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CNN International: UNICEF: Hope In Gaza "Drowned Out By Bombs"; Gershkovich Spends One Year In Russian Detention; Largest Crane On East Coast Heading For Bridge Collapse Site. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 08:00   ET



JUDGE REGGIE WALTON, U.S. DISTRICT COURT OF DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: I mean, we do these jobs because we're committed to the rule of law and we believe in the rule of law, and the rule of law can only function effectively when we have judges who are prepared to carry out their duties without the threat of potential physical harm.

KAITLAN COLLINS, HOST, "THE SOURCE": Have you been on the receiving end of more threats since you've had the January 6 defendants in your court?

OMAR JIMENEZ, ANCHOR: Hi, everyone, and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Omar Jimenez, and this is CNN NEWSROOM.

Just ahead, a warning from an aid worker inside Gaza. Israel's promised operation in Rafah could cause the biggest catastrophe of this war. We're going to bring you his testimony. Then, a year ago, American journalist Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Russia and charged with espionage. Today, he is still behind bars. We're going to have a live report from St. Petersburg. Plus, a record-breaking fundraising event for U.S. President Joe Biden in New York. We're going to have the key moments from a historic night in U.S. politics.

Israel is wasting no time responding to an order from the International Court of Justice. Benjamin Netanyahu's government saying it wishes, in its words, no harm to the civilian population in Gaza. Now, this comes as the World Court is calling on Israel to do more to get humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave. Now, the court says quote "famine is setting in." At the same time, the Israeli Prime Minister says his military is preparing to enter Rafah in southern Gaza. Now, the U.S. has repeatedly discouraged an Israeli ground incursion there. We're also getting word from the IDF. The Israeli military operations are continuing for a 12th day around Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Palestinian health officials say patients and medical staff there have been killed.

So, I want to bring in CNN International Correspondent Ben Wedeman for more on this. Ben I want to start with harsh comments from the UNICEF spokesperson today. He said hope in Gaza is drowned out by bombs. Bring us up to date there.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's James Elder. He is the spokesman for UNICEF who has been in and out of Gaza over the last few months. So, he has actually seen what's going on, unlike journalists who cannot get in freely. But, what he is saying is that, after the UN Security Council passed that resolution, with United States abstaining, calling for an immediate ceasefire, there was hope in Gaza that the situation would improve, perhaps at least for the month left, the remainder of the month of Ramadan, just under two weeks, that Gaza would have a period of peace and quiet. But, he says those hopes were drowned out by bombs, that the hostages are still being held in Gaza, that the bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces continues.

And there still continue to be impediments to the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip where, of course, 80 percent to 90 percent of the population, as we know, have been displaced. So, he says the situation is really getting worse. And if Israel goes ahead with its plans for a full-scale military operation in Rafah, where about 1.5 million people have taken refuge, indeed, in his words, this could be the biggest catastrophe yet in this war that has killed more than 32,500 people. It's believed 70 percent of them women and children. Omar.

JIMENEZ: And we have also seen the -- how this war has been handled, strain in part the relationship between the United States and Israel, the very least you've seen where some of the policy disagreements have been. At a fundraiser last night, in part responding to some of the protesters that were there, President Biden said Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are quote "fully prepared to recognize Israel." What do you make of those comments? What are the significance of those comments?

WEDEMAN: It's questionable how significant they are. Some people might remember that back in 2002, an Arab League summit basically agreed to a Saudi peace plan whereby relations would be normalized between Israel and all Arab states in exchange for an Israeli evacuation of all Arab territories it occupied in the 1967 war. Perhaps, the United States, perhaps the world, was distracted afterwards by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the war against ISIS, the war in Ukraine, but that offer has been out there since 2002. It's good that the United States is reminding perhaps people that there is this possibility that an olive branch has been extended, but so far in the ensuing years since 2002, no progress has been made in that regard.


But, it's important, it's good that President Biden is holding out that hope. The question is, will the United States do something to change reality on the ground? On the one hand, it's providing aid to the people of Gaza. On the other hand, it's also providing Israel with ample amounts of military support and diplomatic support as well. So, we sort of -- despite the words he said at that fundraiser in New York last night, nothing really changes. Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah, and that'll be the key moment if something policy-wise actually changes here. Ben Wedeman, thank you so much for your reporting, as always.

Now, after that stark declaration from the International Court of Justice saying famine is quote "setting in in Gaza", CNN's Jomana Karadsheh takes a look at starving Gazans' daily struggle to find food. And I want to warn you, you may find some of the images in this report disturbing.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This video filmed 11 days ago at a northern Gaza hospital captured little Muhammad's (ph) final days, his labored breath and all but staff tried to do to keep him alive. On Thursday, six-year-old Muhammed became the 24th Palestinian child to die of malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza. And the fear is many more vulnerable lives could be lost. Hunger is in every corner of this besieged territory. The pain visible in the eyes of mothers like Michela (ph), who has helplessly watched her children go hungry for months. Her husband, Mehran (ph), has thought the unthinkable, throwing his children in the sea, he says, to spare them this torture of inexistence.

Dante's (ph) family endured months of bombardment in northern Gaza, but it's a looming famine there that's pushed them out of their home. If you grab a bag of flowers, someone can kill you to take it, Mehran says. Our daily meal for our children became things we hadn't heard of before, like ground soybeans and a wild plant that we never tasted before, food that animals refuse to eat, we ate. What they'll do? Where they'll go? They don't know. All they want right now is to feed their little ones. My children were crying every night, asking for a piece of bread, Najlat (ph) says. We were dreaming of white bread. We were eating animal food. For the first time in five months, they say, the children are having real food, even if only plain bread.

This is what Dante's family left behind in the north. scenes that tell of the desperation of so many who also just want to feed their children as they brush the little aid that's made it into this part of Gaza. More than a million Palestinians are now facing catastrophic levels of hunger, according to UN-backed reports, with famine projected to arrive in the north any day now in this manmade crisis where Israel has been accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, something it denies. People every day find themselves scavenging for food, forced to pick wild plants to boil and eat. This grandmother can't hold back her tears as she washes weeds and leaves. It's today's meal. What else can we do? She says it's the indignity of hunger, avoidable suffering, as the world watches on.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


JIMENEZ: And thank you to Jomana for that reporting.

Meanwhile, it has been exactly a year since Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia on espionage charges. Now, Russia has never provided any evidence to back up the claim Gershkovich was a spy. The Journal is marking the anniversary in today's print edition by leaving a large section of its front page blank. You can see the copy there. The space represents the missing articles Gershkovich never wrote because of his detention. The Journalist headline says in part, "His story should be here. The crime, journalism." U.S. President Joe Biden has also commemorated what he called the painful anniversary of his detention. In a statement, he said, he will quote "never give up hope for Gershkovich's release."

I want to bring in CNN's Matthew Chance who has been tracking Evan Gershkovich's story since it began exactly a year ago now. Matthew joins us live from St. Petersburg, Russia. So, Matthew, what are you learning about Evan's condition in prison?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Omar, he seems to be holding up pretty well under the circumstances. I mean, we haven't seen him face-to-face for quite a while. In fact, the last time his pretrial detention was extended, which was a couple of days ago, journalists and cameras weren't allowed into the court.


Instead, the court provided some images of him, six seconds of video, and as I say, in it, from as far as you can tell in that glass cage, he looked like he was holding up. But, as his family statement says, and they released an emotional statement earlier about this year anniversary, even though he is pretty robust, it doesn't mean he can sustain that forever. And so, there is an increased sense of urgency now for some kind of deal to be done, some pressure additionally to be put on the Kremlin and the Russian authorities to try and secure the release of Evan Gershkovich.

We know that behind the scenes, Omar, there are talks underway between the Special Services, as the Russians call them, on both sides, both in Russia and in the United States. Dmitry Peskov, who is the Kremlin spokesperson, said that publicly just a few days ago, and it's been reiterated by the Russians. Neither the Russians nor the Americans are talking about the detail of actually what's being discussed about a possible prisoner swap. But, we know that in the background that deal is being talked about. It's just, at the moment, the right components have not been put on the table, it seems. And so, Evan Gershkovich and the other Americans in Russian prisons are set to stay there for the foreseeable future.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And look, as you've mentioned -- as you mentioned, espionage trials in Russia are often held in secret, almost always end up in a conviction. But, as you mentioned, the possibilities of what's next here. What is next for him, and what is the latest on any possible deal on his release, or a potential swap?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, the swaps have happened in the past.


CHANCE: I mean, it wasn't that long ago. It was 2020 or so, 2022 in fact when Brittney Griner was swapped for a notorious Russian arms trafficker. And so, there have been deals done in the past. And what critics of the Kremlin say is that they know this, that this happens, and this is possible. And so, one of the things they've been doing is kind of gathering U.S. citizens and putting them in jail to use as bargaining chips in any future negotiation, any future deal, a deal that could eventually see Evan Gershkovich, others like Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who has been in jail since 2018, accused and convicted, in fact, of espionage in Russia as well, we could eventually see them released.

But, at the moment, those negotiations have not come to anything. And we don't know exactly what the terms are. We think we know what the Russians want in return, or who they want in return, rather, and that's someone called Vadim Krasikov. He is in prison in Germany. He is a member of the Russian Security Services, and he was convicted of killing a Chechen dissident in a park in Germany, serving a murderer sentence in that country. And the Russians really want him back. But, so far, it seems the Germans have not played ball. They've not been willing to exchange a convicted murderer for people in Russian jails. I think it would send the wrong message. And so, at the moment, the talks are ongoing, but they're also in a deadlock. Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Well, Matthew Chance, thank you for staying on top of it all, reporting for us in St. Petersburg, Russia. Appreciate it.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the salvage operation is getting underway in Baltimore following this week's devastating collapse of the Key Bridge. Heavy equipment is now at the harbor to begin the task of removing tons of twisted steel from the Patapsco River. You're looking at live pictures of the largest crane on the Eastern Seaboard on its way to help clear debris. Now, the NTSB, meanwhile, has released a new video from onboard the cargo ship that caused the bridge to collapse. Investigators say hazmat materials were identified but there is no threat to the public at this time.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is in Baltimore. He joins me now live. Now, Gabe, brings us up to date with the latest on the investigation, and how long officials are saying it's going to take to clear the area. They've obviously got a big job here.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. That's right, Omar. They do. Look, it is a big step that that first heavy lift crane vessel has arrived in the area of the wreckage. We know that two more on the way, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. But, as we zoom in on the wreckage, as you said, this is going to be a massive job, days-long effort at least, because bear in mind the size of that container ship. It's basically the size of the Eiffel Tower just turned on its side. And then, of course, you factor in those massive pieces of steel, that huge bridge that's laying on top of it right now. You can see some of it above the water. There is even more of it below the surface.


And so, right now, engineers with the Army Corps of Engineers are trying to figure out how they're going to be able to cut this bridge into pieces so those cranes can start doing their work, so they can start pulling those chunks out. And also keep in mind that there are still four missing construction workers that officials believe could be trapped underneath all of that debris, all of that wreckage. And so, they're going to have to go about this in a really sensitive way so that divers can go back in once it's all cleared, and recover those four missing men.

And then, of course, Omar, there is the investigation you mentioned. The NTSB has two dozen investigators here. They were talking to the pilots of that vessel yesterday, still trying to piece together what caused that power outage, that total blackout that caused the pilot to lose power, to lose the ability to steer the vessel, and within a couple minutes cause the crash into the column of the bridge that ultimately caused that collapse. We still don't know. The NTSB doesn't want to speculate on what caused that power issue. We may have more details of that in the next couple of weeks.

But really, the focus today is bringing in those huge pieces of equipment, those cranes, one now in the area, two on the way, Omar, it is a major development. But, we don't even know if those cranes are going to be able to get to work today. So, this could be days, even weeks before the Port of Baltimore reopens. You know from living here in this area for a couple of years, Omar, that it is a critical part of the local economy here, really the U.S. economy, but we're talking about thousands of jobs that are being affected by this at the port and around the port, as well as millions of dollars in salaries, in local business operations. So, it's a huge impact here. Officials trying to work quickly, but they have to do so in a sensitive and careful manner.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. I mean, look, it is really hard to even measure the ripples that will come out of this from just of course a supply chain standpoint. But, as you mentioned, we're dealing with human lives that were lost, people that are still missing. There is such a sensitive nature that officials had to go about this in regards to how they handled what is really just a disaster and tragedy for this area. Gabe Cohen, thank you for being there. Thank you for being with us.

New details are emerging as well about the bridge worker who made it out alive when the bridge came crashing down early Tuesday morning. Danny Freeman has his remarkable story of survival.


DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a miraculous story of survival. We're learning new details about the construction worker who fell more than 185 feet into the water and lived. Jeffrey Pritzker, the Executive Vice President of Brawner Builders, says the Mexican national who worked for the company likely survived by swimming before being rescued by first responders. The man who was treated at the University of Maryland's Medical Center's Shock Trauma Center, but was released hours after the collapse. Pritzker added the worker is quote, "very, very upset. He does have injuries and I understand he is very stressed out and is suffering from stress."

A fellow worker from Brawner Builders told CNN Thursday, the team likely would have been on their break at the time of the impact, that worker saying he requested a last-minute shift change ahead of Tuesday, likely saving his life. However, less is known about the second survivor, who Pritzker said was not part of their construction team. At Wednesday night's press conference, Maryland's Governor Wes Moore

said he has spoken with the survivor who narrowly escaped with his life.

WES MOORE, GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND: One of the survivors who I have the opportunity to speak with, one of the things he mentioned to me was, as he was moving off of the bridge and literally saw the bridge fall right after he moved off, it was because it was a first responder who was telling him to move off with the bridge.

FREEMAN (voice-over): CNN has requested more information about this survivor from the governor's office and the Maryland Transportation Authority. Reporters asked exactly how those on the bridge were notified to get off as the vessel crashed.

MOORE: Well, I think we'll find out via investigation what exactly happened. I know that the one person I spoke with, he said it was audibly that the officer was telling him to move off.

FREEMAN (voice-over): We're also hearing a story from a driver who was stopped from entering the bridge just in time.

GAYLE FAIRMAN, UBER DRIVER WHO NARROWLY AVOIDED BRIDGE COLLAPSE: In all honesty, if my passenger wasn't a little late coming out to my car and getting into it, we probably very well could have been on the bridge when it collapsed. We were that close.

FREEMAN (voice-over): This comes as we continue to learn more about those workers presumed and confirmed dead. 26-year-old Dorlian Castillo Cabrera's body was found in a submerged pickup truck below the wreckage Wednesday morning. He was an immigrant from Guatemala who loved his construction job. 35-year-old Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, a Mexican national, was also found in the truck next to Castillo. Miguel Luna was a father of three, an immigrant from El Salvador, who lived in Maryland for 19 years, and Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval was a Honduran national, a husband and father of two. Luna and Sandoval are presumed dead.

CARLOS SUAZO SANDOVAL, BROTHER OF WORKER KILLED ON BRIDGE (Interpreted): He was the breadwinner for his children right now.


God is going to provide for us too, so we can get together as a family and see how we can help each other, because at this moment, his wife is left with his girl and everything.


JIMENEZ: Danny Freeman, thank you for that reporting.

Meanwhile, look, American elections are not cheap, and the road to the White House is paved with millions and millions of dollars, which is why the Biden campaign held a fundraising gala last night in New York. The star guests were other presidents, former presidents Obama and Clinton, and their panel discussion was moderated by "Late Show" host Stephen Colbert. There was a lot of money raised, but outside, it did get noisy.


You can see a large crowd showed up outside Radio City Music Hall, which is where this event was happening, to protest Biden's support for Israel during the war in Gaza. There were even some disruptions inside.

Joining me now is CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz. So, let's talk about the Biden fundraiser last night. How impressive was the total that they raised, and how did they manage the multiple protests that even broke out inside of times?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Omar, President Biden's advisors are hoping that this show of force from three Democratic presidents will really help build some momentum among Democratic voters, as they expect this election to soon kick into high gear. The campaign is touting this morning the fact that they raised more than $26 million from this one night event alone, really they hope adding to the cash advantage that they've already had against former President Donald Trump.

But, President Biden, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, spent nearly an hour in conversation with late-night host Stephen Colbert. They laid out the stakes of this election and specifically the threat that they believe former President Donald Trump holds for the country. They never mentioned Trump by name, but they each spoke about the man, and Biden warned that democracy is at stake. He said, quote "We're at a real inflection point in history. This guys denies global warming. This guy wants to get rid of not only Roe v. Wade which he brags about having done, he wants to get rid of the ability of anyone in America to have the right to choose. All the things he is doing, they're so old. A little old and out of shape."

Now, the Biden campaign today is also releasing a video from this event. We have to note that reporters were not allowed to record any type of video inside this fundraiser. And instead, the Biden campaign is selectively releasing a clip highlighting a bit of a lighter moment during this conversation. Take a listen.


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": Milwaukee, Phoenix, Vegas, Hotlanta, the Philly suburbs, Manchester, Dallas and Houston. Donald Trump, as far as we can tell, has just been trying to win a third championship at his own golf course. My question to you, sir, can voters trust a presidential candidate who has not won a single Trump International Golf Club trophy? At long last, sir, have you know chip shot?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, look, I'd be happy to play. I told him this before when he came into the Oval when he was -- before he got sworn in. I said, I'll give you three strokes if you carry your own bag.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAENZ: But, joking aside, the event also laid bare some of the tension within the Democratic Party over the war between Israel and Hamas. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters, as you note, had gathered outside of Radio City Music Hall before and during the event. And the presidents were interrupted at least four times by protesters in the actual room. Most of those protesters were talking about Gaza. And it was interesting to see the way that former President Obama addressed these protesters. He said to them specifically, you can't just talk and not listen. That is what the other side does. He said that there are complicated issues in the world that need to have problems to solve them, and this will involve discussions about that conflict between Israel and Hamas.

So, really, it's highlighting the fact that this issue will continue to linger for Democrats heading into November's election. This will be something that the candidate Joe Biden and his surrogates also potentially will likely have to address. But, the Biden campaign is really hoping that this will be a big momentum building moment, this fundraiser, and the President is expected to continue that push today. He will be meeting with his National Finance Committee in New York City where the top donors to the campaign, when I just hear from President Biden but also from senior Biden campaign officials I'm told, about the strategy and path ahead as they look to take on Trump in November.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. Arlette Saenz, lots of pack in there, but you did it masterfully. Thank you so much.

SAENZ: Thanks.

JIMENEZ: Still to come, as Russia continues its attack on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, after the break, we're going to show you how Ukraine is fighting back.




JIMENEZ: A dozen bodies have been recovered from the South Africa bus crash that killed 45 people on Thursday. Officials worked into the early hours to recover bodies, but many were burned beyond recognition. The bus was headed to an Easter conference in the town of Moria when it plunged off a cliff in the Limpopo province. South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa has conveyed condolences to the families.

Meanwhile, Russia has launched more attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure, mirroring last week's attacks that also targeted nearby energy assets. At least three regions were targeted overnight with drones and missiles hitting the electricity generation facilities. The Ukrainian Air Force Commander claimed to have destroyed the vast majority of the Russian air attacks. Five people were reportedly injured with one in serious condition. But, as Claire Sebastian reports, it's not been all one-way traffic.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flying straight for Russia's biggest moneymaker, this precise hit, one of more than a dozen Ukrainian drone strikes reported on Russian oil refineries since the start of the year.

VOICE OF VASYL MALYUK, HEAD OF SECURITY SERVICES OF UKRAINE (Interpreted): We have already reduced both production and processing by 12 percent. So, we continue to work while the gas station country continues to burn.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): Attacks like this, which CNN has geo located, to the high-capacity Ryazan oil refinery, many experts say do more harm than sanctions to Russian energy.

HELIMA CROFT, RBC CAPITAL MARKETS: From the beginning of the war, we made -- the U.S. made the decision to try to keep Russian oil on the market because no one would support Ukraine in a winter of discontent.

SENASTIAN: And now the weapons have stopped coming?

CROFT: Right. That is the question. Has the bargain broken down because aid for Ukraine is being held up in the United States Congress? And then, does this mean that Ukraine has a limited window to try to change dynamics on the ground?

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): Russia has admitted oil refining output is down and it has temporarily banned gasoline exports to preserve supplies. Meanwhile, global oil prices have risen around 12 percent since the start of the year. The U.S. official telling CNN, these attacks are now being discouraged.

CROFT: If it wasn't an election year, there might be more willingness to endure this. Like, that's why Washington is calling Ukraine right now.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): Two years ago, Ukraine would not have had the technology to do this. Some of the refineries hit are over 1,000 kilometers from its territory, a big leap in terms of range. This puts around three quarters of Russian refinery output in Ukraine's reach, according to RBC Capital Markets, as to their ability to avoid this fate being downed by Russian jammers. A source close to Ukraine's drone program telling CNN, artificial intelligence is now in use in some of the refinery attacks.

NOAH SYLVIA, RESEARCH ANALYST, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE: They have this type of thing called machine vision which is a form of AI, to our understanding.


All you have to do is you take a model and you have it on a chip and you train this model over time to be able to identify images, geography, and the target. SEBASTIAN (voice-over): It also allows for a high degree of precision.

Look at this strike, geo located again to the Ryazan oil refinery, a second hit on one specific tower.

SYLVIA: From what we've seen, some of it is they're striking targets that need a lot of Western technology, and Russia has a much more difficult time procuring this technology.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): And yet, experts say Ukraine is still exercising some restraint. These blue dots are Russia's key Western oil export terminals. Around two thirds of its oil and oil product exports pass through these ports, according to RBC.

CROFT: If we simply had one major export facility hit, I think the impact on markets would be substantial.

SEBASTIAN (voice-over): For Ukraine, the risk here is not just U.S. disapproval, but Russian revenge, amid signs Ukraine's own energy sector is once again in its sights.

Clare Sebastian, CNN, London.


JIMENEZ: Still to come, it is all about the money. So, who has the biggest fundraising power? We're going to take a look at Donald Trump, who boasts his star power. But, does he have the cash? And we're going to have a look at freedom of the press in Russia, as we mark one year since a Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested there. We will be right back.


JIMENEZ: Russia arrested six independent journalists this week in the span of just a few hours, according to a report by the media rights group "Reporters Without Borders". Now, among those arrested was a prominent journalist known for her coverage of the now dead opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The arrests come as freedom of the press advocates mark one year since Russia detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on charges he is a spy. Now, Russia has never presented any evidence to back up those claims, and the U.S. classifies Gershkovich as wrongfully detained.

CNN's Pleitgen has more in the efforts to bring Evan Gershkovich home.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): No media allowed at Evan Gershkovich's most recent court hearing in Moscow, just this short clip by the court's press service. Despite a year in a Russian jail, a defiant smile from the Wall Street Journal reporter, no surprise his detention was extended yet again through June 30. The U.S. Ambassador to Russia ripping into the verdict.

LYNNE TRACY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. [08:35:00]

They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage a year ago while on assignment in Yekaterinburg, Central Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (Interpreted): I do not know if there are any other cases, but the allegations made by our intelligence services today were not related to his journalism.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich's family strongly denied the allegations. Polina Ivanova of the Financial Times is one of Evan's best friends and still keeps in regular contact with him, writing letters.

POLINA IVANOVA, FINANCIAL TIMES REPORTER, FRIEND OF GERSHKOVICH: He is doing remarkably well. He is absolutely staying strong. He is not allowing himself to wallow, to get to upset by everything. In fact, he spends most of his time in letters to us, trying to make us feel better.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Gershkovich faces a jail sentence of up to 20 years if convicted. But, CNN has reported that Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan were part of a proposed prisoner swap with the now dead opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The Russian President taunted on his reelection day that he approved a swap on the condition he'd get back a high-profile Russian intelligence officer in prison for murder in Germany, Vadim Krasikov.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (Interpreted): The person who spoke to me had not finished his sentence yet. I said, I agree, but unfortunately, what happened, happened.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): For those close to Evan, that means the waiting continues, outcome uncertain.

IVANOVA: When you see Putin talk about it, I mean, in very clear terms that this is what they want to see happen, that they are looking for a deal, it just gives you hope that at some point this will -- this -- that he will be home. He needs to be home. He needs to be back with his family, with his friends.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


JIMENEZ: Now, earlier in the show, we spoke about the huge expenses incurred by all presidential campaigns. That's why they hold big fundraisers, like Joe Biden's Thursday night in New York. Well, Donald Trump won't be outdone by Biden, who raised $25 million last night. At least, he is going to try. The former President plans a lavish evening in Palm Beach for a group of select guests with deep pockets. Trump's event is going to take place next weekend. So, joining me now from Washington is U.S. National Correspondent

Kristen Holmes. Great to see you. Now, look, Donald Trump trying to compete with his own event. What do we know about his fundraising event here?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. We'd reported on this before, and it's going to be some of the richest GOP donors from across the country. Now, this is significant for a number of reasons. One, we know that this is now going to be one of, if not the most, expensive general election that we've ever seen in history. We're talking about $25 million plus for Biden's fundraiser. And now, Trump's team is saying they expect to raise more than $33 million at their fundraiser.

Now, it's also significant for Trump for two reasons. One, we've been continuing to also report that Donald Trump is facing a cash crunch. He has been significantly behind Biden. He could not catch up with that financial edge, a lot of it coming from the fact that he had to compete in a primary and also he has been fighting these legal battles as well. He has spent the last several weeks meeting with donors behind closed doors, talking to donors on the phone. And I talked to his campaign and they say that this is paying off. They believe that the checks are starting to come in, and if this fundraiser is as successful as they believe it will be, that will be a huge lift to Donald Trump.

The other reason why this is so significant is because it shows that the Republican Party is really coming around Donald Trump. They are circling the wagons and they were saying that we're going to support this man, both in support but also financially. There were a lot of these big dollar donors who were sitting on the sidelines during the primaries. They were hoping for any alternative to Donald Trump, but clearly now that has changed, and they're stepping up -- stepping behind the former President. Omar.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. Well, we will see when it happens. Kristen Holmes in Washington, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, California is bracing for another major storm this weekend. More than 22 million people are under flood watches along the southern coast. Winter weather alerts are also in place for high elevation spots across the Sierra Nevada, with up to two and a half feet or 76 centimeters of snow possible, and strong wind gusts are forecast in the northern part of the state.

All right. We got a lot going on. Derek Van Dam joins me now live in the CNN weather center. What should we be looking for here? It sounds like a lot.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, Omar. Do you remember the term atmospheric river? We talked about it a lot --

JIMENEZ: Oh yeah.

DAM: -- this winter. Right. So, a lot of people look at this incoming storm like, hey, is this another atmospheric river about to pound the state of California? And the short answer is, yes. But, you'll see why it's not as impactful as what we experienced earlier this winter. Here is the satellite loop. That's the storm in question. You can see it sliding down the northern and central coast of California, as we speak. It's got its eyes set on Southern California. Take note, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, this is where we get our atmospheric river evaluations from.


And zooming into Southern California, you see that little blue dot there. That is a level one. That corresponds to a primarily beneficial atmospheric river. Remember, an atmospheric river is just a layer of water vapor that streams in the upper levels of the atmosphere and it produces rainfall and snowfall across much of the Western U.S. Now, sometimes, it can be beneficial, like this one. Sometimes, they can be hazardous. I don't want to downplay the fact that we have the potential for a flash flooding. That's certainly in the cards here, Ventura to Santa Barbara, Los Angeles County, you're all under a flash flood watch. That extends all the way to San Diego County as well.

The bulk of this storm, however, is going to come in a longer stretch of time, and also not until late tonight and into the day on Saturday. And then, as it slowly meanders off the South Coast, it will bring that sporadic shower activity to Southern California. And that's why we're just going to extend this through the course of the weekend. You can see that slight risk of flash flooding, Santa Barbara, that's for later today, and then as we extend into Los Angeles County all the way to San Diego for the day tomorrow.

Now, Omar mentioned snowfall in feet. Yes, that will be the case. And when we talk about beneficial factors to this atmospheric river event, remember, we are already at 100 percent snow water equivalent across the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This is good news. As we head into the spring and summer melt seasons, we rely on the snowpack to fill up our reservoirs once that snow starts to melt and trickle down into the reservoirs, and that will help us as we head into the drier summer months. One to three inches anticipated for the major metropolitan areas in and around Los Angeles to San Diego. Of course, some of the mountain ranges near Santa Barbara County could see three to six inches. That's why the flash flood watch is in effect.

And a lot of wind, a lot of energy, gusts over 60 miles per hour, especially across the Central Coast. That could perhaps knock down some trees and some power lines as well. So, do take note, lots of wind associated with this atmospheric river. Omar.

JIMENEZ: Rain, snow, and wind, what could go wrong?

DAM: There it is.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. Derek Van Dam, thank you so much.

DAM: All right.

JIMENEZ: Still to come, All Hail the Queen, Beyonce swaps her crown for a cowboy hat. But, what do audiences think about her country songs album? And as U.S. markets keep on rising, investors are keeping an eye on the Fed. Will they cut rates or keep them on hold? New economic data just released might give us a clue, details after the break.


JIMENEZ: If you haven't heard, Beyonce's country album dropped overnight, but as she says, it is not a country album. It's a Beyonce album.


You've probably heard "Texas Hold 'Em" at this point.


But, if you haven't, there are 27 tracks on Beyonce's highly anticipated album Act II: Cowboy Carter


Cowboy Carter features collaborations with prominent artists like Miley Cyrus, featured in the song, and also Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and rapper Post Malone.

So, joining me now is Janee Bolden, Senior Content Director at Great to see you. I know you've had a chance to listen to the album. I was listening to it before the show. So, I just want to start, what are your first impressions?

JANEE BOLDEN, SENIOR CONTENT DIRECTOR, BOSSIP.COM: My first impressions are that I love it, and I want to spend more time with it.


BOLDEN: There is so many things going on. I want to know what all the samples are. I've already started picking some favorite songs. The songs that you actually mentioned with Post Malone and Miley Cyrus are some of my favorites. But, one of the things that I love about this project is that Beyonce is reclaiming country music for the black community, in my eyes. I really love what she did by tapping in. You mentioned Dolly. You mentioned Willie Nelson, but she also tapped a woman named Linda Martell, who is the first black woman to ever --


BOLDEN: -- perform at the Grand Ole Opry. And then, she also has young -- the new generation of Black Country stars, Willie Jones. She has got Shaboozey. She has got Tanner Adell on the project as well. So, she is drawing this through line. And like she does, nothing is ever as simple as it looks on the surface. It's a very complicated album. And I think we all have to spend more time with it before we just jump out and make decisions about what it is. I think there is a lot going on in the new surface.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And if there is anything we know about Beyonce albums, there is usually a lot of depth that you're not going to be able to appreciate with -- within nine hours of it actually being released. So, yeah, spending a lot of time with it is going to be key. Now, you touched on it. But, clearly, she -- Beyonce wants to bridge the gap between sort of the country of old, the country of now, the country of the future. But, I think it leaves many people wondering, where does she fit in in the country music pantheon here? Does she want to fit in here?

BOLDEN: Absolutely not.


BOLDEN: She doesn't fit in. She stands out. She told us from the beginning it's not a country album. It's a Beyonce album. And it 100 percent is. When you listen to it, there are references from all different genres. Linda Martell even says in an interlude this is -- it's a multi-genre song. She speaks to how it's multiple genres. There is gospel on there. Beyonce raps at one point. There is so many different references. I heard a little bit of bounce. I know the folks from Louisiana are going to pick up on that right away.

And she speaks about her Louisiana roots. She speaks about her Alabama roots. She says that ain't country what is. And I think people are going to have to acknowledge that there is a place for this kind of music and country, and the fact that she has already had a number one country single in "Texas Hold 'Em", I think it's a great thing, and I'm looking forward to not just what she does with this, but just how other people connect with it, how people -- the dances that are -- people are going to come out with, the inspiration that -- for the next generation --


BOLDEN: -- I think there is so much going to come from this project.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. And now, look, Beyonce is a global icon, and country music, obviously, is huge in the United States. It resonates differently, maybe not as well for an international audience around the world unless maybe you're someone like a Taylor Swift, who we've seen it resonate in her tours. Queen Bey, obviously, she has that same prowess and opportunity. How do you see this music translating to a global audience, and is that global audience going to buy into Cowboy Carter in the same way that an American audience would?

BOLDEN: I 100 percent believe that it will translate across the borders, all the borders, across the oceans. I think we've seen how Beyonce reaches. I'm like many beehive members. I'm not quite ready for another tour. It's expensive being a Beyonce fan.


BOLDEN: But, I know that she will tour with this project. I am confident she'll -- some of these songs will become part of her set list in future tours, and she is going to reach everywhere. I mean, I'm sure fans in Tokyo, Brazil, where she has some of her largest audiences, are going to resonate with this project. It's beautiful music and it's undeniable. I think that translates regardless of what your native language is.

JIMENEZ: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm looking forward to my second listen all the way through to try and catch maybe what I missed on the first time around. I'm sure you are too, because look, it's Beyonce. You got to sit with it for a bit before you fully get it in. Janee Bolden,, thank you so much for being with us.


BOLDEN: Thanks, Omar.

JIMENEZ: All right. Still to come, everyone, what does it take to be a top athlete and hit a home run? CNN pays a visit to a Japanese high school that boasts not one, not two, but three baseball stars. You're not going to want to miss this story.


JIMENEZ: All right, everyone. Be honest. How often have you heard the name Shohei Ohtani mentioned in the last month? Probably a lot, though, not all of the headlines were good. But, one thing is certain. He is a huge baseball icon. But, how would you like to meet a Japanese star of tomorrow? Hanako Montgomery has the story.


HANAKO MONTGOMERY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At just 18, Rintaro Sasaki is a baseball phenomenon, hitting a record 140 home runs in high school, far surpassing Japanese baseball legends Shohei Ohtani and Yusei Kikuchi, both graduates of Sasaki's alma mater and icons he grew up with.

MONTGOMERY: Right now, I'm in Hanamaki Higashi, a high school known for its elite baseball team. It's been the birthing ground of some of the biggest Japanese baseball stars in recent years, including Shohei Ohtani, Yusei Kikuchi, and soon to be being (inaudible) Sasaki.

RINTARO SASAKI, BASEBALL PLAYER (Interpreted): I was a big kid in elementary school. So, I used to wear hand me downs from Yusuke. Shohei-San (ph) also gave me a lot of baseball equipment to use, which I really appreciate.

MONTGOMERY (voice-over): Sasaki is the projected number one pick in Japan's professional baseball draft, but this letter is for going all of it to, go to Stanford, a decision his father who has coached Ohtani, Kikuchi and now his son advised him to make.

HIROSHI SASAKI, HEAD COACH & RINTARO'S FATHER (Interpreted): In Japan, people tend to focus more on shortcomings, but in the U.S., they develop individuality. I think this is a very good choice for him.

MONTGOMERY (voice-over): This unassuming high school tucked away among Japan's snowy Northern Mountains now boasts three baseball stars. So, what's the secret? Coach Sasaki tells me it's not about the power in the arm, but in the mind. H. SASAKI (Interpreted): I think the most important thing is to not blame others or to make excuses. Once I stopped doing that, my life changed. And the other thing is to set a firm goal.

MONTGOMERY (voice-over): And of course, practice, practice, and more practice. Still, Sasaki has a way to go before reaching the heights of Ohtani, his dad tells me.

H. SASAKI (Interpreted): I'd never seen such a level of athleticism before. The moment they joined the team, I knew they'd be tremendous athletes once they got stronger.

MONTGOMERY (voice-over): Ohtani and Kikuchi, forever legends for this Japanese high school, and a source of motivation for Sasaki.

R. SASAKI (Interpreted): One day, I want to be playing on the same field as Ohtani and Sasaki. That's what's driving me.

MONTGOMERY (voice-over): Hanako Montgomery, CNN, Hanamaki City.


JIMENEZ: Incredible.

Now, before we go, a report said the director and the producer of last summer's hit movie, Oppenheimer, are up for a knighthood and damehood in the United Kingdom for their contribution to film.



The duo not only work together, they're married. Director Christopher Nolan and his producer wife Emma Thomas won best picture at this year's Oscars for the biopic. The film also took home six other awards, including Best Director. They've collaborated for a long time on other films as well, but well deserved for anyone who has seen their movies.

Thanks for joining me here on CNN NEWSROOM. Hope you learned a lot. I'm Omar Jimenez. Connect the World with Eleni Giokos is up next.