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Six People Presumed Dead in the Collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge as Singapore Calls for Investigation on the Container Ship; U.S. Supreme Court to Decide on the Fate of Mifepristone Access; Bodies of Starvation Cult Victims Began to Release to Their Families. Argentine President Defends Israel and Reacts to Ongoing Inflation in His Country; London High Court Delays Extradition for WikiLeaks Founder; The Lone Bellow Drops Tribute Song for Nashville Mass Shooting Victims Ahead of the Anniversary. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world and everyone streaming us on CNN Max. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, search and rescue operations following the Baltimore bridge collapse have now shifted to recovery mode as investigators try to piece together what caused the accident.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case involving an abortion drug that could have far-reaching implications for women's reproductive rights. And --


A Nashville-based trio releases a new song to mark the first anniversary of a deadly school shooting that shocked the city.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Atlanta, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: Appreciate you being with us. The governor of the U.S. state of Maryland calls it a heart-breaking conclusion to a challenging day. The Coast Guard has suspended its search for six construction workers missing after the bridge collapse in Baltimore. Two people were pulled alive from the river, one unhurt, the other in serious condition. U.S. President Joe Biden is pledging his administration's help.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We're going to send all the federal resources they need as we respond to this emergency. I mean, all the federal resources. We're going to rebuild that port together. Everything so far indicates that this was a terrible accident. At this time, we have no other indication, no other reason to believe there was any intentional act here. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Investigators want to know what caused the giant ship to lose power. Shipping officials say the pilot did everything he could, including dropping the anchor to try to avoid the collision.

Investigators are expected to board the ship in the hours ahead to speak with the crew and recover the voyage data recorder. CNN's Pete Muntean has more.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A runaway cargo ship taking down an iconic Baltimore bridge is being described as a scene from a movie.

Now, investigators have new questions about the final moments before the crippled M.V. Dali veered off course and into the key bridge. The 911 calls frantic as steel and concrete plunged into the Patapsco River below.

UNKNOWN: The bridge collapsed into the water and there are unknown amounts of people and or vehicles in the water. The entire key bridge is in the harbor. I advise to hold all traffic from coming to the bridge. I advise again, the entire key bridge has fallen into the harbor.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Officials say the Dali set sail at 12:28 a.m. under the command of a Port of Baltimore pilot who boards large ships as they navigate the 700-foot wide channel. Security video shows minutes before the impact, the lights on board the Dali shut off twice, then the bow swung right. Briefed by the Coast Guard, Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger says the crew experienced power issues and a loss of propulsion with alarms on the bridge blaring.

GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): The preliminary investigation points to an accident. We haven't seen any credible evidence of a terrorist attack.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Key to investigators will be the ship's black box mandated by international law. A voyage data recorder captures parameters like heading, speed and water depth as well as the condition of the engines, thrusters and rudder.

The recorder also captures crew conversations on the bridge, key to investigators probing what caused the crew to apparently lose control.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, U.S. NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD CHAIRMAN: It will be critical. It's a critical piece of our investigation which is why we have a recorders team here.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The latest data shows the Dali was traveling at a speed of eight knots, roughly nine miles per hour, fast enough to trigger a disaster that could have been much worse.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: This is a unique circumstance. I do not know of a bridge that has been constructed to withstand a direct impact from a vessel of this size.

MUNTEAN: The head of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jennifer Homendy, tells me that it seems that Wednesday will be the first time the NTSB will be able to board the MV Dali. They will also, she says, be looking for any piece of electronic equipment to be able to aid in their investigation.


And investigators right now are identifying who they want to interview as part of this investigation.

Pete Muntean, CNN, Dundalk, Maryland.


CHURCH: Singapore says it will launch its own investigation into the container ship Dali, which crashed into the Key Bridge. CNN's Ivan Watson joins us live from Hong Kong. So, Ivan, what more are you learning about the Singaporean-owned container ship at the center of this deadly bridge collapse? And, of course, the 22 Indian crew members on board at the time.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. The Dali was first built in 2015. As you mentioned, it's Singaporean-owned and Singaporean-operated. It's just under 300 meters long. And to give you some context, this ship here is around 370 meters long, so a bit larger. These are both container ships that carry thousands of these types of containers.

The Dali had a capacity for some 10,000 of these types of containers, though it was only carrying a bit more than 4,700 at the time of the deadly collision with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Now, since its construction in 2015, according to maritime industry statistics, the Dali has been inspected at least 27 times in September of last year by the U.S. Coast Guard, which found no deficiencies. However, in June of last year in a port in Chile, Chilean authorities did find a deficiency, and this is important. It had to do with propulsion and auxiliary machinery gauges and thermometers.

Now, propulsion is part of the problem that the Dali had when it started losing control and ultimately slammed into that bridge in Baltimore, so the investigators may have to look. They certainly will be looking at the ship's safety record.

Also, they'll be looking at the safety record of the operating company itself, Synergy Marine, which I'm told has a fleet of hundreds of ships that it operates.

It has had several fatalities at sea over the last couple of years.

So, for example, in 2018, there was a crew member who died aboard a ship off the coast of Australia in an elevator accident. 2019, an officer who fell off a ship off the coast of Singapore. And 2023, there was a collision between a Synergy-operated tanker and a barge in the Philippines, and at least one person was killed.

Now, some more context. The size of these container ships, again, they are gargantuan. That is a roughly 400-meter-long container ship operated by another company, not Singapore-owned, and it's right next to a suspension bridge.

To give you a sense of the scale here, when the Francis Scott Key Bridge was built in Baltimore, it was the late 70's. Container ships like this did not exist yet. They were not being built at this size.

Meanwhile, I do have to point out that a bit more than a month ago, there was another deadly ship bridge accident, and it happened actually up the Pearl River from where I am right now.

February 22nd in Guangzhou, a Chinese barge hit a bridge there. At least five people killed, mostly from vehicles falling off a collapsed span of the bridge onto the ship and into the water. It is a disturbing trend and perhaps a security and safety issue that international shipping experts are going to have to look at more, given what just happened in Baltimore. Rosemary.

CHURCH: Absolutely. Ivan Watson, joining us live from Hong Kong. Many thanks.

The U.S. Supreme Court will now weigh the fate of a widely used abortion pill after hearing arguments in a case over access to Mifepristone. While a ruling is not expected for months, a majority of justices already appear skeptical of a nationwide ban or new limits on the pill. CNN's Paula Reid has our report.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hundreds of protesters gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court as the justices considered the most significant abortion case since they overturned Roe v. Wade.

This case focuses on expanded access to Mifepristone, one of two drugs typically used in the process known as medication abortion, which accounts for roughly two thirds of abortions in the U.S.

But during Tuesday's arguments, a majority of the justices appeared likely to maintain the expanded access to the drug, which was first approved by the FDA in 2000.


NEIL GORSUCH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: We've had one might call it a rash of universal injunctions or vacatures. And this case seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on an FDA rule or any other federal government action.

REID (voice-over): Shortly after Roe was overturned, a conservative group of anti-abortion doctors and advocates sued the FDA over its approval of Mifepristone, and the case now focuses on FDA approval of access to the drug.

But during the hearing, justices from across the ideological spectrum pressed the group challenging the drug as to whether it had standing or the right to bring the case, asking their lawyer about what harm the group faced.

ELENA KAGAN, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: May I ask Ms. Hawley about your basic theory of standing? I mean, you're just saying even FDA admits that there are going to be some adverse events, people are going to show up in emergency rooms, people are going to come face-to-face with one of our doctors who objects to some aspect of the treatment.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: Just to confirm on the standing issue, under federal law, no doctors can be forced against their consciences to perform or assist in an abortion, correct?

REID (voice-over): And Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson pressed on why the group believes restricting everyone's access to the drug is necessary, given that doctors can raise religious objections under federal law.

KETANJI BROWN-JACKSON, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: I mean, it makes perfect sense for the individual doctors to seek an exemption, but as I understand it, they already have that. And so what they're asking for here is that in order to prevent them from possibly ever having to do these kinds of procedures, everyone else should be prevented from getting access to this medication. So why isn't that plainly overbroad scope of the remedy the end of this case?

REID: We expect this decision to come in late June, which will, of course, be the heart of the presidential campaign season. Now, whatever the justices decide here could potentially be a factor in that critical race.

Since Roe was overturned, Democrats have used the abortion issue to galvanize their supporters, whereas former President Trump, who has taken credit for Roe being overturned, has also said, look, when it comes to Republicans, there need to be some concessions on this issue because, quote, "we need to win elections".

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


CHURCH: Joining me now is Lindy Li, a political strategist and women's co-chair of the Democratic National Committee. I appreciate you being with us.


CHURCH: So in the biggest abortion case since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, justices are considering the fate of a widely used abortion pill, Mifepristone, after hearing oral arguments for and against a nationwide ban. And most justices appear skeptical of a ban. But what was your reading of their reaction and what's at stake here?

LI: Well, I'm horrified that it's got -- gotten to this point in the first place. Right? And let's think about it. The Supreme Court curtails access to the commonly used abortion pill. This would empower medically unqualified judges who are not obstetricians, who are not gynecologists or medically licensed professionals in any way to arbitrarily remove other drugs from the market. It may not just be the abortion pill.

This would set a highly dangerous precedent for everyone and ignite a treacherous slippery slope. What's to stop anyone and rogue plaintiffs from going after other drugs that might offend their religious or political sensibilities in some other way?

And also from a technical standpoint, if companies can't rest assured that FDA approval is here to stay, especially after 20 years of studies and trials and being proven safe and effective, then why would companies invest billions of dollars and years and sometimes even decades into developing these extremely expensive and groundbreaking new drugs?

And drugs have to undergo extensive studies and trials. And the abortion pill in particular has withstood and survived decades of scrutiny and has been proven safe and effective time and time again.

And I think it's just unconscionable that six religious extremists on the Supreme Court get to decide and they don't have medical degrees. And why are we going to allow them to eviscerate decades of scientific research in the very same court that already demolished women's reproductive rights and already snatched away our bodily autonomy? And so it's --


CHURCH: Right. And of course, medication abortion accounts for roughly two thirds of all U.S. abortions. So could this abortion pill case before the Supreme Court hand the Democrats another big election opportunity no matter which way this goes?

LI: Rosemary, you bring up a really good point because women are paying attention and Republicans told us explicitly that they would leave abortion to the states. They lied. They told us that they wouldn't ban the abortion pill. They lied. Now they're launching a cell against birth control to Republicans will stop at nothing to control women and keep us barefoot and pregnant. And misogyny reigns supreme on Trump's Supreme Court.

This is the call of Donald Trump. He's the one who appointed a third of this Supreme Court. He's repeatedly shown breathtaking malice against women, especially those who dare to criticize him and who he himself has been held sexually liable for sexual abuse and for repeatedly and shamelessly defaming his victim to the tune of $83 million. This is the guy whose Supreme Court is now policing our bodies. And is anyone surprised that the party he now leads is waging an all-out war against women?

CHURCH: And the Supreme Court decision on this abortion pill is expected around late June. What do you think the court will do?

LI: As you mentioned at the top of this segment, they seem skeptical, but I don't want to. This Supreme Court has been very capricious in the past. And the truth of the matter is that abortion will never go away. Right? No matter how hard Republicans try. And no matter how right wing the Supreme Court justices are, women will always find a way. Abortion will always be around, as it has been for thousands of years.

The question is whether women will die or suffer grievously in order to get one. And blood is on the hands of these right wing provocateurs who seek to police our bodies and deprive us of our freedom to make our own medical decisions, which is a sacred right to us all.

CHURCH: Lindy Li, thank you so much for joining us. I Appreciate it.

LI: Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has been attending back- to-back meetings with top U.S. officials in Washington amid escalating tensions between the two countries. He's believed to have met with CIA Director Bill Burns Tuesday night after talks with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier in the day.

A U.S. official says Austin discussed with Gallant alternative options for Israel's proposed ground operation in Rafah. Austin also told Gallant that the number of casualties in Gaza is, quote, "far too high and the amount of humanitarian aid far too low. And the situation is only getting worse".


LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Protecting Palestinian civilians from harm is both a moral necessity and a strategic imperative. So, Mr. Minister, I look forward to discussing how we can dramatically and urgently ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


CHURCH: For more, let's go to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He joins us live from Rome. Good to see you, Ben. So, as tensions rise between Israel and the United States, the situation in Gaza is getting worse. What is the latest on access to humanitarian aid and fears of an impending ground operation in Rafah?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Rosemary, we're now on day 173 of this war and the death toll in Gaza at this point now exceeds 32,400. The humanitarian situation continues to be catastrophic, although the U.S. is saying that the number of trucks getting into Gaza is improving.

That in February, for instance, on average, 100 trucks were being allowed into Gaza by the Israelis. That number is now approaching 200.

Nonetheless, the United States and other countries continue to airdrop supplies into Gaza. Now, yesterday, there was an incident where 12 Palestinians drowned off the coast of northern Gaza while trying to retrieve some of this airdropped aid, a situation that really is quite absurd when you consider that if Israel were to allow free access of trucks carrying supplies into Gaza, we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. Now, there was one airdrop where the United States dropped 80 pallets onto Gaza. However, three of them went out into the sea.


Now, it's not clear if this incident where 12 people drowned trying to retrieve those pallets were related to that particular incident, but certainly that underscores just the danger and the absurdity of the situation.

Now, while that is going on, tensions are skyrocketing on the border between Jordan and rather Lebanon and Israel. Overnight, at least seven people were killed, according to the Lebanese official news agency, the NNA, when a facility affiliated with the Emergency and Relief Corps of al-Jamal Islamiyah, the so-called Islamic group, was hit in an Israeli airstrike. There was also multiple rocket strikes by Hezbollah on Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel. So certainly what we're seeing is that despite the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire, the tensions are only getting worse. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Ben Wedeman, our thanks for your live report. I Appreciate it.

And still to come, a suicide bomber targets Chinese dam workers in Pakistan, part of a pattern of violence against infrastructure projects backed by Beijing.

Plus, unending grief in Kenya as families wait for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned to them. Latest on the starvation cult killings. That's ahead.


CHURCH: Five Chinese nationals working on a major dam project in Pakistan have been killed, along with their driver, after a suicide attack on Tuesday. Police say the attacker rammed a car into the workers' convoy and set off explosives, sending their vehicle into a deep ravine. A similar attack happened in 2021 when 13 people were killed as they were headed to the same construction site. No one has claimed responsibility for either attack.

China has been investing billions into infrastructure projects in Pakistan, but they've been met with resentment by some locals who say most of the jobs go to outsiders, as well as militants who want to push Beijing out of mineral-rich areas.

Kenyan authorities have begun to return the bodies of starvation cult victims back to their families. Those bodies were recovered from mass graves in the Shakahola forest. They were victims of a deadly Christian cult led by a pastor who convinced many of them to starve themselves to reach salvation. Others were bludgeoned to death. Forensic experts and volunteers have been exhuming bodies, and now they're warning of more horrors to come.


IRUNGU HOUGHTON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL KENYA: 429 bodies have been identified so far. With the phase 5 exhumation that's about to happen, we suspect that that number may go up by several hundreds.


If we put those figures together, this single massacre, this mass crime, probably has combined more deaths than several terrorist attacks that we've seen.


CHURCH: David McKenzie is following this story from Johannesburg. He joins us now. So, David, as Kenyan authorities begin releasing the bodies of victims of this starvation cult back to their families, what more are you learning about this shocking story?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rosemary, we were there last year in Kenya to investigate the case of the Shakahola massacre, as it's called, and you look at these very sad images of family getting the bodies of their loved ones returned in Malindi, in Kenya, and you just hear the awful tragedy unfolding that continues to unfold. Let's take a brief look.


FRANCIS WANJE, FAMILY MEMBER OF VICTIMS: It's been a very tough journey from last year to now. A very tough one. Fortunately, I'm saying I'm happy that I've got the loved ones. Now we are preparing to go and bury so that now we can start another journey of forgetting about this.


MCKENZIE: That was Francis Wanje. He was someone we met last year. He was one of the first people who was able to investigate what was happening. Police just were very slow to react to the rumors coming out of the Shakahola forest, which is some two hours from Malindi.

He managed to rescue one of his grandchildren. They are expecting eight family members, extended family, who are part of this death cult.

The pastor convinced them to starve themselves to death. And as you said, if they didn't or they tried to escape, some of them were bludgeoned to death.

This is a case that shocked Kenya and one of the worst mass suicides of its kind for decades. Rosemary. CHURCH: And David, what is the status of the case against the pastor?

MCKENZIE: Well, Pastor McKenzie was finally charged and many of his senior members of the church in January with over 190 counts of murder of children because of the tragedy that unfolded over many months, as well as other accounts. The state seemed to struggle to actually nail down charges they could put. Finally, the court said they had to actually charge them or release them.

He, of course, as you might expect, has denied all these charges. But witnesses we spoke to on the ground in Kenya and officials paint a picture of a powerful man who lured people, both in person and over social media, to join his cult, to burn their I.D. documents, to take their children out of school and over a period of weeks and months convince them to starve themselves to gain salvation.

He said that he would be the last one to do it and to go to heaven. Of course, he didn't.

And many of those families are now picking up the pieces. Only 34 bodies have been positively linked to families. Some are just too ashamed or scared to reach out to authorities. The Kenyan National Human Rights Commission has slammed the attitude and the investigations of government security forces, saying that they abdicated in their responsibility. This still will unfold, I fear, in the coming months.

CHURCH: It is a horrifying story. David McKenzie, joining us live from Johannesburg. Many thanks for that report.

Still to come, much more on the bridge collapse in Baltimore, including a timeline of the events leading up to that disaster.




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: In the coming hours, authorities in the U.S. state of Maryland will resume their recovery efforts after the bridge collapse in Baltimore. The massive cargo ship which struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday was leaving port when it lost power and careened into one of the bridge's support columns, sending people and vehicles into the frigid water below.

Two people were rescued. Six others, believed to be from a construction crew, are presumed dead. Recovery operations were suspended overnight. Officials say they're concerned about the structural integrity of what's left of the bridge, the hazards posed by the debris, and poor visibility in the water.

The ship's voyage data recorder will be critical for investigators. CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the chain of events leading up to the crash.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the questions being asked right now is, was there something that could have been done to avert this accident? For example, could the tugboats that brought this ship into play here, could they have stuck with it? When we look at the tracking of it, we can see that the tugboats represented here are the blue lines. The red one is the ship. You see that after they do the turn initially, the tugboats split off, but that's normal.

Tugboats are there to guide a big ship like this when it has no momentum, so its own steering mechanism doesn't really work. It's got to get a little speed going. By here, it was up to about 8 miles an hour, approaching 9 miles an hour down here, so the tugboats split off.

Indeed, when it got into trouble down here, you see one of the tugboats came racing back to try to help when that call went out to say that it was in distress, so that's one thing. Could that have helped? Yeah, it would have been nice if it had, but it wasn't able to. Could it have stayed in the proper lane? Possibly, the idea being that when it came through here, the truth is it would have kept going straight on this line instead of veering off the way it did and getting into trouble here.

The problem is we now know from video that there was some kind of a power issue, or seemed to be. Watch the lights go out on the ship. That could be the reason that it was unable to control itself. That's what we're hearing from witnesses to this, saying, yeah, this was having a problem with basic control of the ship, so that was an issue. We also know that there is this plume of smoke. We don't really know why it came out of here or whether that was related to it, and we know that ultimately they couldn't do anything except go right into the bridge here.

Could there have been more protection for the bridge? There are systems that might protect a bridge like this in some circumstances, but you have to bear in mind this is a tremendous amount of power.

This ship, end-to-end, is almost as tall as the Chrysler building and carrying many, many tons of weight. That's not to say these are definitive answers to any of this, but these are some of the questions that are being raised right now and that it could take a long time to sort out before authorities are satisfied with the answers.


CHURCH: An Israeli woman who spent 55 days as a hostage in Gaza is the first to say publicly that she was sexually abused by Hamas captors.

Amit Susana spoke to the "New York Times" about her ordeal. On October 7, she says she was beaten and dragged into Gaza. She says she was chained by her ankle in a child's bedroom where she was forced to commit a sexual act at gunpoint.

Susana says later she was reunited with other hostages, was severely beaten by several militants and spent time in airless tunnels. She was freed in November during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas. Earlier this month, the United Nations released a report saying there is clear and convincing evidence that Hamas militants have raped hostages in Gaza.


Israeli President Isaac Herzog is praising Susana's courage, saying she speaks for all those who cannot speak.

Argentina's new leader is defending Israel, saying the country is justified in its response to Hamas' October attack. Those comments by Javier Milei coming in a wide-ranging interview with CNN en Espanol. More now from Stefano Pozzebon in Buenos Aires.


STEFANO POZZEBON, JOURNALIST: The Argentinian president Javier Milei has been a staunch supporter of Israel since before taking office in December and in a wide-ranging sit-down interview with CNN en Espanol on Tuesday, he reiterated his opinion.

JAVIER MILEI, ARGENTINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Israel was the target of a brutal attack and this type of crime requires a response that sets the example. In fact, everything Israel is doing is within the rule of law. I mean, Israel is not being excessive at all.

POZZEBON: In the interview, Milei did not refer to the resolution by the United Nations Security Council voted on Monday that calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, but he repeated his interest to converting to Judaism and he described the meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as one of the warmest he's had since taking office in December.

Milei also told CNN en Espanol that he believed Argentina is on track to defeat hyperinflation once and for all and he repeated his intention to shut down the country's central bank.

Currently, the Argentinian inflation rate is one of the highest in the world at over 270 percent year on year, but Milei claimed it was a success that the latest data in March showed that price rises stalling in the South American country. The Milei government has operated a rigid austerity program since taking office that led to the first fiscal surplus in Argentinian history in recent years at least.

Poverty, however, has also been on the rise and the latest figure from the Catholic University of Buenos Aires showed that more than half of Argentinians are currently living below the poverty rate.

For CNN, this is Stefano Pozzebon. Buenos Aires.


CHURCH: London's High Court has paused extradition proceedings for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He's been in the UK for more than a decade trying to defend himself against charges in the US for publishing classified documents starting back in 2010. CNN's Nada Bashir has more on Tuesday's ruling.


NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this ruling potentially offers Julian Assange an extraordinary lifeline in what has been a years-long battle. It had been anticipated that today's ruling would decide whether or not Assange had exhausted all avenues to lodge an appeal within the British courts, but instead the decision comes with a little more nuance and, crucially, more of a delay to his potential extradition.

Now, the High Court in London on Tuesday ruled that the WikiLeaks founder cannot be immediately extradited to the United States.

Instead, American authorities must first offer assurances about his treatment, including over his First Amendment rights and protection from the death penalty.

Now, they've been given three weeks to do so. If the U.S. fails to give these assurances, Assange would be allowed to appeal his extradition at a further hearing in May.

If, however, the U.S. does provide the requested assurances, there will be a further hearing to decide if those assurances are satisfactory and to make a final decision on leave to appeal.

Now, in the event that the appeal is denied, Assange's legal team has also vowed to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which could also halt his removal to the U.S.

This is a battle which Assange has fought for the last five years from London's Belmarsh prison and, of course, for seven years before that, while being holed up as a political refugee at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

He is, of course, being pursued by the U.S. authorities for what they say is the endangerment of lives by publishing confidential military records supplied by former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 and 2011.

Speaking outside the High Court, Assange's wife, Stella, described her husband as a political prisoner and also called on the Biden administration to drop the case entirely.

Nada Bashir, CNN, in London.


CHURCH: Still to come, an attorney for Sean Diddy Combs is blasting the search of the rapper's two homes by federal agents. Details on the allegations surrounding him after a quick break.




CHURCH: Now to a moment of truth for Donald Trump's Truth Social, or is it? The parent company behind his social media platform surged as it went public Tuesday, climbing all the way to $78 per share on the Nasdaq before dropping to $58. But experts warn the stock is extremely overvalued, saying its staggering multi-billion dollar valuation is likely a flash in the pan.

Truth Social has been racking up huge losses and as of last month only had some 494,000 active monthly mobile users. Trump's dominant stake was worth nearly $5 billion at the closing bell. However, lock-up restrictions mean the cash-strapped former U.S. president likely cannot sell or borrow against his shares anytime soon.

Just a few weeks before the start of Trump's first criminal trial, the Hush Money case, a judge has forbid him from making statements about most of the people involved in that trial, including the porn star at the center of it and Trump's former lawyer and fixer, who are both expected to be witnesses.

A New York judge issued the gag order Tuesday, noting that Trump has a history of going after people at all levels of the justice system, even jurors. Judge Juan Merchan said, and I'm quoting, "These extrajudicial statement went far beyond defending himself against attacks by public figures. Indeed, his statements were threatening, inflammatory and denigrating". Judges in other Trump cases have issued similar gag orders.

An attorney for embattled media mogul Sean Diddy Combs says his client is the target of a witch hunt. Sources tell CNN Combs was headed to a spring break trip with his teenage daughters when federal agents searched his two homes. And while it's unclear where Combs is now, his attorney says he is innocent and will fight the allegations.

CNN's Josh Campbell reports.


JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sean Diddy Combs, music mogul.

Now the target of a federal investigation carried out by a team that specializes in human trafficking crimes.

Two homes belonging to Combs, one in Los Angeles and one in Miami Beach, were searched Monday, according to a law enforcement source briefed on the investigation.

A second law enforcement source familiar with the search warrants tells CNN agents were authorized to search his homes for documents, phones, computers and other electronic devices.

Armed vehicles descended on the property simultaneously, a precaution related to armed private security teams employed by Combs.

His homes were searched by HSI, the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, with personnel stationed across the globe, which specializes in countering human trafficking. Focused both on rescuing victims and identifying and prosecuting suspected traffickers.

This investigation coming on the heels of several civil lawsuits.

ELIZABETH WAGMEISTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: All of them were incredibly graphic, accusing Diddy of rape, grooming, sexual assault, drugging women. There's a lot of similarities in these lawsuits.


CAMPBELL (voice-over): One of those from a former girlfriend, Cassandra Ventura, who goes by the stage name Cassie, alleging rape and physical abuse, was settled in November. In a December statement, Combs responded to the claims in all the lawsuits, saying, sickening allegations have been made against me by individuals looking for a quick payday. Let me be absolutely clear, I did not do any of the awful things being alleged.

Cassie's attorney responding to Monday's searches and the investigation. Hopefully this is the beginning of a process that will hold Mr. Combs responsible for his depraved conduct.

Another lawsuit filed in February by a former employee, producer Rodney Jones, who goes by the stage name Lil Rod, accusing Combs of, among other things, sexual assault. The musician was not at either home at the time. His whereabouts still unknown.

WAGMEISTER: This is a huge stain on his reputation, to say the least. And this really feels like a fall from grace for one of the biggest stars and moguls in the music world.

CAMPBELL: Now, we received a statement today from Combs' attorney, blasting the show of force by armed tactical federal agents outside both residences. The attorney calling this a witch hunt and a gross overuse of military level force. Still, he says that Combs is cooperating with investigators.

He goes on to say in the statement that neither Mr. Combs nor any of his family members have been arrested, nor has their ability to travel been restricted in any way. There has been no finding of criminal or civil liability with any of these allegations. Mr. Combs is innocent and will continue to fight every single day to clear his name.

Of course, the big question still, what, if anything, did federal investigators find at those residences? And how might that information be used in any possible criminal investigation? As of right now, investigators aren't saying.

Josh Campbell, CNN, Los Angeles.


CHURCH: Firefighters in Peru are trying to extinguish a wildfire that has been endangering a wetland in the country's western region. The blaze began on Saturday and authorities say the area's difficult terrain is causing serious challenges to extinguishing the flames.

Wildfires are also impacting Mexico. Flames have been spreading through the eastern state of Veracruz, but officials say population centers are currently not at risk and there's no need for residents to evacuate.

Up next, how music is helping a community heal one year after a deadly mass shooting at a school in Nashville. Members of the band The Lone Bellow release a powerful tribute to the victims. And they join me after the break.




That is The Lone Bellow singing "Victory Garden", a track that comes out today and you're hearing it first on CNN. The lyrics tug at your heartstrings and for good reason. It marks the one year anniversary of a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.

Six people died that day, including three nine-year-old children. Members of The Lone Bellow live in Nashville and were directly impacted. One of their close friends lost a child in that shooting.

This song pays tribute to those killed, the resilience of the Nashville community and serves as a call for change, with all proceeds going to a charity advocating for sensible gun reform.


The final chorus in "Victory Garden" features some very special voices, including families who lost loved ones during that attack.


And I'm joined now by the members of The Lone Bellow. They're in Oregon in the middle of a West Coast concert tour. Thank you so much for joining us.


CHURCH: So, Zach, let's start with you. This is such a powerful song and it's also very personal. What messages do you hope resonate with listeners?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think when we first wrote the song, the first thing that I did was send it to my friends who had lost their child in the shooting. And I asked them if the song helped and maybe even helped represent how they're feeling right now. And they blessed it. That was my goal. That was my end goal. So anything else is just icing on the cake. CHURCH: And, Kanene, as Zach just explained, this tragedy did strike

close to home for the band. Talk to us about the impact it had on you, all of you, in fact, and the process for getting community members and the victims' families to sing on this recording.

KANENE PIPKIN, MEMBER OF THE LONE BELLOW: The impact was enormous. And at first there was a lot of just trying to take care of each other and make sure that nobody was getting left behind or lost in their grief and isolated. And I think that's where this song really came from because in light of the overwhelming circumstance and the tragedy, I think there's two paths you can take.

One is isolation and detachment. And the other one is choosing to take care of the people around you, take care of yourself, much like planting a garden, which was the inspiration for the song and what we're trying to do for our community and the people we want to take care of.

CHURCH: Right. And, Brian, your verse in particular is full of striking imagery that takes us back to the Covenant School one year ago. Let's take a listen.


So after the horrors of that day, talk to us about how Nashville came together and the community push for sensible gun reform.

BRIAN ELMQUIST, MEMBER OF THE LONE BELLOW: I mean, we all -- we all gather around each other. For me personally, it was hard for me to even think about it when it happened. But I did see all of Nashville, like, come together and we would go out to protest, like, sensible gun laws.

So this kind of stuff cannot happen, because it's hard when you send your kids to school and you have to think about this kind of stuff. This should be the safest place that they go. But that's not the world we live in right now. And that's the song. That's why we wrote the song. When we started writing the song, they had just kicked the moms out of the Capitol building. And we showed up that day and we were probably trying to write something different, but we couldn't run away from it.

And hands in the ground so our hearts didn't harden. We have to take care of each other and push towards each other, even in these times. And sooner or later, that work will not be in vain. It will pay off.

CHURCH: Yeah, that's the hope. And Zach, the name of the song, "Victory Garden", talk to us about the meaning behind it. And how does it relate to the Nashville shooting on this anniversary?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, well, during World War I, World War II, the government asked people to grow these gardens to help with food supply, but also to help with any mourning that was going on. If you lost a child, you know, that was a soldier in the war.

[03:55:04] So we thought that it was interesting to try to take that imagery and put it in the times that we're in right now. So that's what we were going for. We hope that this song can be a healing balm, but we also hope that it can just help shine some light on some places where light needs to be shined on.

CHURCH: Yeah, it is a powerful message indeed. And, Kanene, all proceeds from this song go to charity. Tell us where the money will be going and how it'll be used to try and prevent another tragedy like this from happening again.

PIPKIN: It's going to an organization called Voices, and the chapter is Voices for a Safer Tennessee. And it's basically an organization that helps educate and engage the community in bipartisan discussions and just common sense reform and change.

CHURCH: Yeah, and Brian, listening to this song, it gives me the chills. I have to imagine the rush of emotion that you get singing it live on stage. Describe that to us.

ELMQUIST: It feels like it's an old song that you would take to kind of tell your testimony. And, you know, our kids weren't in the school and our families weren't, but we were directly impacted, the people around us, and it never stops going out.

And the fact that the families blessed the song to go forward and sang on it too, it's just so powerful to be able to take this message and sing it. It's really hard every night to sing it. It's beautiful when I know that we didn't carry this ourselves, that the whole community came around us with it because it's not our song to sing. It's like Nashville's song to sing.


ELMQUIST: And I'm really grateful to be a part of it.

CHURCH: It just is amazing and amazing that all three of you can sing it without falling apart. I don't know how you do it. Thank you so much for joining us and wishing all three of you well on the rest of your tour. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CHURCH: And I want to thank you for spending part of your day with me. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN NEWSROOM continues next with Eleni Giokos.