Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Trump and DeSantis Rev Up for Possible 2024 Showdown; Russians on Cusp off Taking Ukrainian City for First Time in 8 Months; NTSB Sending Investigators to Site of 2nd Train Derailment in Ohio; Chris Rock Fires Back at Will Smith Nearly a Year Later. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 06, 2023 - 06:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I have my chives. I have my mint, and I have my rosemary. And they're all in the ground, and they're all ready to go.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That sounds delightful. I'm not there yet. I've got maybe five more weeks here and deer to contend with. But thank you so much.

Nice to see you, Chad Myers.

MYERS: Good to see you.

Thanks for joining us, I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.



GRAPHIC: Cover your nose and face, please, and remain seated, please.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Another scary moment in the air. Seeing a lot of these. It is Monday. We are glad you're with us. Good morning, everyone.

We do begin with what you just saw, which was a Southwest flight taking a terrifying turn. The cabin filling with dark smoke. We'll tell you what forced that plane to make an emergency landing.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also new this morning, a violent group of protesters stormed the construction site of a proposed police and firefighter training center in Atlanta. What's behind those demonstrations?

Plus --


CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Watch what you say, because words hurt. You know, anybody that says words hurt has never been punched in the face.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Perhaps the event of the weekend that everyone is talking about, Chris Rock finally addressing what happened with him and Will Smith on that Oscar stage. He comes out swinging.

HARLOW: We'll get to that in a moment. We do begin, though, with protesters attacking the future site of a police and firefighting training facility. This happened in Atlanta last night.

This is surveillance video capturing the moments that hundreds of protesters swarmed the construction site wearing camouflage and masks. Police say they threw bricks, large rocks, even Molotov cocktails.

They also set fire to police and construction vehicles along with a trailer. Opponents of the project have nicknamed it Cop City. Tension between protesters and police has been escalating there for months.


CHIEF DARIN SCHIERBAUM, ATLANTA POLICE: Actions such as this will not be tolerated. When you attack law enforcement officers, when you damage equipment, you are breaking the law. This was a very violent attack that occurred this evening. A very violent attack. This wasn't about a public safety training center. This was about anarchy, and this was about the attempt to destabilize.


HARLOW: It was about 35 protesters. Here you can can see police -- you can see fireworks being shot at some police officers.

That proposed facility has sparked protests for various reasons. Environmental activists have been fighting to preserve the forest. Others believe the training center will increase the militarization of police forces. Police say they detained 35 people following the attack. We'll have a lot more on that through the morning.

COLLINS: Also this morning, the FBI is seeking the public's help in the search for four Americans who have been assaulted and kidnapped in Mexico.

Officials say that they were taken on Friday after they crossed into Mexico, driving a white minivan that had North Carolina license plates.

Shortly after entering Mexico, gunmen fired at the passengers. All four Americans were then put in another vehicle and taken away by the armed men. Investigators are offering a $50,000 reward in the case.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A Southwest flight from Cuba to Florida forced to make an emergency landing.



GRAPHIC: Cover your nose and face, please, and remain seated, please.


LEMON: Man, look at all the smoke there.

The airline saying birds hit the plane's engine and nose. The cabin filled with dark smoke. The pilot decided to turn around. No reports of any injuries.

In a statement, Southwest says, "The pilot safely returned to Havana, where customers evacuated the aircraft via slides. We commend the swift, professional actions of our pilots and attendants in responding to this event."

COLLINS: Also, over the weekend, probably the clearest view yet that we have gotten of what a Trump-DeSantis primary showdown could look like in 2024, as the two men delivered back-to-back speeches over the weekend.

Trump was at the conservative conference known as CPAC outside Washington. DeSantis at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. Now they are both going to be heading to Iowa just days from now.

Of course, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has not announced yet formally that he is running for president. He seems to be auditioning and positioning himself as a leading rival for Trump's bid for re- election.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is covering all of this. Kristen, we're getting a better look at the Republican field. But all of this was really started with Trump himself giving this speech at CPAC on Saturday, where he vowed to be a retribution, I believe, is what he argued to GOP voters.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. What we're seeing now is this 2024 presidential hopeful field is really becoming more and more defined. And it's going to continue to do so as these hopefuls meet with donors and travel across the country to determine their future and if the future of the party can move beyond Donald Trump.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are never going back to the party of Paul Ryan, Karl Rove and Jeb Bush. OK?

HOLMES (voice-over): As the GOP primary just starts to take shape --


HOLMES (voice-over): -- with Republicans barreling toward a battle over the direction of the party, former President Donald Trump drawing a line in the sand.

TRUMP: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.

HOLMES (voice-over): The raucous reception for Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which included a wide victory in the event's unscientific straw poll, demonstrates the former president's enduring support with part of the GOP base.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The popularity with Trump is ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only one that can pull this through.

HOLMES (voice-over): And while the former president remains a clear front-runner for the party's nomination in 2024, his third run for the White House facing fresh challenges, including ongoing criminal investigations of his handling of presidential documents, and his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Ahead of his speech, Trump telling reporters that he would not exit the race, even if he is indicted. Onstage, painting a dire picture of a 2024 election.

TRUMP: This is the final battle. Either they win or we win.

HOLMES (voice-over): Within three months since announcing his presidential bid, Trump advisors taking steps to position him for a protracted campaign, building out a policy platform, including an education plan heavy on culture war proposals.

TRUMP: Our public schools have been taken over by the radical left maniacs.

HOLMES (voice-over): The former president is also set to dial up his travel in the coming weeks, with an event planned in Iowa next week, just days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis plans to visit the key early nominating state.

While DeSantis isn't expected to launch a presidential bid until at least May, Trump and his team have been digging into the potential rival's record for months. One area of focus: DeSantis past support for reforming entitlement programs.

TRUMP: We're not going back to people that want to destroy our great Social Security system. Even some in our own party. I wonder who that might be.

HOLMES (voice-over): Facing criticism from Trump, as well as Democrats, the Florida governor now says Republicans won't, quote, "mess" with Social Security.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not going to mess with Social Security as Republicans. I think that that's pretty clear.

HOLMES (voice-over): Even as Trump takes aim at DeSantis, other hopefuls seeking to draw contrasts with the current leader of the pack.

HALEY: If you're tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.

MIKE POMPEO (R), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We should look for larger- than-life personalities but whether we should find power in the rooms like this one.

HOLMES (voice-over): But one potential candidate officially stepping back from the fight.

LARRY HOGAN (R), FORMER MARYLAND GOVERNOR: I didn't want to have a pileup of a bunch of people fighting. Right now, you have more of them you have, the less chance you have for somebody rising up.


HOLMES (on camera): Now, of course, not everybody agrees with Governor Hogan. We do expect this to be a relatively crowded field. And it might be why so many people have yet to endorse.

We did learn over the weekend, a source telling me that in a recent phone call between former President Trump and his former White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now Arkansas's governor. He asked for her endorsement, and she said, Not yet -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. Seems like they're waiting for the field to take shape. Notable development there from Larry Hogan. Kristen Holmes, thank you.

HARLOW: Let's talk a lot more about this with CNN senior political analyst and anchor, John Avlon. He's been reporting on extremism in politics since, well, "Wingnuts," right?


HARLOW: A book you wrote more than a decade ago.

So let's start where Kristen's piece ended. And that is Larry Hogan not only saying that on CBS, writing this piece in "The Times," explaining why he's not doing it. But other Republican governors, like Asa Hutchinson, disagree with him that it would be a sort of multicar pile-on.

He's one of the most popular governors, Hogan, in America.

AVLON: That's the important point to remember. You know, we talk a lot about -- there's plenty of evidence of how divided we are, how polarized the parties are.

But the forget that the most popular governors in America over the last few years have been Republicans in blue states. Larry Hogan, Charlie Baker, in particular. Phil Scott.

So it's a lost opportunity. The sane political universe, those would be exactly the kinds of people you'd want to run for president. Because they would have a demonstrated record of at least the ability to unite across partisan lines. Hogan, though, realizing there's not really a lane for him in the

Republican Party, bowing out before a fight saying that this isn't the one he's taking on. And I think that's a loss for the nation, even if it's a concession to reality about the current Republican Party.

COLLINS: Trump over the weekend was making his speech at CPAC. He was headlining it. He was really basically the major political force there. There was no room for any other Republican hopefuls.

But he made a comment that stood out to me about what he believes, essentially, his 2021 message is going to look like.


TRUMP: In 2016, I declared, I am your voice. Today I add, I am your warrior. I'm your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution. I am your retribution.


COLLINS: It was so interesting to see that be his message when Steve Bannon, when he was speaking, was saying, essentially, it should be there's no time for on-the-job training. When you look for who's going to be the nominee in 2024, what this is going to be.

AVLON: I covered a lot of CPACs, as we all have over the years. And it's been, you know, described as the "Star Wars" bar of American politics. It's a fringe group that's gotten fringier.

But you cannot deny the fact that it has a lot of pull within a certain sway of the Republican Party. The fact that Donald Trump ran away with the poll, the fact that he's leading with that message of retribution, I think, is what we need to keep our eye on that ball.

It's very easy to treat Trump as a -- as a side show. Because if you look at his, you know, posts on Truth Social, if you look at that rambling, 145-minute lie-filled speech, you'd say that this is someone who is not well.

And yet, we need to concede that he is right now the front-runner for the Republican nomination, and the crowded -- the more crowded the primary, the more likely he is to win.

And so I think there's a danger of sleepwalking past these absurdities, these inanities, these divisive firebombs the former president is throwing, simply because he's somebody who is under multiple investigations right now.

Somebody who tried to overturn our democracy. But that's not a disqualifier in today's Republican Party. So I think we need to be wide-eyed about that right now.

LEMON: Well, if you look at how we got here -- we won't even go back to the campaign in 2016. We should go back to the inauguration speech. That seemed very "American carnage" to me and very depressing.


LEMON: Low-energy speech from the former president. I'm wondering how much of an appetite the American public has for that.

If you look at what the happened, what it led to, the January 6 insurrection and so on and so forth. And speaking of, "The New York Times" is reporting that FOX News's CEO, their Suzanne Scott, said that they should have changed their coverage of the election results for bigger ratings, saying in part this to "The New York Times": "Listen" -- this is what "The New York Times" reporting.

"Listen, it's one of the sad realities: If we hadn't called Arizona, those three or four days following election day, our ratings would have been bigger,' Ms. Scott said. 'The mystery would have been still hanging out there.'"

Is that a fair assessment of a so-called news network?

AVLON: No. Of course. Not even a little bit. I mean, you know, this "New York Times" article by Peter Baker, as Poppy points out, is -- details and, you know, conversation inside FOX News, among executives in the days after the election, where they are lamenting the fact that they followed the facts.

HARLOW: He saw a Zoom. It's insane.

AVLON: Yes. You know, so they got the receipts. These are not characterizations of comments. These are comments.

LEMON: Supposedly, these are news folks who are saying, you know, maybe we should have considered talking about the count and --

AVLON: In some ways, you know, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum are the person the network points to to be their real news anchors. And indeed, you know, there are some bone fides in that connection, as a contrast to their opinion anchors.

What this conversation shows is their -- Martha MacCallum saying, you know, well, in this Trump environment, maybe we shouldn't follow the facts so fast.

That's incredibly dangerous. I think the curtain has been pulled back by this lawsuit and the fact that this is not a news organization. This is a partisan operation, primarily.

But the fates of FOX News, the fear they have of their base, the fear of losing ratings, which is also about greed, is a parallel to what we're seeing inside the Republican Party right now, the fear to confront Donald Trump.

It's a form of Stockholm Syndrome. They're all afraid to tell the truth. That's not just bad for the Republican Party. That's bad for the republic. And that's what we need to focus on right now.

HARLOW: Thanks, John.

LEMON: Good morning.


HARLOW: Good morning on Monday. More on that. A lot for a Monday morning.

LEMON: Well, a month after the toxic train accident in East Palestine, a second Norfolk Southern train derails in Ohio. What's going on here?

COLLINS: Also, for the first time in eight months, the Russians are on the cusp of seizing a Ukrainian city. There's intense fighting around Bakhmut that's been continuing. The defense secretary, Austin, just weighed in on this, moments ago. We'll tell you what he said.



LEMON: New this morning, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin weighing in on the critical battle for Bakhmut in Eastern Ukraine, saying if the Ukrainians decide to reposition West of the city, he would not view it as a strategic setback.

Meantime, the Russians are encircling and squeezing Bakhmut from three sides as Ukrainian troops struggle to keep a strategic road open.

Let's go straight to CNN's Melissa Bell, live for us in Kyiv right now.

Hello to you, Melissa. The fight has been going on for more than seven months now. I'm wondering if Ukraine will be able to turn it around and keep the city.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think their aim, Don, is at this point just to hold it for as long as they an. And this is their tried and tested strategy. We've seen it in other towns in this war so far, although none of the heart of a battle this long yet. To try and hold on for as long as they can, whatever the cost to them, insofar as it wears down the Russian ability to continue waging this war and whatever the cost.


BELL (voice-over): Ukrainian forces giving all they can to defend Bakhmut. Or what's left of it. After the longest battle of the war, one of the oldest cities in the Donbas lies in ruins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There were no orders. No decisions were made regarding withdrawal from Bakhmut. There have been no tactical changes. We are holding the defense.

BELL (voice-over): Abandoned by more than 90 percent of its population over the course of the seven-month siege, only those who couldn't leave before are left.

The intense fighting means that only 5 to ten people a day can now be evacuated, compared to the 500 to 600 a day when the evacuation started at the end of February, according to the city's deputy mayor.

The Russians throwing all they have at the city, says the deputy mayor. Heavy artillery, mortar fire, air strikes and a substantial commitment of ground forces: both regular soldiers and Wagner Mercenaries.

But Russian advances have come at huge cost. Wave after wave of Russian soldiers have been sent to their deaths. And Ukraine has accused Russia of exaggerating its gains, claiming they still control one of the major highways into Bakhmut, a life line for Ukrainian defenders, with one Ukrainian commander tweeting that there are many ways still to get into the city.


Analysts have questioned the importance of Bakhmut. But that has not stopped Moscow's intense campaign to capture the city, nor Ukraine's existential fight to keep it.

The unceasing barrage of artillery fire hasn't just killed or forced out most of the civilians. It's taken a huge toll on Ukrainian soldiers, too, as the battle turns to close-quarters street fighting.

But Ukraine continues its fierce fight for victory, even as Russian forces continue to close in on a city that's already a byword for Ukrainian resilience on the battlefield.


BELL: What's most remarkable, maybe, Don, is that more than 100 years after the end of World War I just how much this looks like some of the early battles of that war. Trench warfare, heavy artillery and wave after wave of inexperienced soldiers on both sides being sent to their certain death. And it's happening in Europe again.

LEMON: Reporting from Kyiv, Melissa Bell. Thank you.

COLLINS: Also this morning, a second Norfolk Southern train has derailed in Ohio, just over a month after the East Palestine derailment. It's kind of hard to believe, but new video this morning shows the moment this happened in Springfield, Ohio. It's about 80 miles Northeast of Cincinnati, where officials say that, of the 20 cars, the 20 train cars that derailed, four of them were empty tanker cars carrying what they say were very minor amounts of residual product. They say the tank cars are not hazardous. They do not pose a risk to the public.

CNN's Jason Carroll is live in Springfield, Ohio, at the site of this derailment.

It's kind of hard to believe that this has even happened, the fact that we're still talking about the cleanup from the last derailment.


COLLINS: And now the second one has happened. What do you know? CARROLL: Well, Norfolk Southern continues to say that safety is their

No. 1 priority. But as you said, given this is the second derailment within a month, I think you can understand why a number of people here in the state of Ohio are saying that this is a rail company that needs to do more to show that its rail line is indeed safe.

This latest derailment happening on Saturday just at about 5 o'clock, as you say. A camera captured just as the trains began to derail. In all, some 28 of the 212 trains derailed, state officials say. But no hazardous materials were released. The train was carrying materials such as propane and ethanol. But those cars that contained those elements did not derail.

During the briefing they gave just a little bit more detail of what they say happened here.


ASSISTANT CHIEF MATT SMITH, SPRINGFIELD, OHIO, FIRE RESCUE DIVISION: After the technical research, they did a recon of the site, found nothing that spilled onto the ground and nothing -- very minimal material on the actual cars themselves that actually dried very quickly. There's no spillage onto the ground or into the waterways at this time.


CARROLL: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeting shortly after the derailment, again saying that no hazardous materials were released during this most recent train derailment.

But again, given that this is the second derailment within a month of the folks in East Palestine, still trying to put their lives back together after that toxic train derailment, the cleanup effort there still under way.

The NTSB said that that particular train derailment could have been avoided. NTSB officials will be on the ground here this morning to get to the bottom of what happened here -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: All right. We'll stay with you, Jason, to make sure we see what those officials are saying once they are there on the ground in Springfield. Jason Carroll, thank you.

HARLOW: Meantime, something a lot of people watched over the weekend. Certainly, the talk of the weekend for many people. Chris Rock coming out swinging in his Netflix comedy special.


CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Y'all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith.


HARLOW: All right. More of what he said ahead. Plus this --




LEMON: The world of rock 'n' roll says farewell to Lynyrd Skynyrd's guitarist, Gary Rossington.



HARLOW: So Chris Rock hits back, not literally but with words in his Netflix special. He saved most of his material about that famous slap for the last ten minutes. But then there was no holding back. Stephanie Elam reports.


ROCK: I'm going to try to do a show tonight without offending nobody, OK? I'm going to try my best. You know why? Because you never know who might get triggered.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Chris Rock onstage and hitting back at Will Smith, nearly a year after the infamous Oscar slap.

ROCK: People always say words hurt. That's what they say. You've got to watch what you say. Because words hurt. You know, anybody that says words hurt has never been punched in the face.

Will Smith practices selective outrage.

ELAM (voice-over): Rock suggesting Smith's response to his Oscars joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith's hairstyle was more about their relationship than him.

ROCK: His wife was (EXPLETIVE DELETED) her son's friend. She hurt him way more than he hurt me.

ELAM (voice-over): Rock covered a wide range of topics, including addiction, abortion, and racism. But left some of his sharpest lines for Smith.

ROCK: Y'all know what happened to me, getting smacked by Suge Smith. I loved Will Smith. My whole life I loved him. My whole life I root for this (EXPLETIVE DELETED), OK? Now, I watch "Emancipation" just to see him get whupped.

ELAM (voice-over): Referring to Smith's role as an enslaved man in the period drama, "Emancipation."