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Russia Edging Closer To Capture Key Ukrainian City Of Bakhmut; Biden: U.S. And Germany Working In Lockstep To Support Ukraine; Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo Speak At Conservative Gathering; DeSantis Appointee Peddled Baseless Anti-Gay Conspiracy Theory. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 03, 2023 - 17:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Happening now, the key Ukrainian city of Bakhmut on the brink. Critical bridges destroyed as Russian forces moved to encircle the city amid fears that it could fall at any time.

Also this hour, Alex Murdaugh is sentenced to life in prison after jurors quickly convicted him of murdering his wife and son. The judge condemning the disgraced lawyer and calling him a monster.

And the Trump DeSantis split within the GOP is on display at dueling conservative events. This is CNN has uncovered comments by a new appointee of Governor DeSantis peddling a baseless antigay conspiracy theory.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar, and you're in The Situation Room.

Tonight, Ukrainian forces are in an intense struggle to hold on to Bakhmut and prevent Russian fighters from capturing the city and giving Vladimir Putin a new win.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is near the front lines in eastern Ukraine. Alex, Bakhmut is symbolically significant. Where do things stand tonight?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, Russian forces are still trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut, but they are holding out. This is a very tough fight for the Ukrainians. They got even tougher today with the Russian destruction of a bridge on the main supply route that Ukraine uses to get to the front line. Essentially, it's the only paved road that Ukraine can use to back up its forces.

We were on that road yesterday, we showed it to our viewers here on this program. We saw all kinds of military vehicles going to and from that front line. So now if Ukraine wants to supply its forces, if it wants to withdraw, if it wants to try to extract civilians, it's going to have to do so on dirt roads and across open fields, which makes things a lot more difficult, a lot more dangerous. Brianna, we also heard from the head of the Wagner group today, those are the Russian mercenaries who've been leading Russia's fight. He called on President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to withdraw his forces from Bakhmut, saying that they are almost surrounded, that they will be completely surrounded in a day or two and that he should save his troops. Ukraine calling that part of a disinformation campaign.

We did see the top general for the eastern part of the country in Bakhmut in photos today. It's unclear when those photos were taken, but that was a clear sign that Ukraine is saying that we are standing firm, that we are not giving up this fight.

Brianna, separately, we also saw the U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland. He visited Ukraine today on an unannounced visit. He went to a judicial conference in the western city of Lviv, meeting with Ukraine's prosecutor general and President Zelenskyy, saying, repeating that the world needs to hold Russia accountable for what it has done here.

Attorney General Garland, the latest in a string of U.S. officials to visit Ukraine. Of course, we had President Biden last week. That was followed by the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, earlier this week and then Garland today, all showing their support for Ukraine. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Alex Marquart, thank you for that report from eastern Ukraine.

And here in the U.S., President Biden says he and the German chancellor are working in lockstep to support Ukraine. They have been holding talks at the White House today as the U.S. announced a new aid package for Ukraine.

Let's bring in CNN Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly on this. So, Phil, take us inside the president's meeting with the German leader.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Brianna, as you know quite well, when foreign leaders visit the White House, there's often a lot of pomp and circumstance, whether through an arrival or a state dinner or a press conference. This was a meeting that had none of that.

Precisely because senior officials here were making clear this was a working relationship -- or working meeting. A very substantive meeting and one in which both leaders, not only on the staff side but also in one on one conversations between the two, really wanted to focus on continuing and maintaining what has been pretty much rock solid coordination over the course of the last year, but also the critical nature of that coordination continuing in the months ahead.

As Alex was just reporting, this is a war that continues to grind on with no end in sight. That is what makes this bilateral relationship and the critical nature of this relationship within the larger transatlantic alliance that has been in place and led by President Biden so crucial as the President made clear. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've stepped up to provide critical military support. And, you know, I would argue that, beyond your military support, the moral support you gave to the Ukrainians has been profound. It's been profound. And you've driven historic changes at home and, you know, increase in defense spending and diversifying away from Russian energy sources. I know that's not been easy. Been very difficult for you.


OLAF SCHOLZ, GERMAN CHANCELLOR: At this time, I think it is very important that we give the message that we will continue to do so as long as it takes and as long as it is necessary.


MATTINGLY: And that message from Chancellor Scholz, both consistent, but also very critical, given that there is no end game in sight at this point. But the President alluding to just how dramatic Germany has transformed itself when it comes to its defense posture over the course of the last year, led by Chancellor Scholz.

The President also alluding to very real domestic issues, both on the political and economic side. The Chancellor Scholz has been dealing with and underscoring that the U.S. support of this relationship and the very personal relationship that President Biden and Chancellor Scholz have is just as critical as any other element, Brianna.

KEILAR: Certainly. And Phil, separately, we are learning tonight about a cancerous lesion that was detected during the President's annual physical last month. Can you tell us how serious this was?

MATTINGLY: Yes, Brianna, that lesion was detected, removed, and biopsied. We've been waiting for the results. It was noted in that February 16th, doctor's memo coming out of that physical. The biopsy has returned, and it has been found to have been a cancerous lesion.

However, it's been successfully removed. There is no sign of any cancer after the removal of the lesion, and it is -- there's no further treatment, according to the President's personal physician, that is expected going forward. There will continue to be dermatological surveillance going forward.

But as you may recall, this is actually something similar to what the First Lady had removed, Jill Biden earlier this year. The President having this as well, but at this point, no further treatment, and they believe all the cancer was removed.

KEILAR: All right, that is good news. Phil, thank you for that report.

I want to bring back our Alex Marquardt, along with General Wesley Clark and CNN Contributor and Russian Affairs -- CNN Contributor and Russian Affairs Expert Jill Dougherty, who is with us now. General Clark, the U.S. announcing yet another military aid package today, but are you concerned that this doesn't include some of the weapons on Ukraine's wish list?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: We know we're not going to get those weapons to Ukraine. The F-16s, the ATACMS, the administration has decided in its policy that Ukraine is not going to get those. But getting more ammunition, getting artillery, getting combat vehicles, getting all the other ancillary assistance, yes, that's really important, and I'm really glad to see that announced.

KEILAR: You know, Jill, President Biden, we see him alongside the German Chancellor today, saying that the two countries have worked in lockstep. Part of Vladimir Putin's calculus throughout this past year has been trying to outlast the unity of Western allies. And I wonder where you think that contest stands at this point in time.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, RUSSIAN AFFAIRS: Well, I think it's holding so far. You know, this is very complicated because all of these countries, especially in Europe, getting the United States and Europe on one page, getting the United States and Germany on one page concerning the tanks that the Germans are going to be providing, the Leopard 2 tanks.

These are very complicated things, not only internationally, but it's also in terms of domestic politics in the countries from which these leaders come. So I think to answer it -- I'm sorry, I heard something?

KEILAR: No, we can hear you fine, Jill. Can you hear us?

DOUGHERTY: OK. There was a little interference. Sorry about that. But I think one thing that we have to look at right now, a year is gone, as we all know. And so these leaders are getting together and in everything they do, they have to pledge their unity and then kind of look on the road.

And looking down the road, if you look at that meeting between Lavrov and Blinken, the two foreign secretaries, nothing is changing. It would be met in a quarter for 10 minutes. And it appears that the war is just going to keep on going.

KEILAR: You know, Alex, we saw pictures in your report out of Bakhmut and this situation there really looking grim. What is next if Russia takes this city?

MARQUARDT: Well, we spoke with soldiers yesterday just to the west of Bakhmut who said that if Russia was to take Bakhmut, that they would then use that as a launching off point to press deeper into Ukraine, that they would try to take that town that were in chaos of yar.

And so what Ukraine appears to be trying to do right now is to weaken Russia as much as possible so that if they take Bakhmut that they wouldn't be able to press too much farther from there. We are starting to see the beginning stages of a new Russian offensive, Brianna.

We've seen it farther south. I was down in the town of Vuhledar, we're seeing it up and down the Eastern Front. And so far they have not made much progress, but they are certainly trying to press forward.

And so what Ukraine would do is certainly if they lost Bakhmut to Russia, is to try to dig in just to the west of the city so that Russia couldn't really advance from there, try to make that victory as symbolic as possible.


It still would be a major victory for Russia if they were to take Bakhmut. This is a very bloody fight for months, both sides losing thousands of men. It would be a big loss for Ukraine.

KEILAR: Yes. General, what are your concerns with the status right now of Bakhmut, and also how do you see this new Russian offensive unfolding?

CLARK: Well, I think the Russians are going to continue to throw infantry backed by artillery at the Ukrainians. And their idea is just to keep pushing manpower in there until the Ukrainians can't stand the losses anymore, and they're going to hope for a breakthrough somewhere.

I still believe that there are uncommitted Russian mobile forces. They may be waiting, they may be in the wings, they may be waiting for breakthrough. But we think those forces are there, along with aircraft north of the Ukrainian border there in the eastern part, northeast of Ukraine. So I think that we're in a very difficult situation.

As long as Ukraine can hold, it should. It should do its best not to fall back a withdrawal under enemy pressures of very difficult military operation. As long as they can hold, they should hold. The idea, though, that the Russians have is to force the Ukrainians to give up the Ukrainian offensive capability that's being held back and force them to throw that into the fight.

That's the challenge for Ukraine. Hold, keep your offensive ready to go, and be ready to go south or northeast on order.

KEILAR: Jill, I want to get your reaction to a moment where we see Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov at a conference India. This is the reaction he got when he tried to blame Ukraine for instigating this war.


SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER: You know, the war which we are trying to stop and which was launched against us using the Ukrainian people, of course, it influenced the policy of Russia.


KEILAR: He's laughed at, Jill. What did you think of that?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, really extraordinary. You know, Mr. Lavrov is one of the most esteemed foreign policy people in Russia. He is a distinguished diplomat, and there he is laughed at, because, of course, what he is saying is ludicrous. And that's the problem that he faces.

Right now, it's really when you -- when you look at who's deciding this war and where it goes, et cetera, it's not the Foreign Ministry. It's nobody except for Vladimir Putin and a handful of other people who are deciding that. And this is the issue that until you get Putin to really even indicate that he would want to change course, nothing will change.

And every indication is that he is just hunkering down and going forward and not stopping. And that's, you know, worrying this on.

KEILAR: It certainly is.

Jill, General, Alex, thank you so much to all of you for the discussion.

And coming up, Alex Murdaugh will spend the rest of his life in prison for murdering his wife and son. Dramatic reaction today from the judge, the defense and the member of the jury.



KEILAR: Disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. CNN's Dianne Gallagher has the details.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I sentence you for term of the rest of your natural life.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two consecutive life sentences for disgraced attorney Alex Murdaugh for the murders of his wife Maggie and his son Paul. The end of a dramatic six-week trial.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Murdaugh spoke in court again, saying he did not kill his wife and son.

ALEX MURDAUGH, CONVICTED OF MURDERING WIFE AND SON: I'm innocent. I would never hurt my wife Maggie, and I would never hurt my son Pawpaw.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): But Judge Clifton Newman offered a different take.

NEWMAN: And it might not have been you. It might have been the monster you become when you take 15, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 opioid pills. Maybe you become another person.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Judge Newman saying this trial was, quote, one of the most troubling cases of his career. NEWMAN: And I know you have to see Paul and Maggie during the night times when you're attempting to go to sleep. I'm sure they come and visit you. I'm sure.

MURDAUGH: All day and every night.

NEWMAN: Yes, I'm sure.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The prosecutor again pointing out Murdaugh's lies.

CREIGHTON WATERS, LEAD PROSECUTOR: The lack of remorse, and the effortless way in which he lies, including here, sitting right over there in this witness stand.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Today, sentencing comes just one day after the jury found Murdaugh guilty of two counts of murder and two weapons charges.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): One juror spoke to ABC News about the jury's decision, saying the cell phone video placing him at the scene sealed Murdaugh's fate.

CRAIG MOYER, JUROR: The evidence was clear. Hear his voice clearly and everybody else could too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it took basically 45 minutes for you guys to come to a decision?

MOYER: Probably about 45, maybe an hour.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Craig Moyer also saying Murdaugh's reactions during the trial were not convincing.

MOYER: His responses how quick he was with the defense and his lies, steady lies. I didn't see any true remorse or any compassion or anything.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Murdaugh's defense team spoke to CNN today about their decision to put their client on the stand.

JIM GRIFFIN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: By putting him on the stand, I think the jury also got to see his emotions about Maggie and Paul, which are very raw and real. But then, you know, the next day on cross examination, got to give credit where credit is due. I mean, they clearly painted Alex as, you know, a liar.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Vowing their fight is not over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're appealing, and we feel good about an appeal. He's a liar and he's a thief, and he admitted that he's not a murderer. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: Now, the idea that Alex admitted to being a liar and a thief on the stand is something that factored in. The defense believes two that guilty verdict. They believe that if the financial crimes had never been allowed into this trial as evidence, that perhaps we would have a different verdict.

But, Brianna, look, he may have been convicted of murder here, but his legal issues are far from over. There are 99 other charges still pending against him, the majority of them related to those financial crimes.

And I've spoken to some of the attorneys for those dozens of victims, they still want their own justice. The Attorney General told me today they still intend on pursuing those charges against Alex Murdaugh.

KEILAR: Yes. we will continue to hear his name. Dianne, stay with us.

I also want to bring in Defense Attorney Shan Wu for more analysis on this. Shan, the juror who spoke out said it took, in the end, less than an hour. Yes, it took a few hours for the totality of this verdict to come down. But when it came down to getting from, you know, some people thinking he might not be guilty to everyone saying, yes, he's guilty, it was less than an hour for the jury to agree on that. Was that video that put Murdaugh at the scene of the murders, the smoking gun here?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It certainly seemed that way. It really put him in a terrible position in terms of his defense because he had to admit that was his voice there, because he had to testify. If he didn't feel like he had to testify, that would have been different.

Different people can hear the same thing, see the same thing, and have differing views on it. He could have sat back in silence and let the jury debate, was that really his voice? But with him being up there for hours talking, they didn't have any doubt that was his voice.

KEILAR: Yes. And Dianne, this is a family that for generations has been so prominent, not just as lawyers, but as solicitors, you know, so on the side, in a way, of the local government here, the judge really emphasized what a fall from grace this has been for the Murdaugh family.

GALLAGHER: That's right, Brianna. Look, the judge's comments were stunning this morning. Everybody out here sat in silence, almost with their mouths agape, listening to him dressed Alex Murdaugh down. And he went back in history, a century pointing out that the Murdaughs had been the law here.

He had to remove a portrait of Alex Murdaugh's grandfather from the very courtroom where Alex was convicted of murder so he could get a fair trial. Something that Creighton Waters pointed out. So did the attorney general and the judge that nobody is above the law. That is part of the fascination across the country with this case. There's power and privilege and people who perhaps had never been held accountable before.

KEILAR: Yes, I think that's what's interesting. They did seem to be above the law. And then this was very much the come up ends here.


KEILAR: And Shan, you just heard one of his lawyers say they feel pretty good about their appeal. Do you think that they should? Do they have grounds for that?

WU: Well, they certainly have grounds for it. I don't know how good they should feel, but they have a legal basis for it, which is the prejudicial effect of all those financial crimes and fraud coming in, whether that outweighed the probative value of it. And they can certainly argue that it makes them look bad.

And the danger of letting in that kind of evidence is you can infect the jury's view that this is just a liar. We can't believe anything he says, he's just a bad person. That's what the defense is going to argue. They'll also argue that because the judge let that evidence in, they had no choice but to put their client on the stand, and they would have preferred to keep him off the stand, perhaps, and just let the silence and the reasonable doubt.

Or putting him on the stand to expose him for that long -- the cross examination is very hard for even a really good witness to satisfy that standard and withstand it and he did not do a very good job for himself during the cross examination certainly.

KEILAR: Yes. Look, his financial state and those crimes really go to the issue of motive. And Dianne, they do in the case of at least one other suspicious death that surrounds the Murdaughs. Where do things go from here when it comes to that?

GALLAGHER: You know, at this point, there are still investigations into all of those deaths, investigations that were reopened as well. I can tell you that has impacted people greatly here. The father of Mallory Beach, the girl who was killed in the boat crash at Paul Murdaugh was charged for driving, and before he was murdered, they say, sort of tipped this whole thing off, according to the state.

He was here today, and he told us that it helps bring a little sense of justice. The fact that this case made sure his daughter's name and what happened to her has stayed in the media and people did not forget about what happened to her. That is how all of these victims have felt in the end, hoping they too, will get justice.

KEILAR: All right, Diane Gallagher, thank you for your continued reporting on this. Shan Wu, thank you for your analysis.


And up next, the early Republican presidential race is playing out at a high profile gathering of conservatives tonight. How far are former President Trump's rivals willing to go to drive home their differences? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Tonight, conservative activists are gathered just outside of the nation's capital for an event that showcases Republican presidential hopefuls, or at least some of them anyway. It is a new test of former President Trump's hold on the GOP base as well.

CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes is at CPAC. Kristen, what are you seeing there?


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this has really been a who's who of MAGA world. I mean, today we already heard from Matt Gaetz, we heard from Don Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Steve Bannon not only filmed his podcast here, but he also gave a speech in which he said that Donald Trump should be presidents again, run in 2024 and win, and that no one should take him on.

That's really been the sentiment of many of the speakers and some of the attendees that we've talked to here. A lot of Trump merchandise, Trump flags, Trump bumper stickers on shirts. And perhaps that is why we're not seeing so many of the major potential 2024 Republican candidates.

I mean, a lot of these big names did not come to CPAC this year, which would have been unheard of in previous years. That includes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.

But we did hear from two major 2024 hopefuls, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley. And despite all the enthusiasm for Trump, both of them made a pitch for themselves and without using his name directly, indicated that it might be time to move on from the former president.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation. And if you want to win not just as a party, but as a country, then stand with me.

MIKE POMPEO, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Over the last few years, I've heard some who claim to be conservative, excuse hypocrisy by saying something like, well, we're electing a president, not a Sunday school teacher. That's true, but having taught Sunday school, maybe we could get both.


HOLMES: Now, the reception in the room was lukewarm, but it did get ugly afterwards, when Nikki Haley was outside of the speech hall, she was taking photos of some attendees, and then you started hearing people around her chanting Trump, Trump, Trump.

Now, a smaller group of people near here started chanting her name as well. And again, this is just a small group, a small part of the Republican Party. But it does go to show you what exactly this primary, which is expected to be very ugly and get very dirty, is going to look like.

KEILAR: Yes, that is the divide that you're looking at in that video. All right, Kristen, thank you for that. And stand by for us. We'll see you here in just a moment again.

As Governor DeSantis moves closer to an expected presidential bid, CNN's KFILE has uncovered some disturbing comments by a new DeSantis appointee.

Andrew Kaczynski, who is the senior editor of KFILE is joining us now on this. Andrew, tell us what you found here.

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN FILE SENIOR EDITOR: Yes, that's right, a history of anti-gay comments from Ron Peri. He was one of those appointed by Ron DeSantis to the new board governing the special tax district that governs Disney. Now, people -- remember when this group, Disney, they spoke out against the Don't Say Gay bill, they were effectively punished by DeSantis by replacing the old board, those who had ties to Disney, with this new board.

Now, Peri, he is an Orlando based former pastor. He runs a group called The Gathering. The Gathering had zoom sessions, which he later posted on YouTube. And what we found was, in those zoom sessions, he made a variety of antigay comments. There is even this one where he bizarrely suggested that water could be turning people gay because of hormones in it.

Let's take a listen to that one.


RON PERI, THE GATHERING: So why are there homosexuals today? There are any number of reasons, you know, that are given. Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies. You know, there's estrogen in the water from the -- from birth control pills. They can't get it out.

But the big part, I would suggest to you, based upon what it's saying here, is the removal of constraint. Well, you remove the constraints and then evil occurs."


KACZYNSKI: Now, we should first off point out that there is no evidence for either of those claims made by him. We did reach out to DeSantis's administration. We did reach out to Peri. We didn't hear back from either of them. You can read those comments and others from Perry in the article we just posted on

KEILAR: All right, we'll be looking for that. Andrew Kaczynski, thank you so much.

I want to bring back Kristen Holmes, along with our CNN National Politics Reporter, Eva McKend. Eva, first, I mean your reaction to what Andrew found in this KFILE reporting. And do you think this is going to hurt Governor DeSantis?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: You know, Brianna I don't anticipate that there is going to be any significant political consequences for the governor. What we have seen in Florida is there is a limit to Democratic outrage. There is a limit, yes, we're going to hear Democrats shake their head at this, angry about this, but there is a limit to what they can do.


Also, in my conversations with conservatives who hold marginalized identities, over the years, they have suggested that ignorance like this, rank ignorance like this is sort of the cost of doing business. They agree with Governor DeSantis on a whole number of policies, taxes, limited government.

So, is -- do they -- are they going to feel like this is great, that this man has referred to gay folks as deviant, shameful, unhealthy, suggesting that you become gay by drinking tap water? Probably not. But I don't see a groundswell of gay conservatives in Florida trying to challenge Governor DeSantis when they have supported him on so many issues in the recent past.

KEILAR: And, you know, Kristen, DeSantis skipping CPAC there. So he gets to avoid one of those, like Nikki Haley moments that you highlighted where she's getting kind of heckled by the pro-Trump set. He can't avoid the larger issue, though, of Trump and how he navigates the hold that Trump clearly has still on part of the GOP.

HOLMES: Well, that's right, Brianna. And that's been the big question is how he's going to walk this fine line. The thing to remember is that DeSantis in 2018 not only ran with the endorsement that he sought from Donald Trump, he also ran on a MAGA platform. We all remember that ad for governor in 2018 in which he is reading the Art of the Deal to his child, he's teaching another child how to build the wall, referencing Trump in that Florida ad nonstop.

So he clearly was trying to appeal to the base. And I will tell you that there are a number of people that I spoke to here who say that they actually like DeSantis a lot. Even the people who say they want Trump to be president in 2024, say they like DeSantis. They just don't believe it's his turn.

The question is whether or not he can continue to scave off these insults from former President Donald Trump. I mean, for the last several weeks, we have seen Trump just go after DeSantis on through Social as well as interviews calling him disloyal, hitting his COVID policies. And the list goes on and on hitting him over Social Security and Medicare.

Now the question again whether or not DeSantis can continue to just blow this off as noise, that he's not going to hit other Republicans or if at some point he actually decides to take on former President Trump. And then what does that look like for this Republican base? Do people split? Do they go towards Donald Trump? This is a group that has been very loyal to him. But again, there are people there who like Ron DeSantis. So he has a very fine line here that he has to navigate.

KEILAR: Yes, all of these candidates do and we'll be watching them. Eva and Kristen, thank you to both of you.

Just ahead, work underway to remove the track near the Ohio toxic train derailment site. Why the potential health impacts are still a major concern for residents who live nearby.



KEILAR: An EPA source says the agency has not fully accepted Norfolk Southern's remediation plan regarding the toxic train derailment in eastern Ohio. This as residents and farmers living near the derailment site are waiting for answers as to whether their health is in jeopardy. Here's CNN's Miguel Marquez.


DAVE ANDERSON, OWNER, ECHO VALLEY FARM: Come on, girls. Come on, girls. Come on, girls.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave Anderson raises grass fed beef 4 miles downwind of East Palestine, Ohio. After the derailment fire and venting of toxic chemicals, this is what drifted over his Echo Valley farm.

ANDERSON: As far as the smoke, you could probably see 100 yards. You know, it was dark.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): And what did you experience?

ANDERSON: Burning eyes, burning throat, burning mouth.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The cloud from the toxic spill settled on his pastures and ponds. The question he now cannot answer are the cattle he's raised for years OK for human consumption.

ANDERSON: Customers that buy grass fed beef directly from a farmer. They care about their food.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): They want to know what they're getting --

ANDERSON: They want to know what they're getting.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): -- is topnotch.

ANDERSON: And healthy for them.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): He's now sued Norfolk Southern. He also wants testing, a process, a way to certify his livestock is safe.

ANDERSON: The lawsuit is about peace of mind to start with.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Right.

ANDERSON: And information to make decisions.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Solid information, here tough to come by. Officials have established a 2-mile zone around the derailment site as a priority because Anderson's farm is farther away. Despite being directly in the path of the plume from the toxic spill, he's yet received little support and no answers from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, DEP.

(on-camera): What will sways your concerns?

ANDERSON: Testing. But there has been no testing.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): None?

ANDERSON: None. And so --

MARQUEZ (on-camera): DEP has not been out here at all?

ANDERSON: DEP came yesterday for the first time, four weeks after the event. A little more than four weeks after the event.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): Did they test? They take samples?

ANDERSON: They did not. They were investigating whether they should be active in this area outside of the 2-mile ring.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The crash occurred just feet from the Pennsylvania border. The winds typically blow east toward Pennsylvania. The state is going house to house, testing soil and water in areas closest to the derailment.

(on-camera): What did you see that night?

SAMUEL WEGNER, LIVES IN PA, NEAR THE DERAILMENT SITE: Standing at the end of the driveway, I saw a huge plume of smoke. I saw flames above the tree tops, well over 100 feet in the air, and it was terrifying.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Samuel Wegner and his wife Joyce, had their fourth child, Jackson Hayes, a week ago. He says the state's response has been too slow and lacking any information to know whether his town of Darlington, Pennsylvania, is still a safe place to raise a family.

(on-camera): Have you tested your well, or has it been tested?

WEGNER: It was tested today, and we're told to be another three weeks until we get results.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Wegner, who works in landscaping, says they evacuated for four days, but moving permanently isn't an option.


(on-camera): How tough was it to come back to this house, knowing that you bring a newborn here?

WEGNER: I feel like I possibly regret the decision every day, but here we live paycheck to paycheck. We live within our means and we don't have the financial luxury to pack up and move. It's just -- it's scary.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The CDC is now conducting health survey in and around East Palestine, trying to determine the long-term effects on human health. While air and water testing is occurring daily, answers about long term health won't come quickly.

CAPTAIN JILL SHUGART, U.S. PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE: We are hoping in the next couple of weeks to be able to have collected all of the information that we need and then those results will be available in the coming months.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): For Pennsylvania residents and business owners, downwind of the toxic fire, answers can't come soon enough.

(on-camera): But you're losing business because people aren't sure it's safe to eat your food.

JC SUMMERS, OWNER, BUTCHER AND THE BAKER, DARLINGTON, PA: Yes, I think so. I lost a wedding over that, yes, catering job. They just -- they don't know. I mean, I'm -- I don't think there's anything wrong with anything, but I don't know either.

MARQUEZ (on-camera): It must hurt.

SUMMERS: Yes, it sucks. I'm sorry. I don't know how else to put it. It's just the uncertainty.


MARQUEZ: Pennsylvania officials have pushed back pretty hard on the notion that not enough is being done in this area. They say they've tested nearly every well within a 2-mile radius of the derailment and those results will be in soon. They have a plan to sample soil throughout the area as well.

They've worked with animal experts and animal welfare experts to inform farmers of the best practices for the situation. They say they've also opened up a health clinic with hundreds of people have already taken advantage of and can continue to take advantage of. They also say that all the information, all the testing, all the public information about best practices is all available both online and in person. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Miguel, thank you for that report.

Coming up, the severe weather that has left more than a million people in the U.S. without power tonight. But first, the new CNN film "Glitch: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia" reveals the crazy story behind the revolutionary game show app that went viral and then crashed and burned in record time. Here's a preview.


SCOTT ROGOWSKY, HQ HOST: I'm working with these guys who started vine and they want to do this Trivia show on an app. To me, identify hopes for it.

This is HQ. I'm Scott, the host.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: HQ Trivia was everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You could actually win real money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just kept getting bigger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bigger prizes, bigger celebrities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People dressed as me for Halloween.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was doing today show, Colbert.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a Super Bowl commercial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This company is going to make at least $100 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just got so popular. And the app is not ready to work with too many people on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freezing, disconnections and errorless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it crashes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's when the crack started showing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colin and Rus started as co-founders, but both competing to be the CEO.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you have a lack of trust between the two people running the company, it leads to chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You had HQ imitations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Facebook copy this? They did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was some jealousy. I was the face of the product he created.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Working until midnight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really grueling hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what did they do? They got drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the end of this, who lost their life?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't we -- yes, why don't we grab lunch and we can do separate lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Glitch. The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia", Sunday at 9:00 on CNN.



KEILAR: Right now, high winds and bad weather have left more than 1 million people in the U.S. without power tonight. The severe weather even forced airports in Atlanta and Nashville to issue ground stops. Meteorologist Jennifer Gray is joining us now from the CNN Weather Center. Jennifer, what risks are you monitoring right now?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's mainly a wind risk right now. We've seen winds of 80 miles per hour within these storms. We also have a tornado risk as well. The tornado risk is winding down as we go through the evening hours, but that doesn't mean we won't see another one.

We've already had seven tornado reports between yesterday and today, but that wind number is what really sticks out. More than 200 wind reports with this system. And as you mentioned, over a million people -- or a million customers without power. Kentucky and Tennessee really hit the hardest with this storm, the wind and also those tornadic storms.

We're seeing damaging winds, possibly a few tornadoes left with this large hail. And you can see this area shaded in orange. That's the area that we're really paying the closest attention to as we go throughout the next couple of hours. These are fast moving storms.

At one time these storms were traveling 75 to 80 miles per hour. So that's why when these warnings pop up, you have to get to your safe spot incredibly fast because they're traveling at such a high rate of speed. We do have active tornado warnings right now. You can see just to the east of Cincinnati, those hot pink boxes, that's a storm that is possibly producing a tornado as we speak.

Also severe thunderstorm warnings. These have very high winds, also large hail embedded in those. This is all going to move into the mid- Atlantic and the Northeast, New England. By the time we get into tomorrow, it's really going to be just a gross day.

We're going to see a lot of rainfall. We're also going to see snow for interior sections of New England. Boston could be included in that though. And we're also looking at the rainfall that we've already seen up to 4 inches of rain. Some areas have already received 6. Brianna?


KEILAR: My goodness, 6 inches of rain. All right, Jennifer Gray, thank you for that. And coming up, our live report from the eastern front lines of Ukraine. This key city of Bakhmut potentially on the verge of Russian capture.


KEILAR: Happening now, fierce new frontline attacks and counterattacks in eastern Ukraine. Strategic bridges blown up as the Russians edge closer to capturing the embattled city of Bakhmut.

Also this hour, a judge sentences Alex Murdaugh to life in prison and condemns him as, quote, the monster you've become. Our experts will break down what happens next after Murdaugh's sensational trial and swift conviction in the murders of his wife and son.

And conservative activists are meeting tonight at high profile event where Donald Trump's grip on the GOP is being tested. We're going to look at who's attending CPAC and who is not and what that says about the 2024 presidential race.