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U.S. Official: F-16s Scrambled In Response To Plane That Ultimately Crashed In SW Virginia; China Accuses U.S. Of "Provocation" After Near-Collision Of Warships In Taiwan Strait; CA Gov: Migrants "Dumped" At Sacramento Church; Source: Four People Onboard Plane That Crashed In SW Virginia; This Week: Pence, Christie To Launch Campaigns; New RNC Rules Requires Candidates To Support Nominee; Manchin Hints He Could Make Third Party WH Bid; Officials: India Train Crash Worst In Decades; YouTube Reverses Ban On 2020 Election Denial. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 04, 2023 - 18:00   ET




JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. We do start this hour with breaking news, an update now on where things stand with the breaking news we've been telling you about in the last several minutes. F-16 fighter jets scrambled around Washington, D.C. earlier today, shortly before a small plane crashed in Virginia.

Here's what it sounded like. Take a look at this video from one person's security camera in the D.C. area.

You can see there that little dog that was on that back porch, back deck, was scared pretty badly by the sonic boom. CNN correspondents and analysts are working this story right now. CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem is with us. Also CNN's Transportation Analyst, Mary Schiavo.

Let's start with CNN's Natasha Bertrand. Natasha, if you can update our viewers on where things stand with this situation. It caught a lot of people by surprise here in the Washington, D.C. area a few hours ago.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, so let's just walk folks through the series of events because a lot of things appeared to happen at roughly the same time. So around 3:00 p.m. there was that very loud sonic boom that was heard across D.C., Maryland, Virginia. It was heard -- it was very, very loud, and it was unclear what exactly that was.

And then, the FAA released a statement saying that a small aircraft had actually crashed in Southwest Virginia. It was unclear whether those two things were connected, but the Pentagon then -- but then we learned, according to U.S. officials, that U.S. F-16 fighter jets were actually scrambled to essentially chase that small aircraft that had crashed in Southwest Virginia for reasons that are unclear at this point.

It is not known whether that aircraft actually violated D.C. airspace, or whether it was just too close or whether the pilot was unresponsive, and that caused U.S. officials to become extremely concerned. But that sonic boom that was heard across the district earlier this afternoon, it was the result of those F-16 fighter jets being scrambled.

They were flying so fast that it actually broke the sound barrier. So, we actually have even more video of that sonic boom, just to really give a sense for just how loud it was. Take a listen.

Now the FAA did release a statement on the aircraft that did crash. We should note that the jets did not actually shoot it down. It -- we are told that that the jets really did not have anything to do with why it crashed. However, the FAA statement said that it crashed into a mountainous terrain and sparsely populated area of Southwest Virginia around 3:00 p.m.

The aircraft took off from Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee and was bound to Long Island MacArthur Airport in New York.

Now the flight path itself is also still unclear. As I said, it is not known at this point whether it actually pierced D.C. airspace, or whether it was just around the airspace, and that made U.S. officials concerned. So we are expecting more information to come from the Pentagon and U.S. officials in the coming hours, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Natasha.

Let me go to, Mary Schiavo, our Aviation Analyst on this. Mary, I just got a text from my mom who lives in Northern Virginia and she said she heard the sonic boom and she thought it sounded like a bomb went off. It was that loud. And if you watch those videos we just played for our viewers, it was very loud. I'm sure it startled a lot of people.

But to what Natasha was saying a few moments ago, it sounds like -- and of course we don't have all the facts here, but it could be something as simple as this small plane took off from that Northeastern tip of Tennessee, was on its way to Long Island and became unresponsive and they had to scramble the fighter jets because in this post-9/11 world. We just can't take any chances anymore with air safety, air defenses over the nation's capital, but --


ACOSTA: -- what can you shed some light on for us?


SCHIAVO: Well, you know, you summed it up pretty well, I think. That's what it looks like by looking at online flight tracker website. So if this plane did take off from Tennessee, it was -- it filed a flight plan. I had put all the information in that you do. If you're doing a, you know, a proper controlled flight, it was bound for New York. It was supposed to land in New York. And then from New York, it was supposed to go to Florida, I believe, Malvern, Florida. And so that's the flight plan filed by looking at flight tracker and online data. This plane took off and got to altitude above 30,000 feet soon after takeoff, but it did not vary from that.

So it stayed at this high altitude. And as your approach --

ACOSTA: Mary's shot may have frozen there. Let me go to Juliette Kayyem. Juliette, in this post-9/11 world --


ACOSTA: -- and it's perfectly understandable why those fighter jets might have scrambled. They just can't --


ACOSTA: -- take any chances anymore.

KAYYEM: No, that's exactly right. To me, this is -- the only question that remains is, is the unresponsiveness due to nefarious activity, which I think is less likely, you know, or something horrible went wrong in that airplane. And the fighter jets scramble because you do not need, you do not want to wait until aerospace is violated, especially if there are the pieces of evidence that suggests that the plane is unresponsive.

Remember from the viewpoint of the Air Force and the military and D.C., you don't know why the plane is unresponsive at that moment. All you know is it's somewhat getting closer to D.C. and that's why they scrambled. By the time everything occurs, the plane is already down, which also leads more credence to the belief that something went wrong in the Cessna.

I should say this is not a small Cessna, just looking online at its identification. It's a business class Cessna, so we don't know if it was just a pilot or if there were others in the plane, we'll get a passenger list as well. So that's where my focus is right now.

The F-16 scramble from the Air Force is absolutely appropriate, and scary. There's no question about that for people in D.C., but has an explanation and we shouldn't always go to the nefarious one. It's just part of what the apparatus looks like now. You just simply don't know from the ground what's happening up above, and that's why they scramble.

ACOSTA: No, you're absolutely right. And let me go back to Mary Schiavo, because Mary, I think your shot may have frozen up there. If you could finish your thought you were saying that judging by what you're seeing on a flight tracker program, it -- that, it may just be something as simple as this plane went down in the mountains of Virginia.

SCHIAVO: Yes, that's right. And it looks like because the altitude was steady, it stayed above 30,000 feet. It didn't descend. It didn't very much. The air speed varied little but not much. So it looks like it was headed for New York. It was supposed to land there, go to Florida. And then turned and at that point became unresponsive.

And over the years, we have covered many of these where something happens to the pilot, usually it's a rapid decompression in the plane, scrambling the aircraft, usually happens when the pilot's not responsive. But in most -- in all cases, they have never had to shoot them down. So it does look like -- it doesn't look like a hijacked situation based only on the flight track.

Obviously, we don't have any information that they squawked a hijack code or they squawked any other kind of code. It looks like an unresponsive pilot like others we've reported on in the past, but they had to scramble because of the flight track. Takes it pretty close to Washington, D.C. and that's what they're supposed to do. Go out and find out what's going on.

ACOSTA: All right, very good. Mary Schiavo, Juliette Kayyem, Natasha Bertrand, and my mom in Fairfax County, Virginia, who checked in with me as well. Got a report from her as well. Ladies, thanks very much for your time this afternoon. We appreciate it.

We're following two more big stories this afternoon, the U.S. and China trading accusations after a closed military encounter in the Taiwan Strait. We'll show you the video of a Chinese worship coming within two football fields of a big U.S. destroyer.

And the GOP's field of dreams in Iowa. Top Republicans blitzing the state to chase their presidential ambitions. We'll go to the site of CNN's town hall event just a couple of hours away as this weekend comes to an end. The race of the White House is certainly taking shape and getting much more crowded, nearly the entire Republican field of presidential candidates and likely candidates spending.

The weekend campaigning at an influential event in Des Moines, Iowa, with one notable exception president -- former President Donald Trump skipped the gathering. Iowa, of course, is the first in the nation for the Republicans nominating process. One person in attendance, though, was former Vice President Mike Pence, who was expected to announce his candidacy in Des Moines in a few days.

Also, this week, we should know former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, he's expected to enter the crowded field already in the running, of course, as Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor.


Tonight, CNN host a primetime town hall with her and CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Des Moines at the site of tonight's event with the preview. Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, Republicans are beginning to take their seats here at the town hall that will be underway in a couple of hours. And these are Republican voters who are focusing on this race and will be paying attention closely throughout the summer and fall months as this campaign comes together.

But it has been a busy weekend of campaigning here. Most of the candidates is, as you said, were making their cases and introductions to Iowa voters on Saturday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, at an event hosted by Senator Joni Ernst, the Iowa Republican.

But it is former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who's been in this race longer than anyone except Donald Trump. She's been campaigning frequently across this state. She had this to say about her commitment to Iowa voters and the campaign.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been to Iowa. I think we've done over 25 events. I'm going to keep coming. I'm not doing shortcuts. I'm not going to do a rally and leave you. I'm going to answer every question. I'm going to shake every hand. I'm going to do whatever it takes to earn your support because we've got a country to save, and I know together we'll do it.


ZELENY: So she frequently talks about her economic record as governor of South Carolina. She less frequently talks about her time as ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration. But you noticed, Jim, she said, I'm not going to do a rally and leave you. That is a, of course, an implicit message to the former president who often holds rallies, but he's been campaigning here as well in smaller settings.

So the reason all this matters, of course, Iowa is the state that launches the Republican presidential contest early next year, and it's where the candidates will likely find an alternative to Donald Trump. Of course, he's leading this race, but he certainly is not the presumptive nominee. So many Republican voters we talked to here have open minds.

So that's what this campaign, as it ever grows, as the field gets larger and larger is all about. But in a couple hours time, Nikki Haley will be on the stage behind me here at Grandview University, taking questions from Iowa voters. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right, I know you'll be watching. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Less than one hour from now live from Iowa, Jake Tapper moderates a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. It starts at 8:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Now let's turn to this latest spike in U.S.-China tensions. This video shot by Global News shows the Chinese worship cut in front of a U.S. Navy destroyer yesterday. The Pentagon says the two ships came with an 150 yards of colliding, a razor thin distance for vessels of that size.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Oren Liebermann joins us now. Oren, this is the second closed military encounter between the two countries in two weeks. Tell us more.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jim, the Pentagon sees this as essentially a set of aggressive Chinese behaviors. In this latest incident, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command says one of its vessels with a Canadian vessel was carrying out a joint exercise sailing through the Taiwan Strait in a message, not only to China, but also to the rest of the world, that this is an international waterway.

Commercial shipping can use it as can other militaries, including of course the U.S. But Chinese military ship cut 150 yards in front of the U.S. vessel, then circled back and came around passing again 2,000 yards. Very short distances in terms of naval vessels of this size. The U.S. calls it an unsafe maneuver carried out with the Chinese.

But as is so often the case in these instances, we see China with a completely different narrative about what happened. China's Minister of National Defense said they were not there for innocent reasons. They were there to be provocative. So it was there you see the difficulty in simply communicating here with these -- essentially these encounters between the U.S. and Chinese military.

We saw another one of these, just a couple weeks ago, when a Chinese jet intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea. The U.S. was in international airspace, China essentially trying to exert its sovereignty, its claims to those two sensitive areas, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. And those areas have led to a tremendous amount of tension between Beijing and Washington.

Jim, the question, where do you go from here? How do you get off of this escalation intentions?

ACOSTA: All right. Oren Liebermann, very good question. Thanks so much for that reporting. We appreciate it.

A group of migrants are now in California after being flown by private jet from Texas, but they had no idea where they were being taken or who was behind the flight. California's attorney general joins us live to talk about this next to discuss how California's handling this political stunt that's affecting people's lives.



ACOSTA: An investigation is underway in California after a plane dropped off more than a dozen migrants in Sacramento. Governor Gavin Newsom says the migrants were then dumped outside a church without any prior arrangements. Authorities are now working to determine who paid for the flight and whether they tricked the migrants into relocating.

And joining us now to talk about this is California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Mr. Attorney General, thanks very much for being with us. You said in a statement that, "State-sanctioned kidnapping is not a public policy choice, it is immoral and disgusting". Have you been able to determine what happened and who is responsible for this? ROB BONTA (D), ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CALIFORNIA: We're deepening our investigation now, and we believe that the state of Florida is involved. And one of their vendors that they hired with an official budgetary allotment called Virtual Systems, was involved in moving these migrants from Texas to New Mexico, then to Sacramento. So we believe the state of Florida is behind this, and we are investigating now to see if there are any criminal or civil laws that have been violated.

ACOSTA: And you spoke with the migrants yesterday who were brought up to Sacramento. What are they saying?

BONTA: They're saying that they were given false promises about Virtual Systems' representatives being willing to help them find jobs if they got on this plane and went to another location.


They were manipulated, they were mistreated, they were abused and exploited. They came to this country after a three-month journey, most from Venezuela. Sleeping on the street at night and often not having food to have an opportunity to work here in the United States.

And the first thing that happened when they got here was someone lied to them, told them they would help them find that work that they hoped for and dreamed of. But instead, they deserted them and dumped them in Sacramento and didn't lift a finger to help find them a job.

ACOSTA: And in your statement, you said that they had documentation purporting to be from the government of the state of Florida. Do you think officials in the state of Florida may have been involved? Has your office or the office of Governor Newsom been in contact with the office of Governor DeSantis? I know he is been busy campaigning this past weekend, but has anybody reached out to find out what happened if they were involved at all?

BONTA: Yes, we are locking down the evidence to demonstrate and prove their involvement. This is the same company, the same MO that was used when migrants were moved to Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts when they were moved to other locations. This is part of an official act and budgetary outlay in the state of Florida.

It's called their voluntary transportation program, and they've hired virtual systems. The state of Florida has to identify migrants in Texas, not in Florida, in Texas, and move them to other states. So there's a pattern here. There's documentation here. The document clearly, that we have in our possession, says the state of Florida.

So, we believe that state of Florida, Governor DeSantis is behind it. Governor DeSantis has demonstrated his pettiness, his lack of substance, his xenophobia, and his discrimination and racism and his willingness to treat human beings, people as political pawns. It's wrong. And we are getting to the bottom of it.

ACOSTA: And, I guess, what is your hope at the end of all this, Mr. Attorney General? Are you hoping that your estate will be reimbursed for the cost of having to deal with this situation? Would you like to see some sort of criminal investigation? Are you hoping that the Biden administration will somehow get involved because it's a little strange?

Is it not to have a state of Florida sending planes to Texas to pick up migrants and send them to California or some other state? I can't imagine what kind of chaos would ensue if every state in the union, in the country was doing this to one another.

BONTA: It's very strange. At best, it's potentially illegal. It could violate criminal laws, it could violate civil laws. So we're continuing our investigation. We'll get to the bottom of that. We want accountability. We want the end to this morally bankrupt practice that hurts people, treats them as pawns, weaponizes human beings, and represents the worst of who we can be.

It's inhumane, it's abusive, it's exploitive for political points. And it's not who we are. California will do now what we do. We will lead with compassion, with inclusion, with love, with support and programs for these individuals. Provide them, what they need. Treat them as the human beings that they are.

And what should come out of this is accountability and also that states, all states in the United States of America play their role and do their part to treat human beings with the humanity and compassion that they deserve.

So, my hope is that this practice that Florida is using to weaponize human beings and people will end, that no one else will use it, and that all will take California's lead and make sure that we are treating all of the huddled masses who come to the United States. Every state will treat them with the dignity, respect, compassion and humanity that they deserve.

ACOSTA: All right, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, keep us posted on that investigation. Thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

And much more on our breaking news tonight, we now know the source of a sonic boom heard across the region near Washington, D.C. today. U.S. Fighter jets scrambled in response to a small plane that ultimately crashed in Southwest Virginia. An update on what happened next.



ACOSTA: More now on the breaking news in the Washington, D.C. region. F-16 fighter jets scrambled shortly before a small plane crashed in Virginia. The aircraft created a sonic boom that a large number of people heard. Here's a look from one person's security camera.

And CNN Aviation Correspondent Pete Muntean joins us now. Pete, you have new information on this. What can you tell us?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: We're just getting a statement now, Jim, from NORAD, and I want to read it to you. This is from CNN's Haley Britzky from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. NORAD says, F-16 fighter aircraft responded to an unresponsive Cessna citation jet. That is a very large business jet seats between seven and 11 people.

This happened earlier today in Northern Virginia. NORAD aircraft, this statement says, were authorized to travel at supersonic speeds, which would explain the sonic boom that was heard far and wide from Annapolis, Maryland to Leesburg, Virginia, all the way down to Manassas and Quantico.


NORAD says in this statement, during this event, the NORAD aircraft also used flares, which may have been visible to the public in an attempt to draw attention to the pilot. Flares were deployed with the highest regard for safety of the intercepted aircraft and people on the ground.

The plane was intercepted around 3:20 Eastern Time today. And the pilot was unresponsive. Subsequently, crashed near the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. I'm also hearing from a source familiar with this investigation that four people were on board this airplane. Pilot unresponsive. That plane overshot its initial destination in New York by about 315 miles.

You can see the track there on flight tracking site FlightAware. The plane took off from Tennessee and then went no eastbound over Northern Virginia, over the eastern shore of Maryland, Delaware, Southern New Jersey, and then turned inbound for Long Island there.

Then proceeded to fly southwest bound and through the layer and layer and layer of restricted airspace around Washington, D.C. It's known as the flight restricted zone and the special flight rules area. That apparently is what triggered this intercept.

To me right now, I can tell you as a pilot and a flight instructor, this sounds like the Payne Stewart incident you may remember back in the 90s when the pro-golfer was on board his Learjet and that airplane had a sudden loss of cabin pressurization. The crew as well as the passengers on board passed out because of the high altitude.

The high altitude air outside, not breathable inside. Therefore, fighter jets were scrambled in a similar incident to try and intercept that airplane. Ultimately, that plane crashed. So we know, at least from the Virginia State Police, that they are still searching for the wreckage here in a very rural area of Virginia.

But the latest information from NORAD is that the pilot was unresponsive and that fighter jets were scrambled. And they were OK to go supersonic. So all of the things --


MUNTEAN: -- are lining up here. It was not just a sonic boom that we heard, not just a military pilot who eked through the sound barrier by accident. This was something that was intentional and they were trying to get to this airplane with the pilot who was not responding.

So it does not seem, at least right now, that this was something that was intentional. Not like something, it was terroristic act, this is something where the pilot was not responding and they had to send fighter jets to rule out some possibilities here, Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes. Yes. And Pete, I -- if we can, I don't know if we can show that graphic one more time for our viewers, because I think that was very helpful. Earlier in this hour, we were talking about whether or not the plane just took off from Northeast Tip of Tennessee and then crashed in the mountains of Virginia. That is -- that can underline why it was so alarming for military officials, U.S. Air Force officials for that plane to go all the way up to Long Island and then turn around and come back down.

That's very strange. That's very unusual to see something like that happen. Pete, what do you think?

MUNTEAN: And that is something that still needs to be explained here.


MUNTEAN: But if there was a rapid loss of cabin pressurization in this airplane, and the pilots and passengers passed out because of the thin air outside, they were up relatively highs initially saw between 30,000 and 40,000 feet, you can't maintain consciousness for very long. You have to put oxygen masks on very, very quickly.

So you can see the path there initially. So the bottom right corner of your screen to the -- sorry, bottom left corner of your screen to the top right corner of your screen, that was the initial path. And you can see that the plane went around what would be the D.C. area there and then flew over Long Island ice slipped there and turned back to the Southwest.

So it's possible the airplane was on automatic pilot that it may have just sort of continued flying on a heading after it reached the destination. You can see the green track there after it button --


MUNTEAN: -- hooks around on Long Island there, goes right over the District of Columbia, right over Washington, D.C. So you can tell that this was very clearly caused for alarm. They had no choice really here.


MUNTEAN: NORAD did, which is in the room with the FAA, in the room with members of the Pentagon to try and make it so that this airspace remains secure. I fly in it all the time. I have special permission to do so. A lot of people do to the smaller airports around D.C.

They need a special clearance. You need a special clearance in order to fly through the D.C. restricted zone. And you can't really traverse it like that. You can only fly out -- ACOSTA: No.

MUNTEAN: -- by the shortest distance or in by the shortest distance. So to fly over it in such an erratic way leads me to believe that this is why exactly NORAD scrambled these fighter jets, these F-16s.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. Right. And the post-9/11 era, I mean, you cannot fly a Cessna without any kind of authorization or approval right over the District of Columbia like that. You're absolutely right --


ACOSTA: -- Pete Muntean. All right, if we need to get back to you, Pete, if you have new information, please get back to us. Thank you very much. That was very helpful information. We'll be right back.



ACOSTA: This week, the 2024 Republican presidential primary process kicks into high gear. Three new candidates, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum are expected to enter the race. They'll join seven others who have already launched their campaigns.

And joining us now to talk about this, Vanity Fair Special Correspondent Molly Jong-Fast, and CNN Political Commentator and Republican Strategist Alice Stewart. Ladies, because of the breaking news, we're tight on time, but Alice, let me go to you first. Is there a lane for either Mike Pence or Chris Christie right now as sort of this alternative to Donald Trump? Or does Ron DeSantis kind of have that lane at this point?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right now looking at the numbers, DeSantis has that lane and there's really two races going on right now, Jim, as you know. There's certainly the DeSantis v. Trump race that the two of them are really taking up a lot of the oxygen in the room.


But then there's a race everyone else against Ron DeSantis, and they recognize they have to go through Ron DeSantis, and they recognize they have to go through Ron DeSantis to get to Donald Trump. So we're going to see DeSantis really in the crosshairs of all of the candidates.

But the goal here is listening to what the electorate wants. And what we're hearing out of Iowa is that while the GOP voters loved the policies of Donald Trump, many are looking to turn the page and someone who is a lot less toxic and a lot less personal in their attacks in order to get the job done.

ACOSTA: Yes. Molly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' argument is that he can beat President Biden in a general election, but is that, I mean, he's saying that as a matter of fact, but isn't that a debatable point now at this point?

MOLLY JONG-FAST, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR: I mean, I don't know how someone with negative charisma can beat Biden. I mean, he has just been sort of, you know, on the trail, just falling apart, yelling at journalists. I mean, I just think that as we see him, he really is not good at retail politics. I still think, again, it's really early, but it does seem like this. He's sort of, every time we see more of him, he drops in the polls.

ACOSTA: And Alice on Friday, the RNC release new debate qualifications for candidates, requiring them to support the eventual nominee. I asked our former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson yesterday about this. He said he would sign on to that. He would support the eventual nominee talks.

John Bolton today, he says he's still trying to decide whether he's going to jump into the race. He said he would not do that. He would not sign that pledge support, that pledge and support Trump. What do you make of this? Is this going to become a problem for the party?

STEWART: It's discouraging. And look, we had in 2016, Donald Trump acknowledged that he wouldn't support the eventual nominee. Look, I think the RNC was wise in putting forth these debate criteria, needing to be a certain level in the polls. You certainly have to have a large swath of donors from -- across the spectrum. But again, that issue of, will you support the eventual nominee is going to be a tripping point.

I think the r n c was wise to do so. It's the only way we're going to get the party together, united, after we have a nominee and take on President Biden. So, you know, again, it was the right thing to do. Whether or not everyone will sign on remains to be seen.

ACOSTA: And -- but Molly, to that point, I mean, I feel like we're talking about things that we've talked about in the past, and maybe that is always the case with Donald Trump. But Donald Trump is not going to support the Republican nominee if he is not the nominee. I mean, you can almost take that to the bank.

JONG-FAST: Yes. I mean, it's like they're trying 2015 rules on a 2024 problem, right? We've seen Trump. He never, you know, he -- maybe he'll sign it. He won't honor it. We know that. And I mean, I think that's one of the things you're seeing in this GOP field is, these people cannot make their argument different because they're going against Trump.

They, you know, they just still act as if he -- they're going against a normal politician and they're not. And so you see them avoid attacking him, but you can't do that if you are going against someone like Trump.

ACOSTA: What were you going to say, Alice?

STEWART: One other point, to follow up on that. You know, there's still the -- it remains to be seen if Donald Trump will even participate in a debate. He's indicated that he may not do so, and I think that's really unfortunate. I think voters deserve the opportunity to see the candidates face-to-face contrast and debate the issues on the debate stage. And if he doesn't participate, I think that's -- it's unfortunate for voters and certainly the process as a whole.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Molly, let me ask you about this. On the Democratic side, Senator Joe Manchin, he is hinting he may run for president. Listen to what he said today on Fox News Sunday.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- a third party run still in the realm of possibilities?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: You better have plan B. Because if plan A shows that we're going to the far reaches of both sides, the far left and the far right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you're saying it possibly could include Joe Manchin?

MANCHIN: I'm not saying who's it going to include or exclude?


ACOSTA: Molly, is Joe Manchin going to run for president?

JONG-FAST: I mean, there's a nightmare scenario, which a lot of us have been very concerned about, where no labels brings a Joe Manchin ticket as a third party candidate. As we know in -- throughout history, you know, in modern democracy, third party candidates can't win, but they certainly could throw the election to Donald Trump.

There has definitely been talk about this and there's certainly anxiety about this. I would like to point out that the idea that Biden is too left and that somehow, you know -- I mean, it's just preposterous, but I think it's a real worry.

ACOSTA: Alice, is that a scenario that Republicans would like to see?

STEWART: Well, certainly, the Trump Republicans would like to see that. I think a lot of the rational Republicans would like to see certainly someone else be the GOP nominee that is not quite as extreme as Donald Trump, but espouses his policies.


But look, if Donald Trump is not the nominee, I welcome Joe Manchin to the fray and allow him to chip away at the votes that would potentially go to Joe Biden. That would be welcome news for many rational Republicans.

ACOSTA: All right, Molly Jong-Fast, Alice Stewart thanks so much. A little tight on time tonight, but thanks for hanging in there. We appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks, Jim. ACOSTA: And join us Wednesday live from Iowa as Dana Bash moderates a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former Vice President Mike Pence. It all starts at Wednesday night at 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.



ACOSTA: All right, you're looking at live pictures right now of our town hall set in Des Moines, Iowa, where former South Carolina Governor and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley will be taking the stage to take questions from our Jake Tapper and Iowa voters. That's coming up in about an hour and 10 minutes from now, 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN. So please do stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, in other news, officials are calling the train crash in India the worst the country has seen in decades. The death toll has been revised down to 275 as officials say some of the bodies may have been counted twice. The number of injured remains over 1,000 with at least 100 people in critical care.

And CNN's Ivan Watson visited a local hospital and spoke to one of the survivors.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This regional hospital received hundreds of survivors of Friday night's terrible train derailment, and we've been speaking with everybody in this particular room. Some people lost loved ones who were on board the train when the passenger car started flipping and rolling.

This man was traveling alone. He's a 52-year-old farmer who suffered some spinal injuries. He is at least fortunate, though, in pain to be reunited with his family here while he starts to begin the difficult process of recovery. And I spoke with a 15-year-old boy who was traveling with his mother and father and younger brother. Both brothers have serious head injuries.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): People who were alive were shouting for help. Praying to God. Rescue teams were doing their best to save people. A lot of people were crying.


WATSON: Outside the walls of this hospital, there are hundreds of volunteers trying to offer support to the victims, but we've also met people who are still desperately searching for missing relatives.

Now the government is offering compensation to families of the dead, as well as to people who were injured in the train crash. The government is also calling for an investigation and says it will bring to justice anybody who's responsible for this deadly catastrophe. But these measures will never be enough for somebody who has lost a loved one.

Ivan Watson, CNN in Orissa state in Eastern India.

ACOSTA: In a major reversal, YouTube says it will no longer remove content featuring lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. We'll discuss what this could mean ahead of the 2024 race. It's still a very important issue. We'll discuss it. In just a few moments, you're live in the CNN Newsroom.



ACOSTA: Here's another live look at the site of tonight's Republican Presidential Town Hall in Iowa. Soon, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley will take questions from primary voters. Jake Tapper will moderate the CNN Town Hall. It starts at 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

And as the 2024 presidential campaign begins in earnest, YouTube reversed a policy it instituted after the Capitol riots. It will no longer remove election lies from its platform. In a blog post, the YouTube says, "We find that while removing this content does curb some misinformation, it could also have the unintended effect of curtailing political speech without meaningfully reducing the risk of violence."

And joining us to discuss what that could mean is Roger McNamee, the co-founder of Elevation Partners and author of "Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe". Roger, Donald Trump and his supporters are still peddling this lie that the election was stolen in 2020. Obviously, fact checking it a million times doesn't stop them from doing it. They're just going to keep doing it.

Isn't YouTube just giving them a free pass to keep on doing this right into the next election?

ROGER MCNAMEE, CO-FOUNDER, ELEVATION PARTNERS: Jim, what YouTube is doing is obviously irresponsible, but it's also totally predictable. YouTube has a long history of prioritizing user engagement, which is really the key to profits over the public interest. They're not a social network the way Facebook is, but they've done almost as much harm.

They use a recommendation engine to maximize engagement to 3 billion users. And in the process, they've amplified content from terrorists, conspiracy theorists, and scammers to maximize profits. So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that in this particular context, they would do the same thing again. They're desperate for earnings and they are not concerned about the consequences.

ACOSTA: And, I mean, what about this argument that YouTube is -- that they would be limiting free speech by removing this content?

MCNAMEE: Well, to be clear, the content exists in many places on the web. The issue here is whether YouTube is going to not only host it, but also amplify it with its recommendation engine. Because that content is engaging to many people, the recommendation engine will typically prioritize it. So to me, the issue here on YouTube is not the existence of this stuff, but rather the way that the business model creates incentives to amplify the most dangerous content on the platform.

ACOSTA: And YouTube says it will continue to remove content that might mislead voters about voting requirements and making false claims that could discourage voting and content that could incite people to interfere with democratic processes. But given what we saw during the last few elections, is that good enough? I mean, are we just seeing these social media sites making this kind of a feeble attempt here to play whack-a-mole with disinformation?

MCNAMEE: Jim, I think the problem's actually worse than that. I think that the business model is about engaging people's emotions, specifically fear and outrage. And so, disinformation conspiracy theories also hate speech are particularly good at doing that.

So what they really want to do is to create the illusion that they're trying to solve a problem while, in fact, letting the problem proliferate. And so, the key thing we want to do is not judge them by their words, but judge them by their actions. And if you look back, whether it's 2016, 2018, 2020, 2022, YouTube has consistently been a home for hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Much of it, you know, affecting elections and other things that really matter to us as a society. And I just don't think we should be giving any of these companies a break until they demonstrate that they're willing to act in the public interest.

ACOSTA: Yes. And, I mean, what about these other social media outlets, places like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, I mean, they all sort of put up the same argument that, well, we can't possibly be everywhere all the time, policing everything. I mean, do you buy that?

MCNAMEE: Well, I would make the simple point that if you're unable to police your platform, then you're too big and you need to be downsized. To me, the core issue on this is that as a country, we need to recognize that technology can be unsafe and therefore, companies need to do exactly what companies have done in past industries like transportation or food or drugs or chemicals, where they prioritize consumer safety as a condition of market access and that they have business models that are designed to protect people from harm.

That is currently not the case because the only incentive they have is to maximize shareholder value. And doing great harm turns out to be really profitable.

ACOSTA: Yes. And you can't do it at the expense of the -- of our democracy. I mean, we've seen that demonstrated time and again.

Roger McNamee, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it. Very important topic. We'll have you back on it.

In the meantime, though, thank you very much for joining me this evening. Reporting from Washington, I'm Jim Acosta. I'll see you again next weekend. A special edition of CNN NEWSROOM with Dana Bash and Kaitlan Collins starts right now. Have a good night.