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NTSB Says, Date Recorder Recovered from Crashed Cargo Ship; Hunter Biden's Lawyers in Court to Fight Tax Charges; Judge Issues Gag Order in Hush Money Trial. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 10:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Alisyn Camerota in New York.

Right now, a tough day already underway for recovery teams in Baltimore. At the site of that collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge, the six missing construction workers who were on the bridge when a container ship slammed into one of its support columns are now presumed dead.

Dive crews are back in the water this morning and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will return to the ship. They went on board the ship briefly late last night and here's what we just heard from the chair of the NTSB.


JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: Right now, we do have the data recorder, which is essentially the black box. We've sent that back to our lab to evaluate and begin to develop a timeline of events that led up to the strike on the bridge. And we hope to have that information to share with the public later today.


CAMEROTA: Okay. So, let's go to the scene right now. We have CNN's Gabe Cohen reporting for us. So, Gabe, what is going to happen today?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Alisyn, it's a really critical day for investigators. There are two dozen of them from the NTSB that are here that have boarded the Dali, that massive container ship. They are speaking with the crew.

And as you just heard the chair of the NTSB say, they have this data recorder, this black box from the ship. It is now at a federal facility. It is being analyzed. And they are hoping by later today, they are going to be able to put together a much clearer timeline of what led up to this catastrophe, what caused that near total blackout.

You could see on the video the collapse, the ship, the lights on the ship flickering. We know that the pilot lost steering, that they had lost power on that ultimately led to the crash and the collapse of the bridge. So, we're hoping to get much more information in the hours ahead, though, the NTSB has said they really don't at this point want to speculate.

We know that the Coast Guard is also monitoring the potential for more than a million gallons of hazardous waste, hazardous material that has potentially poured out of the ship into the Patapsco River because of the crash. And then, of course, that doesn't even begin to talk about clearing the bridge away so they can reopen the harbor. So, a very busy day here, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: And, Gabe, I've read about how challenging the situation is for the divers who have gone back in the water to look, you know, sadly, for the victims. What makes it so challenging?

G. COHEN: Well, the weather conditions aren't helping. It is cold. There's going to be quite a bit of rain today, choppy waves, bad visibility. It is dark out there. Not to mention because of the currents, the area that they're searching has only gotten wider and wider.

And so, as of now, I just spoke with the governor's team. He was heading over to speak with some of those rescue crews. As of now, they haven't found anything and conditions really aren't making it any easier for the divers who are trying to figure out where to look. And there's a lot of debris out there as well, making it tough.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I know that that makes it particularly dangerous. So, Gabe, now at this hour, what do we know about the ship being in distress right before hitting the bridge?

G. COHEN: Well, we know that there was this mayday call that went out as this total blackout was unfolding, as they were losing power and losing the ability to steer. Fortunately, police were able to get that mayday call quickly enough where they could stop traffic, stop more cars from being on the bridge, Alisyn.

Unfortunately, it was a matter of seconds and not minutes. They knew there was a construction crew up there. Radio traffic shows that police wanted to go reach them. They just couldn't get there. Within a matter of seconds, the bridge collapsed.

CAMEROTA: And what do we know, Gabe, about the victims?

G. COHEN: Well, we're learning much more about them today, these six construction workers who are presumed dead. Many of them have lived in Maryland for many years.

I can tell you we're learning about Miguel Luna. We've just gotten a photo into CNN of Miguel Luna.


He was a father of three from El Salvador who have lived in Maryland for more than 19 years. We've also learned about 38-year-old Maynor Sandoval, an immigrant from Honduras. He's lived in Maryland in the United States, I should say, for the past 18 years he was married, a father of two of an 18- year-old-boy and a 15 -- that's Miguel Luna, I should say, on your screen just to clarify the photo that we just got in. But as I was saying, Maynor Sandoval has an 18-year-old son, a 5-year-old daughter.

And just speaking with people -- and that's Mr. Sandoval on your screen now. Speaking with people within these communities in Baltimore, friends, family, acquaintances of the victims, people are heartbroken and they're shocked because of how this has unfolded over the past 36 hours at this point. It is a brutal time for so many people here in Baltimore, Alisyn, as we're learning more and more about their stories.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understandable. Gabe Cohen, thank you for the reporting.

Joining us now is Ray LaHood, former transportation secretary in the Obama administration. Secretary, thanks so much for being here.

So, let's just start with the ripple effect of all of this, the regional or even the national impact of halting traffic in a shipping hub of this size.

RAY LAHOOD, FORMER TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Alisyn, let me just start by saying this is such a sad day for our country and all of us need to remember the families of those that have been lost and during this Easter week offer our prayers to the families and to the victims.

This is a terrible tragedy and it's a real dilemma for our system of delivering goods around the world. Baltimore is, if not the busiest port in the ports in the U.S., it's certainly one of them. I think it's probably the busiest port, has been, for delivering goods in and out of our country.

Also, supply chain issues are going to come into effect here because there are cargo ships that were waiting to leave following the one that crashed into the bridge and brought the bridge down that were ready to leave the port of Baltimore. They haven't been able to do that.

You have all of the workers that are employees of the Baltimore Harbor and they're wondering about their near-term future in terms of work. Certainly, the people that have used the bridge for many, many years are not able to use it.

So, this is a tremendous, terrible impact on transportation all throughout the Baltimore-Washington region and around the world also.

CAMEROTA: You're right, the repercussions of this, you know, we have yet to feel the full impact of.

So, how long will it take to get this port fully functioning again?

LAHOOD: I think in terms of getting the port open, that's obviously going to happen sooner rather than later. Clearing the debris from the bridge will take some time. Once that's done, then they can begin to open up the channel for the boats to get in and out.

I know that Secretary Buttigieg and his team are looking to other ports to be helpful, but Baltimore is such a huge port. You can't replace it, really. We have to -- the team at DOT and others have to get the channel open and get that port working again.

In terms of rebuilding the bridge, I have no doubt, when Congress returns, they will step up like they have done in so many other occasions when funds are needed and when corrections need to be taken to really begin to plan for the rebuilding of this bridge.

It will cost an enormous amount of money, millions and millions of dollars. Congress is going to have to appropriate that money. And I believe they will handle it in the way they've handled other crises around the country, whether it's fires or tornadoes or hurricanes. When additional money is needed, Congress steps up.

And I'm confident, having served in Congress for 14 years and then having served as DOT Secretary, I've seen what Congress can do very quickly, and I believe they will.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's comforting, Secretary, because, as you know, times have changed a bit since the time that you were serving in Congress.


I mean, recently, you know, some GOP lawmakers have resisted approving disaster relief or emergency spending for blue states. And as you say, you were a Republican in Congress. So, what would you say to any of those Republicans who might try to fight against this?

LAHOOD: This is a tremendous impact on the economy of the United States, not just on Baltimore, not just on Washington, D.C., the closing of this port and the rebuilding of the bridge impact people all over the country and all over the world.

And Congress needs to do what it's always done, step up, provide the money, provide the leadership with the Biden administration, work together and get moving on appropriating the money and get moving on plans to rebuild the bridge and reopen the port. This is critical for our country.

CAMEROTA: Secretary, The Wall Street Journal was able to interview one of the crew members on board, and he described hearing the engine before this impact was coughing. Those are his words. One of the engines coughed and then stopped. The smell of burned fuel was everywhere in the engine room, and it was pitch black.

So, does that tell you anything, investigatively, of where they'll start looking for the cause?

LAHOOD: You know, Alisyn, I think that we all should take comfort in the fact that in our government, we have the NTSB, an independent agency, not a part of DOT, not a part of DHS. They're independent. And I can tell you this, having served as secretary for four and a half years, they have some of the most professional investigators, professional people. They will get to the core, to the bottom, to really figure out what happened and how perhaps it could be corrected in the future.

But I have great, great confidence in the NTSB. I think they have great leadership and they will help America figure out what happened and what steps need to be taken in the future.

CAMEROTA: Well, Ray LaHood, it's great to be able to rely on your experience this morning. Thanks so much for being here.

LAHOOD: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Soon, a courtroom showdown in California, this is over the fate of Hunter Biden's felony tax indictment. The potential impact this could have on the election, next.



CAMEROTA: This morning, Hunter Biden's lawyers are expected in a Los Angeles courtroom to try to convince a federal judge to throw out felony tax charges against the president's son. He pleaded not guilty to nine counts of tax offenses filed against him in December.

CNN's Marshall Cohen is live in Los Angeles. So, Marshall, what do we expect in court today?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: Hey, Alisyn, it's kind of a big day for the president's son. His attorneys will be in a courtroom in downtown L.A. later today to try to get this case thrown out.

He's facing nine criminal counts that were filed by special counsel David Weiss as part of his long-running investigation.

A few of these are felonies, including alleged tax evasion and filing a false or fraudulent tax return, and it could carry prison time, very serious stuff. That's why Hunter's team is trying to get the case thrown out.

They're attacking this from many different angles, but I'll just break a few them down for you here. They've argued that he was granted immunity, they've argued that the venue is not proper, and they say that's he's being politically targeted.

Remember last year when there was that attempted plea deal with the special counsel and Hunter Biden? Part of that arrangement included an immunity provision, and the Hunter's team is arguing that that is still active.

They've also made the case that these charges can't be brought in California because he wasn't living in the California at the time. But the most important part here, what I'm looking for today in court later, is the arguments about the political angle. They say that Special Counsel Weiss, who is a Trump appointee, they say he caved to pressure from Republicans, and the only reason why he's bringing this case is because of that political motivation.

The special counsel has pushed back on it completely. He has taken flack from both sides. He's kind of been angering Democrats and Republicans along the way, but he is pushing back hard on this, Alisyn.

Let me read for you what he wrote in a court filing earlier this month. He says that, quote, to state an obvious fact that the defendant continues to ignore, former President Trump is not the president of the United States. The defendant fails to explain how President Biden or the attorney general or the special counsel are acting at the direction of former President Trump or congressional Republicans.

Alisyn, the Special Counsel is saying, we didn't charge this because of Trump. We didn't charge us because the politics. We charge you because we think you're guilty.

CAMEROTA: So, is there any way to know how these charges against Hunter are going to play into the election and in particular the impeachment inquiry against President Biden?

M. COHEN: Well, you know, it's interesting because so much of this case involves the money that Hunter Biden made overseas from China and from Ukraine.


And that's exactly what the House Republicans have put at the center of the impeachment inquiry back in D.C. But the indictment does not pack up their allegation that Hunter and Joe were in business together corruptly making money overseas. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Marshall Cohen, thank you very much for that update.

So, Donald Trump is under a gag order in his hush money trial. The judge blasting the former president for, quote, threatening, inflammatory, denigrating statements against people at all levels of the justice system, including jurors. The order prevents Mr. Trump from criticizing his former attorney, Michael Cohen, or adult film star Stormy Daniels, both are expected to testify during the trial.

Attorney Seth Berenzweig joins me now. Seth, thanks so much for being here.

So, what is Donald Trump allowed to say and what can he not say?

SETH BERENZWEIG, BUSINESS AND COMPLIANCE ATTORNEY: Well, Mr. Trump certainly lit a match yesterday to the situation with his incendiary comment on social media attacking the judge and his daughter. Promptly after that, there were two orders that were entered. The first order was a gag order. It states that Mr. Trump cannot make negative comments or anything of an aggressive or threatening nature with respect to witnesses, jurors, court personnel, court staff. He is allowed to mention Alvin Bragg, but it is otherwise a broad prohibition.

It's also interesting to note that shortly around that time also, Judge Merchan entered another order, and it was short and sweet, but it's warned everybody, including the attorneys in the case, that they must abide by all court orders and anyone that does not do that risks criminal contempt.

So, clearly, Judge Merchan is sending a message, there's a new sheriff in town and he's going to apply this very strictly.

CAMEROTA: So, Donald Trump's lawyers are not commenting on the gag order, but his campaign called it, quote, unconstitutional, saying basically that, quote, American voters have a fundamental right to hear the uncensored voice of the leading candidate for the highest office in the land. How about that argument?

BERENZWEIG: Well, that's essentially a First Amendment argument for freedom of speech, and the court summarily rejected that. Certainly, there's a balancing that occurs in this sort of thing and there is a need for the efficient expedition of justice. And a criminal defendant of a very high level cannot engage in actions that would prejudice the proceedings or interfere with the smooth administration of justice.

So, that First Amendment argument was considered by the judge. It was rejected. And this is really also non-appealable. They can try to fight this. But this is set in stone. Judge Merchan is not going to handle this case, as Judge Engoron did also in New York. This is going to be applied very strictly. And he's made a very specific warning that there will be criminal contempt consequences waiting in the wings if someone crosses the line.

CAMEROTA: Here's another thing that Judge Merchan said. He said he was, quote, unpersuaded by Donald Trump's lawyers that the former president has refrained from commenting on this case compared to others. So, basically, the judge reviewed Donald Trump's public statements in other cases when he was deciding whether to impose these restrictions. What do you think of that?

BERENZWEIG: Well, I think that judgment on is demonstrating that he is taking a balanced and holistic review of the record, and he's being very careful. Look, he knows that this is going to be one of the most intensely watched legal unfolding developments and dramas of the year. This is going to be the first criminal trial. Who knows? It may be the only trial. He knows that everything is going to be placed under a microscope.

I think that he balanced this under the First Amendment in a very careful and appropriate way. This is really more of a common way where the court is very careful to ensure that when the proceeding moves forward that there's nothing that interferes with the administration of justice.

So, this was a strong signal and I believe that, as he made it very clear, he will enforce it very strictly.

CAMEROTA: Seth, I want to get your take on what becomes of Donald Trump's attorneys. So, as you know, some of the lawyers there involved in the 2020 election fight, John Eastman, he was known as the architect of the plan to halt Congress' certification of Joe Biden's presidential victory. He's facing possible disbarment. And he's one of more than a dozen Trump allies to be charged in the Georgia election interference case.

So, he's -- I should say, he's pleaded not guilty. But it's sort of an occupational hazard at this point. What are your thoughts?

BERENZWEIG: Well, I think that it's really interesting to note that Donald Trump relied very heavily on the lawyers. Of course, John Eastman, who is about to have an announcement from California any hour now, where I believe that it will probably lead to an announcement of disbarment.


You've got Jeffrey Clark, whose disbarment hearing in Washington, D.C., started yesterday.

Mr. Trump relied upon the attorneys to waive a false flag of legitimacy for the attempt to overturn the election, and specifically the Eastman memo laid out the false elector scheme, which was infamous and that led to his famous mug shot, as well as all the others in Georgia.

This is going to be an important message sent by the state disciplinary bars who really have the authority to basically execute what is tantamount to a death penalty from the professional world for attorneys that this is an intentional alleged fraud that was committed not only relative to his representations in that case but really upon the election in general.

So, I believe that any hour now, we will likely hear that he will be disbarred. He will appeal it. The appeal will be unsuccessful. Jeffrey Clark and all the others that you've mentioned probably are facing a similar fate. And this shows a message that at least there's some kind of an internal mechanism for enforcement for rules and ethics within the professional bar for attorneys in the United States.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting. Seth Berenzweig, thank you.

All right, coming up, it's one of the busiest ports in America. Now, everything, from cars, to sugar, to cruises, are affected after this Baltimore crash. What this means for you, next.