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Massive Recovery Effort Begins As Investigation Intensifies; NTSB Has Obtained Black Box On Board Crashed Ship; Six Presumed Dead But No Bodies Recovered Yet; NTSB Boarded Crashed Cargo Ship For First Time Overnight; RNC Asking In Job Interviews If 2020 Election Was Stolen; How Obama Plans To Help Biden Defeat Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Inside Politics, a desperate search for answers. Right now investigators are on the cargo ship that brought down the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, trying to figure out what went so tragically wrong. We're on the scene with all the breaking developments.

Plus, was the 2020 election stolen? Of course, there is zero evidence of that. But sources say, it may be a litmus test for potential hires at the RNC, now that Donald Trump is the party's presumptive nominee.

And Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Queen Latifah and Lizzo, they're all part of the Biden campaigns new push to get out the vote. And we have new reporting on what role Joe Biden's former boss will play on the trail.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

We will start in Baltimore this hour. This what you're looking at is all that is left of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Divers continue to search for bodies of the six people who were presumed dead. Today the National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman says, her team recovered the so-called black box from the ship that hit the bridge, hopefully providing new clues on what happened.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is on the scene in Baltimore. Gabe, are you hearing anything yet from those officials who have found the black box about what could be in it? What it could tell us?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana, no word on that yet. Though, I can tell you we are expecting an update from officials at a press conference in the next 30 minutes or so, although that timeline a little bit fluid. But we do know that about two dozen NTSB investigators are here. They have been on that ship. And they are interviewing the crew and collecting electronics including what you mentioned that data recorder, essentially the black box of the ship.

It is at a federal facility right now. It's being analyzed. And we have been told that at some point today, it could be at that press conference in a little while. But they were expecting at some point today, they would be able to offer a little bit better timeline of how this played out. What led up to the catastrophe, including that near total blackout on the ship in the moments before it crashed into the column of the bridge, where the pilot lost power, lost the ability to steer the vessel and ultimately, it ended in that collapse.

And I can also tell you, Dana, in terms of that search and recovery effort, conditions are brutal out here. The rain has really picked up, conditions on the water presumably even worse than where I'm standing now. There are choppy waves out there, visibility is low, it is cold. And it's difficult for those divers who are working to find the six missing construction workers.

And look we're starting to hear talk as well about actually removing those massive pieces of the bridge that are still there in the river. That is going to take a lot of time, though. Officials not ready to really talk about rebuilding this bridge, although we have heard Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talk a little bit about that. Here's what he said about the recovery ahead here in Baltimore.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: The impact of this incident is going to be felt throughout the region and really throughout our supply chain. So, the president has been very clear that every federal resource will be directed toward getting back to normal, both for the traffic that counts on the bridge and supply chains, the count on that port. But this is going to be a big, long and not inexpensive road to recovery.


COHEN: So major economic implications for Baltimore, for the U.S. economy, Dana. But of course, the focus today really on the investigation into what caused this crash and the search for those missing construction workers.

BASH: Absolutely. And let's talk about them for a minute. What are we learning about the victims of that bridge collapse?

COHEN: Well, Dana, we're starting to hear their stories. And they're heartbroken -- a heartbreaking to hear and certainly, there are a lot of people who are hurting in Baltimore. We have learned about a man named Miguel Luna, a father of three in Maryland. He's from El Salvador. We've recently gotten a picture in to CNN, but I don't believe we have that right now. But he had been here in Maryland for 19 years.

We have also learned about a 38-year-old Maynor Sandoval. He was an immigrant from Honduras. He had also been here for close to 20 years, a father of two. He has an 18-year-old son, a five-year-old daughter.


So, there are a lot of family members that are hurting today, family of these six victims, Dana, who are really struggling. And it's not just them, we're also starting to hear from friends, from other members of the community. So, there are a lot of people here in Baltimore really struggling with this.

BASH: Thank you so much for that reporting. Gabe, appreciate it. And joining me now is Charley Pereira, former NTSB marine accident investigator, and Timothy Galarnyk. He is an expert in bridge collapse investigations. Just like the one that we saw.

Charley, I'm going to start with you. You used to work on investigations like one that is going on as we speak for the NTSB. What are you hearing from your former colleagues about the approach that they're taking right now? And maybe more importantly, what they think initially went so wrong?

CHARLEY PEREIRA, FORMER NTSB MARINE ACCIDENT INVESTIGATOR: Well, the NTSB doesn't communicate with private experts like myself on investment. So unfortunately, although I would like to have information from them. That channel doesn't happen nowadays because I'm out in the private sector.

But what I can tell you is that they should be focusing on -- as I mentioned yesterday, the perishable evidence, for example, the voyage data recorder onboard, can have as little as 48 hours of recording time before it overwrites the oldest data.

So, we're rapidly approaching if they haven't depower the voyage data recorder yet and removed it from the ship to take for read out to the lab, then they should do so immediately. I assume they already have. I would hope so. And then any other perishable evidence should be collected rapidly. So that it doesn't suffer, you know, loss from the elements and from time override.

BASH: And what do you think could be found out by the information in that so called black box?

PEREIRA: Yeah. So anyway, the recorder should provide us. You there?

BASH: I'm here. Go ahead.

PEREIRA: OK. Yeah. For whatever reason the dropped up. So yeah, that -- that is what they should be focusing on right now. The interviews with the passengers, any perishable evidence, videos from buildings nearby in the harbor there, they should be acquiring all data as rapidly as possible to try to reconstruct the events that occurred.

The voyage data recorder will have numerical data, such as speed, position, heading, things like that. I should also have the audio very importantly, the audio environment on the bridge, and the bridge wings and possibly down in the engine room as well, along with the audio environment for the radio communications, you know, when they issued the Mayday warning that they apparently did.

I assume on the emergency channels. They should have that recorded and be able to put together an integrated timeline of numerical data, video and audio data to try to piece together what happened. And then use the knowledge of what happened to take any emergency recommendation of actions to try to prevent recurrence in the United States.

BASH: Timothy, I want to go to you now. And I want you to listen to what the Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said about the potential that this could have been prevented in the first place.


BUTTIGIEG: It's really difficult to express the physics, the mass of this. We're talking about hundred thousand tones, so two million pounds of force hitting that support pier that is critical to the entire structure. Just a shocking level of impact. That as everybody saw, it was enough -- almost instantly to take that bridge down.


BASH: So, Timothy, he's making the point that it was just so big -- three football fields long. That's how big this this cargo ship is. But the other factor is that this bridge apparently didn't have obvious fender systems or anything to protect it the way that it should have. Would that have made a difference?

TIMOTHY GALARNYK, FORMER CONSTRUCTION INVESTIGATOR: Well, there's a couple of things. I have a question for, Carl. But most important is, first of all, it was not 100,000 tones. It was 10,000 tones. I don't know where the secretary comes up with his statistics information. This bridge should have had peer pressure connection not fenders, not fenders. Fenders are guides to help a ship navigate between two structures.


Dolphins or pier protections are cylindrical structures that are constructed in the -- in the navigable channel, upstream and downstream from the main peers. They are designed intended to be struck. And therefore, they would then deflect a ship that is coming towards the pier. What what's interesting about the picture that I have -- the video that I watched repeatedly overnight, is as this ship was approaching the navigation channel underneath the two -- underneath the two piers on the main truck, the main fan.

For some reason this ship turned where the nose of the ship now was directly in front of the ship. Not to the right, not to the left, but almost precisely in the front of the ship. That is curious. Here is curious. Why to make -- to have that kind of mistake happened by mistake. Carl, I question that.

BASH: Well, yeah.

GALARNYK: But this bridge, absolutely. This bridge absolutely should have had pure protection.

BASH: Yeah.

GALARNYK: Something that we've been made since 1980. BASH: They are -- I should say that the -- of course, the federal government, the NTSB, they are investigating but so far, they have said that they see no evidence that this was intentional. I appreciate your expertise to both of you. Charley and Timothy, thank you so much.

PEREIRA: Thank you.

BASH: Coming up. If you happen to be interested in working for the RNC, be prepared for some unorthodox job interview questions. What candidates are being asked, next.



BASH: If you want to work for the Republican National Committee right now, it turns out your view on Donald Trump's 2020 election lies matters. Sources tell CNN the RNC officials that new ones that Trump installed. They're asking potential new hires whether they believe the 2020 election was stolen. There is of course, no evidence of widespread election fraud in the last presidential race.

Joining me now to discuss this and much more, Jeff Mason from Reuters, CNN's Alayna Treene, who brought us this new reporting, Bloomberg's Mario Parker, and Republican strategist and former RNC communications director, Doug Heye.

Alayna, I want to go to you first. I should say the Washington Post reported this first. You and Daniel Strauss have done some amazing reporting on this as well. Part of your story reads as follows.

Trump advisers have asked current and potential RNC employees about their views of fraud during the 2020 election, with the question serving as an apparently litmus test for hiring. Trump advisers have also told potential new hires that they should plan to move to West Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump's campaign is centered.

That second part is pretty normal. You go where the campaign is? OK. Maybe -- may be less over for the RNC, but it's more normal than the first part, right. What are you hearing?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, it's interesting, because some of the people I talked to including some who were asked this question, they argued it was very unusual. And they felt that -- essentially, they argued, is this some sort of loyalty tests to show our loyalty to Donald Trump.

But also, it was described as a lot of these people are -- those who have worked in key states, already in battleground states and where they're looking to maybe hire people in some of these battleground states. And the argument from the campaign and the RNC is, we want to just know where people are on this, right. But of course, I think the context here is what's really important.

One, this comes after the RNC and the Trump campaign have effectively merge their operations. I mean, when I talked to trump campaign advisers, when I talked to people at the RNC, they argue they're operating largely as one and the same.

And a key focus of both the Trump campaign and the RNC is what they call election integrity and kind of previewing that they're going to be looking very closely at claims of fraud, even as we lead into November. And that's also something that Donald Trump, we know, very much cares about.

It's something that really led to that fracturing of the relationship between him and Ronna McDaniel. He still privately harbors resentment toward her for what he argues was not -- the RNC not doing enough around the 2020 election in his claims of fraud. And so that's where I think a lot of this is stemming from, and of course, it's unusual.

BASH: Yeah. OK. So, you're the only one at this table who's worked at the RNC. I'm guessing when you had an interview process, you weren't asked such questions because the -- who was the Republican nominee?


BASH: No. But who was -- who was -- was it that Mitt Romney?

HEYE: Mitt Romney was the nominee --

BASH: Just the nominee. OK. So that's -- that is the reason why that has didn't happen and for anything like it. But can you just -- I know, you've also talked to -- just like Alayna has some prospective staffers that they aren't safe, or people who lost their jobs and have to apply back. What are you hearing? And can you just explain why this is not normal?

HEYE: Yeah, I'll go back first to 2010 when Michael Steele was the chairman. He said very often, the RNC doesn't do policy. So, you don't get asked specific questions about policy matters. This essentially is a policy matter because that's not what you're there to do. You're there to -- in my case help you communicate the RNC message. You're there to help target and get out voters in key states. You're there to raise money certainly. So, this is really not part of what that process would be. But this is how the RNC has changed.


And look, when you're there or in any political campaign, you're there to sort of accept the worldview of your boss. Whether they're running for Congress or president or what have you. So, some of this is normal. It's just -- this goes to a very abnormal place of where we've not seen politics really go to in this way.

BASH: Well, there's the worldview and then there is the truth and there's reality. And then there's a reality that the now nominee wants to and has in many cases successfully sewn into the core Republican electorate, which is that the election was stolen. Even though we should say -- as we say, every time that comes up, there is no evidence --

HEYE: Right.

BASH: -- that that happened.

HEYE: So, anybody who's at the RNC right now, they've bought into that, right? And it may be sort of the George Costanza world to them. But it's not a lie if you believe it. Obviously, it's not true. But they are there for that role. They're going to backup Donald Trump on everything he says. That again, we're in abnormal territory, that's partially normal for the committee.

This is just a very new and different way of doing things. I'm always in a communications role. I've never been asked specific policy questions in any interview for any campaign or congressional office. It's just not done.

TREENE: And I do just want to add something that is really interesting to this dynamic and what you're saying just reminded me of it. Some of the people who work for the Trump campaign, somebody Trump can -- Trump's campaign advisers will admit and acknowledge behind the scenes that Biden win the election. I don't think -- and there's many people at the RNC as I'm sure, you know, that feel that way as well, which also, I think adds another complicating factor to this new line of questioning.

BASH: Yeah. I talked to somebody this morning who was recounting a friend's interview process, who was asked that question. And the answer was something like, well, you know, kind of a middle of the road -- if you can be middle of the road on this. Well, I think that, you know, there were some questions that we looked into tried -- because the other issue is that, yes, the people who are at the RNC now for the most part have bought into the lies. But there are legit very talented operatives in the states who might not -- who actually know how to get people elected.

HEYE: You know, I found out what the best interview answer on this actually is. You can say no. The election obviously wasn't stolen. In the context of everything that's happened this week. It was all Ronna's fault. She didn't do what she needed to at the RNC. I'm going to do a better job at the committee. That's what gets you hired.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: I've been covering a lot of Biden's fundraisers in the last couple of weeks. And he's been starting to in the -- the purpose of showing a contrast with Trump, asking if people are better off now than they were four years ago and talking about a vision for the future versus a vision of the past. And I think this in a way is a bit of a gift for that narrative because he will continue to say Donald Trump is focused on the past, focused on an election that he lost. And I'm focused on the future.

BASH: I want to turn -- keep staying on 2024 and the new leadership at the RNC. Lara Trump, who of course is Donald Trump's daughter-in-law is now a senior person at the RNC. And this morning, she was out and she was talking about the need for early voting. And I'm going to play that. But I also want to show what Donald Trump has saying. And you might notice a bit of a contradiction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LARA TRUMP, RNC CO-CHAIR: We have to start encouraging Republican voters to do things like voting early, trust mail-in voting. These are ways that we actually can have a big lead as we head into Election Day.

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. Get that through your head. It has to be. The votes -- I mean, it has to be.


BASH: That was just last month.

MARIO PARKER, NATIONAL POLITICS TEAM LEADER, BLOOMBERG: And now you'll see the headache that her father-in-law will give her that Ronna enjoyed for the last four or five years or so, right, just under cutting that message. Republicans in order for Donald Trump to retake the White House, they need Republicans to start trusting the system.

At the same time, he's sowing this distrust as we just mentioned, remaking the party in his image, remaking the RNC in his image, his loyalty tests, et cetera. And that's going to do nothing for them when they have to start banking votes in November -- late October, early November.

BASH: OK. Everybody standby. Don't go anywhere because up next, President Biden is getting new advice and help from the old boss. We go live to the White House for new CNN reporting after a quick break.



BASH: The Biden campaign is getting a jolt from an old friend who knows a thing or two about getting reelected. Barack Obama spent several hours at the White House last week, visiting with his former vice president and it was more than just a friendly visit.

Our senior White House correspondent MJ Lee joins me now live from the White House with some new reporting then. MJ, you've done along with our colleague Jeff Zeleny. What are you hearing?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, just going back to that visit that you mentioned by President Obama to the White House last week. You know, I'm told that the mood was cheerful. It was sort of a reunion of sorts for the two presidents, respective staff to knowing -- given that they have known each other.

Many of them going back to the Obama White House, of course, but it was definitely a working visit. This was the Biden campaign, putting the former president to work. The two spent a lot of time together, several hours I'm told. Taping a lot of materials for the Biden campaign that is going to get rolled out.