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Russia: 133 Plus Killed, 100 Plus Injured In Concert Hall Attack; Russia Suggests, With No Evidence, Ukraine Was Involved; Zelenskyy Responds To Allegations On Concert Hall Attack; Support Pours In For Princess Kate After Cancer Diagnosis; Biden Signs Spending Bill, Partial Government Shutdown Averted; Trump Faces Monday Deadline To Post $464M Bond. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 24, 2024 - 00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company. Coming up here on "CNN Newsroom," as Russia reels from the nation's worst terror attack in decades, Vladimir Putin appears to lay blame on Ukraine without offering proof.

The Princess of Wales says she is touched by the outpouring of support following her cancer diagnosis.

And the United Nations Secretary General visits Rafah calling the blocked aid to Gaza a moral outrage, telling Israel the nightmare must end.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Atlanta, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: The death toll from the terror attack at a Russian concert hall is now 133 and officials say they expect it to go higher. Russia has declared Sunday a national day of mourning. People have been placing flowers and stuffed animals outside the hall to remember the victims. Investigators say they've arrested four alleged government and seven other people. Russian state media says the suspects face life in prison if convicted.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin is suggesting without evidence that Ukraine was involved in the attack. Ukraine strongly denying any such thing.

The U.S., which warned of a terror attack in Russia weeks ago, says there is no evidence whatsoever that Ukraine played a role. In fact, Vice President Kamala Harris says the U.S. knows that ISIS-K, based in Afghanistan, is responsible and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen has more on the attacks and the aftermath.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): The burnt-out shell of the Crocus City Hall just outside Moscow, even half a day after the attacks, parts of the rubble still smoldering. The local governor surveying the places where gunmen killed so many.

Two here and three there, Governor Andrey Vorobyov asks. Three here, they say. Hundreds of firefighters still on the scene of what Russian President

Vladimir Putin called, quote, "a bloody and barbaric attack." His security services on high alert.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): In all regions of the country, additional antiterrorists and antisabotage measures have been introduced. The main thing now is to prevent those who are behind this bloodbath from committing a new crime.

PLEITGEN: It was Friday evening when the attackers went on their rampage, firing at people point blank, eyewitnesses say, killing men, women, and children, then setting the concert hall ablaze. Friends and family standing by hoping for news of their loved ones. Authorities searching for the many still missing.

I don't know what to do, this man says, desperate for news of his wife. I feel completely hopeless.

Moscow's hospitals flooded with dozens of injured. Russian authorities say the death toll will likely continue to rise.


PLEITGEN: The U.S. said it had warned Moscow about the threat of a terror attack and ISIS has claimed responsibility. But Russian authorities seem intent on blaming someone else. After several arrests overnight, the Kremlin pointing the finger at Kyiv.

PUTIN (through translator): All four direct perpetrators of the terrorist attack, all those who shot and killed people were found and detained. They tried to hide and moved towards Ukraine where according to preliminary data a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the state border.

PLEITGEN: Ukraine denies the allegations. Kyiv saying they had nothing to do with the attack. Near the scene of the attack, many are laying flowers in memory of the victims. Vladimir Putin has declared Sunday a day of mourning, promising a Russia united in grief, and retribution and oblivion for those behind the attack.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN Berlin


HOLMES: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has responded to the Kremlin's allegations about his country's possible involvement. He said they fit Mr. Putin's standard playbook, which is to blame someone else for Russia's problems. Mr. Zelenskyy also said it's something anyone could have seen coming.



VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): They have brought hundreds of thousands of their own terrorists here, on Ukrainian land, to fight against us, and they don't care about what is happening inside their own country. Yesterday, as all this happened, instead of dealing with his fellow Russian citizens, addressing them, the wimp Putin was silent for 24 hours, thinking about how to tie this to Ukraine. It's all absolutely predictable.


HOLMES: Stanislav Kucher is a former Russian TV host, now working as Editor-in-Chief of the Samizdat Online. He joins me now from New York. Thanks for doing so.

I wanted to start by asking what you make of what we're being told about these suspects and, importantly, what appears to be at least some attempt by Russia to invoke Ukraine into the narrative, the messaging from Putin so far. What are your thoughts?

STANISLAV KUCHER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SAMIZDAT ONLINE: Well, nothing surprising to me, because as soon as I heard about this horrible terrorist attack and I began reading telegram channels of Putin's leading propaganda peddlers, and it was obvious from the very beginning that they would blame Ukraine no matter what. They would do their best to find the so-called Ukrainian trace. And so when Putin spoke and addressed the nation today, it was no surprise to me whatsoever.

When he -- when he pointed out that the car with terrorists -- with the terrorists was making toward the Ukrainian border, in fact, it turned out just an hour later that the car was stopped closer to the border with Belarus, not Ukraine. But, you know, who cares?


KUCHER: And, like, even yesterday, even already yesterday, you could read on the Russian media implications that Ukrainian trace would eventually be found. And it didn't take Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's former president, long to post a few paragraphs on his telegram channel, a pretty popular one read by millions, by the way, where he said that if it turns out that the terrorists are from Ukraine or if Ukraine is behind this, then we should respond severely, harshly, cruelly, death for death. That's verbatim what he wrote.

HOLMES: Yeah. And it was interesting because the Defense Minister did announce this past week that there would be more Russian battalions created, a bigger army. Do you think Putin could be using some, you know, spurious Ukraine link in order to justify a broader mobilization of troops, especially given the loss of manpower on the battlefield? KUCHER: Absolutely. The most important thing now is not even who actually -- who actually did that, but what the consequences will be, what Putin will use this as a pretext for, and mobilization, another wave of mobilization, or restoring a death penalty in Russia, because right now Russia is a member of the European Council, which means it has a moratorium on death penalty.

HOLMES: When it comes to ISIS, which has claimed responsibility, of course, and has put out videos and photographs and so on, you know, Russia is an ally in many ways of the Taliban, which ISIS-K is targeting. How much of a target is Russia for ISIS-K, ISIS- Khorasan?

KUCHER: Well, that's -- that's a very difficult question, because you should better ask ISIS spokespeople about that, because, I mean, ISIS is obviously an organization forbidden in Russia, and it seems like Russian propagandists don't buy this version about ISIS.

Like Margarita Simonyan, Putin's chief mouthpiece yesterday, wrote that it's not ISIS, it's Khokhli, and Khokhli is a very, you know, rude, diminishing word that Russians use to address Ukrainians. So another Russian TV broadcaster, TV host, Olga Skabeyeva, who is also a famous propagandist in Putin's Russia, she wrote that we don't believe it's ISIS, ISIL in Russian. We are confident that Ukrainians are behind this. So right now, again, they are -- they're not even considering the ISIS version.


HOLMES: Of course, Putin, he just won the election. He has always portrayed himself as the only one who can provide security for Russia and for Russians. What is something like this attack, particularly after the U.S. apparently warned him it could happen? What does this do to his reputation on the street among Russians? Does this hurt his, you know, invincibility, if you like? What are you hearing?

KUCHER: Judging by what I hear and what I read on the social media and what I hear from my friends in Russia, including my acquaintances who used to favor the war, his reputation is definitely in danger, to put it mildly. Because, look, Putin made a point of building this vertical of power headed by the Russian security forces. And so the Russian security forces are now the god almighty force in Russia, the most respected, the very well-paid part of society.

And it turns out that they've been hunting the wrong people all the time over the past few years. They've been hunting Navalny and his team. They've been calling them extremists and terrorists.

They've spent, you know, billions of rubles, if not dollars, on funding hunting dissidents inside and outside of Russia. And now it turns out they cannot even secure -- they cannot ensure security for Muscovites.


KUCHER: And what happened -- I mean, Russians are asking a lot of questions. HOLMES: Stanislav Kucher, thanks so much.

KUCHER: Thank you.

HOLMES: Tributes are pouring in for the victims of that attack near Moscow. In St. Petersburg, in Russia, people leaving flowers and toys at a makeshift memorial. There was a similar picture in Ukraine's occupied city of Donetsk, where a small memorial was created next to a sign saying simply Russia.

And in Germany, people left flowers and candles outside the Russian embassy in Berlin. Chancellor Olaf Scholz took to social media to condemn the attack. Other world leaders also issued their condemnations or offered their condolences. They include the President of France, the Prime Minister of India, and the leaders of China and North Korea.

The Prince and Princess of Wales are, quote, "enormously touched" by the public support she's received after revealing she's been diagnosed with cancer. That's according to a statement from Kensington Palace. It comes as good wishes and sympathies have been pouring in around the world. CNN's Max Foster with more from London.


MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: A massive shift in sentiment here in the U.K. from Friday into the weekend. If we go back to Friday morning, we're really at that peak point of speculation and fear about what happened to what people are calling the disappearing princess on social media. But then we have that extraordinary video that came out on Friday, entirely Kate's idea, I'm told. And she described what happened after what she now describes as major surgery in January, a recovery process, then the news that they had found some signs of cancer, and then into chemotherapy in late February.

And then there was this really key process for the princess, which was how to deal with the children, to reveal it to them, to help them understand it, and then at that point they could reveal it to the world. So that announcement was very much timed for the end of the school term, at which point they could reveal it to the world whilst protecting their children.

So they're really calling for privacy at this point. We will be seeing Prince William at public engagements, but not nearly as much as we're used to. Kate will try to go out on public engagements if she can, but really she's not going to be out full time until she's been given the all clear from doctors.

So they're calling for everyone to respect their privacy, the media, but also the public. And then you have a question about what happens at this place, Buckingham Palace. You know, there's a huge amount of pressure at the top of the royal family right now.

There were four senior royals in full-time public duties, now we have two, they are Queen Camilla and Prince William, both of whom have partners who have spouses who have cancer, and they have families to worry about. But they also have to represent the monarchy. But as the late Queen, Queen Elizabeth, used to say, you have to be seen to be believed if you're in this role. So they understand, they have to represent monarchy out in public, but they've got to balance that with, you know, a really tough, traumatic time back at home. That's a big challenge going forward. But they're asking for public patience, really, as they go through that process. Max Foster, CNN, Buckingham Palace.


HOLMES: Dr. Karen Knudsen is the CEO of the American Cancer Society. She joins me now. And thanks for doing so.


Kate -- let's start with this. Kate spoke of, you know, telling the children the news. I know you've spoken about that process. It must be such a difficult thing for any parent to have to do.

KUCHER: It absolutely is.

KAREN KNUDSEN, CEO, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: It absolutely is. You know, and so as a result, we actually provide some guidance about this on our website at the American Cancer Society, because it is, in fact, such a common challenge and a question. You know, obviously, what to say to children depends on the child themselves, the relationship and the age.

But there are some -- some guidelines that I think are common to any conversation. One is to be just honest about what's going on. But to, of course, do that in language that people can understand, words that children can understand. It's important to, of course, balance too much and too little information. So be transparent in a way that that you think is appropriate.

But some -- some common things that often people forget. One, don't forget to tell the children about physical changes that may happen. Better to get ahead of that story so that they know ahead of time what to expect. We find that that is a really important concept. Let them ask questions.

And then finally, understand that sometimes children blame themselves and will not necessarily communicate this to you. So get ahead of it. Let them know that it in no way is their fault or is any reflection on them. And it's just something serious that their parent is battling, but is not the fault of the child.

HOLMES: And processing it together very important and very difficult when you're a member of the royal family. Of course, I want to take advantage of you being the CEO of the American Cancer Society. Do you expect or even hope that from this awful news for Kate that it creates a conversation for others who either have cancer or are worried about it or their families, perhaps people turning to more screenings, becoming more aware?

KNUDSEN: Absolutely. I'm so glad you asked that question. You know, as we look at cancer trends over the last several decades, we are alarmed by the rise in early onset cancer. Cancer is happening in people of an earlier age than we would normally expect. So trusting yourself and your body being seen if something doesn't seem right. But also every time you're at your primary care physician asking that question, what is the right cancer screening plan for me? Have the conversation, prompt the conversation yourself, because it is much more than just about your age. It's about your age, your family history, and your own medical history and exposures to develop the right -- this right screening plan for every individual. And that's so important because we know that early detection saves lives, saves lives, full stop.

There's a much greater survival rate for someone whose cancer is detected at early stage, stage one, compared to someone whose cancer is detected while after it's become spread throughout the body.

HOLMES: That is such great advice. And yeah, hopefully, hopefully people are encouraged and some good will come out of this awful news. Dr. Karen Knudsen, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

KNUDSEN: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: Now we're learning more about high-level talks to free hostages held by Hamas. What issues are still holding up the deal? We'll have that when we come back.



HOLMES: U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. He spoke during a visit to the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. Guterres said nothing justifies the horrific attacks by Hamas on October 7, but added that nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people either.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other. That is more than tragic, it is a moral outrage.


HOLMES: Hundreds of people rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday calling for the release of hostages still held in Gaza. It comes as top officials from the U.S. and Israel have been in Doha trying to work out a hostage deal with Hamas through mediators. CNN's Paula Hancocks with the latest on the negotiations.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are being told that steady progress was made but there are still differences to be worked out. This coming from a source briefed on the matter saying that the CIA Director Bill Burns leaving Doha on Saturday night. Now, we also understand from a diplomat who is close to these talks

that the Israeli security chiefs also leaving on Saturday night. But they have left technical teams in place. Now, in the past when technical teams have taken over it is either to hammer out the details or it is to wait for some kind of a response from Hamas. We don't know which is the case on this particular occasion.

But what we did hear from this diplomat was that there were some areas where there is still a difference of opinion. Specifically on the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza and also on Israeli military repositioning in Gaza.

Now we do know that Hamas has said previously during these negotiations that they want all of the Israeli military to leave the Gaza Strip when there is a temporary ceasefire in place. Something which the Israeli government and military has said is simply not possible for them to do. So what we are hearing is steady progress but there is a fair bit that still needs to be worked out.

Now, we also know on Sunday that the Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will be heading to the United States on the invitation of the U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. He'll also be meeting we understand with the U.S. Secretary of State and also with the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.


The topic we're being told is the hostages in Gaza, how to get those hostages out. And also how to make sure more humanitarian aid can get into Gaza given the fact that the U.N. is still warning of an imminent famine in parts of the Gaza Strip.

There will be a separate Israeli delegation that will go and the Biden administration will try and convince them that there are alternatives to this major ground offensive in Rafah that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says they will be carrying out shortly.

Now, also there was another tragedy in Gaza City at the Kuwait roundabout. This is an area where we many desperate people are waiting for food. It's an area where some of the aid convoys come through which is why people are congregating there, hoping to be able to get some food or water.

Now we hear from officials in Gaza that 19 people were killed and more than 20 injured. They say that the Israeli military opened fire on those people that were waiting for the aid convoys to come through.

Now, as we often have in these cases we have a very different narrative from the Israeli side. The military saying they are reviewing the incident but they say that they were helping this convoy and the convoy was attacked and looted and they did not open fire.

So as we often see two very different narratives to what happened but at the end of it all there were many deaths and many desperate people still waiting for food and water.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Doha Qatar.


HOLMES: Hundreds of anti-abortion activists took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Saturday. They were demanding the three-rolled law that legalized abortion in Argentina be repealed. Abortion rights has long been a divisive issue in the South American country with strong Catholic ties.

The nation's newly elected President Javier Milei is opposed to abortion rights. He pledged during his campaign to hold a constitutional referendum on the law.

I'm Michael Holmes. "Living Golf" is next. For our international viewers, for our North American viewers, I'll be right back with more news.



HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. You're watching "CNN Newsroom" with me, Michael Holmes.

Right now, Russia says at least 133 people were killed in that terror attack on a concert hall outside of Moscow, and officials say that death toll is expected to rise.

Inside the hall, cleanup crews have been working to clear debris after the shootings and the massive fire. Russia and investigators say they've arrested four gunmen and seven other people. ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack.

Outside the concert hall, people are leaving flowers and stuffed animals to remember the victims. Russia declaring a Sunday a day of mourning.

Daniel Byman is the Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University. He's a Senior Fellow in the Transnational Threats Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A good voice to talk about this with. Good to see you. I wanted to ask you about the narrative emerging so far, the Russian suggestion that the suspects were heading to Ukraine. Putin said a window was prepared for them on the Ukrainian side to cross the border.

Are you concerned that pretext will emerge and develop to blame Ukraine, to tie it to the attack somehow? Some Russian media is already doing that.

DANIEL BYMAN, DIRECTOR, SECURITY STUDIES PROGRAM: So Putin and the broader regime apparatus supporting him is going to try to blame Ukraine for everything. But historically, there's been no connection between ISIS-K and the Ukrainian government. So far, at least, I've seen no credible evidence that there's any connection. So this seems like pure propaganda. HOLMES: Yeah, it must be difficult to blame Ukraine when ISIS has taken responsibility. They published photographs of what it says are the suspects' video as well, albeit with blurred faces in front of an ISIS flag. I mean, Putin hasn't even mentioned ISIS. Why do you think that is?

BYMAN: Putin has campaigned and really for decades on keeping Russians safe. And for many years, the number one threat was jihadist terrorism. And we saw attacks, unfortunately, and sadly, like the one we just saw on the concert hall in Russia in the past.

And he's the one saying, I'm going to stop all these. So by admitting that it's still jihadist terrorism, that he hasn't solved the old problem, then he's admitting failure on his part. And instead, he wants to say, it's the enemy we're attacking now.

HOLMES: Yeah. If it does become undeniable, or more undeniable, that ISIS is behind the attack, does Putin then have to respond or look weak if he doesn't? And does he have the capacity to respond against ISIS because he's stuck in Ukraine? What would he do?

BYMAN: So he's certainly using almost all his military assets on Ukraine. But you can do a high-profile bombing campaign or raid or attack of some sort, something very limited, but that shows well on television as a way of trying to claim to the Russian people that he's striking back.

HOLMES: The U.S., of course, says it warned Russia about the threat of an attack by ISIS. And Putin dismissed those warnings. He called them provocation and blackmail. How does that hurt Putin, having been warned, dismissing the warnings and then the attack happens?

BYMAN: So to the extent that Russians are able to access that information, to me, that's quite damning. There was very specific information. The U.S. embassy released it and told Americans and others to watch out. And it seems like Russia did not follow through. So it's not just that they failed, it's that they were warned and they failed.

HOLMES: Should or do you expect the U.S. might declassify or release its intel about the ISIS threat, if nothing else, to blunt the notion of Russia blaming Ukraine?

BYMAN: That's possible. The United States, though, will be very careful because whatever source it's getting this apparently quite good information from, it's going to want to protect. And if declassifying risks that, the United States probably won't do it, but they might at least provide some more details.

HOLMES: How else might Putin leverage this, especially invoking, you know, Ukraine and so on, even without evidence? Can you see it as a pretext perhaps to, you know, have a general mobilization?

BYMAN: It's possible he'll use this as an excuse to tell Russians, look, the Ukrainians are so evil, they're not only attacking our military, they're attacking concert hall. And as a result, try to either increase recruitment or the ferocity of military attacks.


But Russia is already doing almost all it can against Ukraine. And Putin is already encountering some desperate political situations when he tries to call up more reserves. So he doesn't have too many options right now.

HOLMES: Good point. I mean, all of this does come literally days after the Russian election. You had 87% of the vote to Putin ostensibly. His messaging has always been he's not going anywhere. He's the only one who can provide security for Russia. What does something like this do to his messaging, his reputation on the street, especially so soon after the election?

BYMAN: So it is embarrassing to him and it does undercut his reputation as the protector of Russia. He's going to try to show strength. He's going to try to both tell Russians that he's there to protect them and do some visible efforts to show he's striking back. But there's no question this makes him look bad.

HOLMES: Daniel Byman, great analysis. So good to see you. Thank you so much.

BYMAN: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: And we're just getting word of a new Russian attack on the Ukrainian capital. Kyiv's mayor reporting explosions in the city and says Ukraine's air defenses are activated.

He also urged residents to take cover and not leave shelters. The mayor also says missile fragments fell in one area in the capital and emergency crews were headed to the scene.

Well, it all went down to the wire, but the U.S. has dodged a partial government shutdown after the Senate passed a new spending bill in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

President Joe Biden later signing the bill into law. Kevin Liptak looking back at the law itself and another congressional battle looming in Washington.


KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: President Biden's signature on this government funding bill does take the threat of a government shutdown off the table until September, but it really does punctuate what was quite a tortured saga over the last several months to secure a funding bill that would provide funding for the federal government for the fiscal year 2024. And in a statement, President Biden emphasizes that this keeps the government open. He says it invests in the American people and strengthens the economy and national security.

But he also acknowledges this was a compromise and not everyone got everything that they wanted. And you are seeing both sides emphasizing what they say they're getting out of this bill. For example, there are 2000 new Border Patrol agents funded as part of this package, 8000 more detention beds for migrants.

And you hear Republicans emphasizing how this bill strengthens security on the southern border. What you hear Democrats emphasizing is the billion dollars for federal child care and education programs like Head Start and the 120 million dollars for cancer research also included new money for Alzheimer's research.

What this bill also does is cut funding to the U.N. agency that's responsible for getting aid to the Palestinians. The Biden administration has accused some members of that agency of aiding Hamas.

Now, in that statement, President Biden does point to the next big funding battle on Capitol Hill, which is this fight over more aid to Ukraine. And you'll remember President Biden has requested 60 billion dollars in additional assistance for Ukraine.

That has stalled on Capitol Hill as many Republicans, particularly those closely aligned with the former President Donald Trump, say that they won't approve any more assistance to Kyiv. President Biden has said that this is necessary. And you are hearing ever more urgent calls from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has said that if American aid dries up, that Ukraine could lose this war.

Now, the House has gone on break for Easter for two weeks, so we won't see any movement on that Ukraine aid in that span. What we do understand is that the House Speaker Mike Johnson has tasked members of the House with coming up with some options for providing that Ukraine aid. But it remains very unclear at this moment how that will move forward. And in this statement, President Biden says that it's time to get this done. Kevin Liptak, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: The clock is ticking on a huge deadline for Donald Trump, the former president now only one day away from having to post a nearly half billion-dollar bond in his New York civil fraud case.

This week, Trump claimed he has the cash to cover the sum, but his lawyer later clarified he doesn't actually have that much cash on hand. Investors did approve a deal on Friday that made his struggling social media platform a public company, which could technically make him billions. But that is just the first of many steps before Trump could actually get his hands on any cash from such a deal.


Meanwhile, New York's Attorney General is now taking steps to possibly seize Trump assets and properties if he can't pay up.

Earlier, CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein touched on how foreign investment may factor into the Republican presidential candidate's financial dilemma.


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We obviously don't know where -- where he's looking for the money or if in fact he is soliciting foreign governments. But there are, you know, there are a lot of indications already of entanglements of his finances with foreign countries and foreign interests. I mean, his family, Jared Kushner, a multi-billion-dollar investor from the Saudis, Trump benefiting from the Saudi investment in the creation of a competitor to the PGA, the report that showed foreign governments spending about eight million dollars in Trump properties, particularly his hotels and particularly the government of China, while he was president.

That when counterintelligence experts are looking for weak links, they are always looking at people in the national security apparatus who are financially strained. And here we are looking at something we haven't seen before, a president, a potential president who is facing this kind of financial crush, even if it might be relieved down the road by this truth social public offering.

HOLMES: Turning to one of Mr. Trump's other legal cases, Fani Willis, defending herself. She is, of course, the district attorney here in Georgia who is prosecuting Donald Trump's election subversion allegations. She recently avoided being dismissed from the case after a hearing revealed she had a romantic relationship with her lead prosecutor. He later resigned, but the embattled D.A. defended her credibility at an Easter event on Saturday.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I don't feel like my reputation needs to be reclaimed. Let's say it for the record. I'm not embarrassed by anything I've done. You know, I guess my greatest crime is I had a relationship with a man, but that's not something that I find embarrassing in any way. And I know that I have not done anything that's illegal.


HOLMES: Willis says she does not believe that the case against Trump and 14 co-defendants has been hindered and warned, quote, "the train is coming."

Still to come here on the program, it is lights out for famous landmarks around the world, all to observe Earth Hour, more on the sites and the mission after the break.

And reservoirs are drying up in Chile, how residents are coping with a year's long drought. That's when we come back.



HOLMES: 190 countries around the world marked Earth Hour on Saturday with landmarks like Sydney's Opera House switching off the lights for one hour. It was a way to show support for the environment and raise awareness about climate change.

In Paris, the Eiffel Tower unplugged, powering down at the designated 8.30 p.m. local time. The lights only stayed off for seven minutes rather than the hour that's usually observed though.

Several landmarks in India participated in the event which was started in 2007. This is a historic railway terminus in Mumbai.

And in the capital, New Delhi, the typically brightly lit Howrah Bridge went darker as well. And India's presidential palace took part in the event showing solidarity with the movement to try to save the planet.

Some people in northern Chile are being forced to ration their drinking water because of a year's long drought in the region. CNN's Isabel Rosales reports.


ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reservoirs in northern Chile don't look how they should. Years of drought in the Andean nation has left reservoirs bone dry and locals with limited water access. One has completely dried out.

Heriberto Perez raised his livestock here. He says he doesn't have enough water to give to his animals.

HERIBERTO PEREZ, CHILEAN GOAT FARMER (through translator): It's really bad. It hasn't rained. It's critical. I managed to get some water from a well over there because I have no water to give them. It makes me sad because my animals are thirsty. All of us human beings have to have water.

ROSALES: In the country, the drought has affected many signs of life. According to 2023 data from the World Resources Institute, Chile is facing extreme water stress using more than 80 percent of its available water resources.

PEREZ (through translator): It is very difficult. The water situation is critical. I hope God remembers the rural poor and the farmers.

ROSALES: The lack of water is leading people to limit how much they drink in a day, says one local resident.

MARIA LUISA, COQUIMBO RESIDENT (through translator): We consume very little water, so we have to plan well to have enough water for the week.

ROSALES: Central and Southern Chile have had rainfall helping refill reservoirs. However, the north has had very little and remains dry.

RENE CARVAJAL, PRESIDENT, QUALTAPIA RURAL DRINKING WATER COMMITTEE (through translator): It has not rained in our area for years. A few years ago, only 15 milliliters of water was recorded.

ROSALES: One goat farmer says her business at home is no longer working due to the lack of water.

JACQUELINE ARAYA, CHILEAN GOAT FARMER (through translator): If we had water, we would all have a different life. I don't think it's just us. It's all the people here.

ROSALES: Isabel Rosales, CNN.


HOLMES: And in the U.S. it appears winter is making up for some lost time. More than 20 million people under winter weather alerts as two winter storms move across the country, one over the northeast and New England and another through the northern plains and Midwest, where some cities could get more snow in the first week of spring than they saw all winter.

Minneapolis could get up to 14 inches of snow by Tuesday, eclipsing the 11 inches it's sure it saw over the entire winter, which was, by the way, their warmest winter on record.

Video released by authorities in the Philippines shows China's Coast Guard using water cannon on a civilian boat in a disputed part of the South China Sea. It happened Saturday near the Second Thomas Shoal, an area long contested by Beijing and Manila.

Officials said Chinese vessels also encircled a Philippine Coast Guard ship and that China later installed floating barriers to block access to the shoal.

The U.S. condemned China's, quote, "dangerous actions," the latest in a string of maritime clashes between the countries.

The race is on to pick the winning lottery number in the U.S. Still ahead, the latest on the billion-dollar jackpot coming up.



HOLMES: Well, there was no jackpot winner in Saturday night's Powerball drawing, pushing Monday's lottery prize to $800 million. But that's peanuts compared to the Mega Millions jackpot, which is now well over a billion dollars after no one picked the winning numbers Friday night. The next drawing is Tuesday. Don't bother, it's mine. As CNN's Polo Sandoval explains, these big prizes seem to be coming more common.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in the U.S., lotto jackpots exceeding $1 billion used to be rare, but not anymore, especially if you look at the numbers that have been laid out by financial comparison website NerdWallet. They conducted a recent analysis and found that 8 of the 10 largest lotto jackpots in history have been reached in just the last three years. And half of those eight we actually saw in 2023. And then there's the other question of why we're seeing these on a frequent basis. NerdWallet also trying to answer that question. Well, for starters, both major lotteries, Mega Millions and Powerball, they changed their rules of the game, making it even harder to win.

So every time there's no winner, that jackpot amount will basically increase and it continues to happen until there's an actual winner.


Rising interest rates in the U.S. may also have something to do with it. They affect the advertised jackpot amounts, which are actually based on annuities. Remember, anybody who wins, it's usually given that options of either getting that lump sum cash amount or several annuities over several years.

And then finally, there's simply more people playing the lotto. NerdWallet finding that every time the jackpot amount exceeds one billion dollars, usually people who may not be playing the lotto might think twice and actually will buy a ticket. And because of that, there are essentially more people playing and all those sales, part portion of those actually going into the jackpot.

But the odds are still so poor that it doesn't necessarily matter how many people are playing. Mega Millions estimating that the odds of winning in Tuesday's drawing one in over three hundred million.

Polo Sandoval, CNN, New York.


HOLMES: American basketball phenom Caitlin Clark is leading Iowa to the next round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament after she scored 27 points in the showdown against Holy Cross on Saturday. The number 16 seed Crusaders held their own early in the game before falling to the Hawkeyes 91 to 65.

Clark, of course, is the all-time top scorer in the NCAA's Division One, with a career points total of just shy of 3800. Iowa takes on West Virginia next.

Baltimore Orioles fans are mourning the death of the team's owner, Peter Angelos died on Saturday, according to his family. They say he had been in ill health for several years, adding, quote, "the family thanks the doctors, nurses and caregivers who brought comfort to him in his final years." Angelos had owned the Orioles since 1993, but agreed in January to sell the team in a deal that still needs to be finalized. Peter Angelos was 94 years old.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on X and Threads and Instagram @holmescnn.

Stick around, I'll have more news for you in just a minute.