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CNN This Morning

Trump Has One Day To Secure $454 Million Bond As NY AG Takes First Steps To Seize Assets; Willis: Case Still On Track Despite Efforts To Slow Down Process; Russia: At Least 133 Dead, "Death Toll Will Rise Further"; ISIS Claims Responsibility For Concert Hall Attack; CNN Analyst: Israel Agrees To U.S. "Bridging Proposal" On Prisoner-Hostage Exchange, Waiting On Hamas' Response; Biden Signs Government Spending Bill Into Law; Biden, Obama, Pelosi Team Up To Rally ACA Supporters This Weekend; 11 Million People Across The U.S. Under Winter Weather Alerts; Kensington Palace: Royals Enormously Touched By The Public's Support Following Catherine, Princess Of Wales, Announcement; Newly Released Documents Outline Religious Extremism That Motivated Abuse Of Parent Blogger; Finland Ranked The World's Happiest Country For 7th Straight Year. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired March 24, 2024 - 06:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: Hello. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to CNN This Morning. It is Sunday, March 24th. I'm Amara Walker.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for joining us.

Here's what we're watching for you today. Donald Trump has one day to come up with a half a billion dollars. He's trying to cover his bond in the New York civil fraud case. How Trump's recent Truth Social posts complicate things and what happens if he cannot pay?

WALKER: There are new details about the terror attack in Russia that killed more than 130 people plus how world leaders are reacting to Russia's unfounded claims that Ukraine was involved.

BLACKWELL: More than 300,000 customers are without power as a winter storm moves through the Northeast. We're tracking that and the chance for severe storms.

WALKER: And the jackpots. Keep growing your next shot to win up to a combined $2 billion. That's ahead on CNN This Morning.

BLACKWELL: Tick, tick, tick. Every second that goes by, Donald Trump gets closer to that deadline. He has just one day to post a nearly half billion dollar bond in his New York civil fraud case. Now his attorneys have asked appellate judges to reduce, delay, waived the $464 million bond required to appeal the judgment. The court, though, has yet to reach a decision.

WALKER: But on Friday, Trump claimed that he does have the cash to cover that amount. But his lawyer told CNN that Trump wasn't talking about the cash he has on hand. Meanwhile, New York's Attorney General has already begun laying the groundwork to seize Trump's assets and properties if he cannot pay up by the deadline.

And in Georgia, the top prosecutor in the Fulton County says that her case against the former president hasn't been delayed despite efforts by Trump and his co-defendants to slow down the proceedings.

BLACKWELL: In a CNN exclusive, District Attorney Fani Willis defended herself after she recently avoided being dismissed from the case. CNN's Rafael Romo caught up with Willis.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Amara, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis spent her Saturday at an Easter egg hunt. The event was put together by WAVE, an organization of law enforcement officers dedicated to helping children and the homeless throughout the year.

Willis was surprisingly candid regarding questions about the last few months of her life, including her Georgia election interference case against Donald Trump and this candle brought about by her prior romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she appointed for the case after everything that's happened. We wanted to know if she feels she needs to reclaim her reputation, and this was her reply.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I don't feel like my reputation needs to be reclaimed. Let's say it for the record. I'm not embarrassed by anything I've done. You know, I guess my greatest crime is I had a relationship with a man, but that's not something that I find embarrassing in any way. And I know that I have not done anything that's illegal.


ROMO: The racketeering case was delayed by two months following the revelations about her personal life. Her decision making credibility was also damaged in the eyes of Judge Scott McAfee. But the embattled Fulton County District Attorney said the main case was not delayed because her team never stopped working on it. This is how she put it.


WILLIS: No, my team's been continuing to work it. And I think the media and especially organizations like your own, I've been paying attention all while that was going on. We were writing responsive briefs. We were still doing the case in the way that it needed to be done. I don't feel like we've been slowed down at all. I do think that there are efforts to slow down this train, but the train is coming.


ROMO: And as CNN reported exclusively on Thursday, Willis plans to press ahead with her goal of putting Donald Trump on trial before the November election. According to three people familiar with her plans, she also intends to ask the judge presiding over the Georgia criminal case to schedule a trial date as soon as this summer. And finally, let's remember that Willis is seeking to get re-elected in November.

Victor, Amara, back to you.

WALKER: All right, Rafael Romo, thank you for that.

Joining me now is Jeremy Saland, he is a former Manhattan prosecutor. Jeremy, good morning. You heard it there from --


WALKER: -- Fani Willis that she -- that the train is coming for Trump and his co-defendants. But she also said that she's not embarrassed for having that romantic relationship with the lead prosecutor that she hired. What do you think? I mean, do you think it's a good idea that she continues, you know, talk publicly about that, at least when it comes to public perception?


SALAND: I think she needs to worry about action as opposed to distraction. I think she just needs to get into that courtroom, stay within the four corners of that courtroom, stay with that indictment. Some of the charges were dismissed, but for the most part, it's still there and move this case forward because all of this does not help her. All this does not help the merits of the case. Stay and fight it in the courtroom, not in the media. Be quiet, move forward.

WALKER: So, how do you see this case moving forward in terms of the speed, right? Because it's already been delayed by a couple of months because of these hearings to try to get her dismissed. And then on Wednesday, Judge McAfee gave Trump and his co-defendants permission to appeal the decision.

So now the Georgia Court of Appeals will decide whether or not to take this case. How does this impact the timeline that Fani Willis also set out? She said that she aims to get this tried before the November election.

SALAND: You know, that's certainly ambitious and to her credit, but we would expect that she is working through it. She's continuing and her people are fighting on the case, following whatever motions need to be done or doing and continuing their investigation and being prepared for trial.

But the reality is there's that 10-day window now that Trump can appeal. Of course, he has that right now that appellate court does not need to decide, but they have 45 days to do so. So it could take time for them to make that decision. They could expedite it and move it quickly. And Willis has an opportunity to put her response in as well.

That's going to delay things. Not necessarily Willis working on the case, but in terms of the posture of the case. So it absolutely can be delayed. And the August court date, meaning the trial, she could ask for it, whether it's granted as another story. And then you have these other competing matters. When is actually the case in Manhattan going to start? So this is yet to be seen.

WALKER: So let's talk about Manhattan. We were just talking about the Georgia subversion election case. So that obviously is a criminal trial in Georgia. The New York civil fraud trial, we're talking about this Monday deadline that Trump has to secure a bond for more than $500 million.

Of course, you know, they're trying to get out of this. But if you look at his Truth Social post in all caps, by the way, Trump is saying that he currently has almost $550 Million dollars in cash. Trump loves to brag about being rich, but he's trying to get out of putting -- securing this bond. So how does this undermine his credibility?

SALAND: Well, you know, he has it in all caps. If there was an emoji there with a hand slap to the head, if I was his counselor, I would be proverbially wringing his neck because you can't argue with good faith that you do not have the means to do so pay that bond, pay that money all up in full to stop the clock from ticking, to stop your assets being seized.

And by clock and ticking, I mean, he can always appeal. He has that right. In terms of interest keep on moving forward. It doesn't help him. It never helps him when he speaks or rarely, maybe politically, but not within that courtroom, not within terms of his credibility and the veracity of what he's saying. So it's really bad. Looks poor at best.

WALKER: I mean, what do you think in terms of his ability to secure this bond? Do you think he's going to meet this deadline, especially knowing that dozens of companies have not been willing to underwrite this?

SALAND: You know, I'm not inside that room with him, but it seems at this point to be very surprising because why hasn't he paid that money declaring bankruptcy? Certainly isn't an option. It's going to look terrible from at this point. So he doesn't really have the bond companies to come in and save the day like they did with -- for E. Jean Carroll.

But even in that case again, the clock is still ticking, he's still paying that interest. So I would be surprised if he also comes in. So I think next step is Attorney James (ph) she's already started to do is not just locate those assets, but freeze them and start to try to get her hands on them.

WALKER: OK, so what steps is she taking? And is she first taking aim at the cash that Trump has in bank accounts?

SALAND: Yes, that's far easier. You don't have to wait for a foreclosure. You don't have to wait for someone to be assigned to make sure that goes properly. You know, she has to make sure you actually can identify and locate his assets in terms of the bank accounts.

And then a marshal or the sheriff, depending on when you are, goes and basically serves that bank and says, hey, here's the documentation. It's restrained. Now we're going to execute it. And you're going to give us that check to the state of New York. They'll take a percentage and the balance comes to the state, so it's a fairly simple process.

There's some things you can throw in roadblocks in there, but this is an easy process as long as they can be identified. Much more difficult, but not that difficult with the real property. It just takes much more time.

WALKER: Yes, so isn't that -- so moving on to the seizing assets or property, I should say, that seems to be a much more complicated and drawn out process, especially when Trump has property in other states.


SALAND: Yes, you know, there's full faith and credit. So you have to go to that state and the state has to say, OK, New York said you can do so, but they have their own internal rules. Each state may do things a little bit differently, but you're absolutely correct. It's one thing to say, let me get that Mar-a-Lago and it's not -- is it owned by him as a primary residence or use this as an example, or is this owned by a corporation?

So there's a lot of different properties that they can easily locate. It just takes so much more time to get to that foreclosure point before you can seize it.

WALKER: Jeremy Saland, thank you so much. Good to see you.

BLACKWELL: Up next, Moscow is in mourning. Families are grieving the losses of more than 130 people killed in a terror attack after an extended silence, here, Putin's response.

Plus, negotiators call it encouraging news in the push for a ceasefire in Gaza, where those talks stand there in Doha. And the conspiracy theories slowed after the princess of Wales reveals her cancer diagnosis. A look at how Kate's announcement reduced some of that speculation.



WALKER: Friday's terrorist attack on Crocus City Hall near Moscow has killed at least 133 people. Officials say that number is expected to go up over the coming days. Now, Russian investigators say they have arrested and they're questioning the four gunmen who carried out the killings.

BLACKWELL: ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is claiming without evidence that Ukraine played a role. And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused a, quote, "miserable Putin" of blaming others for his problems.

The White House has vehemently denied Ukraine's involvement. They said in a statement that "ISIS is a common terrorist enemy that must be defeated everywhere."

CNN's Clare Sebastian is in London with the latest for us. So, what's the public reaction to this attack?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Victor. This obviously we're seeing an outpouring of grief of shock in Russia. It's been over 20 years since they've seen a terror attack on this scale. But I think, look, it's interesting to look at what Putin actually said. He said that he believes that the attackers were trying to escape through the Ukrainian border, that there was a quick window that was being prepared on the Ukrainian border without evidence.

He also didn't want to mention ISIS. And we're now seeing Russian propaganda and other officials pick up that thread, pointing the finger at Ukraine on the one hand, and also taking it further and trying to suggest that even the U.S. might have had a hand in this.

Take a listen to one of Putin's chief propagandists, a real fixture on state TV, Vladimir Solovyov.


VLADIMIR SOLOVYOV, BROADCASTER (through translator): When the America sought telling us, no, no, it's not Ukraine, they're probably right. It's not Ukraine. It's them. It's their special services, working through various sources, various methods, carried out a terror attack, using and deeply calculating a reaction, or more accurately, to spark a specific reaction from Russia.


SEBASTIAN: So he has no evidence for this, obviously. And as you pointed out, ISIS has claimed responsibility. The U.S. has said there's no reason to doubt that claim. Ukraine has strenuously denied any involvement. But this matters because it's the same trope that we see with the war in Ukraine, right? Blaming not so much Ukraine, but the West, and in particular the U.S. as being the ultimate decision makers here.

So I think this is something that will spark concern in Ukraine, that Russia may use this as a pretext to escalate attacks, but also inside Russia that this may step up the sort of militarization of society may even lead to another wave of mobilization on the pretext of doing this to stop further terror attacks in the future. Victor?

BLACKWELL: Yes. From the very early hours, they started to plant the seeds to be able to point in the direction of that Ukrainian border.

Clare Sebastian, thanks so much.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is scheduled to meet with the Israeli defense minister tomorrow at the White House. They're expected to talk about continued efforts to get the remaining hostages held by Hamas released and the urgent humanitarian aid needed for civilians in Gaza.

WALKER: This comes as CIA Director Bill Burns leaves Doha, Qatar, where ongoing ceasefire negotiations are taking place. Sources tell CNN the talks are making steady progress, but there are still differences that need to be worked out.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is joining us now from Doha, where those negotiations are taking place. Hi there, Paula. We heard Secretary of State this week, or last week, Antony Blinken, express cautious optimism. Where do these -- where do things stand now?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, we know that the technical teams are still in place here in Doha. So the intelligence chiefs of both the U.S. and Israel have left. We understand from from one CNN analyst, Barak Ravid, that the U.S. had actually bridged a proposal of Palestinian prisoners to be released.

Now, this follows what we heard from Hamas last week, or I should say about 10 days ago now, they had given a counter proposal where they said what they wanted within this temporary ceasefire was to see between 700 and 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released in return for a number of hostages, female hostages, including IDF soldiers. The sick, the wounded, and the elderly.


Now, we don't know what the proposal was for the number of Palestinian prisoners. We do know that Israel considered Hamas's original offer to be unrealistic and absurd. But according to the CNN analysts that they're now waiting for some kind of response from Hamas.

So the intelligence chiefs have left Doha. The technical teams are in place. We have heard from diplomats briefed on these talks that all that information is accurate, but there are two elements as well that are sticking points. The entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza and also the Israeli military repositioning in Gaza during a ceasefire.

Hamas has made it clear that they would like the Israeli military to pull out completely from Gaza, something Israel has said that would not happen. And, of course, Israel still wanting to carry out that major ground offensive in Rafah. And the diplomatic talk will really shift to Washington early this week.

We do know that the Israeli defense minister will be meeting with Jake Sullivan on Monday. He's expected also to meet with Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Defense Secretary, where they'll discuss the hostages, they will discuss the urgency of getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

But separately from that, there is a delegation that has been invited to speak to U.S. officials within the Biden administration to try and convince them that there is a difference way. There's an alternative to this major ground offensive in Rafah, which leaders around the world are concerned about.

WALKER: Yes, so much concern about that. Paula Hancocks, appreciate it. Thanks.

Up next, the Biden-Harris campaign is fine tuning its message on the campaign trail. But is that message resonating with voters?


WALKER: All right, here are your other top headlines this morning. No one won the Powerball drawing last night, pushing the prize up to $800 million. The winning numbers were 6, 23, excuse me, 25, 34, 51 and 3. The Mega Millions jackpot is also swelling after no winner on Friday. It is estimated at $1.1 billion. That next drawing is Tuesday.

President Biden signed the government spending bill into law. This is a live look at Capitol Hill where the Senate passed a $1.2 trillion package early Saturday morning to fund three quarters of critical government operations. The president said the deal represents a compromise and is good news for Americans.

BLACKWELL: Healthcare and gun laws are the top issues on the campaign trail, at least at this moment for President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris. This weekend, the vice president visited Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Of course, you remember, that's the site of a deadly school shooting on Valentine's Day in 2018.

Meeting with families of the young victims, she also took the time to push for better gun control laws across the country.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, there are only about 21 states that have passed red flag laws. So part of why I'm here today is to challenge every state, pass a red flag law. See how these leaders and these parents, through their advocacy born out of tragedy, have changed some of the laws in this state.


BLACKWELL: And meanwhile, the president teamed up with former President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to tout the success of the Affordable Care Act. This is a new 30-second ad. They warn that it could get repealed for millions if Americans -- millions of Americans, if former President Trump is reelected.

Joining us now is Bloomberg News White House Correspondent Akayla Gardner. Good to see you this morning. Let's start here with this video with Obama, Biden and Pelosi. We, of course, expected that the former president would be part of the campaign for reelection post- convention, but is this a one off?

We know that there's an Obama-Clinton-Biden event, a fundraiser this week. Should we expect considering the polls now to see the former presidents join a little more often in the near future?

AKAYLA GARDNER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, the former president has really been used sparingly in this campaign so far. I think they really see him as a huge endorser of Biden and a face that Americans know. And they're only hoping to use him on occasion. We saw him in the midterms with John Fetterman. They sort of pull him out for some of these bigger events. But as you mentioned, health care is such a huge issue, particularly for older voters who have been shown to start to align more with Democrats, or particularly President Biden, as they have usually aligned with Republicans.

And Biden just believes that he has continued to build on the Affordable Care Act. He's given up Medicare, the ability to negotiate prices. He's brought down conscription drug prices for seniors in Medicare. So this is certainly an issue that he feels like his record is strong on. The White House claims that more Americans have Medicare under President Biden than in history.

So this is something he's going to certainly continue to campaign on. And it just made sense, frankly, to partner with Obama. Of course, this act notably called Obamacare, for so many, that's what it's known as.

BLACKWELL: And this is the 14th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law. Of course Nancy Pelosi got it through the House, through Congress there and former President Obama signed it. Let's talk now about the vice president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and touting $750 million in grants for states to help them implement their red flag laws there.


Gun control, gun restrictions, stronger gun safety laws, how much of this will play into the campaign strategy? we know that they're going on the message of saving democracy and women's health care rights. This issue, how much will we hear about it?

GARDNER: Well, for the Vice President, this is an issue that's been placed squarely in her portfolio. She leads the first-ever office of gun violence prevention. And this has been really part of a broader strategy for Harris and really focused on young voters, on people of color. We saw her at the site of this tragic shooting in Parkland, of course.

And they're really touting the passage of that five-person Safer Communities Act. This is just one of several laws that Biden feels proud of, that he worked on a bipartisan basis, along with infrastructure, along with the CHIPS Act, with the debt limit crisis. So, this is just another way for President Biden to show that he believes that he's a leader, that he can get Congress to move on some of these issues that have been intractable for years.

Of course, gun violence hugely politicized, and yet they feel as though this is something that they can show to young voters, to advocates, some of these advocacy groups that have been critical of their president on other issues, that they can show them that they are able to get things done when things are tough and, frankly, in situations of crisis in the country.

BLACKWELL: You got some recent reporting out from the battleground state of Pennsylvania. CNN has a new poll out this weekend showing that the President and Former President are tied at 46 in Pennsylvania. But when it comes down to a top issue here, the economy, Trump leads Biden in Pennsylvania by a 14-point margin. 49-35 on the question of which candidate would better handle the economy.

You went to the bellwether County of Northampton, and I mean, it's a bellwether because it's one of 25 counties across the country that has picked the winner in the last four presidential elections. What did you learn from that former epicenter of manufacturing?

GARDNER: Yes, we went to the bellwether county, as you mentioned, that is just a handful of counties that has voted for the winner of the presidential race since 2008. And this was really a manufacturing town. And this is a thing that President Biden has really centered in his campaign, his push to renew America's status as a powerhouse in manufacturing and industrial policy.

And what we heard from voters there is they're not really seeing those investments come to their community. And of course, Pennsylvania is just one of these three blue wall states that Democrats really believe they need in order to secure a path to the White House. And they just frankly associate President Trump with the time when the economy was more stable, what prices were lower. And under Biden, inflation continues. Grocery prices are up 25 percent from the pandemic. And so, this is just a huge issue that Biden needs to resonate with voters there.

BLACKWELL: Seven and a half months until the election day. Akayla Gardner, thanks so much.

WALKER: Still ahead, a sobering reality. We will look at how Princess Kate's stunning cancer announcement is affecting the Royal Family and being received around the world.



BLACKWELL: Right now, blizzard warnings are in effect across the central plains with more than 11 million people under winter weather alerts.

WALKER: Yes, it still feels like winter out there. Parts of New England saw heavy snowfall yesterday. Vermont got up to two feet of snow in some areas. One last chance, hopefully, to enjoy winter fun before a warm-up finally this week.

Allison Chinchar is here with more. How much snow?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Spring is not springing right now.

WALKER: It's a lot of snow. It's the end of March.

BLACKWELL: And here you come in here with the snowflake earrings.

CHINCHAR: Hey, I didn't get to wear them all that much this winter. BLACKWELL: We've been -- we've been talking the whole break and then I

didn't notice you were wearing snowflakes until I turned.

WALKER: We need to buy you pollen earrings.

CHINCHAR: That's true. Yes, for the next one. Yes, but it suits the mood. There is so much snow that is going to come down over the next few days. Now, it kind of starts over the central portion of the U.S. That's where we're focused on today. You can see it's already snowing across Montana, stretching all the way over into the U.P. of Michigan. And some ice, pretty significant ice across areas of Nebraska right now.

We've got a lot of winter weather alerts out. We're talking Winter storm warnings, Winter weather advisories, but yes, this orange, this is even blizzard warnings because it's the combination of that snow, but also very gusty winds. Even outside of areas getting snow, you've got a lot of wind warnings and wind advisories and effect here.

The concern is across portions of western Texas and New Mexico because without the precipitation, this is going to increase the fire concern pretty significantly in some of those areas. And then, lot of those wind alerts also go farther to the east. Now, this system is very slow moving. It's going to take its time spreading all of that snow into the Midwest over the next 24 to 48 hours. So, even by Tuesday, it's still snowing across portions of -- places like Minnesota, for example.

Look at all of this snow. You're talking a pretty widespread area of at least eight to 12 inches of snow. That means yes, some of these areas could end up getting more snow just out of this one system than they did all of winter.

WALKER: Allison, you wore those snowflake earrings, I think, over Christmas as well, so you're welcoming Winter. Thanks so much, Allison.


Kensington Palace says the Prince and Princess of Wales are enormously touched and moved by the outpouring of support they have received following Kate's announcement about her cancer treatment. The 42-year- old mother shared in a video Friday that the diagnosis was a huge shock. While thankful for the public's kindness, the Royals are requesting privacy as they navigate through this challenging time.


WALKER (voiceover): From Catherine Princess of Wales, after weeks of speculation about her health and whereabouts, she's revealed that she has been diagnosed with cancer.

CATHERINE, PRINCESS OF WALES: In January, I underwent major abdominal surgery in London. And at the time, it was thought that my condition was non-cancerous. The surgery was successful. However, tests after the operation found cancer had been present.

WALKER (voiceover): In a video released Friday by Kensington Palace, Kate herself revealed the shocking diagnosis.

CATHERINE: My medical team therefore advised that I should undergo a course of preventative chemotherapy, and I'm now in the early stages of that treatment. This of course came as a huge shock, and William and I have been doing everything we can to process and manage this privately for the sake of our young family.

WALKER (voiceover): Online theories about Kate's whereabouts have reached a fever pitch in recent weeks.

CATHERINE: It has been an incredibly tough couple of months for our entire family.

WALKER (voiceover): Just days ago, she was seen at a farm shop near her home with Prince William.

CATHERINE: It has taken me time to recover for major surgery in order to start my treatment. But most importantly, it has taken us time to explain everything to George, Charlotte, and Louis in a way that's appropriate for them and to reassure them that I'm going to be OK.

WALKER (voiceover): Kate has been expected to return to her royal duties after Easter. A royal source said that she will now postpone further work until she has been cleared by her medical team.

CATHERINE: We hope that you'll understand that as a family we now need some time, space, and privacy.

WALKER (voiceover): Kate's startling news comes weeks after we learned King Charles is also battling cancer. In January, Buckingham Palace said the King was having a procedure for an enlarged prostate. Later, the palace revealed that while Charles was undergoing that treatment, a separate issue of concern was noted and tests revealed a form of cancer. The King has since stepped back from his public duties while he undergoes treatment with just 11 working royals and only Queen Camilla and Prince William as senior members representing the King.

In her video announcement Friday, Kate said her husband has been a solace during this difficult time.

CATHERINE: Having William by my side is a great source of comfort and reassurance to you. As is the love, support and kindness that has been shown by so many of you. It means so much to us both. My work has always brought me a deep sense of joy and I look forward to being back when I'm able. But for now, I must focus on making a full recovery.


BLACKWELL: Still ahead, authorities say religious extremism motivated a popular parent blogger's horrific abuse of her children. Our newly released video and documents support the claim.


BLACKWELL: Attorneys in Utah have released videos and documents related to the child abuse case involving popular parent blogger Ruby Franke.

WALKER: The evidence includes Franke's diary which prosecutors believe reveals religious extremism motivated Franke and her business partner to inflict horrific abuse on her children. CNN's Camila Bernal is in Utah with more.

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amara, Victor, authorities are saying these two women fully believe that the abuse was necessary to teach the children how to repent from imagined sins and to cast these evil spirits out of their bodies. You know, the graphic new evidence includes videos, photos, and even Ruby Franke's handwritten journal entries. And they detailed his horrific abuse in one of the newly released videos. We see the moment that Franke's 12-year-old son asks for help.

This is after he climbed out of that window and goes to a neighbor's house asking for food, for water, and asking to be taken to the nearest police station. You know, the evidence released shows the duct tape around the child's ankles and his wrist. And we of course know that that neighbor called police and described all of this to authorities. But we also have additional video that shows when police went to Jodi Hildebrandt's house and found Franke's 9-year-old daughter. Authorities described that child as petrified and hiding in a closet as well as malnourished.

You know, you can see in the video the first responders trying to talk to her, giving her pizza. And you know, sadly, the journal entries also detail months and months of abuse. And that included making the children stand and sleep outside, making them do wall sits, shaving the girl's head and at times even withholding water, food, and oxygen.

You know, Franke pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse. She was initially charged with six counts, but pleaded not guilty to two of the counts as part of a plea deal to testify against her business partner. Hildebrandt in her own plea agreement also pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated child abuse. They were each sentence to four consecutive sentences of one to 15 years in prison.

But it's now the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole that will oversee the length of that prison sentence. And CNN has reached out to their attorneys for comment about that newly released evidence.

Amara, Victor?


WALKER: Camila Bernal, thank you very much.

Up next, Finland holds the top spot as the happiest country in the world. But the U.S. finds itself lower on the list than ever before. So, what is driving the drop for Americans and why are Finnish people so happy? We'll talk to a happiness expert next.

But first, the new "CNN ORIGINAL SERIES VEGAS: THE STORY OF SIN CITY", takes us on an incredible journey from the city's origins.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two of America's most iconic figures, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, both chose to get married in Las Vegas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Elvis Presley weds Priscilla Ann Beaulieu. And one of America's richest teenage singing idols promises to love, honor, and obey.

DAVID G. SCWARTZ, PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY, UNLV: I think the wedding business in Las Vegas really is about taking something that can be very serious and maybe somewhat stuffy, making it something quirky that you can put your own spin on. And to me, that says everything about Las Vegas.


WALKER: "VEGAS: THE STORY OF SIN CITY" airs tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.



WALKER: Of course, you know the popular song lyric, don't worry, be happy. Victor has been singing all morning and whistling it again.

BLACKWELL: OK, all right, I'm sorry.

WALKER: I'm spending -- nice to hear that. One country is putting it into practice, becoming the happiest country in the world. Finland is the happiest country for the seventh straight year. Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Israel rounding out the top five. The U.S. however was pushed out of the top 20 for the first time since the report was published in 2012, ranking at number 23.

This is due in part to a sharp drop in happiness among young people. So, what is Finland's secret? That's why we're talking to Finnish psychologist and happiness researcher Frank Martela. Thank you so much for joining us, Frank.

You know, this world report scores things like social support, freedom, generosity, and perceptions of corruption. First off, you know, we should say that Finland has been on the top spot now for seven years. What do Finns think of this characterization that they are the happiest people in the world?

FRANK MARTELA, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, AALTO UNIVERSITY: I actually have to say that the first time Finland was nominated to happiest country, the Finnish people were very skeptical of the results because I think the Finnish people have this self-image that we are a bit like melancholic can introvert the type of people. So, you know, being happiest didn't fit very well with how Finnish thought of themselves.

So, people were really skeptical, but I guess like -- you know, it's been several years, people have been -- gotten used to the idea.

WALKER: OK, so are you buying into this that Finland is the happiest country in the world?

MARTELA: Yes, but it depends on like how we define happiness. So, in the survey, what they are asking people is like to evaluate their life on like, on the scale from zero to 10 where zero is the worst possible life, 10 is the best possible life. So, it's kind of like this contemplating on your life and not about like, you know, just positive emotions or anything like that.

So, I guess like if they would ask people that did you smile today or did you experience joy today, in that kind of survey, Finland wouldn't be the top one in the world. But when it's about this quiet evaluation of your life, I think then it makes sense that Finland and other Nordic countries are performing so well.

WALKER: Right. Rather than personal happiness, it's more of the big picture, right, and just your quality of life. And you say a lot of it comes down to the way people perceive their government. Tell us about that and what makes Finland different in terms of the way they perceive corruption, freedom, and democracy in Finland.

MARTELA: Yes. So, research has shown that like those countries which have like this well-functional democracy tend to be countries which like therefore very well on this happiness indexes. So, when there's like free press, freedom of speech, low corruption, strong rule of law, and these kinds of factors, that tends to predict higher happiness in the country. And Finland and other Nordic countries are countries which tend to top also rankings of quality of democracy and lack of corruption.

So, it comes down to like having like high-quality institutions and then also those institutions serve with the citizens. Although these welfare benefits seems to be a factor that is contributing to why some countries have higher levels of happiness than others, and Finland tends to be a country which have like quite good unemployment benefits, maternity and paternity leaves, free healthcare, and so forth. So, these factors probably are the ones that explain why Finland is doing so well on these people's general life evaluation rankings.

WALKER: Yes, yes, social welfare obviously plays a big role, right, because again that goes to the quality of life that you can have in your country. You know it's interesting though because Finland and other Scandinavian countries are known for, you know, you're very long and dark winters.

In northern Finland and Finnish Lapland as it's called, the sun sets as I understand in late November, and the sun doesn't rise in many cases until mid-January. That's like, I don't know, almost two months of darkness. I mean, wouldn't that cause a lot of unhappiness? MARTELA: Yes, but on the other hand, probably that like balances

itself out during the year because then when the spring comes, when -- then it's like very much sunshine and so forth. So, probably it is -- according to research, this weather -- like changes in weather seems to be something that like affects people's happiness. So, the first sunny day after a long dark period, that's probably making you happier. But on a yearly basis, then the weather doesn't seem to have like much affect on people's happiness in the end. So, even with long dark winters, people tend to be relatively satisfied with their lives.


WALKER: OK, I'm being wrapped but I have to wrap but I have to ask you, Frank, maybe in a sentence which I don't know if it's possible. What is the key to happiness? How can we all be happy?

MARTELA: Accept the things that you cannot change and then focus your attention on those things that you can change. And try to also not think about your own -- only about yourself but also think about others and making other people happy. Because often one key way of making yourself happy is to try to focus on making other people around you happy.

WALKER: Very wise words. Frank Martela, great to have you. Thank you so much.

MARTELA: Thank you.

WALKER: Were you listening to that? Focus on others to make them happy.

BLACKWELL: And see -- and you said that with the mission of having me focus on you which was self-centered. No, but this is -- here's the interesting part about that whole conversation is that if you ask Finns, they're like no, we're not the happiest people in the world.

WALKER: Yes, yes. Well, you know, the -- Frank Martela also said -- he wrote an opinion piece about people who directly seek out happiness, that can cause a lot of unhappiness, that there's more of like an indirect, you know, way to get happiness. And if you're pessimistic -- I guess it's about how you set your expectations for happiness.

BLACKWELL: There's something about those Nordic states. I was in Copenhagen, and you know, you ride bikes everywhere. I was at a red bike. At nearly every red light for the bikes someone was asking can I help you, is there something you're looking for? And I'm like, well, what is it to you? Why are you here? Just good old American cynicism.

WALKER: You're so American. Yes, yes.

BLACKWELL: I'm like why are you asking me where I'm going? But they were very nice.

WALKER: All right, well, that was an interesting interview. The next hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.