over the United States Senate in the role of president of the Senate. That's the title. And courts have interpreted that, as has the Justice Department, in saying that is, in effect, a legislative role.

So, some of the actions or statements made by a vice president, when doing that legislative side of his job, will count and be protected under the Speech or Debate Clause. And the court's decision the other day did respect that and say that certainly there are actions taken by Mike Pence in his official capacity as president of the Senate that ought to be protected under the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.

DEAN: Right. Right.

And during the January 6th hearings, we learned about this kind of heated phone call between President Trump and Pence. I'm going to -- we have a clip of the witnesses talking about it. Let's listen to that first.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But at some point it started off as a calmer tone and everything and then became heated.

IVANKA TRUMP, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: The conversation was -- was pretty heated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember hearing the word "wimp" like being, you're not tough enough to make the call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember what she said her father called him?



DEAN: And so listening to all those witnesses describe that conversation, Elliot, you have to think that they're going to want to talk to the former vice president about this.

How legally relevant do you think that call will become?

WILLIAMS: Yes. That's the important question legally -- or the important word, legally relevant. Now, look, a lot of it is important. Palace intrigue and drama. How much of the president and vice president fighting with each other. But that's sort of human interest.

What we really, as people observing a legal proceeding want to know is, you know, what's legally relevant? Number one, did Mike Pence hear or perceive any threats from the former president? Number two, did the president ever expressed that he lost -- that he knew that he lost the election? Number three, did the president ever exhibit any knowledge of any violence that might have transpired on January 6th? Number four, did the president know he was going to impede or disrupt the actions of Congress? All of those questions go to some of these legal issues that the president's facing, far beyond the question of whether these two outsized personalities in American politics, who might run against each other for president, sort of have a beef with each other.

Really what the question is, was their acts of conspiracy and did the president - was the president aware of them? And some of those conversations going back to December of 2020, not even just in the days leading up to January 6th, what - you know, what can we glean from those conversations?

DEAN: Right. And you're so - it's such an important point. It's like separating out that palace intrigue and kind of the juicy tidbits with what is legally relevant.

And, quickly, before I let you go, just the fact that we're getting to the point now where the former vice president has been compelled to testify, we know that they have compelled all of these close aides, people like Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff, Stephen Miller, people that were very close to the president, are being compelled to testify. What does that tell you about where we're getting in this process?

WILLIAMS: Well, look, it's certainly -- there's a very serious investigation going on. Part of the problem is that everything that happens in the grand jury by law is secret. It has to be kept secret. So we don't -- really don't know what they're being asked about or what cases - or, you know, what sort of criminal charges might be brought here. But certainly they're homing in on, I would assume, folks in or around the White House. This is very serious. They're moving along. I would -- based on what we're seeing, it would seem that someone was getting charged with a crime at some point. But, again, it's all secret and we just don't know what's going on behind that curtain.

DEAN: Right. We just won't know until we do know.

All right, Elliot Williams, thanks so much for your expertise. We appreciate it this morning.

And be sure to tune in tonight when CNN's Wolf Blitzer sits down with former Vice President Mike Pence for a wide-ranging interview on everything from his political future, to those investigations into former President Trump. It's tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.


SCIUTTO: Well, Congress is aiming to claw back their constitutional power to declare war. A major step just taken to make it happen and what follows. I'll be joined by Congressman Adam Schiff, who's been pushing for this for a number of years. That's coming up.

DEAN: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street where U.S. futures are all up this morning. This comes despite new data showing that the U.S. economy grew at a slower pace in the fourth quarter than previously estimated. Markets ended Wednesday higher, prompted by a surge in big tech stocks and "The Wall Street Journal" reporting the White House will recommend tougher rules for midsize banks as soon as this week.