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Massive Crane Brought in to Remove Bridge Debris; Trump's Team Tries Again to Get Willis Dismissed; April Starts with Storms, Flooding, Record Temperatures; United Flight Diverted Due to Medical Incident, Motion Sickness. Aired 7-8a ET

Aired March 30, 2024 - 07:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN THIS MORNING. It is 7:00 a.m. on the East Coast now. I'm Victor Blackwell alongside Amara Walker and Allison Chinchar. Thank you so much for joining us.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, if you're just waking up, no need to pull up the shades. Your sunshine is right here.

BLACKWELL: It's Easter weekend. We got on our jellybean colors, the full assortment here this morning. Plenty to get to this morning, including new developments in two of Donald Trump's legal cases. Not only does he want the judge to reconsider allowing Fani Willis to stay on the Georgia election case, but he's also fighting the gag order in the New York hush money case.

WALKER: Also, the largest crane on the East Coast has arrived in Baltimore, and work will soon begin to try to lift the wreckage from the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The new plan to try to clear all that debris and how the city is remembering those who died.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And in weather, we begin out west. We've got another system making its way and it's going to bring flooding, very strong winds and also some heavy snow to the west, but then that's all going to shift to the center of the country. So, we'll take a look at that area as well.

BLACKWELL: And another big upset in college basketball, another number one seeded team falls. Carolyn Manno has all of your March Madness highlights, that's coming up.

WALKER: All right, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is moving forward with her election subversion case against Donald Trump after Judge Scott McAfee decided that she could stay on the case.

BLACKWELL: But as expected, Trump and some of his co-defendants have appealed with some choice words for Willis. CNN's Nick Valencia explains when we could get that crucial decision from the appellate court.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Amara, after Judge Scott McAfee granted his certificate for immediate review, we had been anticipating this filing.

But now, it is official. The former President Donald Trump, and eight of his 14 remaining co-defendants, including his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and his former personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, are asking the Georgia Appellate Court to overturn Judge McAfee's decision and remove Fani Willis from this case and here's what they're saying in part of their filing which is scathing: "D.A. Willis has covered herself and her office in scandal and disrepute. The trial court's decision not to disqualify D.A. Willis under these circumstances is a structural error, a violation of the defendant's due process rights and seriously denigrates the public's confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system."

We did reach out to the Fulton County D.A.'s office, but they declined to comment. However, we should wait for their response in writing. A source with knowledge of this process says that the appellate court will have 45 days to make its decision. But of course, all of this underscores just how much the disqualification of Fani Willis still hangs over her head and this case, even as she and her team try to bring the focus back on the criminal charges against the former president and his remaining co-defendants. Victor, Amara.

WALKER: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you. And coming up a little later, we break down what this appeal could mean for the case and whether it might force a delay.

Meanwhile, Willis isn't letting the threat of a possible gag order in this case slow her down.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Recently, they tell me they don't like me to talk about race. Well, I'm going to talk about it anyway. Truth is, there's some challenges that come to being black. And I see so much greatness in this city that has so many great African-American leaders. And I appreciate all of the sacrifice that you all have had to make to be in these positions.


WALKER: Now, Willis spoke at an Atlanta area event last night and appeared to reference an admonishment from Judge Scott McAfee. In his ruling earlier this month, the judge decided that Willis could continue her election subversion case against Donald Trump.

BLACKWELL: But he warned her previous comments were legally improper and could lead to a possible gag order in the future. In January, Willis defended attacks on her then lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade, suggesting he was being targeted because he's a black man. After Judge McAfee's ruling, Wade left the case.

WALKER: The biggest crane on the East Coast is now in place to start removing debris from the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore. Crews are rushing to find the bodies of four construction workers who are still missing right now. The collapse killed six people in all. BLACKWELL: At a vigil Friday night, a local pastor said the tragedy

brought everyone together as they lost members of their community and a piece of the city's history.


ELDER RASHAD A. SINGLETARY, SENIOR PASTOR, MT. OLIVE BAPTIST CHURCH: I have members at this church who have been here for 30, 40 years who sat on this balcony here and watched it be constructed. It's a part of the community. A lot of our individuals from our congregation drive that bridge to go to work. And so now, it's really a life-changing moment.



WALKER: CNN's Michael Yoshida is joining us now from Baltimore. Michael, obviously, this could be a very dangerous mission, especially for those divers. What's the first step in getting all that debris out?

MICHAEL YOSHIDA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Amara. Before we start seeing anything lifted out of the water, we have days of analysis ahead. More than 1,100 engineers here in Baltimore, as well as across the country, taking a look at this wreckage, trying to figure out how to take it apart piece by piece.

Of course, this would be happening on the water and in the water, so you move one piece, cut one piece. How might that shift other parts of this wreckage? And all that work, put in perspective, would be happening just over my right shoulder. You can see further down the highway where this collapse happened.

Once they get a plan for how to attack this removal process, that's where we'll see all of that equipment be put to use. Of course, we saw that massive crane brought in just over the last few days, but in all we're going to see 10 tugboats used as part of this process, also nine barges, eight salvage vessels, five Coast Guard boats, as well as those floating cranes.

Part of the challenge here is we're told there's 3,000 to 4,000 tons of weight of that debris on top of that ship, well that large crane that we've been showing, the Chesapeake 1000, it can lift a thousand tons. So, again, they're going to have to take apart this wreckage to try and start that removal process. We're told once they get to that point, could take several weeks if not longer.

they start to clear everything out of here, we're told by officials, and they'll try and get those divers back in the water, try and find the bodies of those missing construction workers, try and start bringing closure to those families. As for the timeline for the recovery process and trying to get everything built back up, Maryland's governor not quite yet ready to give a timeline on that. Back to you. BLACKWELL: Michael Yoshida, thanks so much. Right now, Donald Trump's lawyers are gearing up for a fight in the New York hush money case against him. His attorneys say they want to file legal briefs to challenge any expansion of a gag order in the case.

WALKER: CNN's Kara Scannell explains why Manhattan prosecutors are asking for clarity on the order.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Victor and Amara. More back and forth over the gag order Judge Juan Merchan imposed on Tuesday in the criminal hush money case. He banned the former president from making any comments about potential witnesses, jurors, court staff, or prosecutors on the case, including the family members of prosecutors and court staff.

And this gag order doesn't apply to the judge or the District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The day after this gag order went into effect, Donald Trump began making posts on his social media platform about the judge calling him compromised and the judge's daughter calling her out by name, saying that she is a Trump hater. The prosecutors wrote to the judge on Thursday saying that they think that Trump violated this gag order by making statements about the judge's daughter, asking the judge to clarify this.

They wrote, "The people believe that the March 26 order is properly read to protect family members of the court, but to avoid any doubt, this court should now clarify or confirm that the order protects family members of the court, the district attorney, and the other individuals mentioned in the order."

Trump's lawyers pushing back, saying that they believe the order is clear and that Trump hasn't violated it. They wrote to the judge to confirm or clarify the meaning of the gag order in the way that people suggest would be to expand it. Trump's lawyers say if the judge is going to consider this, they want an opportunity to file a legal brief on it. It's not clear when the judge will rule or if Donald Trump will continue to make these posts about the judge and his daughter, but this trial is expected to start in two weeks. Amara, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Kara Scannell, thanks so much. This morning, winter weather alerts are in effect over parts of the country. Some areas are dealing with heavy rain, strong winds, and yes, Easter weekend, some folks have snow.

WALKER: Somebody needs to tell them, mother nature, it's almost April. Meteorologist Allison Chinchar is in the CNN Weather Center. Allison, so where are we looking at for this late winter storm?

CHINCHAR: It's going to be a lot of states. And I will say this, I grew up in Ohio. I remember a couple of years making a snow bunny instead of a snowman. So, you know, there's going to be some kids maybe doing the same thing this weekend. Here's a look at where it's raining and snowing right now. You can see a lot of rain right here along the California coast spreading inland. The Sierras, you're looking at pretty intense snow already. That's going to continue as we make our way through the day. There is a flood threat because it's not a very fast-moving system, so it's got a lot of time to dump some rain and that's going to cause some problems, especially from Los Angeles down through San Diego, but that will spread eastward into Arizona. The snow is also going to move eastward, so a lot of these other states are going to places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona also going to see some snow in the coming 24 to 36 hours.

By Monday, the focus becomes the Central U.S. You've still got the snow and even some freezing rain on the northern tier, heavy rain along the front. And then the southern edge, this is where we have the potential for those severe thunderstorms, and that's even going to spread as we head into Tuesday. Now, in terms of the severe weather, it's basically from Texas all the way over towards West Virginia. The main threat skies are going to be damaging winds. The potential for large hail, golf ball size or larger, and yes, even the potential for some tornadoes.


BLACKWELL: Allison Chinchar, thanks so much. A United Airlines flight made an emergency landing after flying through extreme turbulence. Coming up, why there is now more rough air.?

WALKER: Plus, an American journalist has now spent a year unjustly detained in a Russian jail. More on those efforts to secure his release.

BLACKWELL: And a close call for a kayaker pulled out to sea in Alabama. We have more of his amazing rescue.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish there was like a story of like, I caught a giant shark, dragged me out, or I was battling a sea monster, but it was just nature.




BLACKWELL: New this morning seven people injured when a United Airlines flight hit severe turbulence on a flight from Tel Aviv to New Jersey. The flight had to be diverted to upstate New York so that the injured people could get some medical attention.


MICHAEL BIGG, NEW WINDSOR EMS: Multiple people on the plane complaining of nausea, some chest pain from the turbulence. Just an observation, nothing was serious, no major injuries.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WALKER: There were more than 300 people on board when this happened.

And in a statement, United Air said the jet refueled and continued on to Liberty Airport. CNN Transportation Analyst Mary Schiavo is joining us now. Mary, I think a lot of us are now quite familiar with turbulence, but it seems like it's happening more and more. Is that correct, and if so, why?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, you know, the experts are out on that, but it certainly seems so, and the why is because the weather. Weather patterns have been strange, unusual, a lot of rough weather lately, and so we can expect more turbulence. And, you know, the causes vary. I mean, there's some turbulence that's always going to be there. For example, turbulence over mountains and mountain rotors. The wind goes over the mountain and causes turbulence.

Turbulence from rough terrain and the winds blowing up and down from the terrain and around the terrain, they call that convection factors. But here we're looking at (INAUDIBLE) turbulence, turbulence that happens when different weather patterns emerge, when fronts meet each other, when warm air meets cold air. And whenever there's unstable air, you have a real chance of turbulence. Now, you can have unstable air too, but unstable air, what's going on with the extreme weather patterns certainly leads to more turbulence.

And you know, the one thing they always say, they aren't kidding, buckle up, that's your best defense. But this one was pretty severe, but not the most severe. Aviation folks grade turbulence in four levels, light, moderate, severe, and extreme. Now, we know this wasn't extreme because it damages the plane. The plane has to be checked and there have actually been flights, usually over the ocean, where the planes are lost due to damage from turbulence. But this was severe. It can send people to the hospital, make people sick.

Severe turbulence, you could even have momentary lapses of control in the airplane, although that did not appear to happen here. So, tough stuff.

BLACKWELL: Would the pilot have known, or the captain and pilot, have known that severe turbulence was possible, probable? How much fore notice would they have known or had about the turbulence?

SCHIAVO: Unfortunately, a lot of turbulence is what's called clear air turbulence and your onboard weather radar and even other weather radars is reported, of course, from air traffic control, can't tell you that. Often the best reports and the most heads up you get are reports from other pilots, pilots that have gone through the air, through the area just before you.

And they report you and they make pilot reports and then air traffic control will pass those reports on and they're also transmitted electronically, will pass those on to the pilot. But if a pilot before you and soon before you, because this turbulence can move and these weather patterns can move very quickly. Unless one has reported it ahead of you, you may not know it. That's why it's called clear air turbulence. You're not going to see it on your radar. WALKER: So, you said that bad turbulence could cause damage to an airplane. So, then my question is to you, you know, regarding safety, right? Because when I'm on an airplane, and I'm a pretty decent flyer in terms of not getting too scared, but when it starts to shake really bad, I will hold my neighbor's hand. I don't care if I know you or not. I mean, should we be worried when it gets that bad in terms of safety?

SCHIAVO: No, not usually. The instances where turbulence has caused damage to the aircraft, there was one, and I forget which airline it was over the Pacific a number of years back, where they actually had to scrap the plane, the turbulence was so bad, but people live. But ordinarily known, I used to teach aviation in university and I had this video that I got from a manufacturer and they, in certification process, had to flex the wings to the point of where they break.

And the video showed that in the testing, they flex the wings not quite straight up and down, but almost straight up and down, not quite a 90-degree angle, but you know a good 45, 50-degree angle up from straight and level, and those wings held tight and they did not break until those extreme deflections. So, you're pretty safe even, even regardless of the level of turbulence and even in that instance where there was extreme turbulence, the wings did not break.


WALKER: OK. Well, inside is a different story, isn't it?

SCHIAVO: That's right.

WALKER: Mary Schiavo, thanks so much!

SCHIAVO: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: You reaching out just holding folk's hands?

WALKER: I actually have done that before. I flew through to Florida years ago and it was Hurricane Dennis or Tropical Storm Dennis at the time, and I don't think the plane should have been flying, but I remember it shaking so bad, the lights were going out, people were screaming, and I was holding the woman's hand next to me. And I was crying. So, yes, I will do that. You're like, I'm never sitting next to you on a flight.

BLACKWELL: No, no, no, I mean, if you did, I'd hold your hand because I know you.

WALKER: Yes, exactly. Well, it is the latest showdown between former President Trump and Fulton County District Attorney, Fani Willis. Still ahead, our legal expert weighs in on Trump's latest push to get Willis kicked off the election subversion case.

BLACKWELL: And it was gone in a matter of minutes, the deadly Baltimore bridge collapse, clues that are catching the eye of a former NTSB investigator. He joins us straight ahead on CNN THIS MORNING.



WALKER: Right now, a massive crane is waiting to remove thousands of tons of debris in the wake of that bridge collapse in Baltimore. The collapse killed six construction workers, four of their bodies have not yet been found. Joining us now is former NTSB Marine Accident Investigator, Thomas Roth-Roffy. Thomas, I appreciate your time. What is the priority right now in the investigation? Is it analyzing the data from the black box? Is it interviewing those people, especially those who are on board the ship as quickly as possible?

THOMAS ROTH-ROFFY, FORMER NTSB MARINE ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR: Yes, good morning. Normally, the priority in our investigations is to get the perishable evidence first. And that includes witness interviews to make sure that, you know, the recollections of the events on the ship at the time of the accident are not faded away or not contaminated by speaking with others. So, that's normally the top priority. And of course, also to get the older recorded data from the vessel that may be lost.

WALKER: You, obviously, have a lot of experience, you know, investigating these kinds of accidents. I don't know if it's of this scale, but in terms of how this could possibly happen, because when you look at the video of this ship crashing into the bridge, you see that it loses power, then it looks like the generator powers back on, and then it crashes into the bridge, and I understand that the propulsion was lost as well. What could cause such a power outage and loss of control of the ship?

ROFFY: Yes, so from the video and the information we have so far from the voyage data recorder, it seems like there was a total power loss throughout the ship, principally electrical power, which then will cause the main propulsion diesel engine to shut down as well. And without any electrical power on the ship, basically nothing works. You can't turn the engine, you can't steer the ship. So, you're basically just drifting.

WALKER: But what could cause a power outage?

ROFFY: Power outages result from a malfunction of any component on the electrical generator. The electrical generators are diesel engine driven devices, so with any internal combustion engine, any fault, whether it be a fuel oil, lube oil leak, any type of cooling water leak, significant enough to result in safety shutdown of the engine would result in loss of electrical power.

Now, normally they would have a standby generator standing by or running in parallel to pick up the load immediately. However, if there is a significant failure, then all of the propulsion -- excuse me, all the electrical generating power could be lost throughout the ship. And then, as we saw in a video, it was quickly restored and then for some unknown reason, it was lost again.

WALKER: Well, obviously, it'll be interesting to find out what exactly caused this so that this does not happen again in the future so that can be avoided. Tom Roth-Roffy, thank you.

BLACKWELL: Donald Trump has not given up on trying to get Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis kicked off the Georgia election interference case. Defense lawyers for Trump and his co-defendants asked the Georgia Court of Appeals Friday to overturn the recent ruling allowing Willis to stay on the case. Nathan Wade, the lead prosecutor on that case, resigned as special prosecutor after the judge's ruling that either Wade or Willis had to step aside from the case after a romantic relationship between the two was made public.

Joining me now is CNN Legal Analyst Michael Moore, former U.S. Attorney. Michael, let's start here with the legitimate grounds for appeal on this decision, are there any?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm glad to be with you. There's a real question about that. Remember, this is an intermediate appeal and the judge, the trial judge had to give the defendant permission to take it up to the court of appeals. So, they're challenging whether or not Ms. Willis should have been removed to fix the problem, not just Mr. Wade. But there may be a sleeper issue in here. And that's sort of this idea of this forensic conflict of interest.

And while the defendants may not have connected the dots about the monetary interest, now there is this issue about her comments at the church. And whether or not that somehow may have tainted the jury pool have placed a conflict there. That may be something that we see one of the judges grabbed ahold to is they think about the appeal.

They have a right to appeal, and a lot of this is just about protect -- perfecting the record, to keep the appellate record hold if there's ever a conviction, so they could appeal it. But this, this is a normal part of the process. It's just unique, because we're talking about a former president.

BLACKWELL: Now, the comments of the church you're talking about when D.A. Willis said that -- or suggested that they are going after her because he's a black man.

MOORE: That's right. I mean, and so, whether or not, sometimes there is an idea that those kinds of comments would be cured in jury selection. That you would just ask jurors, did you hear this? Is that -- does it have any impact on what you think about the case? The problem with that is that there is sort of been this massive news cycle about the case, there is been these comments that have now been out there. And there's really no question that there may have been some jurors, prospective jurors that have heard this.

It's the same reason we're talking about gag orders in other places, because they talk about protecting the sanctity of the jury pool. Well, the question is, did these comments -- and did these comments have some impact or potential impact on jurors who might be chosen to hear the case?

BLACKWELL: I'm going to get to that gag order in just a moment. But just to button this up, does this -- we know that the Trump mission is to delay. MOORE: Right.

BLACKWELL: Does this delay the trial?

MOORE: There is no question it delays the trial. I mean, I think this is just another piece of evidence that tells us that this case is not going to be heard, likely before the election. You know, the court has about 45 days to make a decision on whether or not they will accept the appeal.

There will be a briefing scheduled and there might be some argument. So, you know that delays it.

But even if they don't accept it, you know, the defendants can ask the Supreme Court to hear it, Supreme Court of the state to hear it. And all of this just drags things out. I think it also sort of puts the brakes on in the judges' mind about setting a trial date. Because why would you set a trial date, it's almost like a fool's errand until you have this issue and the issue that's now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. That would be it on presidential immunity.

Why would you set a trial date without some certainty about whether or not you could actually move forward?

BLACKWELL: Let's talk now about the New York hush money case. And this is where we're talking about that gag order. Trump's attorneys say the Manhattan prosecutors are trying to expand the gag order that was set this week. What the prosecutors have asked for is they want clarity.

They want some clarification to say when you said that there couldn't be statements against the witnesses and the attorneys and the court staff, did you also mean the court and family members? Because the day after the gag order, Trump attack the judge and his daughter?

Is it clear? One way or the other, if it does, and would it be egregious if there is some expansion to include the judge and his daughter?

MOORE: Yes. I think it likely as it is written does not include the judge and his daughter.

I think it was a mighty silly move on Trump's part to do this. But I mean, why would you take on a judge and his family, the judge expects to hear your case. It makes no sense to me. But he is sort of campaigned off of these things.

Anyway. As far as expanding it, probably what would happen is the judge would hear some argument or at least allow them some short, expedited, brief -- briefing period to say, look, we should expand it because these are things.

But remember, I think judges too, and prosecutors are probably like this, you have to develop some amount of thick skin. So, as it relates to you, I don't think the judge would care too much as it relates maybe to the specific prosecutor, the judge may not care too much as it relates to family members, potential witnesses, possible jurors, then. that's the kind of thing I think that will get the court's attention.

Wouldn't surprise me to see there be some expansion, but not without at least a chance to be heard.

BLACKWELL: All right. Michael Moore, thanks.

MOORE: Yes, good to be with you.

BLACKWELL: All right.

A full year behind bars in Russia. No trial, no evidence made public.

Coming up, the calls to release American journalist Evan Gershkovich.

It is the untold story of the mission that changed spaceflight forever. The new CNN original series, "SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA: The Final Flight. Premieres Sunday, April 7th at 9:00 p.m., on CNN.



WALKER: It's a grim anniversary for Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich.

It has now been one year and one day since he was locked up in a Moscow prison for alleged espionage.

BLACKWELL: Russia has yet to show any evidence to support the allegations against him, which Gershkovich, and his employer in the state department have all strongly denied.

He's also the first U.S. journalist since the Cold War to face the kinds of charges.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports now from Moscow.


It has indeed been a year since Evan Gershkovich was detained here in Russia on charges of espionage. But the Wall Street Journal report, seems no closer to freedom. Despite the growing criticism of the Kremlin and increasing pressure from US officials, his employer, his friends, and his family.


CHANCE (voice over): This was our latest brief glimpse of Evan Gershkovich, appearing in a Moscow court this week.

In the past, we've been kicked out to the courtroom.

CHANCE: You can see Evan Gershkovich is in there. Hi, Matthew, from CNN.

Is that you holding up all right?



CHANCE: OK. What do you want us to do?

CHANCE (voice-over): This time, journalists weren't even allowed in as the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter on espionage charges was extended for another three months.

Outside, the U.S. ambassador marked a bleak anniversary.

LYNNE TRACY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: This verdict to further prolong Evan's detention feels particularly painful, as this week marks the one-year anniversary since Evan was arrested and wrongfully detained in Yekaterinburg for simply doing his job as a journalist.

The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction.

CHANCE (voice-over): But incarceration behind the walls of Lefortovo prison in Moscow is a grim fact. U.S. officials say they're negotiating with Moscow for his release, even the Kremlin confirmed this week contacts on a prisoner swap are continuing.

For the Russian president, the 32-year-old American newspaper reporter is a tradable asset.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): We are willing to solve it. But there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached.

CHANCE (voice-over): And this is who Putin has hinted he wants in return. Vadim Krasikov, a Russian operative, jailed in Germany for killing a Chechen dissident in a public park. So far, the Germans have been reluctant to set him free.

But the Kremlin knows painful agreements have been reached in the past.

In 2022, U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, convicted of possessing cannabis in Russia was swapped for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trafficker.

PAUL WHELAN, DETAINEE: I want to tell the world that I'm a victim of political kidnap and ransom.

CHANCE (voice-over): Russia's also holding other Americans, among them former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, convicted of espionage and jailed since 2018. U.S. officials have designated Whelan and Gershkovich as unlawfully detained.

TRACY: If the Kremlin has any desire to salvage Russia's integrity and international esteem, they should do what is right and release Evan and Paul immediately.


CHANCE (voice-over): But the Kremlin may want more than just integrity and esteem in exchange for its most valuable bargaining chips.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, President Biden issued a statement on Friday, condemning again, the Russian detention of Evan Gershkovich, calling it wholly unjust and illegal.

He also addressed Paul Whelan and other Americans who he said were held hostage pledging we will never stop working to bring you home.

Victor, Amara, back to you.

WALKER: All right. Matthew Chance, appreciate it.

Let's switch gears a little bit now and talk about March Madness, which wouldn't be March Madness without an upset. We have highlights, including N.C. State's stunning win last night over Marquette.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- out there for the (INAUDIBLE).




BLACKWELL: Yes, it is officially springtime. But some parts of the country are still going through some winter storms.

WALKER: Yes, Allison Chinchar is back with us. OK, where are we talking about?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's really going to be all over, over the next course of a few days. And I mean, Mother Nature is really throwing in everything but the kitchen sink here in the next couple of days.

We start across California. Right now, you've got the heavy rain along the coast and also some pretty heavy snow once you start getting into the Sierras. But this is going to continue to spread eastward. So, in the short term, the biggest concern is going to be flooding, basically stretching from Los Angeles down through San Diego. But that's going to spread eastward into Arizona as we go later on into the day. Winds, also up around 50 to 60 miles per hour are going to be a concern today.

And also notice too, it's the snow that's going to spread eastward as well. So, even states like Utah, Colorado, Arizona, also going to get some snow out of this system. By the time we get to Monday, the central U.S. becomes the focus. We're still talking all the same elements. You've got snow to the north, very heavy rain along the front. But now a new component. The severe weather is going to start to show up along the southern tier of the U.S. you've got some very warm temperatures down there.

Some of them even record breaking. Laredo, Texas could hit 101 on Monday, that's their normal high for mid-July. But that's going to be one of the ingredients that helps fuel a lot of the severe weather and that's going to be the focus Monday from Texas all the way over towards West Virginia.

You're talking damaging winds, large hail that could be golf ball size or larger, and yes, even the potential for some tornadoes as well.

WALKER: Did you say 101?


WALKER: As in 101 degrees in Texas. Wow.


WALKER: All right. Allison Chinchar and some wild weather. Thank you.

Another top seed crashes out of the men's NCAA Tournament. Number one Houston loses to Duke in a nail biter.

BLACKWELL: Carolyn Manno joins us now from New York with more.

Duke had the good fortune of being paired up against some underdogs early on, but they still got it done here.

CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you need a little bit of luck in this tournament. You guys know that. You need to be playing well at the right time. But they have gotten a couple of things that have really broken their way. And we're used to this team making a deep run in the tournament, because they've made it to the Sweet 16 in 19 in the last 25 seasons, but they've never done it with former player Jon Scheyer, who replaced the legendary Coach K two years ago.

This was a really scary moment in the first half of this game when Houston's all American point guard Jamal Shead turns his ankle while driving to the basket. He left a game, he did not return, he is such an incredible player that, that opened the door for the Blue Devils in their big man, Kyle Filipowski.

Houston managed to keep this close. So, Cougars got the ball back with a chance to tie in the final seconds.


But Emanuel Sharp coming up short on the straightaway three. So, Duke holding on to win 54-51, despite a season low in points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JON SCHEYER, HEAD COACH, DUKE: Any questions about their mental toughness or any questions about their heart, you know, I think they answered that tonight.

KYLE FILIPOWSKI, CENTER, DUKE: just seeing the togetherness, the how we didn't quit out there tonight that really does show the growth from last year. I mean, we remember how upset we were from last year and we didn't want to repeat that again.

MANNO (voice over): So, let the celebrations begin. Duke advancing to the 24th Elite Eight appearance in the program's history. They will face a familiar foe tomorrow night, Their ACC rivals North Carolina State, the 11 seeded Wolfpack, continuing what most would view as a very unlikely run, beating Marquette, 67-58 last night,

N.C. State's now won eight games in a row since the start of the conference tournament, which they had to win to be a part of March Madness. It's been an incredible run.

D.J. HOME, GUARD, NORTH CAROLINA STATE: It's magical, but I'm going to say that we knew this from the date from day one. And we knew we were a good team. It was all a matter of just locking in and understanding our roles and you know no better time to be doing that than now.


MANNO: Playing with a lot of confidence. The Men's Elite Eight tipping up tonight on our sister channel TBS, Illinois, and top seeded UConn, getting things started just after 6:00 Eastern, followed by Clemson and Alabama just before nine.

NC State's women's team also continues to show up in the biggest of moments, taking out the number two seed, Stanford by 10 points last night to advance the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons. The Wolfpack celebrating the win with a water bottle celebration in the locker room before they turn their attention to a date with top seeded Texas tomorrow afternoon.

All eyes are obviously going to be on Iowa, and their superstar Caitlin Clark as well, when they take on Colorado later this afternoon.

College basketball is all time leading scorer making headlines earlier this week after receiving an offer from Ice Cube to play in his Big Three League. Now, according to TMZ, the deal worth about $5 million for just 10 games that she would be a part of. But yesterday, she told reporters that this was really news to her as well.


CAITLIN CLARK, IOWA GUARD: To be honest, I found out about the Big Three thing that same exact time you all did. I honestly don't talk about those things with really anybody. You know, I've -- other people that deal with it and they haven't said a word to me about it. And my main focus is on this team and, you know helping us find a way to be Colorado. And hopefully, win one -- another one after that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MANNO: Smarter for team, Victor and Amara, to kind of keep her shielded from everything that she's being offered at this time of the year and they've had a couple of times where they've been tested in the tournament so far, and Colorado is no slouch. So, it's going to be exciting this afternoon.

BLACKWELL: Yes, focus on the game in front of you. Carolyn Manno, thanks so much.

WALKER: -- Carolyn. She is such a superstar, isn't she?

Still to come, a kayaker pushed out to sea and last four hours. We will have more on the rescue after the break.



BLACKWELL: A former college quarterback has been rescued after being lost at sea for 11 hours. And the Coast Guard was able to locate Chris Smelley off the Gulf Coast of Florida, Thursday evening.

WALKER: Yes. Smelley, who once played for the University of South Carolina, told CNN affiliate WBRC that he set out that morning for a solo fishing trip in a kayak. Well, he was pulled up into the rescue chopper as you see there, just as the sun was going down.


CHRIS SMELLEY, FORMER COLLEGE QUARTERBACK: There were some times where especially as the sun started going down. And I'd seen the rescue helicopters fly over me pretty close by a few times, but didn't see me. That I was like, oh my gosh, I am about to spend the night out here in the -- in the ocean.


WALKER: Well, Smelley's wife was the one who called the Coast Guard and she told the local affiliate WBRC that she was upset, but in a "loving way". Lucky man.

Well, the CNN podcast, "FIVE THINGS" now has a Saturday edition on five good things. You could take a breather from the headlines and hear all the uplifting stories across the world. Listen, wherever you get your podcasts.

All right. "FIRST OF ALL WITH VICTOR BLACKWELL" is up next. What do you have coming up, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Packed show, you know, an issue that's important to a lot of people, especially politically in election year is crime. Well, now a team of black mayors, they are coming together to take it on.

Days before they met, the mayor organizing the coalition was a victim of crime himself. He will join me.

Plus, in Los Angeles, there is a bill to get reparations for Latino families kicked out of their homes. Their land is now the site of Dodger Stadium. So, I'm going to speak with a member of one of those families fighting for acknowledgement of what they lost.

And then, there is Beyonce.

WALKER: Do you see that smile?

BLACKWELL: Is so good. I mean, there is so many good songs and so much history. A rising star in country who sings on two tracks on the album. He's going to be with us. We'll talk about what it means for her and the other black women country singers who were on that album.

WALKER: You know what I was thinking about when I was watching you on T.V. yesterday wearing a Stetson hat?

BLACKWELL: I was like there is a Taylor Swift correspondent. You need to be the Beyonce correspondent.

BLACKWELL: I'll take it. Listen. Added to the list. Added to the list.

WALKER: Well, we have a great show, Victor. I will be watching.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. Let's start the show right now.

So, FIRST OF ALL, if you are trying to wrap your head around, all the headlines surrounding Diddy right now, a lot of people are.


BLACKWELL: Sean Diddy Combs, Puff Daddy Brother Love.

We've watched him for three decades now, producing and performing and running several businesses. Well, now, he is the target of a federal investigation into human trafficking.