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CNN International: IDF Withdraws From Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital After 14 Days; U.S.: Rescheduled Rafah Talks Could Happen As Soon As Today; U.S. Secretary Of State Heading To France & Belgium. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 01, 2024 - 08:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, CNNI HOST: Hi everyone, and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Amara Walker. This is CNN Newsroom.

Just ahead, a hospital turned to rubble. Israel's military withdrew from Al-Shifa Hospital after two weeks of fighting. The damage, the complex and the people sheltering is substantial. Also, a blow for Turkish President Erdogan as the opposition party sweeps local elections. We will be live in Istanbul. And Donald Trump marks the Easter holiday by lashing out at his political opponents. We will tell you what he had to say.

Gaza's Civil Defense says Al-Shifa can no longer be called a hospital after Israel's 14-day siege. Hundreds of residents rushed to the scene of what was once the enclave's largest hospital, after Israeli forces withdrew. A spokesman for Gaza's Civil Defense says at least 300 bodies have been found on the hospital ground so far. CNN is unable to independently verify that figure. Video from the scene shows utter destruction. One journalist working for CNN says the scene resembles a horror movie. For its part, Israel says it completed quote, "precise operational activity in the area and killed more than 200 militants."

CNN's Nada Bashir joining us now live from London. Nada, tell us more about this 14-day operation at Gaza's largest hospital. I mean, eyewitnesses are talking about complete destruction of the complex and that is what we're also seeing in these videos.

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Absolutely. Over the course of the last few weeks, we have been hearing troubling testimonies from Palestinians trapped in and around the Al-Shifa Medical Complex as well as those living in the area, where over the course of the last two weeks we have seen the constant shelling as well as that ground siege by the Israeli troops surrounding the hospital complex, and of course, airstrikes in the area as well.

And as you mentioned, Amara, according to authorities, some 300 people are believed to be -- have been killed over the course of the last 14 days. That figure could potentially rise. We are only just really getting footage in from the scene around the Al-Shifa Medical Complex following the withdrawal of Israeli troops.

And it has to be said, some of the footage that we are getting, it's simply too graphic to show, corpses strewn around the complex, some buried beneath the rubble. And of course, we have heard from the Civil Defense in Gaza saying that many of the buildings around the complex have been completely destroyed or burnt down, some of those buildings still on fire in the early hours of this morning.

As you mentioned, Amara, the Israeli military says that this was a precise and targeted military operation that they were focusing on Hamas militants and that they discovered a number of weapons as well as intelligence documents at the complex. They accused Hamas of using Al-Shifa as what they've described as a terrorist base. But, at this stage, the only evidence that really has been provided by the Israeli military is those weapons that were discovered as well as what they claimed to be intelligence documents. Of course, CNN does not have independent access and cannot independently verify these claims.

But, what we do know is that for the last two weeks, there have been hundreds of civilians and medical staff trapped within and around the medical complex. We've been hearing from doctors over the last few weeks, telling CNN that they've been struggling to move in and around the medical complex's buildings for fear of being targeted by snipers.

And of course, those civilians who have been able to escape and evacuate and who have moved southwards, as per the orders of the IDF, have also shared quite troubling testimonies. We heard from some who had moved southwards after being able to flee the hospital, they said that they had been interrogated, some, including teenagers who say that they had been stripped and forced to undress by the Israeli military.

Again, the Israeli military says that this was targeted at Hamas fighters, that they killed more than 200 Hamas militants. And also, of course, the Israeli military says that it has worked to ensure the protection of civilians and medical staff. But, that really does stand in contrast to the testimonies that we've been hearing from Palestinians on the ground.

WALKER: All right. Nada Bashir, thank you very much.

Meantime, there is growing pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. Protesters are back on the streets of Jerusalem for a second day, calling for the Israeli Prime Minister to step down. They blame him for failing to secure the release of hostages in Gaza. During a news conference on Sunday, ahead of what his office called a successful hernia operation, Mr. Netanyahu once again rejected calls for early elections.


And we're hearing from U.S. officials there could be -- that there could be high-level talks in Washington in the coming hours over Israel's proposed ground offensive in Rafah. Those talks were originally scheduled for last week, but they were abruptly called off by the Israeli Prime Minister after Washington refused to block a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is live from the White House with the latest. So, what are we hearing about these expected talks? ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, I was just told by a U.S. official that Israeli and U.S. officials actually will be meeting virtually today to hold discussions relating to that potential ground operation into Rafah. This comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week had called off an in-person meeting here in Washington. For the time being, these conversations today are only scheduled to be happening virtually. But, this official told me that they are expected and working towards trying to get an in-person meeting scheduled on the books for some time in the future.

Now, this comes as the U.S. has been expressing quite a bit of concern about the potential for Israel to launch an operation in Rafah. There is concern about whether Israel will have the appropriate plans in place to protect the nearly 1.4 million people who are currently in that area. The U.S. has been pressing Israel not to conduct any type of operation unless they are able to secure the safety and evacuation of civilians who are there. They've said that it would be a mistake if they did not do so.

Now, over the weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again defended the intention to go into Rafah. He said that there will be no victory against Hamas without a Rafah military operation. He says that they are working on plans relating to civilians there. But, so far, U.S. officials have not seen whether they've received any concrete type of planning. So, the hope in these conversations relating to Rafah is that the U.S. will be able to provide some alternative options that Israel could pursue as they're seeking to root out Hamas, in particular when it comes to the area of Rafah.

Now, we know that last week the Israeli Defense Minister Gallant was here in Washington, D.C. for previously scheduled meetings. And in those conversations, both with officials here at the White House, also State Department and Defense Department, they talked about Rafah. But, the White House has really been hoping that they would be able to have more of a meeting, drilling in specifically on this issue, as they have expressed deep concerns about the civilians who are there and wanting to make sure that Israel takes great pains to ensure their safety and evacuation.

WALKER: All right. Arlette Saenz at the White House, thank you very much.

Turkey's main opposition party is celebrating a sweeping victory in the country's local elections. Preliminary results show the CHP winning in the major cities of Istanbul and Ankara. Turkish President Erdogan wasn't on the ballot, but the results are being seen as a rebuke of his leadership and a sign of where the country could be headed.

Scott McLean is in Istanbul with the latest. I mean, this is quite a blow for Erdogan and his party.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. You're absolutely right. This is the lowest share of the vote totals that his AK Party or Justice and Development Party has gotten since it first formed and first ran for an election back in 2002. And it is the very first time that his party has lost the popular vote. And not only did his party lose in many places across the country, and obviously, the popular vote, but it lost in some pretty unexpected places. Here in Istanbul, it lost some rather religious, rather conservative districts that it -- you'd think that they would have won, and they even lost the Beyoglu district of Istanbul where President Erdogan himself is from.

And across the country, there is other examples of places that previously had been AK Party strongholds that now went to the CHP. There were two things, Amara, on the campaign trail that really overshadowed anything else. Number one was the influence of President Erdogan himself, who really injected himself into the campaign, certainly here in Istanbul, his faces on banners and billboards, you name it, and he came here for rallies as well.

The second big thing is obviously the state of economy. Inflation is out of control. You have interest rates that just hit 50 percent, 50 percent. And people will tell you that they are struggling, and they're obviously looking for some -- for things to improve. If there is good news for President Erdogan is that, look, we're still four years away from a presidential race.

There is plenty of time to govern without the looming thought of an election, and obviously, a lot can change in that time. It's worth noting as well, Amara, that President Erdogan isn't technically allowed under the Constitution to run for another term but there are some loopholes which could allow him to run, and there is plenty of pundits who predict that he will.


WALKER: Yeah. So then, in terms of Turkey's main opposition party then, which, as you said, made some really significant gains, what does this mean for the political landscape moving forward?

MCLEAN: Yeah. I mean, this is a huge turning point for the opposition. This is the first time that the CHP has won the popular vote in Turkey since the late 1970s. And so, now, the majority of the Turkish population lives in a CHP or soon to be CHP-controlled municipality. And again, they also managed to win in some very unexpected places. And I'll give you one example in particular, Adiyaman in the southern part of Turkey. It is well known as a religious, notably conservative place. The CHP didn't even bother to run a candidate in the last election. This time around, they managed to take it from the AK Party.

Of course, Ekrem Imamoglu, the re-elected mayor of Istanbul, is widely considered to be one of the very few opposition figures with the strength to potentially take on Erdogan or his party in the next election race. And now, his hand is undoubtedly strengthened, but so are others now. There is also talk about the mayor of Ankara, who just won reelection, almost doubling the vote tally of the AK Party. It's not clear what were his -- if he is ambitious enough to run for the presidency. But, there is at least talk of a few strong candidates. And this is a noted difference from the kind of discord and disorganization that we've seen of the CHP in recent years.

Obviously, the results could provide a check on the central government, and they could also send a very strong message to Erdogan's party that he will need to work with the opposition to get things done. Erdogan made some not so subtle comments over the last few months, suggesting that in the aftermath of the earthquake in the southern part of the country and in preparations for the next coming earthquake here in Istanbul, that he would prefer or that districts would get more money and more help if the local governments were the same as the ruling national governments. Clearly, that did not go over very well. And clearly, voters have sent a strong message, Amara.

WALKER: Yeah. They sure did. Scott McLean in Istanbul, thank you so much.

America's top diplomat is traveling to Europe this week. Antony Blinken will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and NATO foreign ministers in Brussels. Funding for Ukraine is high on the agenda following Ukrainian President Zelenskyy's warning that his troops could be forced to cede more ground to Russia if additional U.S. military aid does not arrive soon.

CNN International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joining me now. Nic, as you know, Macron has been very vocal in calling for more aid, continuing aid to Ukraine. What are we hoping and expecting from this meeting?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, the French have already put a couple of things on the table over the weekend in advance of the meeting. The Defense's Minister, the Armed Services Minister said that they will be sending hundreds, those were his words, hundreds of armored vehicles, not new ones, old ones, but serviceable, obviously, for the Ukrainian military, said because they're in desperate need of those around the frontlines to protect their troops as they move them around.

They will also be sending a new missile system, the Aster 30. Now, this has a payload of about 450 kilograms of explosives. So, that will pack a pretty powerful punch. And it's exactly that sort of longer- range weapon that Ukraine has been looking for to improve its air defenses, which it continues to say it needs.

But, we heard from President Zelenskyy over the weekend saying, look, absent a real uptick in the funding that we're getting and the weapons coming through, and this is a point for the United States very clearly, we'll have to start tactically withdrawing from some frontline positions. They're running out of ammunition. They don't have enough to match what the Russians are firing at them every day, and that's leading to an imbalance on the frontline. So, they need to adjust accordingly.

So, I think from a French perspective, they're talking about what they're going to be doing, $3.8 billion closer -- just over $3 billion worth of military aid going to Ukraine, a substantial amount. But, of course, the French would be looking to the United States to come up with that long term tens of billions of dollars funding that's been stuck until now.

WALKER: Yeah. And even if NATO leaders agreed to more aid if the US Congress gets its act together at some point and gets together a package for Ukraine, I mean, that will take some time to get the money there, and then, of course, to have real impacts on the battlefield. What's the situation right now there on the frontlines?

ROBERTSON: Russia is continuing to claim that it is pushing and taking a couple of very small and insignificant villages in the Donetsk region.


This comes after they took the town of Avdiivka a couple of weeks ago. The Ukrainians are saying that they're holding the Russians back on a wider offensive in the frontline along there. These are not major battles. The ebb and flow here is in Russia's favor, small amounts of ground, but it is ground that Ukraine last year was able to hold and it even hoped to take more back. This year, it's not being able to hold that ground. So, it's not a good outlook. And part of the reason they can't hold it is they don't have the ammunition.

Now, the European countries have agreed to step up and funding massively production of ammunition and are tasking military industry factories to do that. That is happening. But, as you say, it's not happening quickly enough. And on the battlefield, it's Russia that really seems to be marginally having a better time, and Russia has also just announced a massive new recruitment drive for conscripts.

WALKER: Yeah. And of course, the stall in aid obviously has to do a number on the morale for the troops in Ukraine. Nic Robertson, appreciate you joining us from London. Thank you so much.

Still to come, the first phase of a massive cleanup process in Baltimore has begun as crews work to cut and haul pieces of the Key Bridge to clear the channel. We will have a live update. And could you be one of the tens of millions of people whose personal data has been leaked on the dark web after an apparent breach at AT&T? The details, next.


WALKER: The complicated cleanup process is underway nearly one week after that catastrophic bridge collapse in Baltimore, Maryland. The first pieces of metal and debris have been removed from the water, and crews are preparing to open a temporary alternate channel nearby for crucial commercial ships in the area. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it could take weeks for the Port of Baltimore to fully reopen. Meanwhile, the bodies of four construction workers have still not been recovered.

CNN's Gabe Cohen joining me now live from Baltimore. What is the latest in terms of removing all of that debris and eventually clearing that channel?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. So, Amara, that alternate channel that you brought up, that's the next critical step in the salvage operation, trying to get at least a small channel opened up to get some vessels in and out from the Port of Baltimore. But, look, we don't have a timeline on how quickly they can open that channel up, whether or not that could be in the next couple of days or if it could take even longer than that. There are cranes here at the scene, Amara.


As you mentioned, crews have been removing those first big chunks of the wreckage. But, they are doing so in a very careful and methodical way. It has been described, this wreckage scene, as basically a tightened rubber band, where if you cut it in the wrong place it could snap and could be very dangerous for the crews in the water. And so, they have engineers that are serving and scanning these pieces of the bridge, trying to figure out the right place to cut some of the steel and the concrete so that those cranes can actually remove the debris.

As you mentioned, it could be weeks to get all of it out. And so, it's not clear right now how quick that alternate channel could open and what ships are going to be able to access it. They also have to be careful, Amara, because it's possible that those four missing construction workers are buried somewhere under that debris and they're trying to go about this in a sensitive manner, because they have divers ready and they are trying to go down and recover those four men and offer closure to the families if they are discovered somewhere down there in the water.

So, it is a complicated process right now. We expect to hear from the governor later this afternoon. But, the timeline is really fluid, Amara, because this is complicated. And if you can't tell around me, conditions are brutal here this morning, a lot of heavy rain, some wind, cold temperatures on the water, not making things any easier for the crews trying to do their work.

WALKER: Well, Gabe, I mean, that rubber band analogy really underscores just how risky and dangerous the situation is for the cleanup, and of course, the debris removal. Regarding those four construction workers who still have not yet been recovered, and you also talk about the very difficult conditions with the wind and the rain, at what point will the crews, the divers, go back into the water to search for them?

G. COHEN: Well, it's not completely clear, but they have had people in the water who, broadly speaking, are doing that work. But, at this point, they are focused on getting enough of the debris out so that they can do those searches. In short, they're trying to get a lot of the wreckage out so that eventually crews can go down and continue that recovery effort.

But, it's going to take clearing a lot of that debris because we're talking about depth, water depth, that's close to 50 feet. It is dark. It is murky down there. And so, we hit a point during the recovery effort in those first few days where essentially official said divers can't safely do their work in that dark water with all of that debris. So, they're going to have to get a lot of it out before they can continue the recovery of those four men.

WALKER: Yeah, understood. Gabe Cohen, I know you've been on the scene since day one. Thank you so much for updating us. Appreciate it. Staying in the U.S., and a massive data breach for tens of millions of

AT&T customers, the personal information of 73 million people has been leaked onto the dark web. That includes their Social Security numbers and passwords. AT&T is still trying to work out what happened, saying it has no information that its systems were compromised.

Matt Egan is on the story for us. OK. What do we know about what happened, and if customers are being alerted?

MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: Yeah, Amara. This is a massive data breach, and it really has exposed the personal information on many Americans. And what's interesting is that it's actually mostly former AT&T customers that have been impacted. AT&T says that about 7.6 million current customers have been affected by this leak. But, look at that, almost 10 times as many, 65 million previous customers, and there may be an important reason for that divide. I'll get back to that point.

Now. I know a lot of people are wondering, how do I know if I was impacted? Well, AT&T says they've already reached out to current customers and changed their past codes if they were impacted by this leak. So, if you're a current customer and you don't get an email or a letter from AT&T, you're probably in the clear here. AT&T says they're reaching out to former customers as well.

Now, as far as what kinds of information was leaked, the company says it depends from case to case, but that this information includes potentially full names, dates of birth, email, and mailing addresses. And concerningly, this also includes Social Security numbers. Now. one cyber security researcher just told me that this information taken together is enough for criminals to do everything, from sending out spam messages to more serious things like very targeted phishing campaigns, impersonating customers or even potentially stealing their identity.

Now, an interesting element here is the timing because it was almost three years ago that a well-known hacker claimed to have information on more than 70 million AT&T customers. Now, at the time, AT&T denied that its systems were breached.


Now, AT&T says that about two weeks ago, customer information was leaked on the dark web, and importantly, the company says they don't know yet whether the breach occurred in their own systems, which they don't have evidence of yet, or if this was an outside vendor. But, either way, Amara, a lot of people are being impacted here.

WALKER: Yeah, and it's just concerning in general. Matt Egan, thank you very much.

EGAN: Thanks, Amara.

WALKER: Still to come, Donald Trump's Easter message, it was anything but focused on cute little bunnies and of course the meaning of Easter or church services. We will peek inside the Biden campaign as well where one of their biggest concerns is a voting bloc they have long counted on.


WALKER: Welcome back, everyone. Donald Trump had a very clear message on Easter Sunday, and it had little to do with religious observances or hunting for those candied eggs. In a lengthy post on his social media platform, Trump attacked the numerous prosecutors and judges involved in the cases against him. He used words like evil, sick, corrupt and deranged. Trump's recent posts come close to violating the gag order imposed on him by Judge Juan Merchan in the New York hush money case. He did conclude the post by wishing a Happy Easter to everyone. But, it was clear that Easter blessings were far from his main message that day. And there are growing concerns that Trump's rhetoric is creating a dangerous situation for public servants involved in the U.S. legal system.

Let's bring in CNN National Security Reporter Zach Cohen with more on that. Hi there, Zach. I mean, tell us how worried the law enforcement community is about this heated rhetoric from Trump but also things that he is posting, may be just images that he is posting on his social media page.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Amara. It's -- you really hear judges and former judges even speak out about concerns related to the rhetoric from politicians. But, we've heard from multiple retired and current judges who have said that Donald Trump's rhetoric not only raises security concerns for the people that he is attacking, like Judge Merchan in the New York hush money case or like Jack Smith, the special prosecutor overseeing two criminal investigations of Trump, but it also threatens the rule of law because the judicial system depends on judges who can do their job without looking over their shoulder, without worrying about threats to their safety and the safety of their family.

In the case of Judge Merchan, we've seen Donald Trump specifically single out his daughter even, raising concerns that he may have violated the gag order, the partial gag order against him. Judge Merchan has said, no. That does not violate the terms of the gag order. But, we've heard from retired judges this weekend who said that if Trump crossed that line, if Trump does violate a gag order, he shouldn't be jailed.


And this is all coming as we're about two weeks away from Trump's hush money case in New York. The trial for that case is starting. Obviously, we anticipate Trump's rhetoric and his attacks on these judges and on these prosecutors to increase as we get closer to a trial date. But, look, Donald Trump has made clear that this is part of his presidential campaign and this is going to be a centerpiece to his message to try to galvanize support from his followers. Democrats have tried to use it in the opposite way to paint Trump as sort of a threat to democracy, and as -- putting Biden up as the queer, safe choice for President. So, we'll see.

I mean, ultimately, it depends on what the voters decide. But, in the interim, it is these judges, it is these prosecutors who are having to deal with security threats that do stem in part from what Trump is saying publicly.

WALKER: Do you get any sense of -- if this gag order when it pertains to the hush money trial that Juan Merchan is presiding over that it could potentially expand to include his daughter, because he ostensibly, as you know, did not include himself or his daughter in this gag order. It just included the people in the case, potential witnesses, the prosecutors, etc. But, Trump continues to attack the judge's daughter, and that could also have a real-life impact.

Z. COHEN: It absolutely could. And look, prosecutors are seeking clarity from Judge Merchan on that exact point. They want to know where the bounds of this gag order is, partial gag order, do lie. And ultimately, the judge is in a difficult situation here. I think it's safe to say, as we've seen other judges grapple with similar scenarios with Donald Trump, that Judge Merchan doesn't have any interest in trying to put -- or putting Trump in jail if Trump does violate the terms of a gag order in the future. It's an open question, how much does Donald Trump care about a potential fine?

So, really, how do you enforce a gag order if you put one in place, and if you do put the bounds of that gag order? You extend the bounds of that gag order to include things like your family. But, at the same time, Trump is out there saying things about somebody who has nothing to do with the case, in the case of Judge Merchan's daughter. So, it's really a difficult situation for the judge, and it'll be interesting to see how he responds to prosecutors who are seeking clarity on that exact point.

WALKER: Yeah. Wow. All right. CNN National Security Reporter Zach Cohen, thank you very much.

Well, there is no legal drama but there are plenty of concerns surrounding Joe Biden's campaign right now. Much of it is a centering around the minority vote. For decades, Democrats have been able to count on strong support among black voters. But, polls suggest that Trump is getting significant support in black and Latino communities. And of course, Democrats are also worried about a recent trend of declining turnout among voters of color.

CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere has been taking a look at the Biden campaign's efforts to get out the vote in the black community. He is joining us now live from Washington. I mean, this has to be a major concern when it comes to black voter turnout for President Biden.

EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR REPORTER: It is. And the concern here is not, as you point out, whether they're going to see a huge move of black voters toward Donald Trump, but really just whether they can get to some point where they can change the decline over the last decade in black voters turning out at all.

That is important. It's votes that they need to be able to win in places like Milwaukee, Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Pennsylvania, has Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in it. All of those cities are in swing states, in battleground states that Biden needs to win. And to do that, likely, it's going to take changing this situation that has existed for years among black voters, and that means really revamping the entire outreach that's going on for black voters across the country.

I was in Milwaukee reporting the story, and one of the things that I heard is that they, in reaching out in all these new ways, they're trying to get to black voters. Over half of the people that they've contacted were not even contacted by any campaign in 2022 or 2020. That is a huge deficit that the Biden campaign needs to make up now.

WALKER: Talk to us about what Trump is doing to, I guess, win over some black and Latino voters. And I think for viewers really around the world, this might be disconcerting to make sense of, because Trump is someone who has not minced words when it comes to saying racist things or demeaning things about certain groups, people of color, and also singling out migrants as invaders --


WALKER: -- and rapists. So, what exactly is happening there?

DOVERE: Well, look, you see some of the rhetoric out of Trump. He said that because he has a mugshot now and has been under criminal prosecution --

WALKER: Right.

DOVERE: -- that will make black people like him more. Others have suggested that those sneakers that he put out a couple of weeks ago would help appeal to black voters. What he is dealing with that is likely not winning over all that many black voters, but he is playing into an apathy that is there that political leaders, community leaders, activists that I've talked to are around the country say is very real, and it's a very big thing that the Biden campaign is going to need to overcome.


Remember, in 2016, Donald Trump said, hey, vote for me. What the hell do you have to lose? That's the kind of appeal that I think you'll see him making more over the course of the next couple of months into the election. And again, for the Biden campaign, making clear what they believe they can point to black voters and say, look there, all these improvements have been made that have been to help you and there is more that we want to do.

WALKER: Yeah, and perhaps these voters are not all going to Trump but will abstain to vote, write in a candidate, third-party candidate. Yeah. It's just -- it's such a fluid situation. Thank you so much, Edward-Isaac Dovere, for breaking that down for us.

DOVERE: Thank you.

WALKER: Still to come, what the most powerful Republican in Congress is doing to try to keep his job, and a move that could have major ramifications for the war in Ukraine. Russia announces a big boost in its conscription target.


WALKER: U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson says he expects lawmakers to move quickly on a package that includes aid for Ukraine when the House returns from recess in about a week. Johnson told Fox News, the measure will include some important run innovations. Aid to Ukraine is a divisive issue among House Republicans, and how Johnson handles it could help determine whether he remains in power.

Manu Raju has more.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the House, could be the second House Speaker ever to be ousted by his own colleagues. That's if Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conservative congresswoman from Georgia, does move ahead to call for a vote seeking his ouster and if he doesn't have the votes to fend it off. This was announced just before the House left town for a two-week Easter recess.

But, behind the scenes, Mike Johnson has been strategizing, trying to figure out how to avoid this ultimate fate. He thinks -- his allies think he can avoid it. But, there are some big decisions that are looming. One of them is how to deal with aid to Ukraine. Some Democrats say, if he moves forward with aid to Ukraine, that will be actually enough for them to help him save his job. But, Mike Johnson is baiting, debating, trying to move a narrower Ukraine package, and some hard-right members are pushing him to offset that Ukraine aid package with spending cuts, loaded up with immigration measures, things that could put off Democrats. How would that play out, and will that ultimately lead to his ouster?

All those things have been discussed behind the scenes. New reporting from my colleagues, Melanie Zanona, Annie Grayer, and myself has details all of that. And I put the question to some Republicans, including one, Matt Gaetz who led the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, if he would do the same with Mike Johnson. He'd be clear he is on Johnson's side, as he indicated that they've talked about this issue.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I would not support a motion to vacate. I gave the Speaker some unsolicited advice that we've got to get into a fighting posture, and I was very pleased with how the Speaker received that advice.

RAJU: Do you think this Speaker needs to be voted out of office?

REP. BOB GOOD (R-VA): I don't have a good comment on that, and I think that comment is a comment in of itself that I don't have a comment on that.


RAJU: If you may have a vote to vacate Mike Johnson, would you support that? REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): I mean, look, right now, we got to go back and get Republicans united to point out what our radical progressive Democrat colleagues are doing and present a actual competing vision. That does not start with, to be very clear, it does not start with putting a clean Ukraine bill down on the floor.

RAJU: Do you have confidence in the Speaker right now?

ROY: Look, again, I'm -- we're all working together trying to figure out what we're going to do next.

RAJU: But, as you can see there, a lot of members still have not made up their decision on what to do, including those far-right members, and with Mike Johnson having virtually no margin for error in the Republican House, if this vote does come up, it would really threaten his speakership and it would be up to Democrats most likely to decide whether to save him.

Manu Raju, CNN, Washington.


WALKER: Manu, thank you.

In just a few hours, a federal judge will sentence convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh for nearly two dozen financial crimes. The former attorney is already serving two life sentences for the murders of his wife and son. Murdaugh pleaded guilty last September to 22 federal charges that include conspiracy fraud, and money laundering. But, what should have been a straightforward hearing became complicated after prosecutors say Murdaugh failed a polygraph test.

CNN's Diane Gallagher joining us now from Charleston, South Carolina. There is always a new twist in this case. What's the latest?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's never straightforward when it comes to Alex Murdaugh. Amara, this should be the final sentencing when it comes to the major charges with which he is charged. But, there is this additional layer here. When he signed the agreement with federal prosecutors back in September, it all hinged on his ability to be honest and forthright. And now, prosecutors say he failed that polygraph test and he has voided the agreement.

Now, Alex Murdaugh's attorneys say that, look, there was some odd behavior from the polygraph or talking about previous notorious case that he had done and confusing language, and they are saying they haven't seen the exam yet. They're asking the judge to either deny or delay the prosecutor's motion to hold him in breach of this agreement.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): For the third time in just over a year, a judge will sentence Alex Murdaugh to prison.

VOICE OF JUDGE CLIFTON B. NEWMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA CIRCUIT COURT: That is the sentence of the court and you are remanded to the State Department of Corrections.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The once prominent, now disgraced attorney's fall from grace of fixation in the true crime industry and the subject of several documentaries. Monday's federal sentencing likely won't immediately impact the current situation of the one-time heir to a low country legal dynasty, whose theft and death seem to follow.

NEWMAN: I sentence you for term of the rest of your natural life.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Already serving two consecutive life sentences for the gruesome murders of his wife Maggie and son Paul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody, they're not -- neither of them's moving.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): His dramatic six-week murder trial captivated the nation last year.

CREIGHTON WATERS, CHIEF PROSECUTOR FOR THE STATE GRAND JURY: We couldn't bring you any eyewitnesses because they were murdered.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Prosecutors painted Murdaugh as a desperate thief, living a lie in fear of being found out, who killed his own family to distract from a decade-long scheme of stealing millions from his clients, law firm partners and other victims.

ALEX MURDAUGH, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY: I am innocent. I would never hurt my wife Maggie, and I would never hurt my son "Pawpaw".

GALLAGHER (voice-over): It took the jury less than three hours to find him guilty.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): He attempted to get a new trial this year when his attorneys claimed the Clerk of Court tampered with the jury, which the clerk denied. But, a judge, while critical of the clerk's conduct, determined it did not affect the outcome.

JUDGE JEAN H. TOAL, RETIRED SOUTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: -- when find the defendant's motion for a new trial on the factual record before me must be denied, and it is so ordered.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Murdaugh maintains his innocence in the murders and plans to restart his appeal. He is also currently serving a 27-year state sentence after pleading guilty in November to 22 counts of fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors estimated he stole around $12 million from clients and his law firm.

MURDAUGH: I hate the things that I did and I am so sorry.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): A fraudster who claims he embezzled from vulnerable people to support a crippling opioid addiction, like the family of the Murdaugh's housekeeper Gloria Satterfield, who died after an alleged trip and fall at his home in 2018. Murdoch encouraged her sons to sue him, setting them up with an attorney who then worked with Murdoch to pocket millions in insurance settlement funds that her kids should have received.

TONY, GLORIA SATTERFIELD'S SON: I really don't have the words. You lied. You cheated. You stole. You betrayed me and my family and everybody else.


GALLAGHER: So, he is serving two life sentences.


Why does another sentence matter here? The key is consecutive versus concurrent. In the original plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed that their sentence could run concurrent at the same time as the state sentences. Now, they're saying maybe we'd like for it to run consecutively after he finishes his state sentences. Amara, all of this is simply insurance for federal and state prosecutors if Alex Murdaugh appeals those murder charges and he has murder conviction and he is able to win that. Therefore, if they have them as consecutive sentences, they would be able to keep him in prison for a much longer time, likely for the rest of his life, even if he won the appeals on the murder convictions.

WALKER: Dianne Gallagher for us in Charleston, South Carolina, thank you very much.

Let's turn to Russia now where Vladimir Putin has set the biggest conscription target since the war in Ukraine began. Russia is calling up 150,000 civilians for military service. It's an increase of 20,000 people compared to the last decree in September, and it also follows new rules that already raised the upper age limit of conscription from 27 to 30-years-old.

Let's get a frontline perspective now on how this will impact the worn out -- what it all means. Michael Bociurkiw is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, and a former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is actually joining us now from a key Ukrainian port of Odessa. Michael, it's great to see you. First off, I just want to get your reaction to this conscription announcement. It is a routine announcement. But, what's different this time is the fact that the maximum age has gone up to 30 from 27. Correct?

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, FORMER SPOKESMAN, OSCE: Yes. Correct. Good to be with you, Amara. And everything that's happening with this conscription drama is pointing to signs of a very, very desperate Vladimir Putin, and 20 -- when the war started in 2022, the conscription target was 134,000. Now, as you pointed out, it is 150,000, and they had lowered the age.

The other thing they've done is they've also made it easier for authorities to get a hold of people to either draft them or send them conscription notices. And also, the penalties for avoiding the draft are very, very severe, everything from taking away your driver's license to freezing you out of bank loans, to preventing you from leaving the country. Now, parents of those who are conscripted are very, very worried because there are credible reports that a lot of these young men have actually been sent to the frontlines to Ukraine, even though they're not supposed to dig trenches, foxholes. There are even reportedly conscripted men on that ship, the Moskva, that Ukraine blasted away early in the war. So, there you have it.

WALKER: Yeah. Yeah, of course. And what are your thoughts on the timing of this announcement, given that Ukraine is in such a vulnerable position right now with it being desperate for more U.S. aid and foreign aid in general?

BOCIURKIW: Yeah, sure. Well, according to the UK Ministry of Defense, Russia has lost about 355,000 men since the start of the war. That's an average of about 1,000 a day. I think there are two factors at play here, Amara. One is that terrorist attack in Moscow. I think Vladimir Putin is using it to not only clamp down on a descent, but also to get more mobilization for the war. The big fear here is that their next target will be the second biggest city in Ukraine, Kharkiv, possible encirclement of that big city, in addition to all the bombings that has been happening, and they'll try to take that. That would be a huge, huge loss for Ukraine.

WALKER: What is daily life like for those in Ukraine? I mean, you're all the way out in South-Western Ukraine and you're still getting bombarded there.

BOCIURKIW: Amara, it's like this. We used to go to bed here in Odessa, fearing for what the night will bring from drone and missile attacks. Now, we wake up every day, fearing for what daily nightmare, the daytime nightmare will be from similar attacks. We're now getting pounded day and night and also in the mix of drones and missiles, these very hypersonic or supersonic missiles that hardly trigger the alarms because they travel so quickly.

I was just in Kyiv, and you can really sense a change in the mood of people. They're getting worn down. They're not getting enough sleep. People are working from their homes to avoid the alarms. They run for those shelters. And I'm also sensing, it's sad to say, Amara, but some of the best and brightest here are slowly leaving. It's like almost death by 1,000 cuts. So sad to watch up closely.

WALKER: Well, on that note in terms of the Ukrainian people, obviously, morale must be taking a hit, especially when they know that their troops, artillery weapons are running low. They're still waiting for aid.


Do you expect, on the personnel side, the Ukrainian military personnel, could they potentially counter this boost by Russia with this conscription to also increase the number of people on the frontlines?

BOCIURKIW: Yeah. Well, there is talk of the mobilization here in Ukraine, although it's being tied up in Parliament by a lot of amendments by the ruling party serving the people. So, it's a very, very sensitive topic here in Ukraine. People know you just have to go to the cemetery nearby me and people know how much the losses have been on the Ukrainian side.

What are the Ukrainian people asking for, is that $61 billion tied up in the U.S. Congress right now, more defense systems to protect cities like Odessa because -- one more thing, you got to realize that where I'm sitting right now, this is a crucial cog in the global food supply chain. The West should be throwing everything it has right now to protect the Western Black Sea, so grain and sunflower oil can get out to Africa and other Western ports.

WALKER: No. It really is a desperate situation, and it's really good to have you there on the ground to give us that firsthand account of what's happening, what the people are telling you. Michael Bociurkiw, great to see you, and all the best to you. Thanks so much.

BOCIURKIW: My pleasure.

WALKER: Still to come, spring is in the air. We head to California where nature lovers are having a blooming good time.


WALKER: It's an annual sign of spring in California. Wild flowers blooming up and down the state, and this year, thanks in part to a very wet winter, residents and visitors are hoping they're even more spectacular than usual. Here is Stephanie Elam with more.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A flurry of flowers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's amazing.

ELAM (voice-over): As spring begins to unfurl in California, flower fans are hoping for another showstopper, a phenomenon known as a Super Bloom.

EVAN MEYER, BOTANIST & EXECUTIVE DIR., THEODORE PAYNE FOUNDATION: Super Bloom is many, many flowers, millions, if not billions of flowers blooming simultaneously.

ELAM (voice-over): Expanses of orange, yellow and purple flowers so densely clustered that they are visible from space. Like in 2023, after one of the wettest winters on record, the thing is, Super Blooms aren't a guarantee. It takes the right conditions for that right of hues to appear. During California's devastating drought years, there is no brilliant display.

MEYER: When those conditions come together and you get a lot of rain and cool days, you're going to see tons of flowers, and this year I think we're on track for that.

ELAM: All of these beautiful blooms just draw people in. But, this is nature. So, naturally, there are threats. And here in California, that often is snakes.

ELAM (voice-over): Like 12-year-old Malen (ph) found out. ELAM: What is the coolest thing you've seen when you've come out here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A snake. I got the dog and I started running.

ELAM (voice-over): In 2017, some California parks were crushed with Super Bloom seekers, the town of Lake Elsinore banned visitors to one Canyon in 2019 after hundreds of thousands of people trudged off trails, destroyed precious petals in their quest to take the perfect picture.

MEYER: These are fragile ecosystems. They're wild ecosystems and they can be damaged pretty easily by being stepped on, sat on driven on and driven on.

ELAM (voice-over): Yet, experts say respectfully viewing a Super Bloom is a great way to connect with nature.


MEYER: You'll just see one of the most incredible things that happens in our natural world.

ELAM (voice-over): Stephanie Elam, CNN.


WALKER: It is stunning, and also, Japan's cherry blossom season has officially begun. Tourists and locals in Tokyo are flocking to see the famous flowers reach peak bloom. This year, the celebrated trees started blossoming later than usual. The season can only begin when, according to the state media, weather officials monitoring a specific tree in Tokyo are able to spot a loving blossoms. Aren't they beautiful?

And thank you so much for joining me here on CNN Newsroom. I'm Amara Walker. Connect the World with Eleni Giokos is up next.