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In Western Minnesota, Ethanol-Carrying Train Derailed and Caught Fire; Ahead of Any Missile Tests, Moscow Will Notify the United States; Interview with Global Zero Senior Adviser, CNAS Adjunct Senior Fellow, and National Security Council Under Obama Former Nuclear Expert Jon Wolfsthal; New Audio Reveals Warning Call to Dispatch About Nashville Shooter; "I have nothing to hide," Claims Mike Pence on DOJ Trump Investigation; Interview with USA Today White House Correspondent Francesca Chambers; Grand Jury Investigating Trump Will Break for Most of April. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 10:30   ET




JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Homes have been evacuated in rural Minnesota this morning after a train carrying toxic ethanol went off the tracks and caught fire. You see it there. Dozens of cars went off the rails near Raymond around 1:00 a.m. Minnesota's governor is expected to visit the site of the derailment within the next few minutes.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: It's remarkable to watch because this is the latest in a string of derailments that are leaving many communities across the country in fear. CNN's Gabe Cohen is following the story for us.

Gabe, in this particular case, ethanol leaking here. It's a dangerous chemical. What do we know about the spill and what might have caused the derailment?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And so, Jim Jessica, we just got an update from EPA, and to be clear this is still a developing story, but the agency did offer us some more information about the derailment and that spill. So, that -- the agency says, four cars containing ethanol, a highly flammable product, caught fire and continue to burn. Four additional cars carrying ethanol may also release. The local fire department is currently the lead for the response and ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city and that evacuation remains in place.

And as you mentioned, Jim, ethanol is this very dangerous chemical. Exposure can lead to coughing, dizziness, burning eyes, drowsiness. And so, first responders are really taking this seriously at the scene. To be clear, at this point, there are no injuries reported and the cause of that derailment is still under investigation. We have learned that the NTSB is now sending their own team to investigate. But as you can see on your screen, several cars were ignited in this derailment and have burned for hours and forced those evacuations, everyone within a half mile of this site in this small town in Raymond, Minnesota. The population there less than 1,000 people.

And this comes nearly two months after that derailment in East Palestine. Several incidents, but that one the highest profile, which also caused a large fire and an evacuation and, of course, those concerns, health concerns environmental concerns. And so, this is a very active scene. We know the governor is heading there now, and we'll have more updates throughout the morning. Jim, Jessica.

SCIUTTO: It's just amazing how many we've seen in recent weeks. Gabe Cohen thanks so much for following today.

DEAN: New today, Russia is clarifying its stance on missile testing, saying it will still give the U.S. advanced notice when it conducts tests.

SCIUTTO: The clarification comes after Moscow said it would be suspending all nuclear notifications with the U.S. This as Russia continues to falter on, water down aspects of a critical nuclear deal they've had for decades with the U.S. CNN's Natasha Bertrand joins us now.

Natasha, lots of back and forth about this, right, because the foreign minister's statement was -- it seemed deliberately confusing yesterday. So, what notices is Russia going to give now? And which notices aren't they going to give?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, there was some confusion yesterday with the deputy foreign minister initially saying that the Russians would not be providing any kind of notification to the U.S. under the New START Treaty, which is that bilateral nuclear treaty between the U.S. and Russia that Russia actually pulled out of, suspended its participation in just last month. Now, that was taken to mean that that would include all notifications to include these missile tests.

Well, now the deputy foreign minister is coming out and clarifying and saying that actually there is a separate 1988 agreement under which the U.S. and Russia have agreed to inform each other of when they conduct these missile launches, and that Russia will continue to abide by that agreement. But look, there's still a lot of questions here about how much the U.S. can rely on Russia to actually tell the United States, right?


Because, as I mentioned they did suspend their participation in the New START Treaty last month, and that has raised a lot of concerns among U.S. officials about how the U.S. and Russia are essentially going to keep track of each other's nuclear posture, as well as the warheads that they have, the missiles, et cetera.

And actually, it was a senior Pentagon official testifying just the other day on Capitol Hill, who revealed, for the first time, that when the U.S. reached out to the Russians recently to get a sense as part of that agreement for nuclear -- for Russia's nuclear posture, its capabilities, something that the U.S. and Russia exchange twice a year, the Russians informed them that they would not be giving the Americans that information anymore. Well, in response, the U.S. says that it is not going to give that information to Russia anymore, either.

So, that kind of line of communication just determining, you know, both countries' nuclear capabilities here and the amount of warheads each country has, that has appeared to be suspended. However, the actual notification of when Russia conducts a missile launch, for example, that will continue. Important, Jim, because it could help avoid some serious miscalculations by both countries.

SCIUTTO: Uh-huh.

DEAN: Yes, fascinating. All right. Natasha Bertrand with that update for us, a critical update, thanks so much.

SCIUTTO: Let's continue the conversation now with Jon Wolfsthal. He's a nuclear expert who formerly served as senior director at the National Security Council, this under President Obama. Jon, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: All right. So, help us understand where we stand now, because there's been a gradual watering down of nuclear agreements, the pulling out of the nuke -- the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the pulling back from some of the notifications as required under START, but also open threats to use nuclear weapons, right, in and around Ukraine. What actually remains of the notifications and the other parts of the START Treaty right now in the wake of this?

WOLFSTHAL: So, very little, unfortunately. Both Russia and the United States have said that even though they won't be providing the notifications every six months of how many nuclear forces they have, where they're located, and movements of those forces, that both sides will stay under the limits established by the treaty. Under New START, both sides will have no more than 1,550 offensive strategic nuclear weapons deployed. And we believe -- the U.S. government has said, we believe that Russia continues to be under that limit.

But Natasha was exactly right, that the transparency, the predictability that the information the two sides of exchanged is important, both for tracking how many they have and what they're trying to do with them. And the loss of that information is dangerous. Russia's behavior really undermines its own security and our security. And we have to recognize this is a tactic that Vladimir Putin is trying to use to scare Europe, to divide the west, so that we don't support Ukraine.

And I think we have to be cautious not to play into that narrative. I think President Biden has been very, very cautious about this. But at the same time, I don't think we should race to the bottom and just replicate Russia's behavior because I don't think that's in our interest. SCIUTTO: These treaties were designed partly to limit nuclear forces, deployed warheads, et cetera, but also to reduce the chances for miscalculation. That one side reads another side's move, exercise, test as an actual threat offensive operation. Does this put us closer, the two nations closer to this reading each other?

WOLFSTHAL: Absolutely. Look, we have spent the last 50 years trying to build up a pattern of behavior, levels of transparency, exchanges of information, norms of acting that Russia is now actively undermining. And to be fair, the Trump administration also pulled out of a number of treaties. They made it easier for Russia to actually behave this way and not suffer international condemnation.

But the reality is that, in my view, we are at the most dangerous point in terms of our nuclear relationship with Russia than we were since before Gorbachev in the mid-1980s. We no longer have confidence that Russia is going to act in a reasonable way. And Russia is increasingly flying blind because their intelligence is not as good as ours. Their satellites aren't as good as ours.

So, they need this information in fact more than we do. And in fact, I would argue and have mentioned to my friends in government that I don't think we should just say to Russia, OK. You're going to pull back. We're going to pull back. Because they're the ones who'll benefit if the world gets closer to the nuclear brink, not us.

SCIUTTO: If I could ask you before we go because you have another nuclear player, major nuclear player here that, of course, being China. And there are no treaties between the U.S. and China to limit nuclear warheads, et cetera. In fact, U.S. Officials have warned quite publicly that China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal. Where does that put us given the, not just declining relations with Russia, but openly hostile, more and more relations between the us and China?


WOLFSTHAL: Well first, I think we have to be cautious. China is building up its nuclear forces. But the U.S. has about 4,000 nuclear weapons and China has about 400. So, we still outnumber them 10 to one. Now, that may not be the case in 20 years, but right now, that is the case. We can deter China at the nuclear level. But it's, I think, another reason why we shouldn't just adopt Russia's now very opaque lack of transparency.

What we want to do is establish a high bar and be able to go to Russia and China and say, look, this is the way of responsible country behaves. You actually notify each other when you have nuclear operations. When you test missiles. When you move these things from one place to another, because things can get out of hand.

It wasn't that long ago that a Russian aircraft bumped a U.S. drone over the Black Sea. And it wasn't that long ago when a Chinese aircraft down a U.S. aircraft over Hainan Island. So, these things can spiral quickly and the U.S. should be trying to create the flow of information that avoids that are possible. SCIUTTO: Yes, or Chinese surveillance balloon flew over the continental U.S. before being shot down. You have these interactions, Jon Wolfsthal, good to have you on.

WOLFSTHAL: All the time.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure we'll be keeping up the conversation.

WOLFSTHAL: OK. Thank you.

DEAN: Brand new audio from a Nashville emergency center as the former classmate of that shooter made a call for help. It was just minutes after the deadly gunfire that killed six people at a nearby elementary school. What that call reveals, we'll talk about it next.



DEAN: This breaking news just in to CNN, newly released audio of a phone call made to Metro Nashville Emergency Communications Center just minutes after the deadly shooting at Covenant School. A former teammate of the shooter made the call after she says she received what she described as a very weird message on Instagram. Six people, including three children, were shot to death at the school on Monday.

SCIUTTO: Another shooting in America. CNN's Carlos Suarez joins us live from Nashville.

Carlos, tell us what we know about this call. When did it come and what happened?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Jessica, a part of the quote here is, "I do not want it on my conscience". Those were the words of (INAUDIBLE) Rihanna Patton (ph) to a non-emergency dispatcher here in Nashville shortly -- as this shooting, rather, was playing out. So, we know that Patton (ph) receives this direct message from the 28-year-old shooter a little bit before the shooting gets underway on Monday. It's a little bit before 10:00 in the morning.

Now, she calls a suicide prevention hotline and someone there tells her, look, you should probably call the sheriff's office. She finally gets ahold of someone at the sheriff's office and they tell her, you need to call a non-emergency phone number. By the time she reaches someone at that phone number, it is now 10:21 in the morning and the shooting is well underway.

Now, what's unclear at this hour is exactly why Patton (ph) kept being passed from one department to another. It's quite possible that she just had very little information to pass along. She did not know the shooter's name and did not have an address for where the shooter lived. Here now is just a part of that phone call.


RIHANNA PATTON (PH), AUDREY HALE'S FRIEND: I received a very, very weird message from a friend on Instagram. I think it's like a suicidal thing. I called the suicide hotline and they told me to call the sheriff's department, the sheriff's department told me to call you guys. So, I'm just trying to see can anybody, I just don't want it on my conscience if somebody can go check on her. Only thing I have is her Instagram. I want to school with her in middle school. But I don't -- I don't know -- no friends, no numbers or anything like that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't know her address?

PATTON (PH): Nuh-uh. I don't, I don't have her address.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Unfortunately, we can't send anything up without an address.


SUAREZ: We're told that several hours would pass by before eventually law enforcement was able to make a contact with Patton (ph). One final note this morning, we're also learning about the first two funerals of the six victims of this school shooting, Evelyn Dieckhaus, one of the nine year olds that was killed is going to be laid to rest tomorrow, Friday. And then a funeral service is scheduled to take place for Hallie Scruggs on Saturday. Guys.

SCIUTTO: Funerals for two nine-year-old little girls. Carlos Suarez, thanks so much for covering.

DEAN: Still to come this morning, Former Vice President Mike Pence says he has nothing to hide, but it still isn't clear how he'll respond to a George -- judge ordering him to testify in the January 6th probe. We'll discuss it all, that's next.



DEAN: Former Vice President Mike Pence says he has nothing to hide from the grand jury investigating Former President Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. A 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 on Wednesday.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: 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: And joining me now to talk about today's political headlines, we've got "USA Today" White House Correspondent Francesca Chambers and Boston Globe Washington Bureau Chief Jackie Kucinich. Great to see both of you.

Francesca, let's start first with you. We just heard from Vice President Pence there in that clip. He's pretty tight lipped about everything, but he is in Iowa. And I think that's worth remembering even though he hasn't announced a 2024 run yet. He has a very different approach than Trump to all of this, yet he also maybe running for president. How does he thread this needle?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, he's not claiming executive privilege like Trump is in these cases. He's actually arguing a constitutional basis essentially for him not to testify because of the role he played overseeing the Senate on January 6th. And you hit the nail on the head there, he wants to be president. He's expected to run for president. And so, for him, this is about protecting his ability if he does run and he end up for future presidents in office.

DEAN: And Jackie, if Vice President Pence does decide to run, he is obviously dealing with the ghosts of 2020 and January 6th. He's trying to separate himself from Former President Trump, who would be a GOP rival. Where does this put him with the GOP base as he seeks to win primaries?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: You know, it's been really interesting to watch him because he has gone, you know, to the line of confronting Former President Trump. And then he has dialed it back. He said that Trump threatened his family. He said that history will judge him. And yet in another interview, he would say that he doesn't know that he would support him. He wouldn't say if he would support him if he was the nominee.

So, he seems to be taking the tact (ph). You see a lot of the former president's advisers or officials doing is he's trying to go around and not through the former president. And in order to defeat him one day, that is what's going to happen.

DEAN: Right. You're going to have to go through. You're going to have to take that knockout, that punch.


Francesca, I want to talk about some polling. A new Fox poll showing Trump is gaining ground among Republican voters. 56 percent say they want Trump as their 2024 nominee, DeSantis is at 24 percent, you can see that polling now on your screen. Trump has doubled his lead on DeSantis since they took that same poll in February. And this is happening at the same time as Trump has been really sharpening his attacks on DeSantis. Do you think that there is a correlation there or do you think it's also having to do with the fact that DeSantis is more in the spotlight now?

CHAMBERS: Republicans would say the latter who I've spoken to, that DeSantis is in the spotlight, so he's taking some hits. But if you look at a Quinnipiac University poll that was released this week also, there's another factor here, which is that Republicans say, by large, that they share Trump's opinion on these investigations into him. They share his opinion that they are politically motivated. They do not think that if he was indicted that that would be disqualifying.

So, he is winning the political argument within the Republican Party. Now, if you go broader than that, of course, you have most Americans saying that they believe that these are serious allegations levied against him and potentially the indictment in the Manhattan District attorney's office. But even with independence, if you're looking at these numbers, you are seeing that Trump's argument is many of them, too.

DEAN: Right, and obviously you make a great point. This is really a discussion that has to be separated out between a primary race and a general election race and how people would feel about that. Jackie, I want to go back to the point you just made because I think it's so smart and right that who -- if anyone is going to beat Former President Trump, they're going to have to go through, not around him.

And Ron DeSantis we saw when they -- around this Manhattan D.A.s case, we saw him kind of take some jabs at Trump and essentially kind of making the case. Look, I can have Trump policy but not carry his baggage, essentially. Do you think he's capable of delivering that, of going through Former President Trump instead of around?

KUCINICH: I think we're just going to have to wait and see, Erica. And I hate answering it like that but it's so early. And what you're seeing right now is Former President Trump trying to define Governor DeSantis. You're seeing it on true social. Yet, although, he's clearly threatened by him. Now, how DeSantis has, you know, does -- let's say on a debate stage. Let's say how he confronts Trump, that is really going to matter here.

And when he says to donors is one thing. He's not a chaos agent. What he says when he's actually confronted. We've seen a lot of candidates fall by the wayside in, you know, in Republican primaries to the former president, and that's going to be his biggest test as we go forward.

DEAN: Yes, there's no question about it. How he will react to your point on a debate stage or when these attacks continue and get sharper. Francesca Chambers, Jackie Kucinich, thanks so much to both of you. Always good to see you.

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 the investigations into Former President Trump. Again, it's tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. And thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jessica Dean.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. "At This Hour" with Amara Walker starts right after a quick break.