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Many Trump Allies Rush to Discredit Indictment; National Weather Service: Confirmed Tornado Moves Through Little Rock; Kirby: Russia Denied U.S. Access to Detained Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 15:30   ET



BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Republicans are racing to defend Donald Trump as he gets set to be arraigned next week after his historic indictment in New York City. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted that she plans to go to New York on Tuesday, saying, quote, we must protest the unconstitutional witch hunt.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: As for Republican Congressman Barry Moore here is how he sees it.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But you haven't seen any of the evidence or allegations yet. So, are you jumping the gun on this?

REP. BARRY MOORE (R-AL): Not when you run and say you're going to arrest the president if you're elected, and then you arrest the president after you're elected and you fulfill a campaign promise. It looks pretty political.

So without seeing the indictment, without knowing anything behind it, the motivation was there long before the evidence was.

RAJU: So I mean, if you see the charges, and it looks serious. Would you change your mind? Could you could you -- are you open to thinking that this could possibly be a legitimate investigation?

MOORE: Well, you know, I'm open to thinking that, but I'm in the garbage business, you know. And so, a lot of times I know how to spot a pile of garbage. And this thing looks like a pile of garbage.


SANCHEZ: Joining us now are CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers, and Olivia Troy. She's a former adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence. Kirsten, I want to start with you. Because the DA's office sent a letter to House Republicans scathing and its language from the general counsel defending DA Alvin Bragg. And saying that some of these top committee members calling for him to testify or acting like defense attorneys. KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes I mean, I think that

they are obviously rallying around the president and or the former president, because he's still the big dog in the Republican Party. And this is the most predictable thing that would happen is that they would come to his defense say that it's a witch hunt without even knowing what the specific charges are. It doesn't really matter.

This will always -- was always going to be portrayed as some sort of witch hunt by Democrat -- democratically appointed lawyers trying to destroy the president. And they're not going to look at the merits of the case. They're not going to consider the possibility that this indictment is valid. And of course, that is, you know -- the indictment was -- is the result of deliberations by people who were not elected by anybody, but by a jury.

GOLODRYGA: Olivia your former boss, the former vice president was asked about this indictment last night on CNN. And he began by saying that nobody is above the law. But then, he said this --


MIKE PENCE, FORMER BRYCE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage. And it appears for millions of Americans to be nothing more than a political prosecution that's driven by a prosecutor who literally ran for office on a pledge to indict the former president.


GOLODRYGA: So, it didn't he just contradict himself and basically described the former president as being above the law. Because if it was anybody else, if it were you or I were charged of the campaign finance violation things would -- I would imagine be different in his view.

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER ADVISOR TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Yes, that's exactly what he did. It was actually painful to watch that town hall last night. I unfortunately did tune in. I was hoping that he would perhaps have a moment of reflection and perhaps exhibit leadership for the Republican Party, which I feel is greatly needed. But he fell right in line with the talking points that have clearly been circulated around. Because everyone right now appears to be on message.

And I was really disappointed to see someone that I worked for, someone that I respected and at times I've defended, undermine the judicial process while trying to claim that no one is about the law. Well, which one is it? Because are we a country of laws? I don't care how long ago this happened. What I care about is the fact that someone broke the law and they should be held accountable. And if we want to be that beacon of democracy around the world, we need to start behaving like it.

SANCHEZ: And Olivia staying with you. Obviously Mike Pence, considered a potential 2024 candidate, so he is trying to have it both ways. Slightly criticizing Donald Trump, but then defending him and as you noted, going after the process. I'm curious to get your perspective on how the other 2024 candidates and potential candidates have addressed this.


TROYE: I think they're all responding in the same manner. I think they all know that they need Trump space. So what -- regardless of whether Trump is in the picture or not -- and he very much will be, that is evident. Regardless of where he is, I believe he'll still be in the picture even if he's in a jail cell. He has -- he himself has said that he would run no matter what happened. So here we are.

And I think all of them realize that this is the base they are courting. They're telling everyone that this is who they believe the Republican voters are. I disagree with that I think that there are a lot of Republican voters and independents out there who are watching this and shaking their heads and wondering what happened to the party of honest Abe Lincoln and the party of Reagan. Is this really who we are?

And so, I think, you know, I think there's been one person that has actually come out and said, look, let's let the judicial process play out. And that's Asa Hutchinson -- so thank you. Thank you to him because that is respectful. Let's see how this plays out and let's not make false accusations and spread disinformation.

And let's not encourage protesters. Which is what Marjorie Taylor Greene is doing right now, right. I mean, she's doing the January 6th playbook all over again, which is what she did back then, and she's doing it right now as she sits on the Homeland Security Committee on The Hill.

GOLODRYGA: So, you have Asa Hutchinson, Kirsten, saying, let's see where the law and follow the law and see where it takes us. And then you have someone like Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce that he is also running for president. And he, without even I think having to step in and weigh in on this, just said that that he would not extradite the president and thus defy the Constitution if the president refused to go for this arraignment Tuesday himself. Now that's not the case. But what do you make of the fact that he spoke out and suggested that he would in fact, do that.

POWERS: I think this is what they have to do. You have to -- if you want to run for president -- which or assuming Ron DeSantis does -- or you even want to stay popular with the Republican base, you have to rally around Donald Trump. I'm just talking about the primary. I'm not talking about what happens in the general election when you get more different kinds of Republicans in the mix. But for the primary, anything less than taking the side of Donald Trump against the evil Democrats -- you have to understand this is just as much about as being against the evil Democrats and their witch hunts and their persecution, they have no other choice.

And that's why Donald Trump is so popular is because he taps into that aggrievement and that. So, it's basically they're persecuting me just the way they're persecuting you. That's sort of the message.

And so that's why I think that this is actually going to end up working out pretty well for Donald Trump in terms of the election because he is going to be in the news every day. It's going to be the thing that everyone's talking about. And all of these people -- even the people who are running against him -- are going to be forced to basically say that he's being mistreated because that's what the Republican base wants to hear.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, what is it that former President Trump said, I'm your retribution, right. And that sort of alluding to your argument there. Kirsten Powers and Olivia Troye, thank you.

SANCHEZ: We have breaking news that we're following into CNN. The National Weather Service says there is a confirmed tornado moving through Little Rock, Arkansas. We have the latest on that straight ahead.



SANCHEZ: Breaking news this hour. We are following a confirmed tornado that's moving through Little Rock, Arkansas. These images getting to the NEWSROOM just moments ago. In the next few minutes, this tornado is expected to move through that area and we're tracking the latest from the weather service, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Well, the warning is in effect until 3:15 Central daylight time. Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center with the latest. Chad this is exactly what you warned about just a few minutes ago with us. How bad could this be?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, we know it's on the ground, and it was on the ground and moved across the river across Bernes Park over I-40 and very close to the airport right now. This is the northwestern part of Little Rock, not particularly downtown itself. But the northwestern suburbs and we did have actually pictures of the tornado on the ground. So, we do know that there was contact with the ground with this storm.

Nearly every storm today, especially for the next few hours, will have the potential to rotate. Here is the next one that I'm worried about. Moving toward Peoria, Illinois. You'll be under a tornado warning rather quickly. If you're not depending on what part of the town you're in. The city will be under a tornado warning as the storm has been rotating to the southwest, and we do know -- I've looked at it. I've looked at the radar. There was debris in the air, which means this tornado was picking things up from the ground.

We have tornado watches all the way from Chicago, which was our latest tornado watch, all the way down into Texas. This is a wide area of severe weather. Today we go 1,2,3,4,5 when it comes to risk. The risk today is five out of five.

[15:45:03] We don't get -- even get these every year. Five out of five here and another five out of five risk down to the south near Memphis. This is the area we're most concerned with. But if you are in the red or in the orange, you could certainly get a tornado on the ground as well. A big risk for you as well.

As we move this ahead until tomorrow, there will be some severe weather that could roll through all the big cities of the northeast, not tornadoes likely. But certainly, the potential. There is the storm that moved through Little Rock. It is moving very quickly. And you need to keep this in mind today. If you see or hear a warning for your town, your area, your friend, is time to move now. These are moving 50 and 60 miles per hour. You won't have long before that warning gets to you directly overhead. Because these storms are rapidly rotating and rapidly moving as well -- Boris, Bianna.

SANCHEZ: And Chad, as you mentioned getting out of the way as soon as you can. But what if you are in the path of that storm right now? And you know, it may be difficult to predict where it's going to go. Any advice on what to do. They are moving in a fairly straight line right now. Following the jet stream pattern, the wind moving on to the northeast from the southwest, you can easily see there from Havana, right up to the river and into Peoria.

So, these aren't wobbling around. These are fast moving storms. Think about trying to move your steering wheel at five miles per hour. You can do it, but you can't do much when you're moving 60 mph. You're not going to wiggle that car very much. We're not going to wiggle these tornadoes very much. You need to be in the lowest level of your home -- basement is obvious always preferred.

But if you can get -- if you don't have one, get into the interior part of your home and away from all the windows as many walls between you and the outside as possible. A closet on the inside is always preferred than someplace, let's say, upstairs.

If you're in an apartment complex, get to know your neighbor, get downstairs, not the upstairs apartment. You want to be down below. These are storms that will be so quick to form and the warnings maybe five or 10 minutes, you know, best case scenario, a 15 minute warning. That's what you need to worry about today.

In a large area, it's really difficult to describe how large the area is. We were talking about Chicago to Texas, and many of these storms are going to be on the ground for many hours, maybe many miles in a row. We'll have to watch this.

GOLODRYGA: Now Chad and you're not one to overreact. It's rare. I see you speak with such urgency, so we urge people at home to really heed those warnings that they are getting right now from their local officials. Chad Myers --

MYERS: It's a dangerous day.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it is. Thanks so much, Chad Myers. We'll be right back. [15:50:00]


SANCHEZ: President Biden had a single message for Russia about its detainment of the American journalist, Evan Gershkovich. Let him go. The president says he has no immediate plans to expel Russia's ambassador to the last, though. Nor any Russian journalists working in the United States as a response. But leaders of more than 30 news organizations around the world signed a letter demanding the "Wall Street Journal's" reporter's release.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, lawyers for the paper have not been able to see him and NSC spokesman John Kirby told me that us officials have also been denied access.


JOHN KIRBY, NSC SPOKESPERSON: We have not been able to achieve consular access and nobody from our embassy has been able to meet with him. We are continuing to work on that, of course, and will until we can get that consular access to ascertain for ourselves how he's doing and make sure that we have that connection.

This is not the time for Americans to be in Russia. If you're in Russia now, whether it's on business or leisure, whatever kind of travel you need to leave now. This is not a good place for you to be in Russia, even if you are a working journalist. Russia is a hostile environment for American citizens right now, and it's time to go if you're there.


GOLODRYGA: The "Wall Street Journal's" editorial board released an op- ed denouncing the arrest and Russia's claim that Evan Gershkovich is a spy.

It said in part: The FSB could have expelled him long ago if it really believed he is a spy. The timing of the arrest looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the U.S. and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia. Mr. Gershkovich's arrest comes days after his byline was on a revealing and widely read dispatch documenting the decline of the Russian economy. The Kremlin doesn't want that told.

Well joining me now is David Whelan, the brother of American Paul Whelan, who was currently detained in Russia. David thank you so much for joining us. I really long for the day when we get to join each other on better news in your brother being home.

That having been said your fight continues, and I wonder what went through your mind when you heard of yet another American who was effectively kidnapped in Russia.

DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER PAUL WHELAN, AMERICAN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: I was terribly disappointing. Just immediately imagine what he must be going through being put into Lefortovo, what his family is going through. You know, experiencing the same thing that we did four years ago. And really a little bit of disappointment that the U.S. government still isn't in an imposition where they can successfully deter the Kremlin from arresting Americans and charging them with espionage.

GOLODRYGA: You mentioned your brother is in Lefortovo a as well. And that is a notorious prison. Just to give our viewers again a sense of what life has been like for him and how he's doing right now.


WHELAN: He was in the Lefortovo for about 18 months. It's an awful existence. I've heard that the pretrial detention centers in Moscow now are about 20 to 25 percent overcapacity. So, I can't even imagine what it would be like now for Mr. Gershkovich.

Paul's been in a labor camp for the last two years, and we learned today that he was moved suddenly yesterday to a medical facility. He doesn't have any medical issues, but it sounds like the ministry of defense's again recruiting in the prisons for, conscripts to go to the Ukraine war.

GOLODRYGA: This is a terrible club that you and now Evans family have joined as well. And that is those family members who are seeking the release of the wrongfully detained loved ones in Russia and in other places around the world. What is your message right now to Evan's family? And what would you tell them to do in the days ahead? And should they be publicly out there speaking the way -- the way you've been.

WHELAN: I couldn't advocate for a family to make that choice. I think that's a choice that only the family would have the information to know whether that was in their best interests or in the interests of their loved one to do. I hope that they are resilient and I hope that they are able to retain hope. Because if they're going to have to go through the -- it's been 51 months, it been 1550 days for Paul and for our family it can take a real toll on your family, on your resources, and so I hope that they are able to withstand it.

GOLODRYGA: You said that that you're disappointed that the administration isn't doing enough to prevent these types of events from happening. You heard what the "Wall Street Journal" said, and they believe that the United States should expel Russian diplomats and Russian journalists. The president was asked whether he would do that today. And he said, no. What do you think about that?

WHELAN: I thought that was a remarkably, poor insight by the "Wall Street Journal's" editorial board. Expelling diplomats is not going to help Mr. Gershkovich and it's not going to help my brother. We need to have people in Moscow who can advocate for them and provide counselors support. I think the U.S. government thanks to President Biden's executive order from July 2021, should have the tools to start to engage in deterrence against wrong detentions. And I think that they need to move more quickly to have those.

GOLODRYGA: Well, listen, I just want you to know that when I spoke with John Kirby, he said that there are still a priority for them to get your brother home as well. And so we will continue to cover this and talk to you and really, really pray for his release as well as Evan's now as well. David Whelan, thank you.

WHELAN: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Well, Bianna, it was lovely to spend the week with you. A pleasure as always, stay tuned --

GOLODRYGA: And to you.

SANCHEZ: Don't go anywhere because "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts after this short break.