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FBI Says, Passenger Checked in Suitcase with Explosive Hidden Inside; Russian Artillery Heard Almost Constantly Near Bakhmut; SpaceX Launches New Crew of Astronauts to International Space Station. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 02, 2023 - 07:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Such an awesome place.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Are you a Spacey?

COLLINS: I love Cape Canaveral.

LEMON: You do?

COLLINS: Really.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Have you been there?

COLLINS: I've been there. And what sucks is they get scrubbed a bunch. So, you go and then it doesn't happen.

HARLOW: Didn't President Trump go?

COLLINS: Trump went, yes.

LEMON: I used to remember going to Cape Canaveral and you see all the alligators and stuff that are out there, yes.

COLLINS: Yes. I don't think you're supposed to get that close.

LEMON: Just dropping by. That's a whole other thing.

Wait, we're on television. Good morning, everyone.

So, four astronauts blasting off to the International Space Station after a successful SpaceX launch this morning. But, first, we have this, a suit cause packed with an explosive discovered at a Pennsylvania airport. The suspect arrested by the FBI. What we're learning about the device that was allegedly found hidden in his luggage.

HARLOW: Also, University of Georgia football player has turned himself in on charges related to a deadly car crash that killed a teammate and staff member after the team's national championship victory. COLLINS: Also, U.S. intelligence with a new report on what is known as Havana syndrome. For years, American diplomats and spies around the world have been complaining of mysterious symptoms. They're oftentimes debilitating. But was a foreign adversary actually to blame? We have the answer.

LEMON: Yes, lot to get to.

We're going to begin with this, though. The TSA intercepting a suitcase packed with an explosive device before it was loaded on to a plane. It happened at the airport in it Allentown, Pennsylvania. The bomb squad rushing into the scene there, and the FBI later arresting this man seen on surveillance video.

Here's the breakdown of exactly what happened. The FBI saying the suspect arrived at the airport Monday morning and checked in his suitcase. After an hour, about an hour later, investigators say TSA agents found an explosive device hidden inside of that suitcase.

According to the FBI, the suspect left the airport when security started calling for him over the intercom. The FBI's bomb technician who responded to the scene says the device was circular, wrapped up in wax-like paper and plastic wrap and hidden in the lining of the baggage.

He says there were two fuses, a quick fuse designed to ignite explosives quickly, and a so-called hobby fuse that burns slower.

Straight now to CNN's Andrew McCabe, our senior law enforcement analyst and the former deputy director of the FBI. Good morning, Andrew -- Andy, I should call you.

This is really scary stuff. I mean, what is your impression of the device allegedly found in this -- his name is Muffly, his last name -- in Muffly's bag, what sort of damage could these materials do?

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Don, I think you have to describe it as a fairly crude device, not particularly well-organized, however, potentially incredibly lethal. What the device had, as you described, were two fuses that need to be manually lit. What it lacked was an initiation device, like an altimeter or a timer or a cell phone connection that would have enabled Muffly to ignite the device while in flight.

So, now that doesn't mean it wasn't dangerous. That compound that he used, that commercial grade firework, can actually be ignited with heat and friction and things like that. So, it certainly could have gone off in the luggage hold. And if it had, it could have caused, you know, a hole in the side of the plane, something that could have easily brought the plane down.

HARLOW: What do you make of the fact, Andy, that it wasn't just was found in loosely in his suitcase? It was found in the lining of his suitcase.

MCCABE: Poppy, that is a great piece of evidence for the prosecutors because the fact that he basically secreted the item inside the lining, tried to, you know, obscure its ability to be found or picked up on luggage searches getting on to the plane is just an indicator of guilty mind. It wasn't just in his bag. He didn't just, you know, forget and leave his bomb in his bag by accident. He actually hid the thing in the lining. So, it's really going to be one of those facts they use against him and then the follow-on prosecution.

COLLINS: Andy, one thing that stuck out to me was the former police chief talked to CNN and said he actually had had several interactions with this person. He said they were minor in nature, drug arrest, misdemeanor, domestic issues, that he had encountered him as both the suspect and this victim. And basically, nothing stood out to him. He said, I don't think he's radicalized or anything like that. I just think he's an idiot, to be honest with you. But like what are the signs of someone like this would look for for someone to bring something like this to the airport?

MCCABE: That's a very, very hard thing to look for, Kaitlan. Clearly, this guy is a troubled person, a lot of run-ins with the law, prior criminal offenses. But without any clear signs of radicalization or connections to groups that might want to do harm to an airplane, it is really tough thing to look for.

I think what we have to take way from this situation is the good news story here, if it there is one, that the processes, the safety and security measures at the airport worked exactly as they're supposed to work. The machines picked up the existence of this device and more importantly the people running the machines are TSA officers saw the hit.


They investigated it thoroughly. They found the article that was there and took appropriate steps. So, that's a good news story particularly for this airport.

LEMON: And now he faces justice. Thank you, Andrew McCabe, I appreciate it.

MCCABE: Thanks.

COLLINS: Also this morning, seven people have been -- are recovering now they were hospitalized because of severe turbulence on one of their flights. This is inside of the plane after it happened. You can see there is food, paper, luggage, basically everywhere. It was a Lufthansa flight that was going from Texas to Germany. It had to make an emergency landing at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C.

An unnamed passenger told Washington Post that the plane went into, quote, free fall basically just as the dinner service had gotten under way. People and food went flying into the air, hitting, even damaging the ceiling of the aircraft. The passenger also says that one person was badly hurt blood spattered on their seat and that person had been taken off the plane in a wheelchair. CNN has not independently confirmed that account, we should note, but the FAA has said it will investigate the incident adding it into the many that they're already looking into.

HARLOW: Really scary stuff, right?

This morning, California Governor Gavin Newsome has declared state of emergency in 13 counties amid a very powerful winter storm that has dumped as much as seven feet of snow in some parts of that state. Residents are grappling with so much snow that they're running out of space to put the snow. Emergency crews are scrambling to deliver food and medicine to folks that are trapped in their homes. Officials say roofs are starting to collapse because of the weight of the snow. It could take more than a week to reach some areas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are the trails we've created just to get out of the house down to the street. And it seems like every time we have shoveled, it comes right back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not a city. We are unincorporated. And we need help. People are trapped in their homes. They cannot get medicine.


HARLOW: In the Sierra, Nevada, an avalanche struck a three story apartment building. Thankfully, there were no injuries. And in Yosemite National Park, that reopening has now been postponed for today. Nearly 40 million people across the south are also breaking for a severe storm outbreak. Strong tornadoes, damaging winds, large hail and flash flooding all expected.

These severe storms are beginning this morning in Central Texas. They'll intensify this afternoon and move northeast towards the Mississippi River overnight. The Storm Prediction Center is warning a few long lived intense tornadoes are also possible today.

LEMON: Now to the war in Ukraine this morning. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi. The meeting comes as tensions remain high over Ukraine and Russia's suspension of the New START treaty, a deal that caps the U.S. and Russia's nuclear weapons. Last time Blinken and Lavrov met in person was before the Russian invasion.

The meeting happening as Russia continues to pummel the city of Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine. Artiller can be heard almost constantly in the neighboring town of Chasiv Yar. Soldiers there now tell CNN that they fear that they could be in the line of fire next.

Alex Marquardt was there filing this report.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is the road on the way to Bakhmut, cars, military vehicles, bombing up and down this road going to and from the front. You see this armored vehicle right here, the V sign for victory.

There are still some people here, not too many. But some of these hearty residents have stayed behind. This is the shop of Sivyush (ph) who he is here grilling meat. He actually fled from Bakhmut two months ago and has opened up a shop selling basics like bananas, beat root and candles.

There is another man here who we just met whose daughter is still in Bakhmut, one of the thousands of people who have been asked to evacuate but are still in the city amid this incredible fighting. You can see that they've put up wood there to protect those windows, so much destruction in this town.

We were just further in the center of town. It's called Chasiv Yar. This is one town over from Bakhmut with a large group of people at a bus stop waiting for a water delivery that never came.

Every few moments you can hear explosions, the sound of what we believe to be outgoing artillery fire, Ukrainians firing at Russian positions. We spoke with an older woman named Valentina who said that there is so much flying over their heads that she is scared all the time, that they're so close to the Russian positions -- that's more outgoing artillery fire -- they're so close to the Russian positions that they can walk there.


We also spoke with some Ukrainian soldiers like these ones who man one of those artillery positions. They told us that there has been no order to pull back from Bakhmut, that they're fighting, because if they give up Bakhmut, then this town, Chasiv Yar, this would be next. And that is what everyone is thinking now, that if Russia were to take Bakhmut, that they would have another foothold in this region from which to try to push farther into Eastern Ukraine.

Alex Marquardt, CNN, in Chasiv Yar.


COLLINS: Fascinating report there from Alex, where the fighting has just been ferocious in Bakhmut. We'll stay with him as we're monitoring what is happening there, as the Ukrainians saying no withdrawal yet.

Also this morning, the Biden administration has just approved a potential $619 million weapon sales to Taiwan. That is a move that will likely only make the tensions already under way between the United States and China worse. The State Department says it's a move they think is necessary to enable it to maintain a sufficient self- defense capability, all of that amid concerns with a possible future attack.

China is unsurprisingly not happy with this and says it firmly opposes the move and will take, and I'm quoting Chinese officials now, firm and forceful measures to protect its sovereignty given China claims the island as its own. The new package would include the F-16 fighter jets. Those could be crucial to Taiwan's defense if there were to be an air attack from China.

Taiwan's foreign minister is responding to all of this saying, quote, in the face of China's continued military expansion and provocations, Taiwan will continue to elevate its self-defense capabilities.

All of this is coming as several lawmakers and former top national security advisers are making public their concerns about a backlog in the actual delivery of these weapons to Taiwan.


H.R. MCMASTER, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: As all of you know, there is a $90 billion backlog of what the Taiwanese have already purchased to make that island indigestible and to achieve deterrence by denial, by convincing the People's Liberation Army and Chinese Communist Party they cannot accomplish objectives through the use of force.


HARLOW: Well, this now overnight, SpaceX and NASA launched a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, four, three, two, one , it is full power and liftoff.


HARLOW: It never gets less amazing, really. The Crew 6 mission is carrying three astronauts and one cosmonaut to space for about six months. Crew 6 was originally supposed to launch Monday. You'll remember that was scrubbed due to a last-minute issue with the ground system.

Our Kristin Fisher joins us now. Good morning. It's off, finally launched. What's going to happen in the next six months?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Finally launched, Poppy. I mean, this was a picture perfect launch, a nighttime launch, nonetheless one of the most spectacular launches that you can see from the Kennedy Space Center. You saw NASA SpaceX fixed that relatively minor technical issue that it had encountered during the first launch attempt. There was that issue with essentially the igniter fluid for the engines. They got that problem fixed. The weather cooperated and held.

And there you see two NASA astronauts, Stephen Bowen, who is a veteran, this is his fourth space flight, that is the commander of the mission, and Woody Hoburg, a rookie, lifting off to the International Space Station shortly after midnight last night, along with a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates. So, Poppy, this is going to be a very diverse, it's a very international crew. They're going to be arriving at the International Space Station in about 24 hours.

And it just goes to show what they're going to be doing up there, a ton of experiments. But you look at some of your segments right before I came on, and we're still talking so much obviously about the war in Ukraine and Russia, but that partnership between NASA and Russia Space Agency at the International Space Station still holding quite strong, as this launch clearly shows.

HARLOW: Yes, it continues. Great to see such a clean night takeoff, as you said. Kristin, thank you.

Well, coming up, embattled Congressman George Santos remaining defiant on Capitol Hill despite the many lies that he pushed about his past. Now, there are some questions, new questions about the treasurer some Republican officials in his district say they've never heard of.

COLLINS: The conference build is the largest gathering of conservatives in the world kicked off yesterday. But could CPAC be a key test for potential 2024 candidates? What if they're not all actually there? We're going to talk about this with David Chalian, that's next.


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON: CPAC calls itself the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world. The speeches will be serious while the people trying to dance at the after party will be hilarious. But this is nice after each speech, there will be a Q&A.



COLLINS: There are new questions this morning about Congressman George Santos' campaign treasurer, Andrew Olson. Chief among them, who is he? We do not know. We do know that he does not serve as a treasurer for any state or federal political committees, as is typical that you would see. The congressman's office is not exactly being forthcoming on all of this.

So, here to help us with what we do know, CNN's Kara Scannell is joining us. Some people made a joke, does this person even exist given all of the lies that have been told from George Santos and his campaign. What do we know about this person, which is actually a really important role in a campaign and in a congressional office?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. I mean, this is the person responsible for filing the financial reports, the money coming in, the money going out. So my colleagues, Fredreka Schouten and Greg Craig (ph) and I set out to find out who Andrew Olson was. We first asked our colleague, Manu Raju, asked George Santos yesterday. He said, you know, he wouldn't comment on this. We emailed the address associated in the file and we didn't get a response back. [07:20:02]

So, we went and we were talking to people. We went to the New York State election officials. We asked if Andrew Olson was associated with any political campaigns in New York State. They said that he is not. It's not a name that they know.

We've reached out to the spokesman for the Republican Party of Nassau County. That is part of George Santos' district. They said never heard of the guy. That's according to the spokesman. He said also that the head of the GOP party out there also is unfamiliar with him.

So, then we went to the apartment building that was associated, the address included in the FEC filings. It happens to be the same apartment building that George Santos' sister had lived in up until January. And now, this treasurer was just named last week. So, there's a month where no one knows Santos has lived in that building. But that is the address that they placed on this form saying that that is where he is. It was where the campaign uses their address because she had lived there but she hasn't lived there for a month.

We went there. They said that no one by that name lives in the building. There are three businesses that are also in this mixed use building. They said no one by the name of Andrew Olson works for their businesses. So, we really came up empty in trying to find him. So, we talked to some campaign finance experts and asked them about this. And one had said he never seen before that it's a complete mystery that who the treasurer is for a sitting member of Congress.

You know, so the question still remain of who he is. Hopefully, he'll respond to us or Santos will provide more clarity. But it certainly is interesting that we don't know a lot about the person or where they came from. And by contrast, Santos' prior treasurer had worked for dozens of political committees, so someone who was known in the field.

COLLINS: Yes. So, typically, for a campaign, you'd actually know who this person was or where maybe they work for someone else in the past. There have been so many lies from George Santos that I think at this point people are -- they just kind of expect it now. But if you're lying about who your campaign treasurer, does it carry any greater weight? It's not just like lying about a pet fund or the charities that he's put out there.

SCANNELL: Right. I mean, there's the initial issue of like would this be another false filing made with the FEC. So, that has legal ramifications to it. If there are subsequent financial filings that come, that have the signature of someone who is not there, I mean, that raises a lot of questions. And it is all part -- I mean, he is under investigation, multiple investigations, looking at this very issue, these financial filings. So, certainly, it's going to matter who this person is.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely, or if they even exist. Kara Scannel, great reporting, let us know what you find out, if you ever do find out more about Andrew Olson. Thank you. HARLOW: Many Republican lawmakers are in Maryland this morning where former President Trump is gearing up for a crucial test for his 2024 campaign headlining the annual Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC, as you've probably heard, the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world. It is where conservatives come together to debate ideas, establish a vision for the party. It's where Ronald Reagan laid out his vision of America as the last best hope of man and a city upon a hill. It is also known as a must-stop event for presidential hopefuls, from Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan and John McCain and Donald Trump.

So, you're going to be surprised that a lot of big names aren't going this year. Trump and Nikki Haley will be there. They both formally announced a 2024 run. Mike Pompeo also set to appear. But CPAC will not see the likes of other potential candidates, like Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Governor Glenn Youngkin, Senator Tim Scott, all not scheduled to show up.

The conference did get under way yesterday with allegations that CPAC's chairman, Matt Schlapp, sexually assaulted a Republican strategist last year. We should note that Schlapp's lawyer sent a statement to CNN back in January saying, quote, the attack is false and Mr. Schlapp denies any improper behavior. We're evaluating legal options for response.

Let's talk about CPAC and a whole lot more with CNN's Political Director and the host of CNN's Political Briefing podcast, David Chalian, in the flesh.


HARLOW: Great to see you. You're usually in D.C. for us.

What do you think, the fact that, take DeSantis out with a big new book, not going, Pence not going, us CPAC losing its pull?

CHALIAN: Well, I think there are two things going on here. One is the Matt Schlapp allegations that you just described.

HARLOW: They don't want to be associated?

CHALIAN: Necessarily not the year necessarily to go and be associated. But I think the more important political thing that's going on here is sort of seeding this to Donald Trump. This has become -- I've been covering this conference for years. And we would go every year. And you would think it is the perfect place to get a sense of the conservative pulse and which presidential candidates are doing a better job in the early stages of wooing the conservative base. But it has become less about a measure of the conservative movement and more a gathering of the MAGA crowd, right?

And so a lot of these candidates are saying, why am I going to play on Donald Trump's turf?

[07:25:03] Let him have the conference. And, in fact, there is this competing event right now going on, Club for Growth, the anti-tax group, that all those folks are going down to Florida to cozy up with some high dollar donors.

LEMON: And you're right about that because there is this thing on The Washington Post interview that someone -- CPAC used to feel you were part of something that really mattered and what conservatism means. This is Ross Heminger (ph) speaking with The Washington Post who worked with Schlapp when he first became ACU chairman. It has gotten so nutty, it's a pep rally for Trumpism with Schlapp as the captain of the cheering squad.

CHALIAN: Yes. I don't -- I mean, I'll leave it to others to describe it as nutty or not. It has in the Trump era become a place for diehard Trump supporters to gather and express their love. I mean, if you look it at the speaking roster of speakers --

LEMON: Marjorie Taylor Greene.

CHALIAN: -- tomorrow, I mean, it's just a parade of Trump loyalists, even some that have his names, perhaps. So, it is the MAGA conference more than it is a conservative movement conference.

COLLINS: Yes. But it's just so interesting because like as a political reporter in Washington, covering CPAC is like a rite of passage. Everybody goes. You can talk to all of these people. Trump has not always been the face of CPAC. He once skipped it because he was so furious with how they treated him.

I was interesting in something that Karl Rove said. He said that he believes that Ron DeSantis was smart to skip it because they do the straw poll where they see who's the most popular Republican. It doesn't always indicate who is going to obviously be the nominee. But he seemed to agree that there is like a decision like that for it, for DeSantis.

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, I'm sure that plays into some of the strategy here. You are right to note, that's Trump own fact (ph), I think, more often than not produces a winner that is not the nominee than it is but it does capture the pulse of the room, right, of those attending and who organized and got their folks all lined up to participate in the straw poll to get a little free media buzz at this stage of the campaign. Not wanting to play that game on Trump's turf is a probably wise decision for folks.

HARLOW: We're going to talk about Paul Ryan.


LEMON: Fox News, right?

COLLINS: Fox -- on the fox news board, we know from a lot we've learned in this Dominion lawsuit this week, that he went to Rupert Murdoch and others and said, look, all these lies, et cetera, et cetera, we have to get a hold of them. But there are words and then there is action and staying on the board. I thought it was fascinating that Charlie Sykes, obviously, editor of the conservative website, The Bulwark, really pressed him on this podcast. Let's take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a red line for you at any point where you say, I cannot be associated with a company that does this?

FMR. REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI): I want to see the conservative movement get through this moment. And I think Fox is a big part of the constellation of the conservative movement.

And I want to see really --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it the solution or the problem?

RYAN: Oh, no. I think it's going to have to be a part of the solution if we're going to solve the problem in the conservative movement.


HARLOW: And we should note that this is before the deposition transcript became public. But still, the point here is, you know, Paul Ryan's position is, well, Fox has to be part of the solution of the problem. What do you think? And also what about the accountability of board members?

CHALIAN: I think both points are important. Charlie Sykes and Paul Ryan have a long history. Sykes has Wisconsin ties and there is obviously a relationship there where he was really pressing him on the accountability piece, and whether or not there is a red line. But I thought -- and Paul Ryan should be held to account for that. He should answer those questions.

But I thought what he said about Fox being -- needing to be part of a solution was fascinating. Because from the perspective of Paul Ryan, you are not happy with the current state of your party if you're Paul Ryan and you're looking to transform your party beyond this moment, beyond Trump's group on it, beyond the January 6th event, all of it, right?

So, he sees this as we can't do that. We can't move the Republican Party to a place that is broader, more representative across the country if Fox is not part of that because Fox, as we've seen, guys, through this case and throughout these years in politics, it is so part of the firmament of the Republican Party, it is such a critical piece. So, that when it is selling lies, its viewers are believing the lies and the party gets infected with lies. And so his pieces -- well, Fox needs to be part of whatever we're doing. You can't just erase the Fox --

HARLOW: I think that he makes an important point, needs to but will it, and they can't -- you see what I'm saying? The pull that it has over the party and so many viewers is a question of what is it willing to do, because it never self-corrected at all?

CHALIAN: $64,000 question, absolutely.

LEMON: But the thing is why is it willing -- why does a news organization -- why is a news organization have to be part of the solution for a political party? Imagine if someone said, well, CNN needs to be part of the change for Democrats -- have I lost -- like what is --

CHALIAN: It is -- you have to deal with what is, I think, right? And so you call it a news organization or purported news organization.

LEMON: Right, or media organization.

CHALIAN: But I don't think a news organization's mission is to sell lies to its viewers.


And the owner of this company just under oath said that that's exactly what some of its hosts were doing. So.