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The Situation Room
Zelenskyy Says, All Fronts Under Control As Bakhmut Battle Rages; Man Allegedly Tried To Bring Explosives In Suitcase On A Flight; Prosecutors Wrap Closing Arguments In Murdaugh Murder Trial; Ohio Governor Visits Toxic Train Wreck Cleanup For First Time; Train Crash Kills At Least 38 People In Greece. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 01, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, as Ukrainian forces fire back at Russian tanks and fighters, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declares all fronts are, quote, under control. But a key eastern city of Bakhmut is facing a ferocious assault right now with thousands of civilians in danger as the Russians advance.
Also tonight, a Pennsylvania man is arrested for allegedly trying to bring explosives on to a flight to Florida in his suitcase. We're going to tell you what we're learning about the case, new information coming in.
And jurors visit the scene where Alex Murdaugh's wife and son were kill and then their closing arguments in the disgraced lawyer's murder trial. Prosecutors wrapping up just a short wild ago after condemning Murdaugh's admitted lies confirm his guilt.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get right to our top story this evening, very intense fighting raging right now in the key eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, civilians hunkering down as Russia throws some of its most battle hardened forces into the fight.
CNN's Melissa Bell is joining us live from Kyiv with an update right now. Melissa, how dire is the situation in the east right now?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been described to CNN by soldiers there, Wolf, as hellish. The conditions there have worsened and, of course, the most battle hardened Wagner mercenaries have been sent in to try to capture this town, which has become as symbolic of Ukrainian resistance as Russian resistance. It isn't just strategically important town, it is that crucial symbol as well.
Now, what we're hearing tonight is Ukrainians saying that they have not given it up. You imagine how controversial a decision it will be if and when Ukrainians decide to do so given the amount of Ukrainian blood that have been spilled trying to defend it. For now, they continue to defend despite those terrible conditions, despite those Wagner fighters. One Ukrainian commander describing that Russia has not achieved all that it wanted on the ground and so it is simply blitzing it from the sky and trying to reduce this town to molecules. That is his word.
And it is worth remembering tonight, Wolf, that there are some 4,500 civilians still trapped inside the town, including 48 children, entirely inaccessible at this stage to be rescued and one considers the kind of trauma that they'll feeling. This is a siege that after all may have worsened these last few days but has been going on, Wolf, for seven months.
BLITZER: It is awful, the way the Russians bomb those residential apartment buildings and there are people inside.
In a related development, Melissa, what is Ukraine watching right now when it comes to China's possible military support for Putin's war?
BELL: In a word, Wolf, drones. The fear from Kyiv is that those Iranian-made kamikaze drones that have been used to such devastating effect over the course of the last few months and who stocks are simply dwindling might be replaced by Chinese-made kamikaze drones. And that is what we're keeping in extremely close eye on as Moscow and Beijing have continued to increase this (INAUDIBLE) push that we've seen over the course of the last year. In fact, Vladimir Putin announcing today that Xi Jinping is to visit Moscow. There preparing an actually meeting, this just was after week, a week after the Chinese foreign minister was there visiting Vladimir Putin.
It comes also as we see in these pictures of Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, arguably the most close ally of Vladimir Putin at this stage visiting Xi Jinping in China and getting a warm welcome with Xi Jinping describing the Chinese position on the war in Ukraine as consistent and clear. You will remember the 12-point plan that the Chinese put forward last week very quickly dismissed by most allies simply because it failed to mention either the word invasion or the word war, very much in line with Moscow's view, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Melissa Bell, thank you very much. Stay safe over there.
Let's get some reaction right now to the war from a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
Let's talk about Ukraine first. You agree I understand with President Biden's decision to rule out fighter jets, F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine, at least for now. And you say it could compromise NATO security if the U.S. can't deliver promised weapons to other allies. But isn't NATO at greater risk right now if Ukraine can't beat Putin?
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I think it is important to remember that our number one obligation as members of Congress, member of the Senate, is to defend the United States. And we cannot transfer any weapons to Ukraine that compromises our ability to protect our self.
It is also important to understand that the F-16 is a system. It is not just an airplane. And it normally takes us years to train up a country on how to operate and service the F-16. If we were to give these planes to Ukraine today, it would likely necessitate a lot of U.S. military personnel being directly involved in the operation and maintenance of those airplanes. And, of course, that would violate the promise that we have made to not involve U.S. troops directly in the fight, a potential dramatic escalation of the conflict with Russia.
So, right now, I think we have to be stingy and make sure that we have the resources to protect ourselves and our treaty allies and make sure that we are up sourcing to Ukraine what they need right now to win the battle on the ground to defend their skies. There are plenty of other systems that we need to get to Ukraine right now that are more vital than the F-16s.
BLITZER: How likely is it, Senator, in your view, that China decides -- if China decides to provide lethal weapons to Russia, and if China were to take that step, how should the United States respond?
MURPHY: I think it is important to note that it is frankly unexpected that China has not transferred weapons to Russia for the duration of this conflict. If you remember at the beginning of the conflict, the Chinese announced that there would be no limits to their partnership with Russia. Everybody expected that meant a defensive and military alliance and the weapons didn't come in part because of really smart and tough diplomacy from the Biden administration.
The president is right to tell Xi that there will be consequences, significant consequences, an interruption of our trade relationship, and I think Xi is going to take that seriously because this is a moment where China is opening back up, where they're seeing spikes in the number of COVID cases. I'm not sure that the Chinese economy can sustain in addition to the disruption of COVID opening, a disruption of trade relations with the United States. So, let's see what Xi decides but I think the message the Biden administration is sending right now is a strong and unequivocal one.
BLITZER: Senator, while I have you on, I want to turn to a different but very, very important issue as well. A new U.S. intelligence assessment, and I'm sure you're familiar with it, finds it's unlikely any foreign adversary was actually behind the mysterious illness known as the Havana syndrome. Does this settle the years of unanswered questions, in your mind?
MURPHY: Absolutely not. Listen, it has to be so scary to be representing the United States abroad, to be in dangerous places. And then to have you and your colleagues come down with unexplained and in some cases life-threatening illnesses. Maybe this was not a foreign adversary, but there has to be an explanation here. And we owe it to those that are protecting and representing the United States overseas to continue the search to try to find that explanation. Maybe everybody was a little bit too quick to rush to an explanation that involved a foreign adversary, but that doesn't obviate us of the responsibility to try to find what their cause is. BLITZER: Senator Chris Murphy, thanks so much for joining us.
MURPHY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, why does a man allegedly pack explosives in his suitcase and try to bring them on a flight here in the United States? We're digging for new information on the incident and the suspect's arrest.
And we'll take you also to the crime scene where jurors got a firsthand look at the site where Alex Murdaugh's wife and son were killed. His murder trial entering its final hours.
BLITZER: Right now, we're following a very disturbing incident in Pennsylvania, a man arrested for allegedly trying to bring explosives on to a flight in his suitcase.
Our legal and aviation experts are working this story for us. First, let's go to Evan Perez. Evan, first, what can you tell us about this man's arrest and what do we know about what happened?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this happened on Monday at the Lehigh Valley Airport, which is in Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia. And according to the FBI, this man, his name is Mark Muffly, came to the airport, checked some luggage through the TSA checkpoint, and when it was being screened, the screening system set off an alarm, which indicated that the possibility of explosives inside the luggage. When the luggage was examined, they did find what appears to be the compounds you commonly find in fireworks, as well as fuses and a couple of other items that really set off a lot of concerns, certainly for the FBI, for the local authorities.
What we now know is that he is facing two charges. One of them is possession of an explosive in an airport or attempting to place an incendiary device on an aircraft. And according to the FBI, this is a very serious thing, obviously bringing explosives on to an aircraft, again, even if by accident, is a very, very serious thing and it describes that the powder that they found in these explosives are susceptible to ignite from heat and friction and pose a significant risk to the aircraft and the passengers. That is according to the language here that the FBI uses in the arrest documents, Wolf, very, very serious thing for the FBI and certainly for the TSA to find at this airport.
BLITZER: At least they found it. John Miller, how will authorities determine what sort of threat this potentially posed to travelers?
JOHN MILLER, CNN CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well that is something that the FBI and their joint terrorism and task force out of Philadelphia is still working, but the initial findings are based on the background investigation they've done into Mr. Muffly, which has been going on since really midday on Monday, is no apparent connection to foreign terrorist organizations, no apparent connection to domestic violent extremists.
But think of what set off the alarm bells here. The detection of explosives, a device, a little bit smaller than a hockey puck sewn into the lining of the suitcase with a fuse attached. It was not set to detonate on the plane. But as, Evan, pointed out, heat, friction, impact, if you don't want something going off in the cargo hold causing a fire on a plane that's going between Pennsylvania and Florida.
So, extraordinarily dangerous but right now they are looking at this as more criminal, less terrorism, that he was probably planning to bring this device with him to Florida as fireworks.
BLITZER: Pete Muntean, you're our aviation correspondent. An alarm clearly alerted TSA agents to this bag as it was being screened. Is this an example of how TSA is supposed to work? Was this a carry-on bag or a check bag?
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was in a check bag and the TSA is really applauding this because essentially the systems put in place after the 9/11 terrorist attacks worked as they were designed to.
The TSA says that this check bag went through screening that is in line, one, you check a bag, that is when an alarm went off and then TSA personnel came over and inspected that bag by hand. It was only then that they deemed this truly suspicious and an airport spokesperson at Lehigh Valley International screens about 800 to 1,600 people a day says that that is when they evacuated a small part of the airport for about two hours and that is when police and the FBI and the bomb squad came in, the airport spokesperson describing this as tremendous team work.
But it begs mentioning here, Wolf, that the TSA makes fines of things that should not be in luggage all of the time, everything from handguns and even loaded handguns to nunchucks, even brass knuckles, but rarely ever something that is explosive like this, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very worrisome indeed. All right, Pete Muntean, thank you. Evan Perez, John Miller thanks to you guys as well.
Let's go to Capitol Hill right now where the U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland, was in the hot seat today at a critical moment for the U.S. Justice Department. Garland and his team juggling high- profile investigations and multiple controversies right now.
CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid has more on Garland's testimony and the fiery exchanges in the hearing room.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Attorney General Merrick Garland faced furious lawmakers on Capitol Hill today.
SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): You are the attorney general of the United States. You are in charge of the Justice Department and, yes, sir, you are responsible. So, give me an answer.
REID: His first appearance before Congress this year comes amid high- profile investigations into President Biden and former President Trump and their handling of classified documents. Garland warning that he would not reveal details of any ongoing probes.
MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: So that we do not jeopardized the viability of our investigations and the civil liberty of our citizens.
REID: But Garland was willing to explain why he has not appointed a special counsel to handle and investigation into Hunter Biden focused on taxes and other issues.
GARLAND: I promised to leave the matter of Hunter Biden it in the hands of the U.S. attorney for the district of Delaware who was appointed in the previous administration.
REID: But after months of Republicans railing against the FBI for its search in Trump's Mar-a-Lago home, they didn't bring it up until four hours in.
GARLAND: I approve the decision to seek a search warrant after probable cause was --
HAWLEY: Overruling the FBI agents who did not want to do so.
REID: Republicans slammed Garland alleging the Justice Department improperly leaked information about high-profile investigations.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Among other things, I believe you very much want to indict Donald J. Trump. When it politically benefited the effort to go after and charge Donald Trump, DOJ leaked, when it potentially harmed the Democrat president, DOJ did not leak. Does that strike you as at all a double standard?
GARLAND: Leaks under all circumstances are inappropriate and they are not directed by anyone in the Justice Department.
REID: Garland repeatedly defended the department against accusations of partisanship.
GARLAND: I also want to at least respond to your characterization of the department, which I vigorously disagree with. I believe the men and women of the department pursue their work everything single day in a nonpartisan and appropriate way.
REID: As Republicans hammered him on protests at the homes of Supreme Court justices and other conservative causes.
CRUZ: Your failure to act to protect the safety of the justices and their families was an obvious product of political bias. [18:20:03]
REID: Garland saying his decision to have U.S. Marshals protect the justices 24/7 was unprecedented.
GARLAND: Senator, you asked me whether I sat on my hands, and quite the opposite. I send 70 United States marshals to defend --
CRUZ: Let me try again. Has the Department of Justice brought even a single case under the statute? So, yes/no question. It is not a give a speech on the other things you did.
GARLAND: The job of the United States Marshals is to defend the lives --
CRUZ: So the answer is no?
GARLAND: -- is to defend the lives of the justices and that is their number one priority.
REID (on camera): Amid all of the partisan bickering, there was one clear area of bipartisan consensus. Leaders from both parties of this committee and the attorney general all agree they must do more to combat fentanyl. Senator Lindsey Graham got to the attorney general to agree that the current approach simply isn't working and the attorney general said he would welcome more resources from Congress for that fight. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Paula, thank you very much, Paula Reid reporting.
Coming up, new developments in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial, the jury visiting the crime scene today just before closing arguments.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're tracking a busy day of developments in the Alex Murdaugh murder trial, prosecutors wrapping up their closing arguments just a short time ago after the jury had a chance to actually visit the crime scene.
CNN's Randi Kaye is joining us live from outside of the courthouse in Walterboro, South Carolina. Randi, walk us through some of these very dramatic moments today.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. The jury was able to go out to the crime scene early this morning. They went along with some security and the judge actually went with them. And this is the property of Moselle. It is about 1,700 acres where the murders took place at the dog kennels on that property. So, they were able to see the feed room where Paul Murdaugh was killed, also this grassy area where Maggie Murdaugh's body was found and there was some media that was allowed to go and they reported back that there were only 12 steps between those two scenes. So, that is how close the two of them were to each other when they were both killed. They also saw the quail pen, which still had bullet holes in it, and they talked about that during this testimony.
Then the jury returned here to the courthouse and the prosecution, lead Prosecutor Creighton Waters, delivered his closing arguments. And the general theme was, Alex Murdaugh is a liar. He's lied for decades to family, friends, co-workers and he's lying to you, the jury.
At one point this prosecutor laid out what the state believes happened that night, painting the scene of Paul Murdaugh in the feed room being shot with the buck shot from a shotgun by his father allegedly and that they said that Alex Murdaugh would have believed that his son was dead and was bending down when he was startled, according to state in this closing argument, and was picking up another weapon, startled by his son, Paul, and that is why the trajectory of the bullet is going upward and there are pellets in the ceiling at that feed room.
It was an incredible description listening to how he says this all went down and then he describes what Maggie Murdaugh would have been doing in that very moment. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CREIGHTON WATERS, STATE PROSECUTOR: Maggie sees what happened and she comes running over there, running to her baby, probably the last thing on her mind thinking that it was him who had done this. She's running to her baby. While he's gotten picked up a Blackout and opens fire at close range, again, with no defensive wounds. And she takes the two shots that you heard Dr. Riemer say were parallel. And it crumbles her over.
A family Blackout killed Maggie. It was present just a couple of months prior to the murders and it's gone now. A family weapon, the defendant cannot account for killed Maggie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: And, Wolf, those murder weapons, the shotgun and the .300 Blackout rifle, they were never found. And what is key about the .300 Blackout is that one of Paul Murdaugh's friends testified that he and Paul were just shooting that just a couple of months on the property, a couple of months before the murders took place. So, would you think that that would still be on the property, but instead it is gone missing. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Randi, thank you very much, Randi Kaye reporting.
Let's discuss this right now with Attorney and Legal Affairs Commentator Areva Martin. Areva, thanks for joining us. Do you expect the juries visit to the scene where Murdaugh's wife and son were killed solidified the verdict in any of their minds, the juror's minds?
AREVA MARTIN, ATTORNEYA ND LEGAL AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure, Wolf. It is unusual for jurors to be able to go to a murder scene. We've seen it in a couple of high-profile cases. One that comes to mind is the O.J. Simpson case. The jurors in that case had an opportunity to go and visit the house where Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend were murdered. Those can be very chilling, very emotional visits for jurors because they are actually there, they can't talk, the lawyers can't talk to them, they can't point things out, they can't describe things.
But jurors are looking at the place where they've heard countless witnesses testify about where two really horrific murders occurred. So, it could cut both ways. It could help the prosecution's case with respect to this trial or it could it actually help the defense.
BLITZER: Do you believe the prosecution proved its closing argument, Areva, that Alex Murdaugh is the only person who had the motive, the means and the opportunity to commit these murders?
MARTIN: Well, Wolf, he was definitely emphatic in his argument.
He was methodical. He went through the evidence very methodically and I think gave a persuasive closing argument. But there are still holes in the prosecution's case. You don't have eyewitnesses. Now, obviously, the prosecution says there are no eyewitnesses because the only witness is the defendant who did the murders. But you still don't have the guns. The guns were never recovered.
And I think one of the most really important pieces of evidence that is missing in this case are those bloody clothes. Given how close the gunshots wounds were, how close the shooter was to Maggie and Paul, the person would have been covered in blood. They would have been covered in brain matter from Paul's brain being shot out of his head. And I just don't know if jurors are going to believe Alex had enough time to go and to completely wash the blood and other matter off his body before he left for his mother's home that night. I think there are some questions that jurors are going to have about this timeline.
BLITZER: The defense will make its closing argument tomorrow, as you know. What do you think we will hear from them?
MARTIN: We're going hear a lot about this alternative theory. We saw that the defense put on a pathologist as one of its last witnesses in its case and that witness gave this testimony about there being two shooters, not one, and suggested that the person who did the shooting was, of course, much shorter than Alex Murdaugh.
So, I think we're going hear a lot about these alternative theories. We're going to hear a lot about this crime scene. The defense has been very emphatic that the crime scene was not protected, that the police did not do a good job in taking evidence, forensic evidence from the crime scene and that they basically didn't pursue any other potential suspects. So, I think we're going to hear the defense just hammer that home and the relationship. You're going to hear about how close Alex and his son and wife were, as we heard from his son, Buster, and others who testified about their relationship. He's going to ask the jurors to think a father that is this close to his son and mother, could he kill them in cold blood.
BLITZER: Areva Martin, thank you very, very much.
Just ahead, a new demand by Democrats for Fox News to stop spreading false claims about the 2020 presidential election. The pressure on the network clearly intensifying after Rupert Murdoch's admissions under oath.
BLITZER: The top Democrats in Congress are turning up the heat on Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch after his admission that the network knowingly aired lies about the 2020 presidential election.
Brian Todd is staying on top of this story for us.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): New pressure on Fox News channel tonight over 2020 election conspiracy theories. Top Democrats pressing Fox to admit wrongdoing. A letter to Fox Chairman Rupert Murdoch from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries says that we demand that you direct Tucker Carlson and other hosts on your network to stop spreading false election narratives and admit on the air that they were wrong to engage in such negligent behavior.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): And an important step would be those who know it was a big lie to publicly repudiate it.
PROF. JANE HALL, SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: That's further pressure on them to say, we lied to you. We insulted your intelligence.
I would be surprised if they apologized unless they are forced to apologize by the lawsuit.
TODD: The demand follows explosive revelations this week in a defamation against Fox by Dominion Voting Systems, showing Murdoch, under oath, admitting some of the opinion hosts on Fox embraced Donald Trump election denialism after the 2020 election and, quote, I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight, even though Murdoch himself allowed his anchors to promote election lies.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: It will be impossible to ever know the true, fair, accurate election results.
TODD: Former President Donald Trump putting his own pressure on Fox in an online post saying, why is Rupert Murdoch throwing his anchors under the table, infuriating his viewers, who will again be leaving in droves -- they already are, a far cry from when Murdoch and Trump had a close relationship.
TIA MITCHELL, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: That being said, I don't know if it is forever broken. Should Donald Trump become the Republican nominee? There's going to be that need for that symbiotic relationship.
TODD: The court papers reveal that Fox's chairman wanted to help Republicans win in 2020, telling a deputy Fox should be helping any way we can in the Georgia runoff elections, saying, we cannot lose the Senate if at all possible ahead of the 2020 vote, and giving Trump's camp confidential information about rival Joe Biden's campaign ads.
One former Fox News political analyst says the Murdoch deposition shows Fox thinks twice before alienating its pro-Trump viewers.
JONAH GOLDBERG, CO-FOUNDER/EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DISPATCHE: They created kind of a monster with their own audience that they were then terrified of.
TODD: And still more pressure on Fox leveled at Paul Ryan, former Republican House speaker who is a member of the Fox's board. After the 2020 election, Ryan told Murdoch, Fox shouldn't be spreading conspiracy theories but he was recently asked if he had any responsibility for it.
PAUL RYAN, FOX BOARD MEMBER, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I do, I have a responsibility to offer my opinion and perspective and I do that, but I don't go out on the T.V. and do it.
TODD (on camera): We reached out to Fox and asked them for a response to the letter from Senator Schumer and Congressman Jeffries and to respond to Donald Trump's criticism. They didn't respond to any of that but sent us a set of statements that they had previously put out slamming that Dominion lawsuit as an attempt to smear Fox and a violation of the First Amendment. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.
Let's bring in our legal and political experts right now. And, Dana Bash, I'll start with you. What do you make of this letter from the Democratic leaders demanding some Fox hosts actually admit they were wrong on the air?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a political no- brainer. If the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate didn't send such a letter today, it would be surprising.
And that is certainly what I'm hearing from sources on Capitol Hill. Because this is the fundamental question that we have all been asking, which is what have they been saying behind the scenes. Now we know. And not just the commentators themselves who were saying and anchors, one thing privately and another thing publicly, but the actual chairman, the man himself, Rupert Murdoch.
And so the idea of stoking this and continuing to put pressure on Fox News is, again, just like the most easy political thing for the Democrats who are in leadership right now in Congress to do.
BLITZER: Laura Coates, the Democratic leaders are also claiming Fox is still promoting lies about the 2020 presidential election. Is the network opening itself up to further legal trouble?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Every day that it is on the air and continues to push some of the basis of what this defamation lawsuit is about, they do have legal liability and exposure.
However, think about this, Wolf. That same network now has within its power and within its actual possession, through Tucker Carlson, thousands of hours of footage related to January 6th from the speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, as well. So, you're talking about, we're hearing revelations as, Dana, pointed out, about what was going on behind closed doors.
We're hearing from Murdoch, of course, deposition it wasn't about red or blue, but about green ala business decisions and fear of losing viewers, and now that same network at the same time now has the ability to have very consequential information that most of Congress has yet to see, let alone the public, and has the ability to now act in a similar manner around information.
Taking a step back, it is more than about the First Amendment or defamation or anything else, it is also about what might still be forthcoming from that very network.
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And, Wolf, to Laura's point. Rupert Murdoch's testimony guts what I think is the best potential defense here for Fox. Their defense, they've articulated, this is going to be -- these were newsworthy comments by the then-president and his top advisers, we were simply reporting them. Now, Murdoch admitted we endorsed them, although he tried to draw this distinction between, well, not we, Fox but we, our top anchors. But who is Fox News? Who is any media corporation if not the voices of its top journalists and reporters?
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Laura, and I want your legal perspective, because this Dominion $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox is set to head to trial next month. Are you surprised they haven't settled?
COATES: With that price tag, I'm not sure what would be the going rate for the settlement. But, again, they have a lot if the business decisions motivated potentially the misinformation, the endorsement of the lies, the idea of acting in conscious disregard for the truth, not following a 24/7 news cycle or perhaps mistakes are made as the information comes in later, but deliberately trying to skew the news or trying to defame Dominion and there was great consequences, it might very well be they've had extensive settlement discussions.
The fact that there is still a trial, it's on the calendar seems to me more than simply about the bottom line, it is about reputation, it is about the harm and, remember, not just Dominion as a corporation, individuals suffered as a result.
BASH: And, Wolf, I also don't want to lose sight of the fact that the other thing that was revealed was that Fox was giving on the sly information to the Trump campaign about the ad buys and the strategies that the Biden campaign was planning on doing. I mean, that is something that is so unethical, so untoward, if there is my modicum of journalism left in that place. And you could imagine if some other network did that kind of thing? They would and should be completely criticized and even, you know, even worse. And that is a very, very upsetting part of what we learned.
HONIG: Yes. And, Wolf, there is journalistic issues and potentially legal issues connected to that as well. Because if that information is construed as a thing of value, the law is sort of open on this, there could be violations of campaign finance laws as well.
BLITZER: And lots going on, indeed. All right, we'll watch it very, very closely. Guys, thank you very much.
An important note to our viewers, Laura Coates will be back later tonight on CNN Primetime to take us inside of the Murdaugh murder trial. That's starts at 9:00 P.M. Eastern, tonight at 9:00 P.M. Eastern.
Coming up, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine pays his first visit to the toxic train cleanup operation in his state then joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The governor of Ohio just got an update on the removal of hazardous waste at the site of that toxic train derailment. Area residents are increasingly worried about the long-term impact on their health.
Joining us now, the Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is joining us from East Palestine in Ohio.
Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
You were at the site of this derailment today. Where does the cleanup efforts stand right now in the push to remove all the contaminated waste underneath the train tracks?
GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: It's a huge effort, Wolf. It's going to go on for a number of weeks. They've already moved a tremendous amount of material, but the liquid as well as the solid material. But if you can see what I saw today, my wife Fran, it's hundreds of people working, a lot of trucks. And just being as careful as they can to get down and really get all of this out.
The other thing that we saw was working in the streams. And we're seeing, again, some of these streams are starting to come back. We're seeing aquatic life there. But in the ones that were closest to the train derailment, there's still a lot of work to do.
BLITZER: And our hearts go out to all those folks.
What are you hearing about the health of the residents there and the people working to remove this toxic waste, Governor? Are they suffering from symptoms from these toxic materials?
DEWINE: You know, Wolf, people who are reporting symptoms, and we don't know what those causes were. Many of them believe that it came about because the train derailment.
So what we did a few days ago, a number of agencies, federal as well as state, you know, we set up and local here in Columbiana County. We set up a clinic. People can go into the clinic.
They can be seen. They'll be examined. History will be taken. Doctors doing what doctors do. And then if additional work has to be done, blood work or something, then they're referred to their own physician, or if they don't have a physician, the clinic works to get them to have a medical home.
So, you know, great concern that people have. Although, on the other hand, where I'm standing in the park, there's kids over there playing basketball. Fran and I were in the school today, talked to just hundreds of kids, it seemed like, and if you didn't know that this tragedy had occurred, this big wreck had occurred. Just talking to these kids, they were talking about things that you would expect kids to talk about.
You know, they've got an upcoming play. They're going to be hosting some track meets -- all the things that you would hope kids were thinking about in March.
BLITZER: What about the rail workers involved in the cleanup? Are they showing any symptoms themselves?
DEWINE: I'm not aware of that at all. You know, they have been through -- I talked -- Fran and I stood there, watched them do the work they're doing. It's an amazing operation, very complex, a lot of moving parts, very impressive. And the rail workers who were there who are doing that work, when you talk to them, I said, look, how do you know how to even go about this. And they said each one is different, but when we do one, we've done these before, and we know what we're doing.
So, also supervised by the U.S. EPA, the Ohio EPA. We've got a health department in here. So -- but, to answer your question, no, I'm not aware of any symptoms of any of the workers, you know, who went in there. I was talking to the fire chief today. And, of course, you know, I was concerned. I asked about, you know,
the volunteer firemen and women who responded to that scene and didn't really know what was in the train. But they had -- most of us run away from danger, they run towards danger, and that's what they were doing. So I asked about them.
And what the chief told me, he says, look, we're not seeing anything now. The obvious concern is in the long run. And I agreed with the chief, and we talked about what probably is going to have to happen. There's going to have to be a fund established.
The railroad's going to have to put money into a fund at some point to make sure any long-term problems are dealt with, but also even if people don't have problems, just so they can get checked up and so they can feel better about this and they can say, look, I've been checked out, nothing is going on with me. Because the fear, you know, is real when you talk to these individuals.
BLITZER: Yeah, I'm sure, it's enormous. Please pass along our best wishes to everyone there. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
DEWINE: Thanks, Wolf. Appreciate it.
And just ahead, new video showing the deadly moment of impact between a passenger train and a freight train near Athens, Greece.
BLITZER: New details tonight on the horrific train crash that killed at least 38 people in Greece.
CNN's Nada Bashir has our report.
NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): A fire ball ignites. A passenger train in Greece carrying more than 350 people colliding head on with a freight train, killing dozens. In the aftermath, debris and carriages scattered across tracks.
KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, GREEK PRIME MINISTER (through translator): What we are experiencing today is very, very difficult as a country. We are talking about an unspeakable tragedy. Our thoughts today are first and foremost with the relatives of the victims.
BASHIR: The crash happened shortly before midnight local time. When the passenger train on its way from Athens to Thessaloniki changed lanes and switched to a cargo track before colliding with the freight train. A train station manager has now been arrested, charged with mass deaths and causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.
Firefighters, meanwhile, worked through the night to find and identify victims. Rescued passengers described the ordeal as a nightmare. STERGIOS MINENIS, TRAIN PASSENGER (through translator): We heard a
big bang. It was ten nightmarish seconds. We were turning over in the wagon until we fell on our sides, and until the commotion stopped. Then there was panic, cables everywhere. Fire -- the fire was immediate as we were turning over, we were being burned.
BASHIR: More than 70 people were injured and are now receiving treatment in hospital. Most of the passengers were young. The head of an intensive care unit at a local hospital told state media. Meanwhile, rescue workers continue the desperate search for more survivors.
MITSOTAKIS: One thing I can guarantee, we will find out the cause of this tragedy and do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.
BASHIR: Greece has declared a three-day mourning period. Flags flying at half staff across the country to remember the crash victims.
But authorities say that the death toll is still expected to rise.
Nada Bashir, CNN, Entebbe, Greece.
BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.