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Wall Street Journal Marks One Year of Gershkovich's Detention; WSJ Honoring Gershkovich; Trump Attacks Judge Merchan in Truth Social; Trump Attacks Judge's Daughter Presiding Over His Hush Money Case; Cost of College; Beyonce Releases Country Album; RNC Asks Staffers and New Hires if 2020 was Stolen; Some Colleges Costing About $90,000 a Year; Youngkin's Plan Collapsing. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 06:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Today marks one year since Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia and accused of spying, a charge that Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. government all vehemently deny.

On Tuesday, Gershkovich was ordered -- held for another three months. He still has not been formally tried. CNN's Matthew Chance is live for us in St. Petersburg, Russia. Matthew, good morning to you. Evan has been in and out of court throughout the year. What happens from here?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has indeed, Kasie, and he's made his last appearance a couple of days ago when journalists weren't allowed into the court to see him. Instead, the court released its own footage. It lasted six seconds long of Evan Gershkovich standing in that glass cage, which we've seen him in so many times, as his pre-trial detention, as it's called here, was extended for another three months.

You know, it means that he's going to stay behind bars as he waits for his trial for espionage to start. Once that process begins, it could be a very lengthy process. We don't even know what evidence the Russians have got against him. If any, they haven't presented anything. They don't have to in national security cases like this.

But, you know, behind the scenes, Casey, what we do know is that there are negotiations, or at least contacts, underway between the Russians and the United States to try and organize a release or a prisoner swap just a couple of days ago.

The spokesperson for Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, is his name, he said, he confirmed, that those talks were ongoing. But neither side, neither the Russians or the U.S. are prepared to discuss the detail of what is actually being talked about. And so, we're sort of in the dark, really, about where we stand when it comes to a possible prisoner swap.

We do know that there was a deal in the offing, or at least being discussed, that would have seen the release of American detainees like Evan Gershkovich and some others as well, along with Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader here in Russia, in exchange for various individuals held in the United States and elsewhere.

But, as we know, Alexei Navalny died in his Arctic penal colony last month. And, you know, that deal never came to anything. And so, at the moment, we're back in a holding pattern. Evan Gershkovich, a year into his detention, still sitting in the force of a prison in the Russian capital.

HUNT: All right. Matthew Chance for us live in St. Petersburg. Matthew, thank you very much for that.

The panel's back. And we noted this earlier. But this, again, the Wall Street Journal front page this morning, it says, his story should be here, and it should. Evan Gershkovich detained for 365 days. They write, a year in Russian prison, a year of stolen stories, stolen joys, stolen memories, the crime, journalism.

Meghan Hays, this is something that President Biden has worked very hard on, and that when he talks -- he talks about detained Americans and how he feels about them, it's clearly very much a personal thing. Matthew talked a little bit about the efforts here. What can we be doing? What should we be doing to try to get Evan home?

MEGHAN HAYS, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BIDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF MESSAGE AND PLANNING FOR PRESIDENT BIDEN AND DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Look, I think that the president -- this is something that's very personal to the president. He thinks about this every day. He's, you know, in close contact with folks. I think that the more you publicly talk about the negotiations, it kind of puts them a little bit in harm and how they're doing it.

I have a lot of faith in Jake Sullivan and his team and the national security team that they are doing everything they can to bring folks home. You know, it's a really tough issue, and it's really unfortunate, and it's something that should never be happening or where anyone's family is going through.


HUNT: Mark, I mean, it's now very risky for journalists to cover Russia, and it honestly underscores kind of the low point of relations between the West and Russia right now.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST AND SIRIUSXM HOST, "FULL STOP WITH MARK PRESTON": No, it certainly does. And look, this isn't a normal tit for tat. Like, you know, we can get him back pretty easily. The fact is, is that we are, like, the largest superpower of the world right now that is opposing Russia taking over Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin, you know, is only going to give Evan up or anyone else at this point, unless he feels like he's going to get something in return. And he's not going to feel any pressure back home on this. To your point, though, the dangerousness of us. I know we get to sit here at the table and talk about it, but all our colleagues are overseas. And, you know, not only are they dodging bombs and bullets and what have you now, now they have to worry about getting picked up by an authoritarian regime.

HUNT: Yes. All right. So, now this, just days after the judge in Donald Trump's hush money case issued a gag order, barring him from attacking witnesses, prosecutors, or jurors, the former president took to Truth Social to once again attack the judge, Juan Merchan, and his daughter, this time calling her out by name and describing her as a "rabid Trump hater."

In a rare interview with a sitting federal judge last night, Judge Reggie Walton warned that -- on CNN that those threats can get real very quickly.


JUDGE REGGIE WALTON, U.S. DISTRICT COURT FOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: It's very disconcerting to have someone making comments about a judge. And it's particularly problematic when those comments are in the form of a threat, especially if they're directed at one's family. We have had judges who've lost their lives or family members have lost their lives as a result of individuals who have been litigants in their courtroom. And I think it's important, in order to preserve our democracy, that we maintain the rule of law.


HUNT: All right. Shermichael, this is, as the judge says there, it's dangerous for people. I mean, we have seen the effects of Trump's attacks in the real world in terms of political violence. There is also the reality here that he is basing his attacks on an account that no longer belongs to the judge's daughter.


HUNT: Yes.

SINGLETON: I mean, look, I think this is red meat for the base, obviously, but it's red meat for a base that's already firmly behind the former president. I think what he needs to do is pivot and talk about the economy and the nuances of immigration, about the United States standing in the world, all issues where President Biden currently is a little bit shaky. He's on shaky ground on some of those points with a lot of Americans.

He needs to be able to showcase a juxtaposition of why I can do a better job on some of the most pivotal issues impacting your daily life. This just isn't it, and this is a part of that concern for a lot of Republicans. Do you continue to turn off voters that we may need in some of those very critical swing races that may also impact down- ballot races?

HUNT: Really interesting. Mark, we heard yesterday from Liz Cheney. She gave a speech. She was at Drake University in Iowa, take that for what you will, but she talked -- she touched a little bit about the trials of Donald Trump. Let's start with that. And I also want to get to something else she said, but let's take a look at what she said about the delay tactics that Trump is using in the legal realm.


FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think it's very important that the Supreme Court recognize that what he's doing is a delaying tactic. And that the American people -- it cannot be the case that a president of the United States can attempt to overturn an election and seize power and that our justice system is incapable of holding a trial, of holding him to account before the next election.


HUNT: So, she's basically saying there, hey, Supreme Court, these tactics that he's using, they are working, and it's not fair to Americans to not get to this before the election. Is her warning going to be heeded?

PRESTON: I can tell you what, this is a lonely place for her to be right now because there isn't that many Republicans who are going to be as vocal, certainly, as she has been. And it's interesting that she chose Drake University to do it, A, to your point, I mean, it is the kickoff and will be the kickoff to the Republican presidential primary, assuming Donald Trump does not win in November. And four years from now, it's also the place of the last --

HUNT: Well, it may be either way, if he does win as well.

PRESTON: Oh, you're right. Well, who knows? If he continues working in the Constitution, he can maybe extend it another term. Just saying. But Drake University was the place for the last Republican presidential primary debate, which was on CNN.

So, it's interesting that she goes back to the place to not only attack her party. But one thing that I do think that Republicans and some conservatives, or maybe many conservatives, are getting wrong about her message is that she's not a Democrat.


I mean, she was very explicit last night saying, both political parties have abandoned the Constitution. So, this isn't necessarily -- this, by the way, will help Democrats.

HUNT: Well -- wait, wait, wait. Hold on one second. Let me just show you the other bite from her that I wanted to -- I take your point in terms of policy, but she also had this to say about the difference between Donald Trump and the Biden administration, watch.


CHENEY: I certainly have policy disagreements with the Biden administration. I know the nation can survive bad policy. We can't survive a president who is willing to torch the Constitution.


HUNT: And she's talking about Trump.

PRESTON: The lesser of both evils right there. You know, in many ways, I think if you go back, I'll show my age here, to a cartoon where you had the sheepdog and the coyote. And they would -- every morning, they would punch in and they would run around after each other. And at the end of the cartoon, they would punch out and the sheepdog would, you know, turn to the coyote and say, hey, George, tell your wife I said hello tonight. And they'd go off on their way. That used to be Washington.

Republicans and Democrats could actually get along, not necessarily attack each other so personally, and maybe not agree that -- you know, with everything that got done. But there was a middle ground. Now, we are so polarized.

HUNT: Meghan, last word here. I mean, I do take the point. I mean, it's a much different place. But I think, you know, this is certainly one of the things that, you know, I, as a journalist, struggle with every day. I mean, we -- you know, I grew up in an environment where you learned how to cover Jeb Bush running against Hillary Clinton in a way that gave space to the policy differences between them to allow voters to make decisions.

Now you have -- Cheney's words are, we can't survive a president who is willing to torch the Constitution. When you see what happened on January 6th -- and that's what motivates her, that's what makes this so difficult.

HAYS: Yes, I think that, again, this election's coming down to a stark contrast between the two presidents here. And I just think, are people going to wake up in November and vote for someone who was basically lighting the Constitution on fire when he was in office or someone who they may disagree with his policies but they understand that democracy is at stake and they can work through that, and in four years we'll start over again.

Like, is that something that they're willing to do or are we going to just go back to Trump and everyone's going to wake up to what's on his Twitter X feed every day and we're all going to react to that and then have to decipher what's lies and what's not lies?

HUNT: And then, of course, Preston -- Mark Preston has raised the question of what happens after that. Thank you. Oh, how's that for a Friday? OK.

PRESTON: Who knows.

HUNT: I'm ready for the weekend. Al right. Coming up next here, $90K, $90,000 for one year of college. Why tuition is so out of control.

And next, the big news of the morning.




HUNT: Beyonce's country album is out. This is her song with Miley Cyrus. More ahead.



HUNT: All right. 46 minutes past the hour. Here's your morning roundup. New York Mayor Eric Adams planning to install gun detectors in the subways to crackdown on crime. The rollout could come after mandatory 90-day waiting period.

Critical changes to the U.S. census. Today, the government rolls out a new way to ask people about their race and ethnicity. The question is going to feature seven categories, including Middle Eastern and North African categories as choices.

Plus, this is what we're all talking about. Let's be real. Beyonce releasing her new album "Cowboy Carter" overnight.




HUNT: 27 tracks of country music, that cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." It's also got a cover of the Beatles song, "Blackbird." I have not had a chance to listen to this yet, and I cannot wait. There's also cameos on the album from Willie Nelson and Miley Cyrus. Anyone here, like, I'm so excited for this.

HAYS: I may have been listening at, like, when I woke up this morning.

HUNT: I forgot to turn it on, and I'm like, now I'm waiting, waiting, I'm just trying to get them to play more clips on here so I can actually hear it. It's pretty awesome. That's what I'm going to be doing when my weekend starts as soon as we get off the air here.

All right. Now, this. Looking for a job at the Republican National Committee? You better come prepared. Current and potential staffers at the RNC have been asked if they believe the 2020 election was stolen. That's according to two sources familiar with the questioning.

This is happening amid a Trump-orchestrated makeover of the Republican National Committee, handpicked North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley taking over as chair. And Trump's daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, serving as co-chair. Trump advisers have described the current relationship between the Trump campaign and the RNC as a symbiotic one.

Joining us now is CNN political commentator and the host of CNN's "Smerconish," Michael Smerconish. Michael, I'm loving this Friday tradition that we have. It's great to have you on the show. Let's talk about this RNC. I mean, is it appropriate for them to be asking people, using -- I mean, are they using as a litmus test this question of whether or not they think the election was stolen?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH AND CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, critical -- by the way, I feel likewise. Thank you for having me.

HUNT: Appreciate it.

SMERCONISH: Critical thinking exercises, they're common, especially among big tech and among the financial houses. This doesn't feel like a critical thinking exercise, which is the way that they've tried to respond to some of the inquiry about it. No, to me, like you've just said, it feels more like a litmus test.

And Kasie, I think the bigger issue here is that it exhibits this continued resistance on the part of the RNC, Republican's writ large, Donald Trump, to early voting and mail voting. In other words, if they're questioning potential employees at the RNC, do you think the election was stolen? How likely is it that they're going to embrace early voting in states like Arizona and Georgia, where I think it's necessary to be competitive?


And that's the real problem. There's a growing tension, I think, between what needs to be done in the field and hanging on to the idea that the election of 2020 was stolen.

HUNT: Yes, Michael, I mean, we've seen Lara Trump, the incoming co- chair, get up in front of microphones and say to people, embraced early voting, but you've seen the former president at campaign stops -- I don't have it to hand, but we've played it on this show before, raising questions about it yet again. To your point, that seems counterproductive if you're Republicans wanting to win elections, no?

SMERCONISH: It looks like in this cycle, more than half of Americans are going to vote early. I mean, take a look at the commission on presidential debates. I don't know, Kasie, if there will be debates this cycle. I hope there will be. But they've already established the dates.

And if you look at the calendar they've established, they push them forward in a way like we've never seen before. Why? Because by the time likely debates of the past have taken place, most Americans -- not most, but many Americans have already voted. It's really becoming more and more ingrained.

So, like the RNC has got to embrace the idea that people want to vote early in the process and many of them want to vote by mail. So, if you're asking your new hires, was the election stolen? Maybe they aren't new hires who are going to adapt to the times.

HUNT: Yes. Michael, speaking of the RNC, I know you've also been thinking about the implications for trust in media among kind of a wide range of the American public in terms of what's going on with Ronna McDaniel. What is your take on that?

SMERCONISH: So, I've been under the impression that Donald Trump was the one who wanted her out. And I find it interesting now that Republicans are rallying around Ronna McDaniel as being the victim in the whole brouhaha with NBC. I think they're getting great mileage out of it thus far.

So much so now that the RNC is saying, perhaps we won't welcome NBC at the convention. Kasie, I don't think they can do that. I don't think it's solely their call as to what media sources might get in to cover the convention, but it just shows that this is a story with legs and now it's being used for political mileage.

HUNT: Yes. No, it's not their call. And also, you're really going to give up an entire broadcast network for your candidates' convention speech heading into a competitive election, I have some questions about that.

Michael, one of the other things we've been talking about this morning is obviously the way that the Trump campaign and the cover of "The New York Post" are phrasing -- framing what we saw in New York yesterday, this kind of glitzy fundraiser with three presidents on the stage, Stephen Colbert, lots of Hollywood stars, versus Donald Trump attending the wake for the slain police officer in New York.

And, you know, I can't help but thinking -- also, we just did a little read on the fact that college costs are now -- there are some Northeastern universities, the tab for it is like $90,000, which seems to underscore to me just how out of reach that kind of thing feels for so many Americans. I'm just curious how you think about this increasing cultural divide in America.

SMERCONISH: Right. And it's amazing, the point you're making. I was just looking at the cover of "The New York Post," which has this split screen on, you know, four presidents in Manhattan -- in New York City for the same day.

The cost of college is crazy, and it's amazing to me how much attention -- and by the way, I'm guilty as charged. I've played this on my own behalf, and for all of our kids, so much attention gets focused on a handful of elite Northeastern universities, where the costs, as you point out, are insane, approaching $100,000 a year, who can afford that, very few among us.

And yet, the real story is one of declining enrollment, lower in the echelon of the ranking of colleges, and I think many in this era of intellectualism, which is what you're referring to, are now questioning the value of an education. And I guess what I'm trying to say is that, as all the attention is heaped at the top, those schools which offer great educations, but are lower rated, less ranked, are struggling, and that's the real issue here.

HUNT: Right. And it's important, because that -- those -- it's those kinds of places, and I mean, community colleges. I will say, you hear a lot of Democrats in Washington talk all the time about community college and community college access, and how -- and also, you know, trade programs, and other things that people have less access to, or which are also struggling.

Michael Smerconish, thank you very much. I really appreciate your time. Everyone needs to watch him tomorrow, 9:00 a.m. Saturday right here on CNN. Hope to see you next week.

All right. Now this, he arrived in office as a GOP star with impressive business acumen. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin was dealt a blow yesterday with the collapse of his plan to move the Washington Wizards and the Capitals from here in D.C., where we're sitting, to Alexandria, Virginia, just down the road.


The demise of this much-touted $2 billion project comes after Virginia's legislature shot down the deal, and this is a pretty significant defeat for a governor who came to office with promises of bipartisan economic development, and by the way, presidential ambitions to go along with them.

My panel is back. Now, look, I want to -- full disclosure. I live in Washington, D.C. The congressman that represents part of the area that would have been significantly impacted by this was just on here saying he thinks it's important for the downtown region here in Washington to retain these two teams. So, we're just -- you know, I'll just put that out there as well.

But that said, this was kind of a big thing for Youngkin.

SINGLETON: It was, it was.

HUNT: Like a huge announcement that this was going to come to Virginia and it collapsed. What happened?

SINGLETON: I mean, economic development, a ton of jobs. You're seeing booming, Alexandria. I live in Arlington. You're seeing a lot of younger people move into those areas. A lot of people move out of D.C. into those areas for affordable housing.

I think this really was a failure for the governor. But I will say this, I am hopeful, and from my understanding, he's looking at other economic opportunities to bring to the Northern Virginia area, some things that if he plans to run in 2028, he could potentially campaign on.

HUNT: Yes. Mark, can we talk for a second though about Mayor Bowser?


HUNT: Who was just --

PRESTON: Bring her on.

HUNT: -- handed like a massive gift. PRESTON: A gift? A huge gift.

HUNT: Because frankly, I mean, the perception for people that are invested in the city here was that she really had messed this up.

PRESTON: Yes, I thought she was in a lot of trouble. And in fact, I though -- found it interesting that Ted Leonsis, you know, who owns all the sports teams, kind of ate some humble pie and came out and said, well, thank you to the mayor for continuing these conversations. They weren't even talking.

And, you know, the economic development we're talking about where they wanted to put this was basically right next to the Pentagon, right next to where Amazon is putting its HQ tube here on the East Coast. That place is exploding right now.

Had that arena left downtown Washington, D.C., that place would have just fallen. It absolutely would have. They needed that anchor for all of those restaurants and bars in downtown D.C., and especially at a time where we're seeing cities deteriorate post-COVID.

HUNT: Yes. Well, so that's kind of my question too about this, Meghan. I mean, the reason that Ted Leonsis, the owner of these teams, had given for leaving was in no small part that -- and I will be real, crime in Chinatown where this arena is located, it is a problem. And he had sort of detailed how he was trying to get the mayor to pay attention to this and that she wouldn't. And this was a big part of the reason why he left.

What do city leaders, the federal government, need to be doing to address what is honestly -- I mean, honestly, D.C. is -- the trend here is worse than it is in a lot of other places. There are many other places where crime is dropping. That is not the case here or in a handful of other big cities.

HAYS: I mean, I think we need to be paying attention and talking to our local businesses and figuring out what makes the most sense. I don't think that affordable housing and some other economic things that are impacting here are being helpful, right. We're pushing a lot of folks out and it's really expensive to live in D.C., just like you were saying, with Arlington being more affordable for housing and people don't want to go into places that are now crime -- you know, that they're afraid that they're going to get carjacked or robbed walking to a game like a Caps game from the metro.

Like, you know, I was at a Caps game a couple of weeks ago in the metro, you -- there's police everywhere just from leaving the arena to the metro and --

HUNT: And that's like a block.

HAYS: Yes, it's like right under --

HUNT: Right there.

HAYS: Like right under the building. HUNT: Yes.

HAYS: And you're sort of -- it makes you even feel more unsafe that there's so much police presence there. So, like there definitely needs to be -- you know, they need to be paying attention. And hopefully, this is a wake-up call for both the mayor and, you know, some different businesses to help the -- with the development.


HUNT: Yes. I mean, Shermichael, how much of an opportunity is crime, specifically here in Washington, for former president Trump's campaign.

SINGLETON: Look, we've seen it lowered nationally for the most part, but he is looking at places like D.C., is talking about his crime written. He's also looking at New York City. I know the place he's talked about and he's attached crime to actually the migrant issue to the effect of saying, I would be better on these issues than the current president.

I do not believe in "defunding the police," which, you know, we know what that phrase really is trying to allude to, it does play well to suburban independent swing voters who are principally concerned about when I go into the city on the weekend, am I safe when I'm out with my family, when I'm out with my spouse? I think it's a legitimate argument.

HUNT: Yes. Well, I am -- yes, I will -- I mean, Mark, last word on this?

PRESTON: It's Friday. It's a holiday weekend. It's been a hell of a hot year so far in Washington. I think that we should all take a step back. And it as we saw in this beautiful conversation today, we may not always agree but we can be agreeable.

HUNT: I guess you can.

PRESTON: God, you put me on the spot, Kasie.

HUNT: I'm sorry. I --

PRESTON: Well done. Well done.

HUNT: I really appreciate it. All right. I will leave you with this. After Baltimore had a rough and emotional start this week, the Orioles gave their city plenty of reasons to cheer.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're buying everybody a beer. It's on us. Let's go.


HUNT: The team's new owners bought around for fans at Pickles Pub. I love Pickles. Nothing goes better with free beer than a dominating win. The Orioles just soared to an 11 to 3 win against the Angels to start their 2024 season.