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Sheriff: At Least 2 People In Ohio Dead After Tornadoes; Today: Judge To Rule On Fani Willis Disqualification; Gaza Ministry: At Least 20 Killed, 155 Hurt Waiting For Food; Putin Expected To Secure Fifth Term As Voting Begins. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: It's Friday, March 15th.

Right now on CNN THIS MORNING:

Decision day for the D.A. A judge in Georgia about to rule whether Fani Willis will be kicked off Donald Trumps election subversion case.

Plus, a deadly attack on civilians waiting for food and water in Gaza. The Israelis insisting they had nothing to do with it.

And --




HUNT: Wow. Breaking news, deadly tornadoes sweep through Ohio and Indiana. We are tracking that destructive storm.


HUNT: All right. It is 05:00 a.m. in the East and that includes Randolph County, Indiana, where they are waking up to this reports of tornado damage in the area roughly between Indianapolis and Dayton, Ohio. Police in Logan County, Ohio, are reporting two people killed.

We're going to get much more from our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, coming up later on in the hour, as the sun starts to come up there.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to be with you on this Friday. We made it.

In the next few hours, a judge is expected to announce whether District Attorney Fani Willis will remain as the prosecutor in the Georgia election subversion case. The defense is seeking to disqualify Willis for having an intimate relationship with her lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade.

Judge Scott McAfee, who is up for reelection, telling CNN affiliate WSB that his ruling won't be based on politics.

Joining me now is Bob Cusack. He is editor in chief at "The Hill".

Bob, good morning. It's wonderful to have you.


HUNT: Thanks for being here.

So let's talk about this judge. I mean, he obviously really in the hot seat here. This is the last day he said he was going to make a decision basically by the end of this week.

Here we are. It's Friday. What -- what are the pressures on him here and what is your sense of which way this is leaning right now?

CUSACK: Well, this has become such a mess. I mean, I think in many the ways this was the strongest case against Trump. But this has become a bit of a sideshow. So in some ways, I think if she is disqualified, it could actually help the prosecution.

But this has been a disaster. And as you know, the Trump team has been looking to delay and also throw everything at her and it's worked at least in a PR sense.

HUNT: Yeah. So, let's watch. Actually, I mean, Trump has been pretty straight up about what she's trying to do here. Let's just remind everyone and watch his comments.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't know what's going to happen. We want delays, obviously. I'm running for election. Again, how can you run for election and be sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?


HUNT: So that was back on February 15th. And this is just one of four of his trials. But so far, the delay strategy does seem to be working for him.

CUSACK: Yeah. And certainly in the primary, these indictments did not hurt him, but convictions are a different thing. And now were moving into the general election.

I think that there's a real risk that his poll numbers do take a hit. However, right now if you look at the battlegrounds, he's winning most of them. He is, and this is very different than 2016. Remember, he was behind the whole time. Now he's winning.

HUNT: You mean in 2020.

CUSACK: Well, against Biden, yes. But even in 2016, he was also behind.

So this is a new spot for Trump but while things are going well, this year, you got to expect the unexpected.

HUNT: Yeah. What is your sense of -- I mean, he again, that was outside of a courtroom and he been complaining, well, I should be campaigning. I'm in this courtroom.

He usually doesn't actually have to be in court for these things. I mean, he didn't that. There will be a time when he may have to be there.


HUNT: But we have not gotten to that point yet.

CUSACK: Correct.

HUNT: What is your sense of the difference between a general election decision to show up in the courtroom versus a primary campaign one, because we are firmly in the general election now.

CUSACK: Yeah, I think there's a real danger for Trump. As you said, he's making choices now to appear, there are a lot of things going right for Trump, but at the same time money is a problem for Trump because these legal fees are piling up and I know the RNC, Republican National Committee, may help him. But at the same time, I do think there's courtroom fatigue.

So I think he might be wise to not go in the courtroom at least when he has a choice, because as you mentioned later this year and in multiple cases, he may have to show actually show up.

HUNT: Yeah. What is it? What do you make of what's going on in the New York case? Because we learned yesterday, Alvin Bragg, went along with a delay in that trial, late April.



HUNT: And it does seem like this was actually a mistake on the part of Southern District of New York prosecutors who just turned over a whole bunch of documents that now both sides need time to review that. Just play straight into Trump's hands?

CUSACK: I think it played into his hands, yes. But at the same time, it looks like the big question is which trials are going to start before the election? Because that's part of Trump's game plan. This one is going to start before the election. It looks like, but I think that was a misstep and that's why there's saying, okay, we can go for a delay, at least a short delay, a month delay.

HUNT: What's your sense of where the New York case fits in terms of like if were going to rank these things as level of risk to Donald Trumps political fortunes, where is the New York case on that list?

CUSACK: You know, I think it's not at the top. A Harvard-Harris poll recently that if he's convicted on the January 6 charges, the numbers flip for Biden, but in these other cases, yes, they get closer. Biden gets closer to Trump, but he's not winning. So I think the January 6 case is one he's got to worry about the most. I think the hush money case, it's not as strong as Georgia.

But as we talked about, Georgia does just a mess right now.

HUNT: We should note in Georgia, the judge did leave the central piece of the case standing, the racketeering charges, right? But he did take out six of the charges that were included in there. He said there's no basically legal basis for that.

How much weaker do you think that made the Georgia case, if at all?

CUSACK: I -- well, it's not a good headline for prosecutors when those things because those charges, according to the judge, too vague. So I think that big picture, it's not a big deal, but PR wise, it's a big deal that when charges are getting tossed, that's at least a mini victory for Trump, right?

HUNT: Well, when his whole goal is also to muddy the waters, make it look like the system is out to get him.

CUSACK: Absolutely. It totally does, totally.

HUNT: Yes, for sure.

All right. Bob Cusack for "The Hill", thanks for getting us started up.

CUSACK: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: I really appreciate it. Come back soon.

All right. Just ahead here, more on those deadly tornadoes touching down in Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

Plus, hungry civilians killed in an attack in Gaza while they waited for food. And polls, quote/unquote, now open in Moscow, Vladimir Putin running for reelection in a race he can't lose. Is that really a reelection? We'll discuss.



HUNT: Welcome back.

The Gaza health ministry says at least 20 people were killed and more than 150 injured while waiting for food in Gaza City. Videos sent to CNN from the Al-Shifa Hospital show patients arriving at the emergency unit yesterday. Eyewitnesses say the area was struck by what sounded like tank or artillery fire. The Gaza health ministry claims the Israelis were behind the attack.

In a brief statement to CNN, the Israeli military denies responsibility. CNN's Scott McLean joins us now from Istanbul.

Scott, good morning. What more do we know about this tragedy?


Yeah. So this happened in an area called the Kuwaiti Roundabout. It is essentially a central area where aid trucks, the ones that are able to get in usually stop and unload what they have, and because of the -- the levels of hunger, famine in many cases, and really desperation. It obviously attracts a crowd and that it seems is what we had here when this attack took place.

As you said, witnesses describe what sounded like tank or artillery fire. Israeli say it wasn't them. But the Hamas-run health ministry says that this was a deliberate attack by Israelis.

Now we know that the IDF troops are typically stations near to that roundabout and there was another incident of violence on Wednesday when seven people were killed after the IDF opened fire, they didn't comment on that particular incidents, but they did confirm that they struck separately on Wednesday in aid distribution warehouse run by UNRWA, killing five people. They said they took out a Hamas commander, UNRWA says that, look, this was in violation of international law in the Israelis knew precisely what they were hitting because they had the coordinates in advance as they have with the 150 other UNRWA food warehouses or distribution sites that have been hit since the outset of this war.

HUNT: Scott, how is this going to impact aid shipments that are set to arrive in Gaza today?

MCLEAN: Probably not directly, but obviously, it is a reminder for that ship that they are entering an active war zone and obviously given the level of hunger, given the level of desperation, it is all the more risky and all the more challenging to ensure that this is a smooth, orderly handoff of these pallets of aid packed into this ship, which by the way is a Spanish ship. It's called Open Arms.

It is normally used for shipping, search and rescue. It is towing a barge carrying some 200 tons of aid. We're talking about the absolute basics, flour, rice, beans, canned goods, lentils, things like that.

There has been a barge or excuse me, a jetty constructed using rubble from the destruction in Gaza. Its about 60 yards long or so. The ship, as we know, it can be seen from offshore, just a few miles its offshore when it will actually approach. We don't know how the distribution will work. We also don't know that, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Scott McLean for us in Istanbul -- Scott, thank you


Now to this, Russians are heading to the polls today for day one of a three-day election that is all but decided before a single vote was ever cast. Vladimir Putin is expected to secure his fifth term in office. Any credible challenger has been killed, exiled, jailed, or banned.

The widow of opposition leader Alexei Navalny is calling for voters to turn out collectively at noon Sunday, that's the last day of voting, as a show of opposition support.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins us live now from Moscow.

Matthew, good morning to you at Russians can vote either for Putin or for one of three Kremlin approved candidates.

What's the mood in the city today?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, you joined me inside a polling station in Central Moscow where people have already started to come out and on cast their ballots, the cast their votes for one of four candidates, but as you say, because of the sort of inevitable outcome of this lecture Putin victory. There's not a great deal of excitement amongst the voters about what the outcome will be. It's more of a dutiful, patriotic but the thing that people are doing coming out to register their -- support for their preferred candidate.

Again, this is the polling station. You can see a couple of people here that have come to register that they'll be getting them ballot papers and then they can sort of like tick the box. They want and do that either electronically with these machines here or put them into a ballot box over there.

Look, the reason it's such an inevitable outcome is because the opposition in Russia has not been permitted to stand in these elections. There's been blanket coverage of Vladimir Putin on state television. And, of course, the really critical that the critics of the Kremlin like Alexei Navalny like people who have been sort of campaigning against Vladimir Putin for many years, well, they've been silenced, jailed, exiled, or of course, in the case of Vladimir Putin sorry, in the case of Alexei Navalny, he died in his arctic penal colony last month.

And so that sort of crackdown has really sort of sent a repressive atmosphere across Russia. And so again, as I say, this is Russia going through the motions of a Democratic process, but no one really seriously doubts that Vladimir Putin at the end of it is going to emerge as president for our fifth presidential term, Kasie.

HUNT: Preordained.

Matthew Chance in Moscow -- Matthew, thank you very much.

Coming up next here, a Michigan father found guilty of manslaughter for a mass shooting committed by his son.

Plus, death and destruction in three states after a night of terrifying tornadoes.



HUNT: All right. Breaking news right now, at least two people killed in Logan County, Ohio, after tornadoes slam the Midwest and destroyed buildings across several states.




HUNT: Officials say 50 percent of the structures in Selma, Indiana, are damaged.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's all the clouds start to spin. It just dropped down. We barely had enough time to get back in the house. Grab the dogs.


HUNT: Our meteorologist Derek Van Dam, tracking all of it.

Derek, good morning.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Kasie, you heard the survivor there just a moment ago. It dropped down in a matter of seconds. That is the nature of these tornadoes, and especially dangerous when its at night, you almost have to wait for lightning flashes like this video you see here illuminating the funnel cloud to know that there is a tornado imminent and about to strike your neighborhood. That's terrifying.

You have to have multiple ways to receive weather emergency alerts. Whether that's from your cell phone, your radio, your television, but sometimes you know, our power gets knocked out with strong storms that move through like this. Extremely dangerous, we now have learned a fatalities.

You can see just several videos that are coming into CNN of apparent tornadoes, pretty obvious here, touching the ground as well. So there was significant damage. This is just one of the examples. This is Milton, Kentucky.

Look at homes completely destroyed roofs taken off of buildings, and flipping vehicles. Look at that that RV -- yeah, that is very, very scary. Can you imagine if somebody was inside that? There were actually reports earlier last night of people trapped inside of their homes and in their structures.

Overall, so far, eight tornadoes confirmed. Many of them coming across the Ohio River valley. This line of storms, which we know have produced tornadoes, continues to advance south and east. The good news is there's a more stable environment in place across the Gulf Coast states. So these lines of storms are weakening. However, they still have the potential to bring large hail, gusty winds, damaging winds as well. And we cant rule out an isolated tornadoes. Ill show you the specifics in just one moment.

But lots of lightning associated with this heads up Jackson, Mississippi and to Birmingham later today and to Atlanta. There's the threats, greatest risk of severe storms today, right near the border of Mississippi and into Alabama.

Now, check this out. The other part of the storm is the cold air that brought the heavy snowfall. This is coming out of Boulder, Colorado and you have very challenging driving conditions since to say the lease, some people got more snow than others. Check this out. Were talking about five to ten miles separating downtown Denver from the airport. The big winner, 45 inches of snow in Aspen Springs, it continues to snow across the San Juan mountains and throughout the four corners.


So what a wild day of whether we are hard to really break for the people who are impacted by the tornadoes and what happened yesterday evening, Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah. Our hearts go out to everyone who is waking up to that at damage and destruction.

Derek Van Dam -- Derek, thank you very much for that.

All right. It's 24 minutes past the hour. Here's your morning roundup.

A Michigan jury finds James Crumbley guilty of involuntary manslaughter. He is the father of school shooter, Ethan Crumbley, who killed four of his classmates in 2021

And -- SpaceX and NASA calling these starship test flight a major success, even though it was eventually lost Thursday. Experts say the world's most powerful rocket reached news speeds and heights before being consumed by a brilliant fireball.

And actor Pierce Brosnan fined $500 after pleading guilty to stepping off a hot springs trail at Yellowstone National Park. He also has to make a $1,000 donation to Yellowstone.

All right. Up next here, Donald Trumps strategy to delay his trials seems to be working. Plus, how the war in Gaza is straining relations between the U.S. and Ireland.