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9 Soldiers Killed In Black Hawk Crash During Training Mission; Gov. Andy Beshear (D) Kentucky Talks About The Black Hawk Crash That Killed Service Members; Russia Arrests American Journalist, Accuses Him Of "Espionage"; GOP Prepared To Move Fallback Debt Limit If WH Won't Negotiate. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: It is the top of the hour and you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Boris Sanchez.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: And I'm Bianna Golodryga.

New developments in last night's deadly military helicopter crash near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where nine service members were killed. Official say two Black Hawk choppers crashed over a wooded field during a routine training mission. The service members were aboard an HH-60 helicopter and belong to the 101st Airborne Division. The officials say they are still notifying next of kin and that an army investigation team is en route to the scene. Pentagon Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said that there are no immediate plans to ground military aircraft, but added this about the dangers of military exercises.


BRIG. GEN. PATRICK RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: When it comes to military training, we're always going to try to take into account mitigating some of the risks associated with that training. As I mentioned before, a lot of the training that our service members do is by nature dangerous, whether it's live fire exercises, whether it's aircraft training, whether it's training on ships at sea, there are many dangerous aspects of that.


GOLODRYGA: And, of course, that was Pentagon Spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder not Karine Jean-Pierre.

Joining us now is the governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us. This is a tragic day for the, state for the country, you noted that this morning. And I was really struck by your comments where you said, we must remember that the freedom relies on those who are willing to serve some of which pay the ultimate price. And that, of course, imply applies to those who are serving this country overseas and here on routine training missions like these service members. What more can you tell us about what transpired and the process of notifying their next of kin?

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D) KENTUCKY: Well, in Kentucky, we love Fort Campbell and its troops. They are a part of us, team Kentucky, who we are, part of our community. And today, for Campbell, the 101st Airborne and the Commonwealth of Kentucky are all morning nine children of God that chose to serve our great country and today are lost. Their families will be grieving the children of God that are irreplaceable.

I know that the facility and the general in charge are taking it very seriously and also very hard. And we think of our military in the army as being tough and they are, but they also love their fellow service members as brothers and as sisters and I have full confidence that they want more than anyone else to get to the bottom of what happened to make sure it won't happen again. And I have full confidence in their abilities to continue to carry out their missions as needed.

SANCHEZ: Governor, there have been over the years a number of accidents at Fort Campbell, specifically pertaining to this kind of helicopter, the Black Hawk. In 2021, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asking that the slate of choppers in the armed services be reviewed for safety. Is that something that you would support as part of this review and this investigation given that very often these training exercises have resulted in death?

BESHEAR: Well, we never want an accident like this to happen, whether it is in our military or in civilian aircraft. The specialized unit has been traveling to Fort Knox - to Fort Campbell. We'll be reviewing what happened. There is something akin to a black box that is on each of these helicopters.

And I think before we jump to any conclusion about the aircraft itself, that they get that information so that we don't start running in a direction that may have not been a causal factor here.


But again, I trust the leadership at Fort Campbell. In fact, I got on a helicopter right after that briefing to survey the scene. I'm a dad of two young kids. I would not have done that if I didn't believe that they follow the best practices and I wanted to make sure I showed my support for every single person on that base.

They've got big deployments to Europe right now, a very dangerous place. And so while we need to figure out what happened, we need to make sure it doesn't happen again. We need to make sure we are also supporting those especially right now with everything going on around the world. And when they're hurting, we need to be there for them, behind them, making sure they know how much we care about them and love them.

GOLODRYGA: Governor, we know this investigation is just underway, just looking at potential causes. I mean, the weather seemed to be clear. So that didn't seem to be a factor that we know of at least as of yet. What are the main questions that you yourself are asking investigators?

BESHEAR: Well, certainly the specialized team that comes in has a lot more experience than I do, having never flown a helicopter. I look at this from a place of compassion. We lost nine individuals and those are nine individuals who gave their life in service for this country.

So I think we have to figure out the why. I believe that everyone from leadership on the base to leadership in Washington, D.C. wants to see that happen and then to make sure that the next group is safer in whatever training exercise or in any combat exercise that they are in.

Now, we do need to continue training provided that it's safe though, because when you look at how important these jobs are, whether it's evacuating individuals in conflict or whether it's transporting people to where we would need them to keep us safe, it is critical that we have the best trained military out there, but we - these are people's sons and daughters, these are husbands or wives, it's really important that we honor those that we've lost that we find a way, find the reason and address it. But again, that we make sure that that base today knows that we're with them.

SANCHEZ: Gov. Andy Beshear, we appreciate your compassion and your dedication to getting answers for those who - as you put it - protect our freedom. Thank you so much.

GOLODRYGA: Thank you, Governor.

BESHEAR: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, the White House just condemned today's arrest an American - of an American journalist in Russia. Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, is being detained in Moscow on accusations of espionage. He covers Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union for the paper.

In a statement, the Wall Street Journal said that it vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.

SANCHEZ: Look, espionage charges in Russia can carry prison sentences of up to 20 years. A court has ordered the 31-year-old reporter to be initially detained until at least May 29th. We should note, this is the first time an American journalist has been detained by Russia since the Cold War in 1986. Evan Gershkovich's arrest comes as tensions between the United States and Russia are already high amid the ongoing war in Ukraine.

We want to go back to CNN's Arlette Saenz who is at the White House for us.

Arlette, detentions of other Americans have led to lengthy negotiations. We just heard from a Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre from the podium, what did she say about how this is going to be handled?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris and Bianna, the White House is trying to stress that this is a top priority for President Biden and they are also pushing back against these allegations of espionage against that Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich.

Now White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, flat out called those espionage charges ridiculous and said that they have no reason to believe that they are accurate. The White House has also started to provide a very limited timeline about when exactly they became aware of this detention. The White House has said that last night the White House officials and State Department officials spoke with Gershkovich's employer, the Wall Street Journal, and the State Department has also been in contact with his family.

For President Biden's part, he was first informed and briefed of this matter this morning as he received his President's daily brief.

SANCHEZ: A really brief ...

SAENZ: That was something that was scheduled for at 10:45 in the Situation Room.


And we've also heard Karine Jean-Pierre really trying to warn about some of these tactics that they've seen Russia using as they're trying to stress to Americans not to travel to the country and to leave immediately.


JEAN-PIERRE: We don't have any specific indication that journalists would be targeted. As we know, this is incredibly sadly common for Russia to detain Americans and that's why we've been very clear about Americans not going to Russia. It is not safe for Americans right now in Russia. It is a Level 4.


SAENZ: Now, one thing that is key for the administration at this moment is trying to obtain consular access to Evan Gershkovich. They are in contact with Russian officials and the State Department has said they believe that it would be a matter of days before they are able to reach him due to some security and administrative procedures that need to be followed. Officials want to be able to have that access to him to see what his condition is like so that they can also relay that to his family.

Additionally, something as the White House and State Department have been talking about this detention, they've simply refer to it as a detention in other instances where Americans have been detained. You have that additional description of the U.S. saying that they've been wrongfully detained. The White House has said that that is currently an evaluation, a process that is being determined whether they can designate this a wrongful detention, that is something that is being evaluated over at the State Department.

But certainly still so many questions facing this administration over the detention of this Wall Street Journal reporter at a time when tensions between the U.S. and Russia are incredibly high, not only when it comes to Ukraine, but also the detention of other Americans like Paul Whelan.

SANCHEZ: Arlette Saenz from the North Lawn at the White House, thank you so much.

Let's get some perspective now from CNN National Security Analyst Steve Hall. He's the former CIA Chief of Russia Operations. And also with us is Jason Rezaian. He is an Opinion Writer for The Washington Post who's wrongfully imprisoned in Iran. He's actually the author of the book, "Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison."

Jason and Steve, thank you so much for being with us.

Jason, I want to start with you. You were arrested and convicted for espionage. Here we have another reporter detained under somewhat similar circumstances, what was your reaction to this news?

JASON REZAIAN, AUTHOR, "PRISONER: MY 544 DAYS IN AN IRANIAN PRISON": Yes, Boris, thanks for having me on. My reaction was, well, I know this storyline very well. I've lived this storyline. I appreciate Arlette's reporting from the White House. I would say that the wrongful detention designation, it's only a matter of time before we hear that being the official line of the State Department. There's some checks and balances that have to go through before they can come out and say it but it doesn't seem like there's a there there in this case. And I would caution anybody to repeat the charges against them, because it just further digs Evan into a ditch that's already going to be hard to get out of.

GOLODRYGA: And, Steve, this comes at a time when Russia has really cracked down on journalists, both Russian and international. And now they seem to be targeting specifically international, these journalist and Americans who were off limits up until now. This is a big red line for Vladimir Putin to cross.

We heard from Karine Jean-Pierre that Americans should not travel to Russia. But at this point, do you think that it is safe for journalists, even accredited journalists like Evan just doing routine work as his colleagues have said he has been doing? Do you think that it is safe for them to be there knowing the FSB is following them and knowing that at any time they can accuse them of espionage?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, Bianna, absolutely not. There's no reason for any American, in my view, any Westerner to be in Russia right now. I mean, the State Department has a very strong travel advisory out, which has been referred to a number of times.

But let's be clear, the Russians - this is simply a kidnapping, right? This isn't - we can call it a detention, we can call it any number of different things, an arrest. But what it is, is a kidnapping. There has been a Russian illegal that was detained last week in Brazil with American ties, which is - he was recently charged last week in the United States.

So what the Russians are doing is they're joining that that club of these rogue nations, Iran, North Korea, that's - they're looking more and more like those folks when they simply detain people, kidnap them and hold them for things that they want in return. And that's exactly what's happened with this young American journalist operating in Russia.

SANCHEZ: Jason, the Journal's editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker, said that she is concerned for Evan's safety. Obviously, your experience may be different, but I'm wondering what kind of danger you think he might be exposed to. And also from your story, I know that your love ones went through a grueling period when you were incarcerated. What would be your message to those close to Evan given the situation?


REZAIAN: Well, for me, I'm always on the side of being as loud and persistent as possible in defending a colleague or a family member's innocence and also calling for their release. The threats to his physical and mental health are many. In my case, my wife and I were arrested from our home. We were thrown into solitary confinement. I was kept in solitary confinement for seven weeks. She was kept in solitary confinement for 10 weeks.

This is a treacherous thing that these states do to innocent individuals simply by virtue of our citizenship. As Steve correctly pointed out, we are - we - me in the past, Evan right now, are being held because we're Americans and we are deemed as valuable leverage in potential negotiations and it's also designed to astound. Bianna's question about whether it's safe for journalists to go to Russia is a really good and important one. No, it's not and they are sending a clear message that they don't want us there.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And Steve, in terms of what the next steps are, what should the U.S. do? I mean, we've got Paul Whelan who they're still working to free as well. Now you have Evan. What would you advise the Biden administration to do to not incentivize Vladimir Putin and empower him? Because clearly, this is a sign of weakness, but also to bring these Americans home?

HALL: Yes, absolutely, Bianna. It's definitely a sign of weakness. These are the small - it doesn't feel obviously small and petty to the people who were involved. But from a geopolitical perspective, I mean, if this is all Putin's got is to kidnap Americans and other Westerners as they're being journalists or whatever the reason is in Russia, that's not going to change the situation with the United States and Russia, Ukraine and all of that.

The administration has already done a lot. They have tried to convince people. They have tried to be vocal about how dangerous it is for Americans to travel to Russia. So they need to continue to hammer on that. And that's why I think you've heard the State - the White House spokesman and State Department spokesman talk about those travel advisories. But the reason that they do that is because once you're there, once you're where Paul Whelan is right now, once you're where this journalist is right now, it's extremely difficult for the administration, because you get caught into a barter situation, you get caught into these difficult discussions that we saw with, you know, Brittney Griner, for example, exchange for this arms trafficker victim, Viktor Bout.

It's just a no win situation for the administration, which is one of the reasons that the Russians like to do it so much, because they know it causes political chaos and sends a very, very strong message to the west, and especially to journalists and others who are trying to do legitimate work.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, that's completely heartless and I can't even imagine what Evan's parents are going through having left the Soviet Union and now seeing their son detained there. And I'm sure we will now be able to say unlawfully, so very soon by the State Department. But, of course, we're thinking of them. Jason, we're thinking of you, and hopefully some of the encouraging messages you have sent and your family had sent while you were detained as well will help them through this time.

Thank you both, Jason Rezaian and Steve Hall.

Well, the Vatican says Pope Francis has been diagnosed with infectious bronchitis. He remains hospitalized right now.

SANCHEZ: And we want to take you to Rome right now with CNN's Delia Gallagher. And Delia, what more can you tell us about the Pope's condition?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, important new details coming out from the Vatican this evening. They have diagnosed bronchitis, the Vatican says, and the Pope is receiving antibiotics intravenously. He is responding well to that treatment. They say there is a clear improvement in his health.

This is added to what they told us this morning that he had slept well overnight. He was able to have breakfast, read the newspapers this morning and even do some work, so a good picture for the Pope. Remember, he's 86 years old. He has a prior history of respiratory issues. When he was 21, he had part of his lung removed because of respiratory illness, so certainly important news that we know. There is a diagnosis and that he is responding well to the treatment, Boris?

SANCHEZ: Delia Gallagher, thank you so much for that update from Rome. Thanks.

GOLODRYGA: Republican senator, John Thune, is accusing the White House of trying to "run the clock out" on the debt ceiling negotiations. We'll have the very latest from Capitol Hill. That's next.

SANCHEZ: And it's far from just the debt ceiling that lawmakers are at odds over, gun laws are once again under fierce debate in the wake of the Nashville school shooting earlier this week. Some fireworks on Capitol Hill straight ahead.




GOLODRYGA: This just in to CNN, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says that he and other GOP lawmakers are actively preparing to move a party line plan to raise the national debt limit if President Biden doesn't meet them at the negotiating table.

SANCHEZ: CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, is live on Capitol Hill for us Manu, this is a move that does not come without risk. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is a risky move and it shows the standoff that the White House and House Republicans are now in to avoid the nation's first ever debt defaults. Something that could happen as early as this summer, if there's not an agreement to raise the national debt ceiling.

The White House has said that they will not engage in negotiations with House Republicans over spending cuts, that would be paired with the debt ceiling increase. Do they want the Republicans in the House to simply raise the debt ceiling without any conditions attached. Republicans in the House say that is not going to happen. They say there needs to be negotiation and there needs to be spending cuts tied with raising $31.4 trillion borrowing limit.


But if there is no negotiation, there are possible fallback plans that House Republicans are now currently dealing with, the House GOP leaders along with his top - their lieutenants are drafting a fallback plan that they believe that they can move along straight party lines sometime this summer. That will be difficult in a narrow House Republican majority, not to mention getting it through the democratic led Senate.

But the belief is that they could pass a bill out of the House after weeks of internal - months of internal discussions that that will put pressure on the Senate to act and the White House, ultimately, to negotiate a deal with House Republicans.

Now, there is a consensus among Republicans in the Senate and the House Republicans to ratchet up pressure on the White House to Begin those talks. And also, there's some support from Sen. Joe Manchin who is calling on Joe Biden to sit down with Kevin McCarthy.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): I think the White House is going to try and run the clock out. I mean, I think that's going to be their strategy. But in the END, they're going to have to come to the table because nobody wants to see a default that will be catastrophic. SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I agree that like what Kevin McCarthy said we need to sit down and talk about it. It makes sense to me that we should sit down. I have said this that the President and Kevin McCarthy got in the room as I know they could do. They could find a pathway forward.


RAJU: Now, McCarthy sent a letter to Joe Biden earlier this week, detailing some areas of spending cuts that they would pursue as part of raising the national debt limit, that includes rolling back domestic discretionary spending for - to the 2022 levels, also providing some so called work requirements on certain social programs, such as food stamps, and as well as energy projects, streamlining how the permanent process is done for energy products, something that some Democrats and Republicans support.

But that can also cause significant pushback among Democrats. So even as Republicans are coming around to consensus around what some spending cuts could look like and how to attach that to a plan to raise the debt limit. Expect fierce pushback from Democrats who say they - the country should not be at risk of potentially losing its credit status, seeing any other major economic ramifications. And Congress has simply raised the national debt limit with no strings attached, but it's clear that there is no consensus between the White House and House Republicans as they barrel unto a very risky summer with a debt default potentially looming, guys.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it is coming down to the wire as was expected. Another thing is clear, it's not going to be a quiet summer as you alluded to. Manu Raju, thank you.

SANCHEZ: So FTX founder, Sam Bankman-Fried was back in court today to enter a plea in his 13th - 13th criminal charge. This time he's being accused of bribing Chinese officials. We have details on this straight ahead.