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CNN This Morning

Russia Arrests 'Wall Street Journal' Reporter; 2 Blackhawk Helicopters Crash During Training; Pope 'Slept Well' on 1st Night Hospitalized for Respiratory Infection; Nashville Police: Shooter Had Weapons Training; Biden, Netanyahu Clash Over Criticism of Judicial Reform Bill. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2023 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right, thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Poppy is off today. We have a lot of breaking news here in New York this morning to get to. We're going to get started with the five things to know for this Thursday, March 30, 2023.

We have breaking news. An American reporter has been arrested in Russia. Evan Gershkovich works for "The Wall Street Journal," and Russia's main security agency now says in a statement. They claim he was collecting information about the country's military industrial complex.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: And new overnight, two U.S. Army helicopters have crashed in Kentucky. Police and military teams are on the scene. Details still coming in.

Also this: prayers for Pope Francis days ahead of Holy Week. We're live in Rome with the very latest on the health scare that has him in the hospital.

COLLINS: Also did a little Disney magic cause some of Governor Ron DeSantis's power to go away? The legal trick that puts the governor's new handpicked board that is overseeing Disney, potentially in a bind.

LEMON: Some of the biggest names in tech, signing a letter hoping to slow progress in artificial intelligence. Why Elon Musk is joining dozens of tech leaders and calling the fast-moving breakthroughs in A.I. a risk for humanity.

A lot of news to get to this morning, including some breaking news. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

COLLINS: And we're just hearing this morning from "The Wall Street Journal," actually putting out a statement. LEMON: Yes. But it's just I was looking at the -- just looking at "The Wall Street Journal." Obviously, it's not in there. The paper was printed before this happened.


LEMON: Yes. "The Wall Street Journal" saying that "'The Wall Street Journal' is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich," it said. So we're going to continue on and talk about all of that.

COLLINS: A lot of questions on the details of this. We are going to start with this breaking news that it's coming out of Russia just moments ago. Now that the Russians have arrested an American "Wall Street Journal" reporter, accusing him of espionage.

Russia's federal security service, which is formerly the KGB, is now claiming that Evan Gershkovich was, quote, "spying in the interest of the American government and trying to obtain secret information."

CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Moscow.

Matthew, what -- This is just breaking a few moments ago. What are we hearing about the details -- of course, according to Russia -- about what happened here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's just breaking now, because it's only in the last hour or so that the Russian authorities, the FSB, the former KGB, have made an official announcement that this arrest has taken place. Although we've been -- we've been tracking it sort of through our sources, you know, for some time throughout the night.

Look, I mean, there's not much detail about this. I can tell you what the FSB say, which is that they've terminated the illegal activities of an American journalist. They've named him as Evan Gershkovich, the "Wall Street Journal" reporter.

Here's what they say: he was on mission from the American side and had been accumulated -- accumulating classified evidence relating to one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex.

He was in Yekaterinburg, which is a city about 1,100 miles to the East of Moscow, Northeast in the Ural region. There's a lot of factories around there, a lot of military factories.

And so it's very possible, although we don't know for sure, that you know, that he could have come into contact with -- with some of these highly-secretive military facilities.

The FSB goes on to say that while he attempted to receive secret evidence, he was apprehended in Yekaterinburg, that city.

They have launched a criminal proceeding against him under Section 276 of the criminal code, which is espionage in Russia. And of course, those are immensely serious charges, carrying up to 20 years in a Russian jail if conviction is -- is found. You mentioned "The Wall Street Journal," that the reaction from them;

they're saying they're deeply concerned. About the safety of their reporter, not any heard any more from them yet.

The State Department has not issued an official statement yet either, because obviously, Mr. Gershkovich is an American citizen, but we're expecting that very soon -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll wait to see what the State Department says.

I mean, if you look at what his bylines have been, he covers Russia. He covers Ukraine. He's talked about Xi -- President Xi Jinping of China, as well.

In the statement, I noticed the FSB noted that he was accredited to work -- accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by their foreign ministry. Obviously, Russia has pretty strict laws for journalists who are operating in the country right now.


CHANCE: Yes, and Evan obviously came under the same rules that -- that I come under, that that all of us working in Russia come over. You get accredited by the Russian foreign ministry.

And, you know, with that sort of accreditation card, you can go around the country and you can talk to people about -- well, they say whatever you like, but obviously, we're in deeply sensitive times.

They've criminalized critical reporting here in Russia of the Russian state. It's against the law, for instance, to criticize the Russian military.

But to be clear, these are much more serious charges than that. I mean, espionage is, obviously, one of the most serious things you can be accused of as a journalist in this -- in this country. We don't know the exact details of that.

But getting information secret information about the military industrial complex. I mean, it may be about military facilities, but it can also cover a whole range of other issues, as well.

I mean, look, I'm sure Evan Gershkovich was doing all the things that that we're all trying to do: you know, meeting people who have got family members in the Russian military taking place. Taking part in the Ukrainian conflict, but Russia calls it special military operation.

There's also sort of concerns about arms manufacturing, and whether Russia's got enough supplies and so hopefully we'll get more details in the hours ahead.

COLLINS: Yes. And I just want to note a new statement that we got from "The Wall Street Journal," where they say, quote, "'The Wall Street Journal' vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family."

Matthew, as we learn more this morning, we'll continue to check back in with you. Thank you.

LEMON: All right. We'll continue on. Let's bring in now political and national security analyst David Sanger, White House and national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, thank you so much.

This arrest obviously comes at a very tense time for the U.S. and Russia.

The diplomatic channels in place right now, what are they to deal with this?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Don, there are diplomatic channels in place. But you know, as we've often said on this show, that while we're in something with the Russians right now and with the Chinese that is very different from the Cold War, there are moments when there are Cold War-like behaviors underway. And this is one of those moments, sadly.

During the Cold War, it was not uncommon for Western reporters, American, reporters to be arrested and charged with being instruments of the state. It was usually made up.

There was a very famous case in 1986 of Nick Daniloff and then for the "U.S. News and World Report," who was arrested when he was doing ordinary reporting and -- on, I think, during a farewell time. He was meant to leave Moscow.

He was handed a group of papers, including newspaper clippings that included some secret papers, or so the Russians, so the Soviets at the time said.

So they have a long history here of things like this being set up.

LEMON: Let me ask you about the reporting, because Matthew Chance talked about -- said, you know, it's illegal in Russia to criticized the military.

The last thing that he worked on was Russia's economy is starting to come undone. Before that, Ukraine says frontlines around the battle city of Bakhmut are stabilizing.

But also, he talked about Russia makes habit of harassing U.S. planes in the Pentagon. Artillery shortage hampers Russia's offensive in East Ukraine, Western officials say.

So some of his reporting has been very critical, not only of the Russian government, the economy, I should say, and which would include the government, and also the military. This puts reporters, Western reporters in unique and dangerous positions in Russia.

SANGER: That's absolutely right, Don. And you know, there was a national security law that was passed, oh, just about a year ago, right around the time of the invasion. And many news organizations picked up their reporters and left Moscow, "The New York Times" among them.

And the concern was that the way the law was written, anything critical of the war, the war effort, anything that didn't call it a special military operation, but rather a war or an invasion, could result in arrest.

But that's not what he has been arrested for, if you believe the FSB. Look, he's a very skilled economics reporter, among other things. He used to work at "The New York Times" earlier in his career. And he undoubtedly, in reporting on the Russian economy, is going to end up touching on issues that are sensitive to them at a time that the economy in Russia clearly is in tough shape, thanks to sanctions.

And of course, remember, we're only a few months out from when Brittney Griner got -- got released, also on sort of a trumped-up charge.

COLLINS: Yes. Of course, you take everything that FSB says at face value. David Sanger, thank you for joining us on this breaking news.

LEMON: We'll continue to follow.

SANGER: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you very much for that.

New overnight. The U.S. Army is now confirming several casualties after two Blackhawk helicopters crashed during a training exercise in Kentucky.


There are photos of the crash site from local radio station WKDZ. You can see a plume of smoke and what looks like a piece of wreckage. A witness who lives nearby told the radio station what he heard right before the choppers went down.


JAMES HUGHES, LIVES NEAR CRASH SITE: Two helicopters came over pretty low, and all of a sudden, as soon as they got over the house, something popped, a loud bang. And everything shut down just all of a sudden. So we jumped in the truck and came over here. And that's what we've found two helicopters, so."


LEMON: CNN national security reporter Natasha Bertrand is tracking this story for us at the Pentagon. Good morning. The Army is set to hold a news conference this morning.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don, and hopefully, we'll get a little bit more information. But what we know now is that a pair of Blackhawk helicopters did crash

on Wednesday night near Southwestern Kentucky. They were with the 101st Airborne Division, and it resulted in, quote, "several casualties."

Now we do not know whether there were any fatalities at this point, but we are told that the helicopters were flying a routine training mission. That's according to a statement on the Fort Campbell Facebook page.

And actually, the governor of Kentucky has weighed in on this. And he said, quote, "We've got some tough news out of Fort Campbell with early reports of a helicopter crash, and fatalities are expected."

Now again, we do not know how many people were injured or killed. All we know at this point is that there were, quote, "several casualties." And he of course, said that "we will share more information as available. Please pray for all those affected."

Now, unfortunately, these training incidents are pretty common. A congressional report published in 2018 found between 2006 and 2018, nearly 32 percent of active-duty military deaths were the result of these kinds of accidents.

And actually, just last month, a Blackhawk helicopter with the Tennessee National Guard crashed in Alabama and killed everyone on board. So unfortunately, these training accidents are all too common -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Natasha Bertrand. We'll be following this and news out of Kentucky this morning. Thank you.

COLLINS: Also just moments ago, we have new information on Pope Francis's condition as he is fighting a respiratory infection. He's been hospitalized in the CNN's [SIC] Vatican. CNN's Vatican sources say that he did sleep well on his first night there.

We are told the 86-year-old pontiff does not have COVID-19, but he has been having difficulty breathing. He's going to need to stay in the hospital for a few days to receive treatment.

Of course, that was shortly before he was hospitalized. You see the pope there, blessing a crowd in St. Peter's Square.

In recent months, he has been using a wheelchair. He's been dealing with some different health issues. Obviously, he is older.

Our CNN Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher, is live outside the hospital in Rome.

Delia, we're hearing that he did sleep well on his first night, obviously welcome news. But when are we expecting a more formal update from the Vatican?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, Kaitlan, we are expecting that within the hour. Already something to know, that the pope slept well.

Just to give you an idea where he is, behind me, there's five windows there with their shutters pulled down. Those are the pope's rooms.

What we know, of course, for the moment is that the diagnosis is a respiratory infection. They said yesterday that the pope had been complaining for several days about respiratory difficulties.

And so he came here yesterday afternoon and will need to stay for a few days, according to the Vatican, in order to receive medical treatment.

Now, the pope, as you mentioned, is 86 years old. When he was 21, he had part of his lung removed because of a respiratory illness, so that's something to take into consideration for this issue.

We also know, of course, he has been suffering from mobility problems, causing him to use a wheelchair. Sometimes that's due to a knee problem.

And the last time he was here it was the summer of 2021 for 10 days because of diverticulitis. He had part of his colon removed.

So that's his sort of health situation, as it were. But this is particularly about the respiratory issue, so we'll have to see in the next few days how he progresses.

It is a very busy time here at the Vatican easter week coming up, so we'll see how the pope gets on -- Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, we'll all be standing by to see what that formal update looks like. Delia Gallagher, thank you.

LEMON: We're going to continue to bring you the very latest new on new developments on two big stories out of Moscow and Kentucky all through the morning.

We are following rising tensions on public display between President Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well, over the Israeli prime minister's push for a controversial judicial overhaul. Israeli government officials are now doing damage control.

COLLINS: Also, first lady Jill Biden was in Nashville yesterday to mourn the victims of the horrific school shooting. We'll share that moment with you ahead and the new details that we're learning about the shooter and the training they may have received.



COLLINS: You're looking this morning at a makeshift memorial with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals. This is all in Nashville. The six victims of that school shooting that happened on Monday.

We're getting new information this morning on the investigation as Nashville police say that they do believe the shooter, who ultimately killed three 9-year-olds and three adults at the Covenant School on Monday, did have weapons training beforehand, although it's still unclear this morning, when and where that training took place.

You can see the surveillance video of the school and the shooter here.

Last night, mourners gathered in Nashville to attend a vigil to remember the victims. It featured a live performance from Sheryl Crow, who was there. Also, the first lady, Jill Biden, was in Nashville earlier in the day. You can see her here. She left flowers at a memorial for the victims.

Joining us now from Nashville is CNN correspondent Carlos Suarez.

Carlos, we're trying to still figure out so much about the shooter and the motive. And now we're learning the shooter may have had training beforehand when it came to the weapons that we were seeing that were used. What do you know?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Kaitlan. As this community continues to grieve and a memorial outside of the school grows by the day, as you said, we are learning more about this 28-year-old shooter, including how police are looking into the possibility that the shooter may have made one stop after leaving home before getting to the school; and just the type of weapons training that this shooter may have received.



SUAREZ (voice-over): An emotional vigil in Nashville.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): In the sky, Lord, in the sky.

SUAREZ (voice-over): As residents gathered to remember the six lives lost after a shooter opened fire at the Covenant School on Monday.

CHIEF JOHN DRAKE, METRO NASHVILLE POLICE: Our hearts are heavy as we join all of Nashville in mourning the deaths of Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, William Kinney, Cynthia Peak, Mike Hill, and Katherine Koonce.

SUAREZ (voice-over): First lady Jill Biden was also in attendance, although she did not speak.

Earlier, she visited the memorial at the entrance of the Covenant School and laid flowers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is so much hate.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Nashville's mayor offered words of solace before the anguished crowd.

MAYOR JOHN COOPER (D), NASHVILLE: When words just can't carry the weight of what is in our hearts, we must reach out to each other to help each other carry the load; to think of all the hugs that they would have had and all the hugs we can still give each other.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Mourners lit candles and listened to musical performances, including one from singer Sheryl Crow.

SHERYL CROW, SINGER/SONGWRITER (singer): Please say honestly you won't give up on me. I shall believe.

SUAREZ (voice-over): The families of the victims also grieved. Sixty- one-year-old Mike Hill was a beloved custodian at the school. His family said he loved to cook and spend time with his family and, quote, "He took great pleasure and found tremendous joy in his job and through those students."

Nine-year-old William Kinney had an unflappable spirit, according to family friends. They said, quote, "He was unfailingly kind, gentle when the situation called for it, quick to laugh, and always inclusive of others."

Nine-year-old Hallie Scruggs had a love for life, according to her aunt. Quote, "To watch her these past nine years has been a gift and a privilege."


SUAREZ (on camera): It was yet another emotional night here in Nashville. Mike Hill's seven children were in attendance at last night's vigil. The family says that he was known as Big Mike, and that he loved every single one of the kids at this school.

Hill leaves behind those seven children, as well as 14 grandkids.

COLLINS: Yes. They said he loved cooking with his family and spending time with them.

Carlos Suarez, thank you. Thank you for being there.

LEMON: And this morning a rare public dispute ramping up between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden. The two leaders trading barbs over Netanyahu's attempts to weaken the power of the country's courts, which sparked mass protests, paralyzing the nation. Netanyahu put the plan on hold on Monday.

A senior Israeli official tried to downplay the spat between the two closely-allied countries, calling it a tempest in a teapot.

CNN's Hadas Gold, live in Jerusalem with more this morning.

Hello to you, Hadas. What else did the senior official tell you?

HADAS GOLD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, the all -- or many Israeli officials were on damage control yesterday, because President Biden has long touted how he is a stalwart supporter of Israel; how he's known Benjamin Netanyahu for more than 40 years. But then we saw those frustrations burst out into the open.

So yesterday I attended a briefing with a very senior Israeli official, along with other reporters. He was trying to dismiss this as a crisis, saying this is a tempest in the teapot. He said he's been through other crises before, and he called this a two out of a 10 on terms of the crisis scale.

But he did chide the United States for, he's saying, trying to inappropriately get involved in Israel's domestic affairs, saying a democracy should let other democracies figure things out.

He also said that they, the Israeli government expected the White House to sort of clarify the sentiment, and that's essentially what we saw from John Kirby at the podium at the White House.

But Don, at the end of the day, Benjamin Netanyahu is not getting that invite to the White House anytime soon, and those frustrations are clearly very much still there -- Don.

LEMON: All right. Hadas Gold in Jerusalem. Hadas, thank you.

COLLINS: Also in the international stage this morning, Vice President Kamala Harris is in Tanzania this morning, the second stop of her historic three-nation tour of Africa.

She is expected to hold talks with the president, Samia Suluhu, today. She met with female entrepreneurs from Ghana on Wednesday to talk about economic empowerment and leadership.


KAMALA HARRIS, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I am pleased to announce here with these leaders, that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, together with our administration, will establish the Women in the Digital Economy Fund, which is a $60 million global fund.



COLLINS: Harris is just the latest U.S. official to visit Africa as Washington has been working to counter-balance Russia and China's increased outreach on the continent.

Also, this morning, we are continuing to follow the breaking news that we are getting out of Moscow, where an American reporter for "The Wall Street Journal" has been detained on what Russia claims are espionage charges. We have more details ahead.

LEMON: And the Manhattan grand jury investigating former President Trump's role in the hush-money scheme set to take a break next month. What this means for the timing of a potentially historic indictment.


LEMON: This morning, we are following two major breaking stories.

Russia has arrested an American journalist and accused him of espionage. The Russians claim he was trying to obtain secret information, but "The Wall Street Journal" vehemently denies those allegations, and the paper is calling for his immediate release.

Here at home, two Army helicopters crashed during a training exercise overnight. The military's reporting several casualties. We're expecting to learn more at a news conference just hours from now. We'll bring you the very latest developments as we get them.