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CNN INTERNATIONAL: Crypto Fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced To 25 Years In Prison; Trump Defense Pushes To Dismiss Georgia Election Case Over Free Speech; Bodies of 2 Workers Recovered, 4 Still Missing; Tonight: Biden Holds Fundraiser With Ex-Presidents Obama, Clinton. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 15:00   ET



RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN HOST: It is 7:00 p.m. in London, 3:00 a.m. in Beijing, 12:00 p.m. in Los Angeles, and 3:00 p.m. here in New York. I'm Rahel Solomon, in for Jim Sciutto. Thanks so much for joining me today on CNN NEWSROOM.

Let's get right to the news.

We want to start with fallen crypto darling, Sam Bankman-Fried, sentenced to 25 years in prison. That sentence coming five months after SBF was found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering, and defrauding both investors and customers of his cryptocurrency exchange company, FTX.

In 2022, FTX rapidly imploded, leaving in his wake a $8 billion hole of customer savings just gone seemingly overnight. Out of today's sentencing, Bankman-Fried apologized in court saying, I throw it all away and it haunts me every day.

But that did not stop the judge from issuing a blistering indictment of but once Silicon Valley whiz kid and the scheme that is now viewed as one of the biggest white-collar crimes in history for more.

Let me bring in CNN's Kara Scannell, who joins me.

Kara, the judge could have sentence SBF to a lot more, 110 years, in fact.

How did he come to this sentence?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. And the prosecutors had asked him to sentence Sam Bankman-Fried between 40 and 50 years. The judge said he thought that was excessive, but he was certainly sending a message by sentencing SBF to 25 years in prison.

And part of the reason as the judge explained it was even though SBF said he was sorry in court, the judge said he really hasn't shown any the remorse because SBF was saying he still thought that there were assets where people would get their money back. And that is not the point. The judge is saying he knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew it was criminal, and he still did it, stealing $8 billion from investors and customers of FTX, as well as lenders to its sister hedge fund Alameda Research.

And the judge said that it was Sam Bankman-Fried's nature to take risks, to take calculated risks. And he wanted to send a message today and put him behind bars, so he couldn't continue to do that saying specifically, there is a risk that this man will be in a position to do something very bad in the future. And it's not a trivial risks.

So sentencing him to 25 years in prison, Bankman-Fried is 32 years old, which means he will be 57 years old when the sentence is up. But that will keep him out of the markets and out of the public for many years to come -- Rahel.

SOLOMON: Well, you just a really fascinating turn of events.

Kara Scannell for us in New York -- Kara, thank you.

And for more on Sam Bankman-Fried and the message this could potentially sent to Silicon Valley, I want to bring in CNN media analyst and "Axios" senior media reporter, Sara Fischer.

Sara, always good to see you.

So let's put this sentence into context. So this was twice as long as there are no founder Elizabeth Holmes. She was convicted in 2022 of fraud and conspiracy, and she was sentenced to 11 years. But it's also a far cry from the 150 years sentence that Bernie Madoff received, which as we said, is closer to what prosecutors wanted for SBF.

Sara, does this sentence surprise you at all? What are your thoughts?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: No, I think it falls just about where we were expecting. Remember the defense was asking for about 6- 1/2 years. The prosecution 40 to 50. And so, 25 is about even split.

But remember with Bernie Madoff, you're looking at about $20 billion in losses in that Ponzi scheme. With this situation, we have about $10 billion to $10 billion in customer losses, although we think a lot of those will be recovered. So that's also what makes this a vastly different case and why you're seeing a far cry from over 100 years in prison.

The other thing here to consider is his age. He is a young guy. That's something that the defense brought to the attention of the judge. Meaning, if you were to give him a very punitive punishment, that would be the rest of his life forever as opposed to something where its most of his life, but he can continue to live outside of bars eventually.

And remember, Rahel, he could less than this sentence with good behavior, especially for a non-violent white-collar crime, you know, you can get up to 50 percent less jail time. So, we're looking at 12- 1/2 years if he continues to be on his absolute best behavior, that's to be determined.

SOLOMON: Sara, I know one thing you watch pretty closely as did I was just this media tour that it appeared that SBF went on, even joining "GMA" at one point, talking to George Stephanopoulos and many of those comments came back to haunt him in the trial. Take a listen.


SAM BANKMAN-FRIED, FTX FOUNDER: I wasn't spending any time or effort trying to manage risk on FTX, trying like and that obviously --


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST: That's a stunning admission.



STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a pretty stunning admission.

BANKMAN-FRIED: Yeah. I mean, I don't know what to say, like what happened happened. And like if I had been -- if I had been spending an hour a day thinking about risk management on FTX, I don't think that would have happened.


SOLOMON: Sara, that's just one interview that's just one admission, but there were many. How did his comments to the media play into this trial?

FISCHER: Well, they were brought up multiple times, Rahel. And by the way, remember, it wasn't just the media comments, those were damning. It was also that he was contacting his ex-girlfriend and former FTX and Alameda Research executive, Caroline Ellison, his respondents to her was also brought up pretrial.

And so, holistically, one of the things that really hit him here was his pretrial behavior. If he had just lay low, continue to focus on things like community service, not do any press interviews. Remember he was confined to his parent's house in Palo Alto, California. I think this would have been a much different case.

But his pretrial behavior, you know, going and blanketing the media, writing that correspondence to somebody who, remember, she testified against him, really damaged him here.

SOLOMON: And to that point, I mean, he was accused of witness tampering. He gave what has been called pretty bizarre and disastrous testimony. He violated his bail conditions.

Does that explain why the judge didn't seem to buy that SBF had true remorse for his actions. And we heard from our reporter, Kara Scannell there that he had sort of made the point that some of these customers are going to be reimbursed, that they will be made whole again.

I think this speaks to why the judge thinks that there could be a risk of bad behavior in the future, Rahel, because if he had to remorse your point and this was somebody who really was reconciling with a huge mistake, he wouldn't be doing witness tampering. He wouldn't be blanketing the press trying to rehabilitate his image when he knew in fact that he had done something very wrong. And I definitely think that played into that 25-year sentence.

SOLOMON: Yeah. Talk to me about what message do you think, Sara, this might send in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley, not necessarily entirely, but there is at times this, this sort of fake it until you make get hustle cultural type persona. Does this do anything to that persona? Does this send a message at all you think, Sara?

FISCHER: It does. And you knew where it really damages them? It's consumer trust. If you think about all the people who lost their money, remember $8 billion, that's a lot of consumer wealth. It damages their trust with new products coming out of Silicon Valley that are being backed by big venture for capitalists who clearly didn't do the due diligence on this. I think people are going to be a lot more careful when they're putting money into crypto now, for now on. So that's a big hit in the valley.

And then if you're somebody who's trying to move fast and break things, right? You're looking at what happened with Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes, you're looking at what happened with Sam Bankman- Fried and you're listening to what he just told George Stephanopoulos and you're saying to make sure I am taking that hour a day to assess risk because if I don't, I could end up in a similar position.

SOLOMON: Then lastly, Sara, just because I have you and you cover media so closely, do you think that there were any sort of impacts are lessons learned to the media community at large? I mean, I had read certainly articles from those who had profiled him and said, look I was fooled, too. I got it wrong too. I talked to people in media who said, I didn't see it coming. We interviewed them multiple times, didn't see it coming.

What do you think?

FISCHER: I -- this hits me so close to home, Rahel, because I've also developed relationships with people who I've covered who've turned out to be fraudsters. And the lesson learned here is that the investors in this business did not do the due diligence. And as reporters, you cannot rely on investors to do the due diligence, meaning you can't say, well, this person clearly knows what they're doing because all of these very smart people in Silicon Valley, back to them. You yourself have to go do that work. And I think that's what the big takeaway is from this entire fallout, right?

The big institutional investors that should have been checking from this from day one didn't do the due diligence, and thus the media community didn't do the due diligence. And we were all at fault. We were all to blame, but it really comes down to we have to do our own homework.

SOLOMON: Yeah, great point. So certainly, a good lesson for us all. Sara Fischer, good to see you. Thank you, Sara.

FISCHER: Thank you. SOLOMON: All right. Let's go to Fulton County, Georgia, now. That's

where a hearing to dismiss the state's 2020 U.S. presidential election subversion case against Donald Trump. And one of his co-defendants has wrapped without a decision from the judge.

Now, it was the first hearing since that same judge rejected efforts to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis from the case. But Fani Willis was notably absent today.

Let's bring in CNN's Zach Cohen, who has been following the cases.

Zach, walk us through all that happened today.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Rahel. No Fani Willis and no decision yet, but an important hearing in Fulton County, Georgia, today.

Look, Trump's attorneys in Georgia making their case that Donald Trump's indictment in Georgia should be thrown out completely because the fact that he was pushing about widespread voter fraud about the 2020 election being stolen fall under political speech, and therefore, are protected by the First Amendment.

Now, prosecutors in this case, obviously disagree with that argument and they said it wasn't just that Donald Trump was lying or repeatedly lying about the election results in Georgia, but he was doing so at in an attempt to fuel a criminal conspiracy.

Now, obviously, the judge is still weighing these two arguments, but, we should note that, look, some of Trump's co-defendants in the Georgia case have tried to make the same argument in court and those arguments and those motions were denied by Scott McAfee, the judge.


So we'll have to see where he lands on this.

But again, the big picture thing here is this case continues to move forward. In this case is now again focused on the criminal charges and on the allegations against Trump and his co-defendants, rather than Fani Willis, his personal life, or those hanging questions of whether or not she'll be disqualified.

Fani Willis has asked for a trial date to be set on August 5th, 2024. The judge has not responded to that request. We know Fani Willis might re-up her ask if McAfee does not put something on the calendar soon, but really that is the major question. When could we see a trial in Georgia? And could it happen before the 2024 election?

SOLOMON: Oh, interesting, Zach. Any sense of when the judge might make a decision, what are we expecting in terms of when he might make his mind up?

COHEN: Yeah, usually takes them a few days to issue an order or written order. He rarely ruled from the bench, so it wasn't surprising that we didn't hear decision today from Judge McAfee. But again, this is something that had to be resolved. This issue of the First Amendment motion by Donald Trump, it had to be resolved before a trial can take place.

There's other big ticket items like the immunity question that's currently also sitting with the U.S. Supreme Court. There's a similar motion on McAfee's desk as well.

So those are the milestones that we still have to get through before a trial can happen. But there is time between now and even August for those things to take place.

SOLOMON: Yeah. As Fani Willis said over the weekend to CNN, she says the train is coming. She certainly plans to try this sooner rather than later. We shall see.

Zach Cohen, thank you.

Let's discuss this further. With me now is defense and trial attorney Misty Marris and former state and federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, David Weinstein.

Good to see you both.

Misty, let me start with you. So, Trump's lawyers, they're making the case. This is all about free speech. And even if it is false speech, it is protected by the First Amendment. The prosecutors are saying he's not being prosecuted for lying. He's being prosecuted for lying to the government.

Let's take a listen to both of their arguments.


STEVE SADOW, ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Essentially, the states position is because as alleged, what President Trump said, speech wise, or expressed either through his speech or conduct, which is still freedom of expression, because that's false in the eyes of the state, its lost all protections of the First Amendment.

DONALD WAKEFORD, CHIEF SENIOR DISTRICT ATTORNEY, FULTON COUNTY: He's not being prosecuted for lying. He's been prosecuted for lying to the government. A state -- an act which is illegal because it does harm it to the government.


COHEN: So, Misty, what do you think? You're a defense attorney, what do you make of the defense's argument?

MISTY MARRIS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, look, this argument was actually raised twice before in this very court by two of the co- defendants. And it did not succeed. It failed.

So here's the issue with the defense argument. It's premature. So there's a legal standard hindered for which this type of motion is viewed. And so the indictment has to be viewed more as if the allegations are true, then the First Amendment argument would be appropriately raised during the trial. It would be a question for the jury to decide.

So basically, what prosecutors are saying is that they're not being prosecuted. The defendants are being prosecuted for lying. They're being prosecuted because the lies were in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy. That's a jury.

So it's premature to raise it now. And it certainly doesn't warrant dismissal of the indictment. And I think that's the argument that's ultimately going to succeed.

SOLOMON: David, do you see it the same way that this, this is premature to consider and that it shouldn't be put before a jury to decide?

DAVID WEINSTEIN, FORMER STATE & FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: All right. I absolutely agree with Misty, Rahel. It certainly is an issue that had to be litigated. It's been litigated twice before. And they're going to continue to make these arguments, but they're arguments that you make to a jury for them to decide whether the facts show that this isn't defense that they can consider, or one that they should believe.

It's not a place for the judge right now to rule on this pretrial. I don't think he's going to grant this motion either. I think it had to be heard, and that'll be preserved as an issue for appeal, but not going to be granted.

SOLOMON: So, Misty, what's the strategy here? Is this death by 1,000 cuts? Is this delay by any means necessary? I mean, what -- what's the strategy then?

MARRIS: I think ultimately the strategy, number one, great point, it had to be argued. Of course, the First Amendment issue is going to be something that does -- that will be used if there if possible. You should a successful and ultimately there's an appeal.

But the other part of this is perhaps looking on the defense side to tailor down the indictment. So even if it's not successful in getting the indictment thrown out in its entirety, which I suspect it will not be, there's the possibility that as the judge gets into the weeds with respect to each count of the indictment that maybe he would throw one or one or two of those out if they did not fulfill the requirements that the prosecution needs to fulfill in order for it to be technically valid.

So we saw that before, right? We saw a several counts thrown out by Judge McAfee because they were not pled properly by the prosecutor.


So I think that the defense is just taking any and every avenue they can to try and narrow this as much as possible.

SOLOMON: David, what about the argument we heard from -- this is a different motion, but from the attorney for David Shafer. He's the former chair of the Georgia Republican Party, who argued his client was just following the advice of his lawyer. How -- how strong is that argument?

WEINSTEIN: Well, you know, a lawyer can only give advice based on the facts that they're given by their clients. And again, a defense that should be put forward and one, when you're going to rely on the advice of counsel, that's what you need to do pretrial, and it may be another one that you're going to present to the jury, but you have to file a pretrial again.

Again, the problem with that is a lawyer can certainly give advice but you're giving a lawyer all the facts, was he being completely upfront and honest about what he was being asked to do and what he did do. And that's why he did it or is this sort of a defense made to fit the facts and they're trying to shoehorn it in.

Again, I'm not sure that this is going to be successful for them, right now, but jury could decide different story later on.

SOLOMON: Misty, once that argument is allowed to be made, I suppose, I mean, do they lose the option to claim attorney-client privilege if you're arguing, listen, I just -- I followed my attorney's advice. I mean, at that point, do those conversations become not privileged anymore?

MARRIS: So they could to the extent that its defense that the client is the one that holds the ability to waive that privilege. So it would be up to David Shafer to say, okay, I'm waving the privilege because the information needs to be presented to the jury in furtherance of my defense.

Now, you get into a little bit of dicey territory because it's really not going to be selectively waived. So, then, any and all communications could potentially part of the trial, and the reason that I don't think its motion is going to be successful on that point, is that again, that is a fact question and it would speak to intent. Did he -- was their criminal intent or was he following advice of counsel?

Well, that would be a defense that would be presented, but you make a great point. You're kind of playing with fire waving that privilege and allowing all of those communications to come in. But it could be central to the defense, so it would be a strategy call.

SOLOMON: You know, one thing I would love both of you to just weigh in on really quickly and we haven't touched on, is that there is -- there is this appeal that is out there about the decision to allow Fani Willis to remain on the case. Obviously, the defense is certainly within their rights to appeal the decision.

Because of that appeal how likely is it that this case goes before a trial or a jury before the election in November.

Misty, your thoughts. SOLOMON: It all depends on whether or not the appellate division will stay the underlying case while the appeal is pending. So, really, the trial and everything related to the trial of the discovery process could go full speed ahead while the appellate division makes a decision. So if they do not pause it, I think its very likely this trial could go before -- you know, maybe not the beginning of August, maybe the end of August, maybe September, but that would be ample time to get your ducks in a row and to be prepared for trial.

SOLOMON: And, David?

WEINSTEIN: I don't disagree with Misty, I think again, it's up to the Court of Appeals. Are they going to push the pause button and put everything on hold? I doubt that.

And the way that the judge wrote his order and the choice that he gave Fani Willis about what to do, I don't think that the court of appeals is going to overturn what he did and send it all screaming back to him. I they may very well not pause it. They may consider the issue the case moves forward.

Yeah. I think it could go to trial at the end of August and then during the course of that time, they'd issued their order on the appeal and say, no, we're going to deny it and then some other court of appeals would be able to decide.

SOLOMON: All right. Well, okay. Misty Marris, David Weinstein, good to have you both. Thanks. Thanks for the conversation and the insights.

MARRIS: Thank you.

SOLOMON: All right. Well, sort of come for us the investigation to the container ship Dali's collision with Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge now underway. We are live in Baltimore, after a short break.



SOLOMON: Welcome back.

New traffic camera footage shows the moments leading up to that collision of the cargo ship Dali into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. You can see the ship so the right of the bridge in a traffic moving, traffic stop before impact after the ships crew notified officials with a mayday call.

The bodies of two of the six construction workers who died have been recovered, and heavy debris in the water and foul weather has complicated and pause search efforts for the four other workers who are presumed dead.

The investigation into the accident is now underway with one key area of focus being what happened on board the Dali and the critical minutes before the collision. Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd, who was on the scene in Baltimore.

Brian, what can you share with us about the state of salvage operations today?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rahel, those salvage operations are complicated by several things, the weather and the logistical issues of getting heavy cranes and other devices here to basically remove the huge pieces of the bridge that are still in the water and some of the pieces that are actually still draped over the bow of that container ship.

You mentioned the people who perished, the two people who were recovered yesterday, who were found dead inside a pickup truck that had fallen into the river, those are two of the bodies that have been recovered, but unfortunately, the grim news today is that the bodies of four other people who are missing and presumed dead have not yet been recovered. And that operation has been complicated by several things. It has basically moved from a recovery operation to a salvage operation. Not clear when or if they will be able to recover the bodies of those four people who are missing and presumed dead.

And it's really because the conditions are so dangerous in the waters where the ship slammed into the bridge. There's a lot of tangled metal and concrete underneath the surface. The water is very cold and dangerous. It's murky.

So the visibility for divers is almost nothing. And it's just extremely dangerous to maneuver down there and tried to find people who might be trapped under the wreckage of this horrible disaster. We can, in the meantime, tell you that there's billions of dollars in cargo shipping and traffic that has come to a halt and it's a very sudden and very damaging stop here because economically, this port handles more than $100 million a day in commerce and we can tell you as I step out of the way, we can see some of the ships here.

They're still stranded in Baltimore Harbor. We can tell you that 11 ships total according to federal officials, 11 ships total, including the Dali that container ship that slammed into the bridge, 11 ships are stuck in Baltimore Harbor, which are looking that there is one of them, the Plonka Rio (ph), that that is a chemical and oil tanker and you can see the oil drums that are to the left there that it's the hitch to.

And right behind it is a gray vessel, a large gray vessel. That's a -- that's a vessel that's owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It's kind of a military and logistical vessel.

All of those the ships are stranded here in Baltimore Harbor. None of them can move and do their regular business and it's not really clear when they'll be able to move through the channel and get out of the harbor.

In addition to that, my colleague Joe Merkel and I were about 25 miles south of here. Earlier today, right, on the Chesapeake Bay across from the city of Annapolis, Maryland. And what we witness there was at least eight tankers that were within our immediate site that were just sitting there at anchorage while waiting for guidance as to where they could move.

So that gives you an idea of just all the ship and cargo traffic that has come to a halt because of this disaster. Many of those are the vessels who are outside of the harbor and down in the Chesapeake Bay are waiting for guidance as to which ports they can go to.

Some of them will be rerouted to the port of Virginia at Hampton Roads. That's about 220 miles south of here. Others will be rerouted north to ports like Philadelphia and New York.

But again, just kind of getting all of that straightened, getting logistics handled is a massive operation -- Rahel.

SOLOMON: Yeah, really scrambling the roots there for those companies. Brian Todd, live for us in Baltimore -- Brian, thank you.

I want to discuss this more now and joining me is David Marquet. He is a retired U.S. Navy nuclear submarine commander.

David, good to have you today.

So we know that the NTSB has six hours of data from the ship's data recorder, which is essentially the black box. And we've learned a bit more about the timeline just before the crash. I want to go over it with you -- with you if I might.

So, 1:26 a.m., it's the first sign of distress, comes less than three minutes before the crash is when the ship's pilot called over the radio requesting that any tugboats in the area respond to the vessel.

All right. Less than a minute after that first distress call, the pilot reported that the vessel had lost all power and was approaching the bridge.

And then at 1:29, so this is now less than two minutes after that first, right, two or three minutes, we now know that this is when the when the ship hit the bridge less than two minutes later. David, when you hear this, what does this timeline tell you about what exactly took place?

DAVID MARQUET, RETIRED U.S. NAVY NUCLEAR SUBMARINE COMMANDER: Well, this happened at a very unfortunate time, but if you look at there's also some video that shows the ship is its approaching. And it's more like 1:24 late in the minute that all the lights go out.

So the lights actually went out before this one, about four minutes before the collision. And the ship at that point was going about eight knots, which means it was about a half a mile from the bridge when that happened. Now, when the lights all go out, whether the pilots would have still been able to communicate, they should've because things like emergency equipment, like radios and their -- and their phones should have still been able to work. But they were probably trying to solve the problem and understand what happened during that first sort of 60 to 90 seconds. And the lights go out and come back on. Then they go out again, then they come back on.

SOLOMON: Listen, as we look at the video, it is still just horrifying to watch. An investigator with the NTSB said last night that by regulation that the data recorder is required to record a 30 days of history. What are investors is going to be looking for investigators, not just obviously in the minutes before this, but in the days and the weeks before this wreck?

MARQUET: So, yeah, it records the audio on the bridge so they can hear what's happening there, but it's also recording things like engine orders, rudder orders, engineering data. And this is the ships ten years old. So, all that, all those electrical things are feeding getting up into this data recorder. And the NTSB is very good at the secreting those data recorders and understanding they're going to be looking at what kind of electrical problems were there any electrical problems beforehand? How was the electrical system responding? What vows were opened?

One of the things that happens for shipped like this is there's two different kinds of fuel oil. There's a clean high-quality maneuvering fuel oil that they use in port, and then there's a low quality fuel oil that they use out at sea.

So, at some point, they're shifting from the high to the low quality. Now, the shift should not happen at that point but if it did and it was mis-shifted, there was a valve left shot that shouldn't have been, then that could have dropped the fuel supply to the generators.

This is just speculation, but it is one of the things that the crew would have been thinking about doing.

SOLOMON: Well. Yeah. I mean, into that point, that's why these interviews with the crew will likely be crucially important. We know that the crew is still on the ship. We've learned that the captain has made two engineers have already been interviewed but the two pilots are expected to be interviewed today.

David, what questions might you have? I mean, what -- what would you ask them?

MARQUET: I'd be really interested in then the maintenance records. When was the last time they changed their fuel oil filters. When was the last time they exercise shutting down the normal generator and having the emergency generator come back online, when they shut down the normal generator, when was the last time they tested all the -- all the battery powered emergency lights came on.

The bow -- the ship also has a bow thruster. Did they use the bow thruster? The bow thrust to take a lot of power. It takes almost as much power as one whole generator. And so, if you have problem with the electrical system and then you're trying to use the bow thruster, obviously, to move the bow to the left to avoid the bridge. Then maybe that cause another trip and the electrical system. But I definitely be looking at the maintenance records, how well they tested their equipment under emergency conditions, and how well they took care of their machinery.

SOLOMON: Yeah, certainly a lot of questions. Perhaps why the NTSB has said that this investigation could take years ultimately. David Marquet, we'll leave it here live for us there in Sarasota, thank you.

All right. Well, all of the people missing and confirmed dead from the bridge collapse are migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.


CNN travelled to the hometown of Maynor Suazo Sandoval and Miguel Luna from Honduras and El Salvador, respectively and their families spoke about why -- spoke about why Sandoval and Luna moved to the U.S. and how they're still hoping for a miracle.

CNN's Gustavo Valdes has their story.


GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Maynor Suazo Sandoval is remembered by friends and family as a visionary, a man who dreamed big.

He said that if we wanted to get ahead as a family, we must work three times harder together, said his brother Martin, who still lives in the small village in northern in Honduras, where they grew up.

He was a youngest of eight children and almost 20 years ago left Honduras for the United States, looking for a better future. And his hard work paid off. His brother proudly says that Maynor managed to build a successful construction business that allowed him to send money home, improve the family house where his parents still live an open a couple of businesses, including a hotel.

He also financed local soccer leagues.

He believed that helping children have a better life would improve the chances of a better Honduras, his brother says.

But his business suffered during the pandemic. He was among the group of workers doing repair work on the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed when a cargo ship hit one of its pillars.

The news of the tragedy was a blow to the family who struggled to break the news to Maynor's mother. Martin says that she wanted to fly to the United States as soon as possible. But now, she only wants for the body of her youngest son to be found so they can bury him in his native land.

All victims were migrants from Latin America. The governments of Mexico and Guatemala have said that they are already assisting the relatives in their countries and in the United States. In El Salvador, relatives of Miguel Luna can't hold back tears for the

father of six children, who was also working on the bridge when it collapsed.

We knew him as a humanitarian person, says his cousin Angelo Luna. Luna left El Salvador shortly after finishing his basic education. He had lived in the United States for 19 years, working to provide for his family in Maryland and relatives in El Salvador.

He always wanted to see his children grow up, provide them with a better education, she says. And now, all they can do is hope that his body is found.

Gustavo Valdes, CNN, Atlanta.


SOLOMON: And, our thanks to Gustavo there.

Well, when we come back, the star-studded show a force event that the Biden campaign says is on pace to be the most lucrative political fundraiser in history.

We'll be right back.



SOLOMON: Welcome back.

The Biden campaign is forecasting a whopping $25 million haul in tonight's glitzy campaign fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Why? Well, it might have something to do with the guest list.

President Biden calling it not one, but two former commanders in chief, Barack Obama, who we see here, who rode with Biden on Air Force One to the Empire State, as well as Bill Clinton. Both will join Biden for a panel conversation moderated by Stephen Colbert and emceed by Mindy Kaling.

CNN senior White House correspondent MJ Lee has more on the event -- MJ.


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Rahel, when we see these three presidents onstage together at the same time, this really is the Biden campaign are pulling out all the stops. We have one sitting president, Joe Biden and to former presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, that the campaign is very much trying to capitalize on and the campaign announced a pretty eye-popping campaign fundraising haul, some $25 million at the campaign says came from this single fundraising event in New York City tonight, about a third of that they're emphasizing came from grassroots donations of $200 or less.

And there's really no understating the importance of that kind of money. You might remember that back in February, the campaign said that it ended the month with some 71 million of cash on hand that happened to be about double what the Trump campaign had. And that, of course, ends up translating to resources to really sort of execute on the campaign's political strategy, and having that kind of cash advantage is a really big deal at this moment in the cycle.

I also think it's worth talking about just the pure symbolism and the significance of having these three presidents together, basically banding together to try to stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House. I think it will sort of signal a sense of unity and also just a sense of urgency that so many national Democrats are feeling again about stopping Trump from potentially getting a second I can term at the White House.

And what our reporting has shown is that according to sources, the current president, President Biden, has been in regular contact with the two former presidents were talking about here, President Obama and Clinton. And those two former presidents to have been in touch with some senior White House officials like Jeff Zients, the president's chief of staff, or senior adviser, Steve Ricchetti.

So there are these sort of ongoing conversations that have been happening really consulting on and giving advice about the 2024 campaign strategy.

Now, tonight's conversation that is going to be moderated by comedian Stephen Colbert. What we expect is that these two former presidents will essentially be trying to lend President Biden a hand in explaining to voters and Americans anybody that's going to be watching this after the fact. What it means to everybody across the country that President Biden is going to be facing off against Donald Trump again.

I think the idea here certainly is that these two former Presidents literally have a better idea than almost anybody else of what exactly is that sake, given that they are the two people who have had this job previously before -- Rahel.


SOLOMON: All right. MJ, thank you.

And let's bring in our political panel to discuss this further, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. And Francesca Chambers, she is a White House correspondent for "USA Today".

Good to see you both.

Ron, let me start with you and your story today. The title is the unexpected dynamic that could decide the Trump-Biden rematch. And in it, you say that Trump's fate in 2024 election may turn on whether he can hold for seven more months, more support among Black and Hispanic voters than any other Republican presidential nominee in decades. You spoke Ron to a number of pollsters for this story. How real are Trump's inroads with Black and Hispanic voters? And how can he hold onto that support?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, it is a fascinating dynamic. I mean, for understandable reasons, there has been a lot of attention to national and state polls that consistently are showing Donald Trump not only running better than he did in 2020 among Black and Hispanic voters, but better than any Republican nominee since the civil rights era. We were talking better among Hispanics than George W. Bush, better among Black voters than Ronald Reagan.

Now, all the attention on that, while understandable, has obscured something else that's going on. And the other column of the racial ledger, which is the Joe Biden, is running unexpectedly well among white voters.


You know, in most national polls and in most of the swing state, this polls, he is very close to, or sometimes even above his support from 2020 among whites, maybe losing a little ground with the whites without a degree, college degree, but doing a little better among whites with a degree.

And what that means Rahel is it if Biden holds onto that support, the decisive issue in the race, kind of flipped to the other side. Can Donald Trump for seven more months maintain the inroads he's made among Black and Hispanic voters while he is simultaneously running on such a racially polarizing agenda using language like immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country, saying that he wants mass deportation, internment camps, military action against Mexico, defending the January 6 rioters, who many Black leaders see is a symbol of tolerance for white supremacy.

He is now in a position where his inroads among minority voters are real, but they're kind of have to have for him, not a nice to have if Biden maintains what he's been able to among white voters. And I think that is a very unexpected dynamic that the minority voters who have been on the receiving end of a lot of Trump's efforts to exacerbate white racial antagonisms may be the ones who hold his fate in their hands.

SOLOMON: Francesca, when you think about this fundraiser tonight with Obama, with Bill Clinton, how important is a figure like Obama -- obviously very, very popular during his time to rebuilding the Democratic coalition, particularly with Black voters, Hispanic voters, even young voters who may be turning away from Biden right now?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: And actually just got back from Nevada, which is a key state that Joe Biden needs to win if he's going to win the election. And it's so interesting. You know, that state is seen by Democrats, is sort of a microcosm for America because of all of the diverse demographic groups that are there. You look at that state as 30 percent Hispanic population for instance.

So it's seen as a sort of a bellwether, this cycle. And you've seen President Biden visit the state several times in the last few months, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris as they tried to win over those key voting blocs.

But if you zoom out a little bit, President Biden has been barnstorming across about around states his campaign points out that he's been to every thing can go battleground state since he delivered his State of the Union Address later this month, the VP has also been traveling to many of those battleground states, as well as cabinet members. They juxtapose that with the fact that Donald Trump, since the end of the Republican presidential primary, has not been doing as many rallies, and they're starting to feel good about the polling in those states.

They love to point out the polling when it's going quite well --

SOLOMON: It's how that works.

CHAMBERS: -- and they like to downplay when it's not going his way.

But it does -- what it is, but what they are pointing out that it particularly in the Rust Belt states, for instance, the Morning Consult poll this week, that those numbers are starting to look better for President Biden.

SOLOMON: Ron, what do you make of these fundraising numbers? Twenty- five million dollars from this event. The Biden campaign, as we just heard in MJ's piece there saying that about one-third of that came from online donations of $200 or less. What -- what does that tell you about maybe some grassroots enthusiasm or support for the campaign?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. Well, money is not going to be Joe Biden's problem. And there is still a lot of energy the activists' core of the Democratic Party about denying Donald Trump another term. I mean, the question is really -- and that's reflected in the fundraising. The question is whether that energy is there as you look more broadly at the Democratic coalition.

I will say though, Rahel, that historically, the view among political professionals has been that a financial advantage matters less in the presidential race, than really any other election because voters have so much other information and also they're voting based on their sense of really broad judgments about how things are going in the country, you know, the president is much more in your living room.

Having said that, this year is probably going to test that proposition, that financial advantage doesn't matter as much because what were seeing is such an extreme version of that, partly because Trump is diverting so much money toward his own legal defense, Joe Biden as a really big advantage right now in running ads in those swing states. They're putting a lot of, you know, a lot of firepower on television with -- without a lot of pushback from Republicans.

So it will be a test really of whether this historic view that money probably matters less in the presidential race than others still applies when you get to the kind of disparity that we're seeing now.

SOLOMON: Uh-huh. Yeah, that will be really interesting. I will have to leave it here, but so good to have you both, Francesco Chambers and Ron Brownstein. A great conversation. Thank you


SOLOMON: All right. Well, still come for us, a months-long CNN investigation has exposed the details of the Myanmar military's dissent into depravity. We're going to have that story, coming up next.



SOLOMON: Welcome back.

We have some breaking news in South Africa. A bus carrying Easter worshippers has fallen off a cliff, killing 45 people and sending eight-year-old girl to the hospital. All were traveling from the capital city of neighboring Botswana to an eastern conference. South Africa's transport minister says that the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Well, in Myanmar, thousands have been killed since that country's military stole power from a democratically elected government in 2021. And now, for the first time, rebels fighting against the junta are in control on the battlefield. But as the military loses control, it's becoming more desperate and it's becoming more dangerous.

A months-long CNN investigation has exposed the details of the Myanmar military's descent into depravity. And we do want to warn you that the content of this piece is extremely disturbing.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walking through the flat dry scrublands of the Yor Valley in central Myanmar, a soldier films on his phone.

Hey brother, raise your three fingers, he jokes, mocking the salute symbolic of the country's resistance movement.

No more three fingers, yells one of them and laughs.

He moves on to another group of pro-junta militia resting in the shade.

Revolution, he cries.

It's bullshit, they respond.

Moments later, the man filming asks a soldier wearing a military junta uniform of a PDF, a reference to the opposition People's Defense Forces. Yes, he replies.

This brief exchange caught on camera is about two rebel fighters they had just captured a few hours earlier. Before dawn on the 7th of November last year, rebels part of the PDF staged an attack on the pro-junta militia stronghold in the village of Myauk Khin Yan Ganggaw in Magway Division.

But instead, the rebels were ambushed coming under heavy fire.

Platoon Commander Ninja (ph) says as they tried to retreat in open fields, several of his fighters were injured, while others were cut off from the group, including 21-year-old Phoe Tay (ph) and 20-year- old Thar Htaung (ph).

NINJA, YDF FIGHTER (through translator): The last time I saw them, they were hunkering down about 50 meters away from me.

COREN: A few hours later, Ninja's platoon received a message from a villager saying two of their rebel fighters had been caught alive.

Video obtained by CNN shows the two young men bound and bloodied, relentlessly taunted by the militia.

The revolution must lose, PDFs are dogs, replies Phoe Tay. How many dogs have we killed, aren't you PDF dogs? We're dogs, repeats Thar Htaung.


The video then shows them being dragged on the ground, their arms and legs hogtied in chains.

The next clip, too graphic to show in full, reveals the young men hanging in chains from the branch of a large tree over a fire, being burnt alive.

Their screams heard over cheers from the militia as the prisoners writhed in agony as flames seared their flesh. An eyewitness to the execution told us the militia had ordered one person from each house to watch.

MYINT ZAW, FATHER OF PHOE TAY (through translator): When I got there, they hanged them on the tree and poured gasoline and diesel on their bodies. The rebels were moving and screaming and said they apologized. But the militia replied, apologize in your next life.

COREN: Cross-referencing more than a dozen interviews with witnesses, villagers, resistance fighters, family members and experts, with analysis of the video and pictures from the day, using open source techniques, CNN has found evidence that the military and its allied militia were responsible for the killings.

The junta denies the claim, stating the video was fabricated. However, they do admit an attack took place that day and that its troops were stationed in the village. CNN spoke to both fathers who confirmed their sons had been killed. They said they encouraged their boys to join the revolution and fight, but to die like this will haunt them forever.

MYINT ZAW, FATHER OF PHOE TAY (through translator): I got a chance to watch the video, but I could not finish it. I stopped because I knew it was going to break my heart.

COREN: The brutality of this execution, however, is not a one-off case.

Since the military junta staged a coup in 2021, the level of depravity among its soldiers and aligned militia has increased in response to the mass losses and defections it's suffering on the battlefield. The junta's recent announcement of compulsory conscription, a clear sign it's facing enormous pressure.

As fighting engulfs two thirds of the country, experts believe the military is using fear and intimidation to try and control a defiant population.

MATT LAWRENCE, PROJECT DIRECTOR, MYANMAR WITNESS: We've been able to verify over 400 burnt bodies since the coup, and we've verified over a dozen instances of individual beheadings. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

COREN: But the burnings, beheadings and indiscriminate artillery and airstrikes are doing anything but stamping out the resistance.

Rebel fighter Yor Lei, who fought alongside Phoe Tay and Thar Htaung that fateful morning, says what happened to his friends has only strengthened their resolve.

YOR LEI, REBEL FIGHTER (through translator): We won't give in to fear. We will continue this revolution until we win. Only then will it be worth it for those who sacrificed their lives.

COREN: Anna Coren, CNN, Hong Kong.


SOLOMON: And our thanks to Anna Coren there.

And stay with us. We're going to have more news after the short break.


SOLOMON: Welcome back.

It is opening day for Major League Baseball in the U.S.


Twenty-six teams take to the field to begin their quest to capture the World Series. But next hour, all eyes will be on Los Angeles Dodgers ledgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, places home opener amid a theft and gambling scandal thats tied to his former interpreter. Ohtani adamantly denied betting on any sport.

Let's bring in CNN's Nick Watt. He's outside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

So, Nick, what's the latest here?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rahel, we just had a massive cheer as Ohtani was introduced to the home fans for his first game of the regular season here at Dodger Stadium, seeing a lot of Ohtani jerseys, a lot of Japanese media, a lot of Japanese fans. I just saw one woman wearing a Japan rugby jersey and a Dodgers miniskirts.

But as you mentioned, there is a cloud early last week. Shohei Ohtani's interpreter said that the star had paid off his the interpreters huge gambling debt, reportedly over $4 million. Then Ohtani's people came out and said this was its in fact a massive theft. The interpreter stole the money to pay off a bookie.

Ohtani himself gave a press conference for Monday trying to put this to bed. He didn't take any questions students and I'm afraid there are still questions. How could the interpreter access the bank account and also Ohtani's people say that they've reported this to the authorities, but they won't tell us which sureties and we've asked around and no one will confirm it.

So there is still a bit of a cloud. Ohtani himself adamant he has never gambled on sport. This was all the interpreter who he calls a liar, a thief, and a gambler.

Now, Dodgers fans, of course, want to forgive this guy. Seven hundred million the Dodgers are paying over ten years.

He is the face of baseball, not just in L.A., in this country. But seeds of doubt remain. I was just reading an "L.A. Times" column that had this headline, do you still believe in Shohei Ohtani? I'm not sure -- Rahel.

SOLOMON: Wow, really fascinating.

It's usually such -- such an exciting day. It's usually such a cheery day. But as you said, there is this cloud that's hanging over.

All right. Nick Watt, life for us there in L.A., Nick, thank you.

And thank you for joining me today. I'm Rahel Solomon.

Don't go anywhere. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is coming up next.