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Protestors Pressure Netanyahu to Pause Judicial Reform; More Storms Today after Weekend Tornadoes Kill 26 in South; GOP Refuses to Back Down on Demand for Manhattan D.A.'s Testimony; Russia to Put Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Belarus. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2023 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Hope you have a great day. Thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Turmoil in Israel, huh?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: It's all over the front pages, too, here today.

LEMON: Very busy. It's going to be our big story, our lead story today.

Hello, everyone. You see us, Kaitlan and I here. Poppy is off, so we're going to get started with the five things to know for this Monday. It's March 27, 2023.

Mass protests erupting in Israel. As we just said, it happened overnight, tens of thousands taking to the streets after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense chief for opposing a plan to reform the country's judicial system.

The big question: what will the P.M. do now?

K. COLLINS: Also, Mississippi is cleaning up from a devastating tornado that hit over the weekend. More than two dozen people were killed. President Biden has now declared it a major disaster zone.

Also this morning, we're tracking Hollywood star Jonathan Majors. He's been released without bail in New York after being accused of domestic violence. The actor's attorney says that he's innocent and claims the accuser has now recanted her story. We'll have more on that.

LEMON: And new overnight, Silicon Valley Bank has a buyer. Finally, the FDIC announcing that First Citizens Bank has agreed to purchase SVB's remaining assets and loans.

K. COLLINS: And the men's Final Four is set. FAU, San Diego State, Miami, and UConn. Unfortunately, no Alabama but it is the first time since 2011 that a one seed has not made the Final Four.

HARLOW: No Alabama? K. COLLINS: It's hard to believe it.

All right. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

LEMON: Good morning. It was a very busy weekend. We're going to talk all about Kaitlan and --

K. COLLINS: No, no.

LEMON: -- her Swiftie, going to the concert.

K. COLLINS: I thought you were going to say Alabama?

LEMON: No, no, no. We're going to talk about that, about going to see Taylor Swift.

But we have some serious stuff to start with. We're going to begin with turmoil in Israel.




LEMON: Look at that. This is -- and this is just a small part of it. There are massive protests rocking that country right now, and now a huge nationwide strike is paralyzing Israel.

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is under immense and mounting pressure to back down on his controversial plan to overhaul the court system there.

Tens of thousands of protesters blocking a highway in Tel Aviv after Netanyahu fired his own defense minister, who opposed the plan. Look at that. And listen to this.





LEMON: And as you can see, they were blasted with water cannons.

K. COLLINS: And now Israel's largest union is calling for a historic strike. We are seeing it bring the country to a standstill this morning. All departing flights -- you can see all the passengers here have been halted in Israel's main airport. Workers at the country's biggest port have also joined the strike.

Even the McDonald's there are closing all of its restaurants in support of what's happening. Of course, Israel is one of the United States' closest allies, and the

White House is tracking all of this closely. You can see President Biden here, returning to the White House with the first lady on Sunday night.

The White House put out a statement, saying they are deeply concerned about the political crisis we're watching unfold in Israel. President Biden did not answer questions, we should note, as he was returning to Washington.

The world, though, is watching, and they're waiting to see what Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to do. He's spoken to Piers Morgan for an interview, and he defended his plan to weaken the Supreme Court.

He insisted he is not trying to destroy democracy. That's what you've heard for those who support this judicial reform. Netanyahu told Piers Morgan, quote, "You have a situation where 15 unelected members of the Supreme Court effectively govern Israel. They can decide things that affect our military, our economy, our foreign relations, our battle with terrorism, is that right? Is that democratic? No, it's not democratic."

We have team coverage this morning. Elliott -- journalist Elliott Gotkine is at the airport, where flights have come to a complete stop. We're going to check in with him in a moment.

If you can see he's all that plane there. CNN's Hadas Gold is in Jerusalem.

Hadas, I think the big question is what the prime minister is going to do here. I know there were reports he was going to speak this morning? Now, it's not so clear if he will.

What are you seeing and hearing on the ground?

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have heard nothing from the prime minister so far. And meantime, the country has come to a screeching halt.

And instead, as you can see here, people are coming out into the streets once again to protest. I'm right outside the Supreme Court, where protesters have just been streaming in all morning.

Kaitlan, I've never seen this country like this. I've never seen such a huge massive strike affecting every possible business. As you noted, even the McDonald's here are shutting down. The major ports are shutting down.

And as Elliott is experiencing right now in the airport, there are no takeoffs. Planes are still landing. But there are no takeoffs. The last time the airport was shut down during the war in 2021, when the Israeli military was trading fire with Gaza with militants, Hamas militants in Gaza. Rockets were near.

That's usually what shuts done the airport, but instead now, it's the protests over this massive judicial overhaul. It all started on Saturday night when the defense minister, a member

of Benjamin Netanyahu's own party, dared to give a speech calling for the reforms to be halted because, he said, the divisiveness was causing a real and credible threat to Israel's security.

Twenty-four hours later, Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was fired from his post. No announcement on who a replaceable will be, and then immediately the spontaneous protests, as you saw in the street.

And while we've had 12 weeks now of regular protests, last night felt different. Last night felt angry. Last night felt even a little bit more violent.

And now I have to tell you, Kaitlan, the chorus of people calling for a halt, the chorus of business leader -- the number of people who are supporting these reforms still is growing smaller by the hour -- Kaitlan.

LEMON: We mentioned -- Hadas, it's time we mentioned that -- all of the businesses that are closing, the airport, and the economic impact is just immeasurable right now.

Is the prime minister feeling the pressure to back down?

GOLD: There are several reports that he will come out soon; potentially announce a halt to this legislation. But so far, we have not heard a single word, a single tweet from him about this.

We have held -- he has been completely mum. Meanwhile, as you can see around me, the entire country has essentially come to a halt, is in chaos. People are on the streets. Businesses have shut down. People don't know if the airport is going to be open tomorrow.

While there are reports that we are starting to see some of the more right-wing members of his government also agreeing to a halt, so far, absolutely nothing from the prime minister.

LEMON: All right. Hadas Gold in Jerusalem will continue to check in with her.

K. COLLINS: Let's also bring in journalist Elliott Gotkine, who was on a plane right now at the Ben Gurion Airport, where he has been waiting for nearly an hour.

I mean, Elliott, this is kind of just remarkable to hear the widespread impact of what these protesters are having. You -- what time were you supposed to take off? What have you heard from the airport? Do you feel still think you'll be able to today?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Well, Kaitlan, as you can see, we are actually moving now on this flight that is bound for Rome. We were due to take off 90 minutes ago.

And we got to the airport. Everything seemed normal. Then word came out that this strike has been called. But yet, we were still told to start queuing up to board this plane. Then, a few short while later, the workers there told everyone to go

and sit down because no flights were taking off. And then much to everyone's surprise, they then about half an hour, 45 minutes later, say, we're boarding.

We boarded as per normal. We sat on the tarmac for about half an hour, and now we're moving.

And the captain very much seems to be thinking that we are going to be taken off. But I've not seen other flights taking off. And there's no guarantee that we aren't just trying to get into position so that when flights are able to take off, we'll be among the first in line -- Kaitlan.

K. COLLINS: Just remarkable to see that. Elliott, let us know if you do take off. We'll continue to track this and just the widespread impact that this is having. Thank you.

LEMON: Kaitlan said Elliott was moving. Are they just moving on the tarmac or are they -- Elliott -- is Elliott still there? Elliott, are you still there?

GOTKINE: Still here and they still --

LEMON: Are you taxiing or what is going on?

GOTKINE: We're still on the tarmac. We're still moving. We are taxiing. But as I say, the captain, everyone was kind of, you know, getting a bit frustrated here on this plane that we weren't taking off.

Why were we boarding if we're not going to take off? And then the captain told everyone to sit down until we're going to go right now.

And we've been taxiing. We seem to be getting into position for the runway. But as I said, until we're actually in the air, I can't tell you for sure that we are going to be taking off, although, of course, I am really grateful at this point that my son is operating as our cameraman as we hope to jet off for our family holiday.

LEMON: Yes. I was just wondering if the -- if the airport is shut down, and things aren't moving, why are you taxiing? But we'll continue to check back with you.

Thank you very much. We appreciate that.

You can see the turmoil that's happening there.

It's also turmoil happening here of a different kind. There are more storms are on the way this morning for the Southeast. Torrential rain in Alabama and Georgia overnight, leading to widespread flood threats today.

More than 20 million people are under severe storm threats. This comes after powerful tornadoes over the weekend killed 26 people, at least 20 confirmed tornadoes. Tornadoes hit Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.

The worst hit Rolling Fork, Mississippi, leaving many in a state of shock.


JACK BURKHALTER, ROLLING FORK RESIDENT: Flower shop. Beauty shop. Barber. And our offices just down the street are all gone.

REBECCA COOPER, BUSINESS OWNER: We're just trying to get what we can out of the rubble. It's pretty shocking.



LEMON: Yes, it is pretty shocking. Let's turn now to CNN's Nick Valencia, joining us live from Rolling Fork.

Nick, how are people doing today? What are they doing?

VALENCIA: Yes, good morning, Don.

They're picking up the pieces here and grieving after the loss of more than two dozen people. And scenes like this are what's left behind after that EF-4 tornado ripped through this portion of the Mississippi delta.

Just take a look at the strength of these winds, picking up cars like this, wedging it between vehicles. And it's not very much of this town that's left.


ANTWAN JONES, ROLLING FORK RESIDENT: My first time coming back since the storm.

VALENCIA: What do you think?

JONES: Just blessed to be alive.

VALENCIA (voice-over): As the massive EF-4 tornado headed towards his Rolling Fork apartment, Antwan Jones, a local police officer, took cover with his girlfriend in their bathroom tub.

JONES: The bathtub lifting over us. And the storm actually placed us down with the bathtub was originally.

VALENCIA: I mean, you have to think that this is maybe the end for you. You're up in the air. You're floating around.

JONES: Yes, sir. We thought we would -- that we were going to die, that I was going to die.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Miraculously, both survived with just a few scratches. Then Jones, who was born and raised in Rolling Fork, put on his uniform and went to work.

JONES: Once I realized that I was OK, it was trying to get into that first responder mode.

VALENCIA (voice-over): A few blocks away, we meet Amanda Kelly and her boyfriend, Scotty. In February, she says she was diagnosed with spinal cerebellum ataxia, a Parkinson's-like condition that affects her ability to walk and talk. And now this.

AMANDA KELLY, ROLLING FORK RESIDENT: If it was not for Scotty, thank God, I wouldn't be here. There is no doubt. Because I wouldn't have been able to get from my room to the hallway by myself. And I wouldn't have been able to hold myself down.

VALENCIA: You were getting blown away?

KELLY: I was literally getting sucked up. We both were.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Kelly lost both her walkers in the tornado, along with so much else. But like many here in Rolling Fork, their material possessions are meaningless to them, given the fact they survived when so many didn't.

ELIJAH WASHINGTON, ROLLING FORK RESIDENT: The House went to shaking, and I said, Yes, it's really serious this time.

VALENCIA (voice-over): For 65-year-old Elijah Washington, this is the third tornado he survived. This one, he says, was by far the worst. Through a smile, he says he's lucky, in this devastated mobile home park, where eyewitnesses tell CNN several people died.

Washington says he was one of the few of his neighbors who had home insurance.

WASHINGTON: I heard somebody moaning and said there's a stick through somebody's head. A couple of legs broke, you know, and stuff like that, so.

VALENCIA: And here you are with just a scratch on your finger.

WASHINGTON: That scratch on my finger and walking around. I walked out of here last night. It's just amazing.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Amazing is one word for it. Antwan Jones would rather see his story of survival as a sign from God, and he says he's going to listen.

VALENCIA: That was your girlfriend that you were in the tub with?

JONES: Yes, sir.

VALENCIA: So you've got to get married now. You know that, right?

JONES: Yes, sir. I can't let her go.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VALENCIA (on camera): And many people are holding each other extra close this morning after what they went through last night.

Another round of severe weather was like salt in the wounds here, Don. And looking at scenes like this, you can tell it's going to take a long time before things get back to normal -- Don.

LEMON: Just devastating. Nick Valencia on the ground for us in Rolling Fork. Thank you, Nick.

Next hour, the vice mayor of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, LaDonna Sias, will join us live. The latest on recovery efforts. We'll talk about that.

K. COLLINS: Also here in New York, the grand jury that's investigating former President Trump and hush-money payments that were made to Stormy Daniels is set to meet again today.

It's still unclear if and when the jury may vote on what would be historic indictment, if that is what they choose to pursue.

The district attorney here in Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, is accusing House Republicans of interfering with his investigation. Meanwhile, they're demanding that he testify about the probe.

Bragg says it's not appropriate, though, for him to do that, because he's a local prosecutor, and they say it's a local case. But House Republicans, not just any House Republicans, three chairmen, are refusing to back down.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We haven't seen charges. We haven't seen evidence. What if District Attorney Bragg comes forward with an indictment, with evidence and proof that Donald Trump did commit these crimes? You still think he shouldn't be charged.

REP. JAMES COMER (R-KY): Well, we believe that he should come explain to us exactly what he's investigating . Because at the end of the day, this is a presidential candidate. I don't believe that Bragg would be doing this if Donald Trump were not running for president.


K. COLLINS: We should note, Comer there, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, declined to say if they would subpoena Bragg if they wanted that.

CNN's Kara Scannell been following this case, though Kara, you know we were waiting to see what was going to happen last week on Thursday and Friday with the grand jury. What are we expecting from them today?


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Kaitlan.

The grand jury is scheduled to meet today, and it's possible that they will hear from at least one witness.

You know, this is a secretive process, but it has a megawatt spotlight on it right now. The grand jury, though, does not have any kind of immediate deadline. They sit until June, so they can take as long or short as they want in hearing evidence in this case.

As we wait also for the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, to decide whether to move forward with what would be historic charges against the former president.

So in this void, though, the former President Trump has been filling it by continuing to unleash verbal assaults against Bragg, calling him over the weekend a "psychopath."

The House Republicans, as you mentioned, are also refusing to back down. They're asking Bragg to come in and testify. They're also saying that they might consider legislation to stop a local or state prosecutor from pursuing an investigation into a current or former president.

Now, Bragg, for his part, is telling Congress that their interference here is unprecedented. He's saying it could hinder, disrupt or undermine this investigation.

And yesterday, nearly 200 former federal prosecutors issued a statement, saying that these attempts to intimidate Bragg are -- are bad. And that they're saying that it's for democracy. It's fundamental for there to be prosecutorial independence, Kaitlan.

K. COLLINS: Yes, I mean, there have been big questions. That was one thing that Jake pressed Comer on yesterday, which is, you know, Congress getting involved in what a local prosecutor is doing.

But, you know, there's also new CNN reporting that Trump's team -- and something we've heard them bring up many times is the John Edwards case. Of course, he was accused of soliciting. I believe it was a million dollars to hide an affair.

The question, I think is, is that actually a comparison that is -- that really measures up to this?

SCANNELL: There are -- yes, I mean, there are some similarities but also some differences. And what the Trump team is focusing on when they look at the John Edwards case is that he was acquitted on some of these charges, and then the judge declared a mistrial in others where the jury couldn't reach a verdict. But the Department of Justice decided not to move forward.

That was a federal case. This is a local prosecutor. It's unclear exactly what type of charge Bragg might move forward with. if he does decide to bring a case. And if there may or may not be a parallel there.

But the key thing that the Trump team is pointing to here, that they look as a parallel to Edwards, is that they're arguing that this was -- this payment was made to avoid embarrassment. And it was not made primarily for the campaign -- Kaitlan.

K. COLLINS: Yes. We'll wait to see what those charges even look like, if they come down. Kara Scannell, I know you've been tracking all this. Thank you.

LEMON: And new overnight, the FDIC says First Citizens Bank officially has bought Silicon Valley Bank, known as SVB, and all its -- all of its deposits and loans.

The deal includes about $72 billion of assets. Today SVB's former branches will open as First Citizens branches.

SVB's failure was the largest in the U.S. since the 2008 financial crisis.

A warning to the West. Vladimir Putin and prolonging outrage with a -- provoking outrage, I should say, with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. How the world is responding. We're live in Moscow.

K. COLLINS: And seven people are now dead in Pennsylvania after an explosion at a candy factory. The video here is just stunning. We have new details on what happened, ahead.



LEMON: This morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is planning to put tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Those weapons are for the battlefield, not long-range attacks.

It comes as the West steps up military support for Ukraine.

The U.S. says it sees no sign of an imminent risk. CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in Moscow this morning.

Hello to you, Matthew.

What is Putin up to here? What is the global response to this announcement, then?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, I mean, he's definitely rattling his nuclear saber once again, as we've gotten used to. And he does that, you know, of course, to send a message to the rest of the world that, you know, even though the advances on the battlefield in Ukraine are pretty stagnant, he still has a very powerful back-up.

It sends that message of potency, as well, to the Russian people that want to see, in some way, that Russia has the initiative when it comes to this -- this conflict.

But I think, you know, that's really fallen on, you know, not deaf ears, but in the West, in the United States, they've played it down, saying it doesn't really change their nuclear preparedness stance. They don't see any sign of Putin moving towards using a nuclear weapon.

The Europeans, perhaps understandably because they're closer, have said that this is a threat to European security and have called on Belarus to push back and to say they don't want the weapons.

I think, though, it's more of a case of Putin sending these weapons to Belarus, not giving it to them. They'll be going with Russian troops, who command and control them, as a way of sort of Russia tightening its grip over that ally of Belarus, right next door.

Basically, they've got a stranglehold around the country. They prop up the government there. And this is only going to increase that hold over Belarus.

LEMON: All right. Matthew Chance, thank you very much for that.

K. COLLINS: And joining us now is retired U.S. Army Colonel Liam Columns who served as an executive officer for the U.S. senior defense advisor to Ukraine from 2016 to the -- 2018. He also visited Ukraine last month for research.

Good morning, Colonel Collins, and thank you for being here this morning.

On this news that Putin says he's planning to do this, do you think he's actually going to follow through with this? Or do you think it's more -- more bluffing is what, you know, the administration seems to be implying at this moment?

COL. LIAM COLLINS (RET.), FORMER EXECUTIVE OFFICER FOR U.S. SENIOR DEFENSE ADVISOR TO UKRAINE: Yes, I mean, absolutely. I mean, this is primarily a bluff right since the start of the conflict, Putin is repeatedly hinted that potential new nuclear escalation.

And it's really just a tactic, really, to dissuade the West from its support to Ukraine, which hasn't worked, or just distract his own populist that the war is not going well.

So I think it's really just kind of a simply the latest in this ongoing narrative by Putin.

LEMON: I want to ask you -- it's Don. It was said that the U.S. military that didn't believe that it was a sign of an imminent risk.

But if Russia were to use tactical nuclear weapons, how would that work? And is Ukraine prepared for that?

L. COLLINS: Yes I mean, first of all, Russia is not going to employ a tactical nuclear weapon, or the likelihood is infinitesimally small, right?

Putin doesn't want to know what the repercussions of that would be. No states had used it since World War 2, so it seems extremely, extremely small.

[06:25:02] Yet, if they did employ nuclear weapons, right, they could employ them just as well from Russian territory, right, from a bomber flown from Russia, or this missile system that that that we heard reporting on as they're considering transferring over to Belarus.

But that would offer them no tactical value, because they can range most of Ukraine from Russia or Russian-occupied territories. It really makes no sense to transport these weapons systems. Or refit, you know, nuclear weapons to Belarus, because it really offers them nothing.

K. COLLINS: What's the significance, though, of this coming out of Russia after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited there. And the -- you know, the idea and the notion that they didn't say this before his visit, but they're now saying it since he's left.

L. COLLINS: Yes, I mean, I think that's just a just -- just more of a coincidence more than anything else that, right, China doesn't provide them anything at nuclear-capable, capable or anything.

I think it's really just a, you know, circumstance that just happens to be at the same time. I don't think the two events are related at all.

LEMON: All right. Colonel Collins, we appreciate you bringing us your expertise this morning. Thanks so much.

L. COLLINS: Thank you.

LEMON: A Delta Airlines passenger now under arrest after getting off the plane by opening the emergency door. What more we're learning.

Plus this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Upset after upset after upset. Florida Atlantic out of Conference USA takes out Kansas State.


K. COLLINS: I mean, what a weekend. It was a historic win for Florida Atlantic University. The Final Four is now set. There is not a top seed in sight. The favorites to win, the upsets. We're going to break it all down for you, in case you missed the games.

LEMON: Did you shed a little tear this weekend?

K. COLLINS: Close, close. Such a depressing game.