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Erin Burnett Outfront

New Video From Deep Inside Ship, Close-Up Of Decimated Bridge; Awaiting Georgia Judge's Ruling On Trump's Push To Dismiss Charges; Russia: "Ukrainian Nationalists" Funded Attack, Ukraine Denies It; Campaign: Biden Holds Biggest Money-Making Political Event Ever. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 19:00   ET




Breaking news, new video just into OUTFRONT from onboard the massive cargo ship that crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge. And for the first time, we are seeing what it looks like deep inside that vessel.

Plus, Russia tonight claiming Ukraine paid for the deadly terror attack in Moscow, and it comes as CNN has new reporting about what Putin knew exactly in the days leading up to the attack. A special report from Moscow ahead.

And live pictures from New York. Biden and Obama together again, about to hold a fundraiser that has already pulled in $25 million. And we have new numbers about a surprising group of voters that have been loyal to Biden and could be key to a win in November.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news. We have brand new video just into OUTFRONT from on board that massive cargo ship. Here you can see hazardous material, investigators and engineers from the NTSB inspecting the ship.

They're also surveying the damage from the Key Bridge's steel that came crashing down. You can see the debris on the deck. It's actually 3,000 to 4,000 tons of steel that is sitting on top of the ship.

And for the first time, we have video from deep inside the vessel. You can take a look at the damage there. Parts of the ship shredded like paper.

You remember that at least 56 containers on the ship contain hazardous materials and according to officials, 13 were impacted. And what you see here are NTSB investigators in the bridge of the ship, downloading the vessel voyage data recorder, information that could reveal what happened moments before the ship slammed into the bridge.

This as new video that comes as a barge able to lift the thousand tons is heading to the scene, along with other vessels. It is not only a huge undertaking, but also one that must be done with extreme care. It is believed that there could still be four bodies trapped in that debris.

There's also new details about the crew of the ship. OUTFRONT spoke with the director of Apostleship of the Sea. It's an organization that provides assistance to international crews. And he tells us that he spoke to the crew three times today. He says they're all still on the ship and have been there since the incident.

CNN also learning at least one of the crew members was injured during the crash and had to be taken to the hospital for stitches. And tonight, an incredible story of luck, a construction worker who is supposed to be on the key bridge the night of the crash, telling CNN he requested a last-minute shift change that night. He says that decision saved his life and we'll have more on his story coming up.

Brian Todd and Danny Freeman are both OUTFRONT live for us in Baltimore.

And I want to start with you, Brian. Tell us more about this incredible glimpse that we're getting from the investigation onboard the Dali tonight.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Brianna, this is an extraordinary glimpse of really the point of impact of the Dali at the point where it struck the bridge. And this is video handed out to us by the NTSB just a short time ago, really, some dramatic video of investigators walking around and surveying the bow of the ship. This is the bow, the front of the ship that struck, the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

And you can see these investigators coming around there. They're right underneath some of this wreckage. It's very dramatic. You really have not seen images that are this close to the point of impact.

My team and I were on a boat a couple of days ago and we got to within a few hundred yards of the ship. We had a very dramatic view of the point of impact, but it was not like this. This is extraordinarily close. We were fortunate to be able to have this video shared with us by the NTSB just to shorten time ago.

And again, you can just see the dramatic damage, the wreckage there, several tons of metal and concrete draped over the bow of the Dali.

There's some other video that they shared with us as well, where you see some investigators up into what an area that appears to be either the bridge or an area similar to the bridge of the ship. And they are looking at some screens. There appears there may be downloading some data.

We do know that they have recovered the voyage recorder and have analyzed that. And from that voyage recorder, they've -- the NTSB has given us this really dramatic timeline of how this accident unfolded early Tuesday morning.


And without going through each bullet point of that timeline, what I can tell you is that they told us that it -- excuse me -- it was less than five minutes from the time the first alarm sounded at close to 1:30 in the morning to the point of impact or the point where the pilot reported the bridge down.

I mean, it was an extraordinary amount of time. There was only there were only a couple of minutes between the time that the pilot called in that dramatic mayday call and the point of impact. And when you think of that, and then you see some of this video again, we can show you hopefully of the close-up of this damage and the force with which this vessel hit the bridge -- I mean, it was so fortunate that those few minutes were able a couple of minutes were able to elapse and law enforcement and other authorities were able to shut down that bridge and prevent any automobiles or trucks from coming onto the bridge then.

Again, it was 1:30 in the morning and maybe the traffic wouldn't be too heavy. But there is still considerable traffic on the bridge at all times.

So again, when you see this video showing the force of impact there, Brianna, it is really, really extraordinary. And as far as the video that we can show you, the live picture we can show you, I'm going to step out of the frame here for a second and our photojournalists, Joe Merkel is going to train our cameras onto one of the vessels here.

That is the Palanca Rio (ph), that is a chemical and oil tanker that has been stranded here for days and its going to be stranded here for several more days or weeks, along with 11 other vessels, including three bulk carriers and an automobile carrier.

So that's' one of the ships that stranded here. They're going to be here for weeks. The governor just said this is not going to be a quick recovery effort -- Briana.

KEILAR: Yeah, certainly is not.

Brian, thank you so much for that.

OUTFRONT now, Mary Schiavo, former inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Ian Ralby, who's a maritime law and security expert.

Mary, we have this new video tonight, quite extraordinary, of NTSB investigators on the Dali cargo ship. And they're inspecting hazardous materials, they're gathering data.

I know you've been able to watch this video. Tell us what stands out to you?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST: Well, what stands out is already they've been able to make a lot of inroads, the NTSB has been able to make inroads and telling us what happened. The why is going to come later, but we now know there was just one minute and 29 seconds from the mayday to get the people off the bridge.

We know that once the power went out, the data recorder did stop recording many parameters, but they were able to tell the speed of the ship when it hit the bridge, seven knots, eight miles an hour and that they do have positioning of the rudder that was still recorded. And of course they had all the voice data that they still have.

So, that's a good bit of info formation that they have to work with. And they are in the process of downloading and getting all the other information that they can get from the bridge, from anywhere else on the ship, from any other recordings are cameras and starting their work in interviewing all of the ship crew and the river pilots. That will be a very important part.

So even with the rudimentary data, they have, we have a timeline. We know what happened. We know the speed.

The why is going to be much more difficult. They have an even began to release any information on what happened to the ship while it was in dark before it left and enter the channel. That's going to have to come a little bit later, and that's going to help us understand why, rather than just what happened.

KEILAR: Yeah, certainly. There's video that we've seen, right. It shows the power outage before the crash. All of the lights going out there. We see it right there.

I know that you think the likely is caused could actually be a problem with the ship's computers. Explain what you're thinking.

IAN RALBY, MARITIME LAW AND SECURITY EXPERT: Well, I think we have to keep a very open aperture as to the question of why there are a lot of unknowns and we should be asking a huge number of questions right now. And a lot of people can take this as an opportunity to get to understand the maritime domain and the maritime industry a lot better, as we start to recognize just how critically important it is to our life on land.

But what we have to look at are at least three key hypotheses as to what happened.

The first is that there's some sort of mechanical or electrical issue perhaps because of maintenance, perhaps because of a human error on board the ship. And that's possible.

The second one is that there's a problem with the fuel that was on board the ship. Also possible, probably the least likely, but we have seen this issue come up in the past in 2018, there were quite a few ships that went dead out of the port of Houston, Singapore, Rotterdam, some key ports because of bad bunker fuel.

But the third is that there's some problem with the control systems on the ship, and that points to a cyber problem. It isn't clear whether that cyber problem is either unintentional or intentional but we have to again keep a very wide open mind about this to see what really did occur and why it occurred. [19:10:02]

KEILAR: Do you think investigators are keeping the aperture wide enough as they're looking?

RALBY: I hope so. And I certainly would assume that the likes of the Coast Guard with whom I worked very closely, and NTSB would be doing that. But I think we need to be careful as a wider public not to jump to too many conclusions. And we did here a statement from the government right out the -- the morning of the incident that there was no malicious intent that was indicated, and that is probably a very fair statement regarding the crew and pilots onboard the ship. They did an amazing amount of work to try to warn people and prevent that disaster from occurring.

But that isn't necessarily true from outside actors. And we need to just be, be careful about assuming too many things at the outset of an investigation of something that is so critically important to our national economy and our national security.

KEILAR: Mary, what do you think?

SCHIAVO: Well, I think what's going to happen next and the and the NTSB does its work by dividing all the different things that it has to do up to committees. They've got a nautical operations committee at human performance and engineering and highway and bridge engineering, survival factors or records group.

But they all so have the ops group which was gathering literally every record concerning that ship. What happened to that ship when it was in port. And there have been I -- the NTSB has not confirmed the reports, but there were reports of mechanical problems in port, in the harbor when it was docked. And they will go through all over those things that a lot will be told in the records as they get and pore through those records of the maintenance and the oversight of the ship. There'll be an awful lot revealed, not just about the computers and the cyber, but about the overall health and the maintenance records of that ship.

What happened while it was in port, that's going to be a very important thing.

KEILAR: Yeah, no doubt key.

Mary Schiavo, Ian Ralby, thank you to both of you.

And we are learning new details tonight about the two people who survived this terrifying bridge collapse, and two other individuals who by a stroke of good fortune missed the catastrophe by just minutes.

Danny Freeman is OUTFRONT live from Baltimore.

Danny, what is the latest that you're learning about what is truly an unbelievable story of human survival? DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Briana, the more than were out here, the more than we learn about not only these of survival, but also, you mentioned that those stories that are close calls as well. I mean, when you look at this bridge behind me, or what's left of this bridge behind me, you can imagine that enormous drop, those bitterly cold waters below that violent collapse. And despite all of that, two people who are on that bridge survived.


FREEMAN (voice-over): It's a miraculous story of survival. We're learning new details about the construction worker who fell more than 185 feet into the water and lived.

Jeffrey Pritzker, the executive vice president of Brawner Builders, says the Mexican national who worked for the company likely survived by swimming before being rescued by first responders. The man was treated at the University of Maryland Medical Centers Shock Trauma Center, but was released hours after the collapse.

Pritzker added the worker is, quote, very, very upset. He does have injuries and I understand he's very stressed out and is suffering from stress.

A fellow worker from Brawner Builders told CNN Thursday, the team likely would have been on their brick at the time of the impact. That worker saying he requested a last-minute shift change ahead of Tuesday, likely saving his life.

However, less is known about the second survivor who Pritzker said was not part of their construction team.

At Wednesday night's press conference, Maryland's Governor Wes Moore said he's spoken with a survivor who narrowly escaped with his life.

GOV. WES MOORE (D), MARYLAND: One of the survivors who I had the opportunity to speak with -- one of the things he mentioned to me was as he was moving off of the bridge and literally saw the bridge fall right after he moved off it was because it was a first responder who was telling him to move off the bridge.

FREEMAN: CNN has requested more information about this survivor from the governor's office and the Maryland Transportation Authority. Reporters asked exactly how those on the bridge were notified to get off as the vessel crashed.

MOORE: Well, I think we'll find out via investigation what exactly happened. I know that the one person I spoke with, he said it was audibly, that the officer was telling him to move off.

FREEMAN: We're also hearing a story from a driver who was stopped from entering the bridge just in time.

GAYLE FAIRMAN, UBER DRIVER WHO NARROWLY AVOIDED BRIDGE COLLPASE: In all honesty, if my passenger wasn't a little bit late coming out to the car and getting into it, we probably very well could have been on the bridge when it collapsed. We were that close.

FREEMAN: This comes as we continue to learn more about those workers presumed and confirmed dead.

Twenty-six-year-old Dorlian Castillo Cabrera's body was found in a submerged pickup truck below the wreckage Wednesday morning. He was an immigrant from Guatemala who loved his construction job.

Thirty-five-year-old, Alejandro Hernandez Fuentes, a Mexican national, was also found in the truck next to Castillo.


Miguel Luna was a father of three, an immigrant from El Salvador who lived in Maryland for 19 years.

And Maynor Yassir Suazo Sandoval was a Honduran national, a husband and father other of two.

Luna and Sandoval are presumed dead.

CARLOS SUAZO SANDOVAL, BROTHER OF WORKER KILLED ON BRIDGE (through translator): He was the breadwinner for his children right now. God is going to provide for us, too, so we can get together as a family and see how we can help each other because at this moment, his wife is left with his girl and everything.


FREEMAN (on camera): Now, one of the thing, Brianna, than I'll note that were learning this evening from Mexican officials is that that worker that we mentioned at the top of the piece who survived the collapse and was rescued, he's actually related to two other victims. So that means that three of the eight people who are on that bridge, when it comes collapsed earlier this week, were all family members, two died, one survived -- Brianna.

KEILAR: No wonder he is beside himself.

Danny Freeman live for us in Baltimore, thank you for that report.

OUTFRONT next, a major ruling on whether former President Trump's Georgia election case is tossed out could come at any moment. This as Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis did not appear in court today. So, why?

Plus, new reporting that Putin knew of ISIS-K's plan to attack just days before the massacre. So why did he dismiss it?

A former Russian lawmaker who served under Putin is OUTFRONT tonight.

And where is Melania Trump? She was not at Trump side during his victory three party at their own home at Mar-a-Lago. So will she join her husband at all during the upcoming campaigning? We'll have some new reporting.



KEILAR: Tonight, we're awaiting a major ruling from the Fulton County judge on whether the Georgia election subversion case against Donald Trump is thrown out. Trump trying to claim there is no case because false claims about who won the election is still protected as free speech. Prosecutors rejecting that argument in the first appearance of District Attorney Fani Willis's team since the judge ruled Willis can stay on the case.

And it comes just days after Willis warn Trump, quote, the train is coming and that the trial will still happen before the election.

Nick Valencia is OUTFRONT.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump's criminal case in Georgia back underway. Trump's attorney in the sprawling racketeering case arguing in court that the indictment must be thrown out.

STEVE SADOW, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Statements, comments, speech, expressive conduct that deals with campaigning or elections has always been found to be at the zenith of protected speech.

VALENCIA: Steve Sadow objecting to the charges against Trump, arguing his client was protected by the First Amendment when he spread lies and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election being stolen.


VALENCIA: Noticeably absent from Thursday's pretrial motions hearing, Fani Willis, who spoke out Saturday at a community event.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I'm not embarrassed by anything I've done.

VALENCIA: The Fulton County D.A. narrowly survived staying on the case after more than two months of hearings and court filings on an effort to disqualify her over her romantic relationship with the former lead prosecutor on the case, Nathan Wade.

WILLIS: I do think that there are efforts to slow down this train, but the train is coming.

VALENCIA: But today, the focus was back on the facts of the case. In the first hearing since those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, her team, minus the recently resigned Wade arguing Trump was not being charged for lying, but rather because the lies he told incited a crime under Georgia law.

DONALD WAKEFORD, FULTON COUNTY PROSECUTOR: An act which is illegal because it does harm to the government. There's nowhere to go because all of these features pled as integral criminal conduct and therefore, it's not protected by the First.

VALENCIA: Attorneys for Trump co-defendant, David Shafer, also argued to get his charges dismissed. The former Georgia GOP chair was charged with multiple counts, including for impersonating a public official when he and others showed up to the Georgia capital in December 2020 to act as so-called fake electors for Trump. Shafer's attorneys argued the term should be dropped calling it, quote, really nasty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a just a pejorative statement.

VALENCIA: Shafer argues he was not participating in a shady scheme when he tried to cast a vote as an elector, saying Trump won the 2020 election in Georgia. Instead, he argues he was simply following novel legal advice to give his candidate legal options to challenge the election.


VALENCIA (on camera): The court ended without a decision and the judge gave no indication as to when he would give one. It is very important to note that other co-defendants had previously tried to make First Amendment arguments and failed. Now that this case is back on track, there are still very big questions that remain, and perhaps the most important one is, will Fani Willis be able to get an August trial date like she's hoping? Brianna?

KEILAR: Certainly. Nick Valencia, thank you for that.

OUTFRONT now, Ryan Goodman, our OUTFRONT legal expert, and Geoff Duncan, former Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia.

Ryan, any chance that the Trump team's First Amendment argument could prevail here?

RYAN GOODMAN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL AT DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Very, very, very unlikely. So the argument is not as strong one the prosecutors definitely have the upper hand. Their argument is not just that these are false statements, but they are intentional false statements made to government official and the like. And that's at the core of criminality. So that's not at the core of the First Amendment.

And, the federal judge in the overlapping January 6 case in that instance, already addressed these issues and in a well regarded opinion dismiss these First Amendment arguments. I have every expectation that Judge McAfee will fall on the same line.

KEILAR: Yes, that's what I've been hearing for most -- from all legal experts that I've spoken with today.

And, Jeff, you have been clear that Trump was trying to overturn an election he lost fair and square the heart of this case. And yet on the same day that this hearing is taking place, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from your state was pushing a new defense of Trump's phone call where he demanded that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in Georgia find 11,780 votes.

Let's listen to that.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): When President Trump got on the phone with our secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and said, can you find the votes, where are they? He was basically looking for ballots and these ballots have been lost in the mail. And so there was nothing wrong with Trumps was what President Trump said. As a matter of fact, I think he'll be indicated easily, but a lot of the work that I'm doing and the proof that I'll be showing pretty soon


KEILAR: What do you say to that? She's saying that there will be proof, but she also has a reason different from what we've heard from Trump.

GEOFF DUNCAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The gift that keeps on giving, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Look, there's no surprises here. Look, nobody is saying that this stuff didn't happen. They're just trying to continue to create technical excuses as to why things were done or how things were done.

This is no mystery. Donald Trump and his cast of cohorts lied about the election being rigged and continue to lie and double down on it. That's why you see these court cases. One court case he claims presidential immunity, one court case he claims Second Amendment protection as a candidate as political speech. It's just -- until we get past this and there's a verdict that Donald Trump and those folks are either guilty or not guilty. There's a chance they couldn't be guilty.

But we need to hear this as American so that we can move on and get back to leading this -- leading this country and leading this world.

KEILAR: And Ryan today was the first hearing for Willis's team since the judge ruled that she could stay on as lead prosecutor if Nathan Wade stepped down. What do you think Willis -- why do you think, I should say, Willis herself was not there?

GOODMAN: It's difficult to know, but I could easily imagine that the decision by her would be let's not have me there as a distraction. Let's have the team there and they can show that the focus of this is on the case and on the case moving forward. It's not exactly the best moment for her to reappear in the court as a Nick said, the most recent interaction between her and the judges, the judge actually issuing an opinion saying that he did not believe her testimony, who had serious problems with it her testimony to him, personally, left an odor of mendacity.

So for her to be back in the courtroom at this time, maybe just better left to the team to be the face of the prosecutor and then have the facts and the law be presented upfront without her being a part of the story in a certain sense.

KEILAR: Yeah. Keeping herself out of it.

And, Geoff, here we are Easter just a few days away. You were someone who speaks openly about your Christian faith. So I wonder what you think about this.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: All Americans need a Bible in their home. And I have many -- it's my favorite book. It's a lot of people's favorite book. This bible is a reminder that the biggest thing -- we have to bring back America and to make America great again is our religion.


KEILAR: What do you think? I mean, how do you feel about Trump selling Bibles?

DUNCAN: Well, I do hope he has a bunch of them at his house. I hope he reads it a lot. I hope everybody does. It's certainly a great guiding light for me and my family.

But at the end of the day, I don't think folks should be selling bibles for $59.99 when they're running for president. It's -- you know, this is -- this is Donald Trump's game. He is confused the evangelical community to somehow conflate Christianity with conservatism. And they're not. There's going to be just as many Democrats in heaven as there are Republicans.

I actually just wrote an op-ed in the "AJC" that ran a few hours actually before Donald Trump came on and tried to tell those Bibles for $59.99, for the great price of $59.99, and it really talked about this divide that's happened, this chaos and confusion that Donald Trumps created.

There was a story that I told him, the op-ed about Dewey McLean, my seat mate when I was a state representative, where politicians were using the name of God to either vote for or against the bill. And I looked over at Dewey and said, you know what, I don't think Jesus really cares much about this bill and it was a little lighthearted moment. But it's true. Politicians have been trying to hijack the faith for way too long.

KEILAR: You can get a bible for less than $59.99, too, to be clear there.

Geoff, thank you so much. Ryan, thank you so much to you. I appreciate it

And next, Putin now claiming that Ukraine finance the bloody terrorist attack at a Russian concert hall, how might he retaliate? A former Russian lawmaker who has been forced into exile is my guest.

Plus, live pictures of what Biden's campaign is calling the most lucrative political event in history. But are protesters interrupting this major event for the president? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KEILAR: Tonight, Russia claiming Ukraine finance the Moscow terror attack that killed 143 people. Ukraine has vehemently denied any role in this attack, and an ISIS group claimed responsibility for it on the night that it happened, but that hasn't stopped Putin from pointing the finger at Ukraine again and again. This as we are learning new information from internal Russian intelligence documents about just how much advanced knowledge Putin had of the attack.

Matthew Chance is OUTFRONT in Moscow.



MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the worst terror attack in Russia in 20 years. And new evidence suggests the Kremlin's own services were aware of an ISIS threat. Internal Russian intelligence documents obtained by the London-based Dossier Center warned of an increased likelihood of an attack in Russia just days before the assault. According to the investigative organization, ethnic Tajiks could be involved, radicalized by ISIS-K.

That's the Central Asian offshoots of the terror group, claiming responsibility for the attack near Moscow, with statements, photographs, even this propaganda video filmed by the attackers themselves. The Kremlin hasn't responded to CNN's request for comment on the Dossier Center report.

But U.S. intelligence warnings to Moscow were dismissed by President Putin himself as a provocation intended to intimidate and destabilize Russian society.


The Kremlin seems determined to blame Ukraine, which adamantly denies any involvement for this destruction and bloodshed.

Suspected Islamist may have carried out the attack says Moscow, but it was supported by Kyiv and Russian investigators now say they've extracted evidence from the battered suspects.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working with detained terrorists, studying their technical devices, evidence was obtained connecting them with Ukrainian nationalists. We have confirmed data the perpetrators received significant amounts of money and cryptocurrency from Ukraine

CHANCE: But it's hard to take the Kremlin fighting a brutal war in Ukraine at its word. Critics say maybe using the tragedy in Moscow to bolster flagging support for conflict costing tens of thousands of lives, and to mask the shortcomings of its own intelligence services too focused in recent years, say critics, on Russia's political opposition like supporters of the late Alexey Navalny not enough on the Islamist threat.

For the Kremlin, that's a damaging criticism. President Putin here visiting a military helicopter base north of Moscow, has long cast himself as the guarantor of Russian stability and security now more than ever too many Russians. That guarantee seems threadbare.


CHANCE (on camera): Well, tonight, Brianna, that death toll in the attack near Moscow has risen to at least 143 people. And investigators say there are multiple reports of people still missing. And while thousands of Russians have gone to the scene to lay flowers and to pay their respects president Putin has yet to visit. The Kremlin saying it's not advisable as it might interfere with the work that's continuing there -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Matthew Chance, thank you for that report.

And OUTFRONT now, former Russian lawmaker, Ilya Ponomarev. He was forced into exile after being the only lawmaker to vote against Putin's annexation of Crimea back in 2014.

Ilia, thanks for being with us tonight. What do you think of Putin claiming without any apparent evidence that Ukraine is behind this attack, even as it appears he was ignoring clear warnings from the U.S. about this ISIS-K threat of public gatherings?

ILYA PONOMAREV, FORMER RUSSIAN LAWMAKER: Well, look, I think that all those claims by Vladimir Putin I thought to be ridiculous. We all know that Ukrainians never fight civilians, but we know that Putin's army does. We saw the slaughter in Bucha. We saw the slaughter in Irpin. We saw the slaughter in Mariupol, but we never saw anything like this coming from the Ukrainian side because we are just not doing this.

Neither Russian volunteers which are together with the Ukrainians or Ukrainians themselves, despite with all the hatreds and the bloodshed which was inflicted on Ukraine during last 10 years.

So, we see very clearly that Vladimir Putin could have reacted on numerous warnings. We know that there were two warnings coming from the United States and by the way, he never said, thank you. I am saying thank you for American people for giving the warnings you really guys try to save our lives.

But he ignored that, and he ignored the warnings of his own security services. Why he did it? I think he did that on purpose. Well, one hour. That was the wait time for the police, which was located exactly on the side of the terrorist attack to arrive, 2.5 miles away, there was a SWAT unit which took hour-and-a-half to arrive to the site. I think that couldn't be done by accident. I think they were acting on orders.

KEILAR: Ilya, explain that. I mean, wouldn't it make Putin look weak to have been warned of the attacks? And then mocked the warning, and then the attacks become realized. How is that something that you think he would allow that would make him appear stronger, when it might also make him appear weaker?

PONOMAREV: He's a very cynical person and also, his mindset is very conservative. He remembers the trick that he has played in the beginning of 2000 when he needed to cut the sympathizer towers, Chechen resistance, by organizing a series of terrorist attacks which eventually brought him to power in 1999. That it was exactly 25 years ago. That was the beginning of his first-term.

Now it's beginning of his fifth term, and he's trying to do the same to inspire empathy towards Russia and to inspire isolation of Ukraine in the eyes of other people. But we see that these strategies failing because his security service are not capable of delivering likely story.


KEILAR: Yeah, lots of questions about those apartment bombings that precipitated the second Chechen war indeed -- we don't have evidence at this point of this being something Putin allowed, but certainly there, you're raising that question.

Putin's propagandists on state media are helping to push conspiracy theories like this one. Let's listen.


OLGA SKABEYEVA, RUSSIAN STATE TV HOST (through translator): As soon as they were the first announcements that there was a horrific terrorist attack in Moscow, there was an immediate connotation that ISIS committed this terrorist attack.

OLEG MATVEYCHEV, STATE DUMA MEMBER (through translator): Their goal was to clear Ukraine.


KEILAR: This is what the Russian people are hearing as he's trying to shift blame onto Ukraine without any apparent evidence here. Do the Russian people believed this, Ilya?

PONOMAREV: Oh, look, they have only one source of information and that's Russian TV and it's so fully controlled by Vladimir Putin. So they don't know what to believe. And actually the truth is that Putin consciously allowed it to happen. It's very uncomfortable for me.

That's why it's better to believe what you have been told and sit quietly on your couch rather than took some action. And I think it's not an accident. Why it happened now, after the elections. He waited until the time was safe and also he was reacting on the -- our operations that we, the Russian volunteers are making on the territory of Kursk and Belgorod deliberation of Russian territory. So he needed to compromise us in front of our fellow citizens, and that was the objective of his strategy.

KEILAR: Ilya Ponomarev, thank you for taking the time to be with us this evening. PONOMAREV: Thank you.

KEILAR: OUTFRONT next, live pictures of what the Biden campaign is calling an all-time record, $25 million raised in just one evening. This as he teams up tonight with Barack Obama.

And this --


REPORTER: Mrs. Trump, are you going to return to the campaign trail with your husband?



KEILAR: Stay tuned, she says, but Melania Trump so far no show at her husband's side, even opting not to appear at a Super Tuesday victory party at their own home.

So, where is she?



KEILAR: Tonight, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside of Biden fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall protesting the president's handling of the war in Gaza. The star-studded events starting here in just a few minutes, and it is expected to bring in a jaw-dropping $25 million.

Biden will be joined by former Presidents Obama and Clinton, the three will appear together on stage with late night host Stephen Colbert, and ticket prices are ranging all the way from $225 to half a million dollars. You want Annie Leibovitz to take a picture of you with the three presidents -- well, you better pony up because that costs 100 grand

And this comes as Obama sounds the alarm that Biden could lose to Trump, and it's all hands on deck to stop it.

MJ Lee is OUTFRONT outside of Radio City Music Hall.

And, MJ, you're learning more about the money being raised. What can you tell us?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. Brianna, if I could just start with the scene outside here. You showed some of the video you before, of probably a couple of hundred protesters that are pro-ceasefire, pro-Palestinian protesters who clearly are taking great issue with the president's handling of the Israel-Hamas war, not an unfamiliar scene these days when the president travels or has an event. The mood inside obviously is going to be very different. This is the

three presidents, one sitting two former participating in a conversation moderated by comedian Stephen Colbert, they're going to be a number of celebrities and artists in the audience as well. Queen Latifah, Lizzo, Mindy Kaling is going to be emceeing this event as well. The total haul, as you mentioned from the single the event is going to be $25 million, and counting. Sources also telling me about a third of that actually came from donations online that was less than $200.

The ticket that was the most expensive $500,000 a pop, that actually comes with extra perks, like getting a photo taken with the three presidents, getting an invitation to the after-party that is hosted by the first lady.

And asked for President Biden and former President Obama, they obviously got to spend some quality time together this afternoon. They rode on Air Force One together, the motorcade together. They also spend sometime taping a podcast. I think the campaign released some photos that you can show and obviously these are two men who went through a lot together and the eight years that they were both in the White House.

And you can easily imagine a lot of the very a serious topics of the two men probably discuss in the hours that they had together -- Brianna.

KEILAR: MJ Lee live in New York, thank you for that report.

And OUTFRONT now, Ron Brownstein, our senior political analyst.

I mean, Ron, Biden's really cashing in here, $25 million. That is a lot of money, millions more than either Trump or Biden brought in all of last month, where should Biden be concentrating this?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, historically, Brianna, the feeling has been that cash advantage and a presidential race is probably less important than in other races because voters have so much other information and they're making their decisions based on big verdicts on how things are going in the country.

But this year make -- you know, kind of test the limits of that, of that observation because Biden certainly is exercising an enormous financial advantage over Trump, who's diverting a lot of money toward his own legal defense and is putting on a lot of ads in those key swing states without much pushback from Republicans.

So we'll see whether the historic argument that television advertising is not that critical in a presidential race still applies because certainly Biden is racking up a significant advantage as evidenced by events like this tonight.

KEILAR: Yeah. Interesting when were looking at polling, Trump has made considerable gains. He's up 11 points with Black voters in the most recent "New York Times"/Siena poll compared to 2020 exit polls, and he's doing even better with Hispanic voters. He's up a whopping 14 points there.

At the same time though, Biden has held steady with white voters, his support from that group nearly unchanged since 2020.

What do you see going on here?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, that's what I wrote about today on I mean, you know, for good reason, people have been very focused on Trumps gains in polling this spring and last winter with Black and Hispanic voters. He is now on track to not only significantly improved from 2020 with both Black and Hispanic voters, but to run better than any Republican presidential candidates since the civil rights era, among those voters, better than Reagan, better than W. Bush. So understandable that people are focusing a lot on that.

The other side of the ledger has not gotten a lot of attention, which is that Biden is largely holding his 2020 vote among white voters. He's running in most polls slightly better than he did among college educated whites, which isn't totally shocking given that January 6 and Dobbs both happened after the 2020 election. And maybe the most surprising thing is he hasn't lost a lot of ground in most of these polls among the non-college whites, sort of the heart of Trump's coalition. And if Biden can in fact hold this support among white voters that he now has been receiving in these polls, it kind of flips the key question in the election.

I mean, the key question becomes whether Donald Trump, while running on as racially polarizing agenda as he is using language like immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country, talking about pardoning the January 6 rioters or mass deportation and military action against Mexico, whether with all of that behind him Trump can sustain the inroads that he has made among these non-white voters all the way to November. We know that there's a lot of discontent among them about Biden.

He is -- his approval rating is much lower than Democrats -- Democratic presidents usually receive among Black and Hispanic voters, but it's another thing to say whether Trump can sustain historic numbers when more of those voters learn, I think more about what he is proposing and the kind of language he's using.

KEILAR: Yeah, it will be key, as we look toward the election.

Ron, thank you so much for that, and we'll check out your piece on as well.

Next, Melania Trump not campaigning with her husband even when the event is at Mar-a-Lago, why?



KEILAR: Tonight, where is Melania Trump, the former first lady missing from campaign events since Donald Trump's campaign launch 16 months ago. Despite her being a regular presence by her husband's side in his last two campaigns.

Sunlen Serfaty is OUTFRONT with new reporting


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Campaign season is now in full swing, but Melania Trump's role in her husband's campaign is still a mystery.

D. TRUMP: On behalf of Melania, myself and our entire family, I want to thank you all for being here tonight.

SERFATY: Sources close to the Trump campaign tell CNN that even now, well into the election contest, it is still unknown how much you will publicly help her husband's reelection bid. She'll definitely have a role, but in terms of what it is, I don't know, a source close to the Trump campaign tells CNN. It is her decision on how much or how little she will be campaigning.

So far, her decision appears to be the latter. Since attending his campaign launch event in November of 2022, Melania Trump has not publicly appeared on the trail in support of her husband and has largely remained out of the public eye.

D. TRUMP: I voted for Donald Trump. Thank you.

SERFATY: Most recently appearing to vote with him in the Florida presidential primary.

REPORTER: Are you going to return to the campaign trail with your husband?

M. TRUMP: Stay tuned.

SERFATY: But it was her absence at one of her husband's biggest night so far, Super Tuesday, at their Mar-a-Lago estate that raised eyebrows.

D. TRUMP: I want to thank my family for being here.

SERFATY: Numerous sources both within and close to the campaign told CNN that as of now there is no indication in that she'll be taking on a ramped up role in the campaign.

Even her role at one of the most high-profile stages of the campaign, the Republican National Convention, has not been nailed down yet.

M. TRUMP: He will never, ever let you down.

SERFATY: Sources tell CNN that is Melania who dictates her involvement, picking and choosing with intention. She is very selective and methodical and what she wants to do and how she presents herself.

D. TRUMP: I think part of the beauty is that mystery. SERFATY: Melania never appearing with him in court and only glimpses of her surfacing on social media, choosing her most recent formal appearances intentionally.

In December at a naturalization event --

M. TRUMP: It is my privilege to share this great nation America with you

SERFATY: In November, at former First Lady Rosalynn Carter's funeral.

Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump's former chief of staff, tells CNN, Melania has said, I don't need to stand by Donald like Jill Biden, it is like she's holding Joe Biden up.

Melania's absence becoming campaign trail fodder and only heightened by her husband.

D. TRUMP: At the appropriate time, she'll be out there


SERFATY (on camera): But sources tell CNN that there's no imminent plan for that to happen, while also cautioning that at any point, Melania could make the decision to hit the campaign trail on her own accord. Sources here also emphasized that she's still grieving the death of her month other who died in January, as well as taking care of her son, Barron, helping him, Brianna, to find the right college he will attend this fall.

KEILAR: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you for the very latest on that.

And thank you so much for joining us this evening.

"AC360" starts right now.