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The Situation Room

Soon, Officials Give Update On Bridge Collapse Disaster; Awaiting Judge's Ruling On Trump's Bid Get Georgia Case Tossed; Soon, Biden's Star-Studded New York City Fundraiser With Obama And Clinton; Maryland Governor: Feds Okay Initial $60 Million In Funding For Bridge Collapse; FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried Sentenced To 25 Years In Federal Prison. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're standing by for top officials to give an update on the Baltimore Bridge collapse as federal investigators are back on board the ship that caused the disaster. We're also hearing from a woman who was stopped from driving onto the bridge just moments before it crumbled into the water.

Also this hour, how Georgia prosecutors are pushing the criminal case against Donald Trump forward fighting a new defense attempt to try to get the charges thrown out. We're awaiting the judge's decision and getting new insight into District Attorney Fani Willis' strategy after weeks of controversy.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, we're awaiting an official update on the Baltimore Bridge collapse. Maryland's governor and other top authorities expected to brief the public this hour.

But, first, let's get the latest on the investigation and the cleanup effort now underway. For more on that, I want to bring in CNN's Pete Munteann, who's joining us from Baltimore right now. Pete, what are you learning?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're expecting to hear from Governor Wes Moore in the next 15 minutes or so. He has called this a national crisis, and the White House just released $60 million in federal funding to help out here.

It also just announced it is sending a special floating crane that should arrive here soon, just the start of the cleanup from this disaster.


MUNTEAN (voice over): New video shows the fateful final moments before Baltimore's iconic Key Bridge was taken down by a crippled cargo ship, flashing lights on top, believed to be from the pothole repair crew that perished.

GAYLE FAIRMAN, UBER DRIVER: I could have been on that bridge.

MUNTEAN: Uber Driver Gayle Fairman says she was stopped by police moments before the bridge's dramatic plunge into the Patapsco River below.

FAIRMAN: If my passenger wasn't a little bit late coming out to the car and getting into it, we probably very well could have been on the bridge when it collapsed.

MUNTEAN: Now, National Transportation Safety Board investigators, who boarded the Dali again on Thursday, are detailing the crew's desperate attempts to avoid disaster as the 100-ton ship barreled out of control.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, NTSB CHAIR: We've seen the recordings. We have data which is consistent with a power outage.

MUNTEAN: But NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy says it is too early to know what triggered the outage. The Dali's voyage data recorder shows it shoved off from the port of Baltimore early Tuesday at 12:39 A.M. Traveling at eight knots or roughly nine miles per hour, the ship maneuvered without issue for 46 minutes. Then at 1:25 A.M., numerous alarms sounded on the ship's bridge. At 1:26 A.M., the crew ordered steering and rudder commands, then radioed for tugboats to come back and help. At 1:27 A.M., the crew began dropping an anchor on the left side of the ship and warned over radio that it was approaching the Key Bridge. At 1:29 and 33 seconds, impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire Key Bridge has fallen into the harbor.

MUNTEAN: Investigators now underscore that the 47-year-old bridge was designed without redundancy. Known as fracture critical, the NTSB says the failure of one support causes the entire bridge to fall. The older design is common on nearly 17,000 existing bridges in the United States.

The Key Bridge did have protective barriers, known as dolphins, but investigators say the Dali slipped through them.

TROY MORGAN, STRUCTURE ENGINEER: The idea is not to really design these bridge piers to absorb that kind of direct impact. It's just not -- it's not feasible, it's not economical, but using their other protective measures that can be taken to kind of limit the exposure of the piers to the ship itself.

MUNTEAN: With the port a backbone of Baltimore's economy, there is an urgent push to reopen its shipping lanes even at a reduced capacity. At least 11 ships are trapped in the port, critical for moving everything from sugar to cars.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working to move the Dali first, but its bow is now pinned under the weight of the collapsed bridge.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): If we can open one of the lanes sooner, then that obviously would allow shift to come in and out.

MUNTEAN: At the season-opener for the Baltimore Orioles, a moment of silence for the lives lost. Answers are in short supply, but Baltimore's resolve is not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the field and far off it, we will build together and we will be resilient in this next chapter of our great city.



MUNTEAN (on camera): The NTSB is interviewing some of the 21 members of crew of the Dali who are still on board the ship. We're only days into this investigation, Wolf, and it's already hitting a bit of a stumbling block. That voyage data recorder recorded very basic and bare bones pieces of information. NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy says it is not like the data record on a commercial airliner that captures thousands of points of information, something she says she would like to see changed. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good point. Pete Muntean in Baltimore for us, Pete, thank you very much.

Right now, I want to get more on the story. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us right now. Tom, the bridge collapse in Baltimore raising serious questions about the structure of bridges, indeed, all across the country.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And Pete previewed it there just a tiny bit. Federal officials say about 17,000 bridges across this country are fracture critical. We heard that term. What that means, it's a technical term, but it means in simple ways that if they're struck with enough force at just the right spot, a big section or the entire bridge will come down. That is exactly what we saw with the Key Bridge. When that ship hit this one support over here, it triggered a chain reaction that took the whole thing out.

This is a bridge that had stood for decades, that handled 11 million cars a year, was undeniably very strong, gone in second.

And there have been similar incidents in the past. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge near Tampa, which opened roughly around the time of the Key Bridge, was taken out by a floundering ship many years ago. The I-40 Bridge in Oklahoma, also well in past, was largely destroyed by some loose barges, again, hitting one area. And there are more. Wolf?

BLITZER: It's interesting, Tom, because the head of the NTSB has talked about the current norm, the current normal for building bridges involves what she calls redundancies. Explain what that means.

FOREMAN: Yes. Those redundancies, many modern bridges are being constructed with protections around those danger points. So, for example, you might have something like those dolphins. We heard reference there. That's something that's going to stand apart from the bridge itself out in the water. There are many different forms of these, but the point is that these would be something, that would either deflect or somehow slow down, reduce the idea of a bridge getting a free, unhindered shot at this vital part right over here.

The other possibility is something that is referred to largely as fenders. In this case, it's built more around the critical part. And it might be out of earth or it might out a steel or might it be out any number of concrete, any number substances, but basically the same effect. What you're doing is you are putting something here that will keep any force from having a direct shot at the bridge.

Federal officials say they don't think anything could have withstood the force of this ship hitting that bridge, but maybe if these had been more robust, it could've steered it aside, somehow blunted that assault, and maybe this fracture critical bridge wouldn't fall.

And plus, engineers say, what about all the older bridges? Even if you're building the new ones this way, what about those 17,000 other bridges, which ones are in dangerous areas? Which ones are vulnerable to this kind of single impact catastrophic failure? Wolf?

BLITZER: They've got to figure out a way to make sure this doesn't happen again. Tom Foreman, thank you very, very much for that report.

I want to get some insight right now from a former merchant mariner, Sal Mercogliano. Sal, thanks very for joining us.

You're a maritime expert. What do you see as the key angles right for investigators to pursue as they work to try to understand how this truly horrific collapse happened?

SAL MERCOGLIANO, FORMER MERCHANT MARINER: Thanks, Wolf. I think you got to start ruling out ideas. What could possibly it be? I mean everything from contaminated fuel, which would be easy for the NTSB to check, they can go back in and do fuel tests, all the way to interviewing the crew to find out what were the events leading up to this that allowed main power to go out. Was it electrical, was it a mechanical error or was it a human error?

BLITZER: You know, the wreckage site is, as all of us know, is full of twisted steel and concrete The NTSB says there are 700 tons of hazardous materials on board the ship, the Dali. How do these salvage teams safely clean all this up and get the port up and running again?

MERCOGLIANO: Well, Wolf, remember, two years ago, Baltimore encountered this. The Ever Forward leaving the port of Baltimore ran aground between the Key Bridge and the Bay Bridge. So, the captain of the fort at the time, who's the same captain now, oversaw a massive operation to remove containers from the grounded vessel, to pull the vessel out.

This is obviously a much larger operation, the fact that the bridge has landed on the bow of the vessels. There's no problem for Baltimore who had done this before to start removing containers off the ship, and that may be part of this salvage operation.


We'll see.

Remember, this is going to be a three part salvage operations. You're going to have the ships that need to be removed. You're going to have to remove the bridge across the main channel. And then you're going to have to remove portions of the bridge beyond the channel to be able to clear everything out.

BLITZER: Yes, an enormous amount of work remaining. As all of this unfolds, the Dali ship's crew are still on board that ship. Help us understand why.

MERCOGLIANO: It's still an operating ship. I mean, you still have systems to run. You still need to maintain the ship. There's also a fear, again, that the ship may shift and move. Even though the forward part is grounded, if weather comes up, there may need to be use of the ship's systems to maintain it.

You don't want it to ship, especially when there are boats in the water, the sonar boats, the sensor boats, and when salvage operations stop. So, this needs to be remaining a fully operational ship until they can remove it, get it pure sight, and begin the offload process and repair. The ship has suffered heavy damage up forward.

BLITZER: Yes, enormous damage. What structural changes can be made to these older bridges here in the United States and indeed around the world that are more vulnerable to a forceful hit?

MERCOGLIANO: Well, I think one of the things we need to be thinking about is when port of Baltimore, for example, upgraded and upgraded, it dredged the harbor. It included new cranes to be able to handle these type vessels. You need to look at those bridged infrastructures.

And I think, as was reported just before, the use of dolphins and barriers, if you look at the new bridge that was built after the Tampa incident in 1980, you can really see it before and after where some of those protections were put into place. They should be mandated and then retrofitted on older bridges.

BLITZER: Important point. Sal Mercogliano, thank you very much for all that analysis.

Just ahead, we're awaiting a news conference on the Baltimore Bridge collapse. The governor of Maryland and other top officials expected to join. We'll have live coverage.

Plus, is there any merit to Donald Trump's newest attempt to get the Georgia election subversion case thrown out? Our legal experts are standing by as the judge weighs his decision.



BLITZER: We expect the news conference on the Baltimore Bridge collapse to begin at any moment. We're standing by to bring it to your live.

Right now, a judge is weighing new pretrial motions by Donald Trump in the Georgia election subversion case.

CNN's Sara Murray has details on today's hearing and the very conspicuous absence of district attorney Fani Willis.


SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The criminal case against Donald Trump in Georgia --

DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This whole witch hunt should be put out of its misery and dismissed immediately.

MURRAY: Inching ahead today, Trump attorney Steve Sadow arguing the indictment against the former president should be tossed, claiming Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election, like his call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger --

TRUMP: All I want to do is this. I just want find 11,780 votes.

MURRAY: -- were protected under the First Amendment.

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

Take out the political speech, no criminal charges.

MURRAY: Prosecutors batting back at those arguments.

DONALD WAKEFORD, FULTON COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE: What he is not allowed to do is employ his speech and his expression and his statements as part of a criminal conspiracy to violate Georgia's RICO statute.

He's not being prosecuted for lying. He has been prosecuted for a lying to the government.

MURRAY: It's the first hearing after months of delving into the propriety of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' romantic relationship with fellow prosecutor Nathan Wade.

FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: You're confused. You think I'm on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I am not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on a trial.

MURRAY: Wade has since sense resigned from the case, while Willis was allowed to remain.

But Trump's team is appealing that decision, as Judge Scott McAfee moves the case ahead. JUDGE SCOTT, SUPERIOR COURT OF FULTON COUNTY: Some crimes can be achieved solely through speech though. Why is that not what's happening here as alleged?

MURRAY: McAfee didn't rule on whether he'll allow the indictment to stand, but other defendants in the case have tried similar First Amendment arguments and failed.

Willis, who did not appear in court today, still angling for Trump and his remaining 14 co-defendants to go to trial before the presidential election, perhaps as soon as August.

WILLIS: I don't feel like we've been slowed down at all. I do think that there are efforts to slow down this train, but the train is coming.

MURRAY: But today's hearing wrapped without any discussion of a potential trial date.

MCAFEE: And we'll be adjourned.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, a federal judge here in Washington presiding over the election interference case has also heard a similar first amendment argument from Trump's team and rejected it. Now, we wait to see if this judge in Georgia is going to make a similar ruling or perhaps surprise us, Wolf, by coming down on a different side of this issue.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Sara Murray reporting for us, thank you, Sara.

Let's bring in CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She's been covering today's hearing in Atlanta. Also with us, CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams.

Katelyn, this is the first hearing since the scandal involving Fani Willis and Nathan Wade. Is this case now back on track?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it sure looks like it is. And what you saw as evidence today in court is that the judge is taking seriously the legal issues that need to be sorted out before this goes to trial.

Now, a question is going to how fast Judge Scott McAfee moves to rule on issues like this, how many different issues before the trial, the defendants, Trump and all of his other co-defendants, all 14 of them, what else they're going to argue to try and get the case dismissed or to attack the prosecutors, all of the things that they could bring into the pretrial proceedings here, how quickly Judge McAfee deals with all of that.


But one thing, Wolf, today that really showed how this is a case that's moving along is that there was discussion about whether the false statements Donald Trump made after the election, is that a question that a jury should look at. Should the jury be weighing whether those were intentional false statements and those are a crime or is that a question that the judge now should be dealing with and either dismiss the case or let it go forward toward the trial?

BLITZER: I'm wondering, was it the right move for Fani Willis, the district attorney, to skip today's appearance?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's important to note that the top prosecutor in an office, whether that's, frankly, the attorney general of the United States or a district attorney, as in the case of Fani Willis, or a state attorney general, does not have to attend hearings, right? Often these cases, even important major ones like this one, are argued by deputies and lieutenants in the office and so on.

Now, look, we have had a crash course in getting to know Fani Willis personally over the course of the last couple of months of watching her in her own hearings where, you know, where she's been a witness. But I don't think that anything in terms of the information that was presented to the judge needed to be argued by the district attorney herself. And, frankly, if this in less crazy circumstances than we're in right now, the case would have been argued by someone underneath the district attorney. So, I wouldn't read too much into that one.

BLITZER: Yes, important. You know, it's interesting, Katelyn, Trump is trying to throw this case out based on his First Amendment rights, but this argument has failed multiple times before. How will that play into the judge's decision here?

POLANTZ: Well, it's certainly something the judge is going to have to be considering because we're in such an unprecedented situation. This is someone who was serving as the president at the time he was making these statements. He was a political candidate as well. And so his claims here are about the constitutional protections around his political speech.

Now, what Judge McAfee has to look at, though, is Georgia law, and if this case is charged correctly under Georgia law.

So, he'll do that because he's a judge in the state of Georgia. He's not a federal judge. However, he also will very likely look at what not just Judge Tanya Chutkan has done in Washington, D.C., saying that Trump -- it doesn't matter if he claims a First Amendment protection, saying the false statements he made after the election were reasonable. That's not enough to dismiss the case. That's what she said in federal court.

But it's very likely Judge McAfee will also be looking at the U.S. Supreme Court precedent around this case. It came up multiple times. There was a lot of discussion about what the Supreme Court has said before related to false statements and if that can be protected speech.

BLITZER: So, Elliot, do you expect Judge McAfee to reject Trump's First Amendment argument? WILLIAMS: I really do, Wolf. And to be clear, you know, the judge probably needs to take a little bit of time and write a lengthy opinion on this, given the nature of the important constitutional questions it raises. But just about every time this issue has come up, judges have consistently found that false statements and statements that are made in furtherance of a conspiracy are not protected speech. You know, one can't, when running for office or giving a political speech, commit a crime, and that can be in the form of a statement that's made.

So, you know, I see what the president is attorney, former president is attorneys are doing, but the simple fact is statements can be criminal acts in and of themselves or in furtherance of a criminal act. And even though the statements of Federal District Judge Tanya Chutkan in D.C. do not bind the court in Georgia, they're still persuasive and they, and this judge can certainly look at other judges who've ruled in this and probably come out in the same way.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Katelyn, Fani Willis insists this Georgia case is proceeding full steam ahead, but there's still no official trial date on the calendar. Is there?

POLANTZ: There's not, there was not even talk of it today, Wolf, in this hearing. There hasn't been. Judge McAfee just hasn't addressed the request from the prosecutors to get this case scheduled for August.

If you step back for a second, some of the things Donald Trump is arguing in this case, such as presidential immunity claims, those things are before the Supreme Court because he's charged on similar counts in federal court in Washington, D.C., related to January 6 and the 2020 election.

So, it's possible Judge McAfee may want to wait and see what the Supreme Court says, at least on that, potentially this spring or early this summer. But also, it's a big, bulky case. Once this gets on the calendar, it could take months to try.

BLITZER: Katelyn Polanntz, Elliot Williams, to both of you, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, top officials are about to give a news conference on the Baltimore Bridge collapse. We're awaiting an update.


We'll also go live to New York where a big money Biden campaign fundraiser begins soon, featuring former Presidents Obama and Clinton.


BLITZER: Right now, President Biden is in New York City getting ready to attend a fundraiser that his campaign is billing as historic because it's raking in big money and attracting big names, like former Presidents Obama and Clinton. CNN's M.J. Lee is outside Radio City Music Hall in New York, where the star-studded event is expected to begin very soon. M.J., the Biden campaign says it's raising a record $25 million just tonight. Tell us about tonight's event.


M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And the three presidents have actually just arrived at Radio City Music Hall, just behind me, for this fundraiser.

But, first of all, because I'm sure you can hear the sounds of the protesters, I was going to ask our Photojournalist Ken Borland to just pan for just a second.

These were probably a group of a couple of hundred (INAUDIBLE) ceasefire pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Of course, this is the kind of scene that has become very common wherever President Biden travels. So, that is the scene that is outside.

Inside, of course, is this fundraiser, where the campaign says that it has raised $25 million and counting, but sources saying about a third of that actually came from grassroots online donations that was less than $200.

This evening, Wolf, is going to be a real show of both unity and urgency coming from national Democrats. The scene of three presidents, one sitting and two former banding together with the goal of securing President Biden a second term, and, of course, that means stopping former President Donald Trump from also getting a second term at the White House.

Now, this is a really important moment, of course, for the other reason, of just the money. The fact that the Biden campaign can now add about $25 million to its already robust campaign coffers, very significant given what a gap that presents between the Biden campaign and the Trump cash reserves.

BLITZER: And, M.J., you have new reporting about how President Biden and former President Obama have been spending the afternoon in New York.

LEE: Yes, that's right, Wolf. You know, this afternoon has been sort of this rare opportunity for President Biden and President Obama to spend a bunch of time together in person. The campaign actually released a couple of photos from their afternoon so far.

We know that President Obama rode on Air Force One from Washington, D.C. to New York. They also rode in the presidential motorcade together. And an aide is telling me that they have been having fun just catching up on all things, including professional and their personal lives.

So, this is two men who have made much of their friendship and their so-called bromance. But you can certainly imagine, Wolf, that at a time like this, particularly thinking about these protesters that are outside of President Biden and all of the issues that he has had to deal with, that there's probably a lot of conversations about all the serious things that are going on as well, including particularly this war that has been such a political issue for President Biden. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, we hear the drums. M.J. Lee reporting for us, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on what's going on. Joining us, the former Obama senior adviser, CNN Senior Political Commentator David Axelrod, also with the CNN Political Commentator S.E. Cupp.

David, your former boss will share the stage with Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. That's coming up very soon. How important is an event like this to Biden's re-election campaign?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, in a very practical way, it's very important, Wolf, when you pull in $25 million on one night and increase your cash advantage over the other campaign, that's actually meaningful.

They're going to have to run full-out campaigns in six or seven states and this cash advantage can be very meaningful in a marginal race, which this is very likely to be. So, it's important in that way. It's also an important sign, as M.J. said, of solidarity among the leadership of the Democratic Party.

And then, thirdly, you have two of the greatest political communicators of their generation on the stage to make the case for Biden and for the importance of this election. So, it's important in those ways.

I think the, the crowd outside that we heard in that standup is a reminder that there are a lot of challenges as well. And this won't solve all of that and it won't necessarily speak to the voters who they need to get, younger voters, minority voters who aren't with them now, recover that coalition. But, certainly, the money, the support will be meaningful down the line.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. S.E. Cupp, President Biden raised a staggering $25 million tonight for his campaign, further widening his cash advantage over Trump. How significant do you believe that is?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's really significant. It would be significant without any of the wildness and weirdness going around the Trump campaign, but it's even more significant, considering Trump's haul has to be diverted to cover legal fees and fines and all the other stuff he's dealing with.

So, it's a big deal that they're raising this much money, not just Joe Biden personally, but the DNC as well. It should be concerning for the Trump team, for sure.

BLITZER: David, how problematic potentially are these source of protests that are ongoing in New York right now for the Biden campaign in what everyone will be projecting will, in fact, eventually be a pretty close race? [18:35:12]

AXELROD: Yes. Look, I don't think that the protests, per se, are as concerning as the general feeling, particularly among younger voters and younger Democratic voters and some African-American voters of color. That is concerning. You see it in polls, Wolf. You see that he is not -- Joe Biden is not getting the numbers that he needs to get and that he did get four years ago or three years ago in that race. And he needs to be able to pull some of those folks back. And this is an obstacle. There's no doubt about it.

And I'm sure the hope of the campaign is that circumstances will be different in November than they are right now.

BLITZER: These protests, S.E., which point to Democratic discontent, shall we say, are not exactly the message the Biden campaign was hoping to project tonight.

CUPP: Listen, it's opening day, right? I'm a baseball fan, I'm a Mets fan. And if the Mets wanted to hype me up for this upcoming season, they'd roll tape of the '86 Mets, right? And I think what this event tonight is nostalgia, a throwback.

Remember Democratic voters when you were energized about the party, when you loved the president, when you thought politics wasn't as weird and crazy and awful and divisive, remember those good old days? Well, here we all are again, start the good vibes, right? Start feeling good.

And I think they're hoping that that sort of mitigates the real discontent that there is among the voters that David was talking about, young voters, voters of color, there's some discontent there. Some of it is Israel and Gaza, but there're some other issues as well.

And I think this is good politics, but it's not going to address some of those issues that these folks are really, really concerned and passionate about.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, David. Former President Obama will hit the campaign trail for President Biden, but we're told he doesn't necessarily plan to hit the stump aggressively until the fall. But considering Biden's low approval right now, can Democrats really afford to wait that long?

AXELROD: Well, I think a few things, Wolf. One is this has been -- his habit has been to really engage in the fall campaign. I think you'll see him prominently at the Democratic convention and he'll have a schedule after that.

But you have to strike a balance between the appropriate support of the ticket and sort of overwhelming it and making yourself kind of a co-actor or a co-star in the campaign. And I don't think that's necessarily in President Biden's interest.

So, most voters are not paying rapt attention to this campaign right now, though we are, they will be after these conventions and in the fall. And that's really when President Obama and some of the most prominent surrogates will have to be going full tilt.

But I'm sure they'll be talking. I'm sure he'll be offering advice, as he has been right along.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. David Axelrod and S.E. Cupp, to both of you, thank you very much.

Just ahead, why Ukraine is stepping up its attacks on Russian oil refineries as U.S. aid to the war effort dries up.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: There's breaking news we're following, officials are giving an update on the Baltimore Bridge collapse right now. The governor, Wes Moore announcing just moments ago that the White House has now approved the state of Maryland's request for an initial $60 million to help in this in this effort right now.

He's speaking right now. Let's listen in.

GOV. WES MOORE (D-MD): Third, we need to take care of all the people who have been affected by this crisis. And that means the families, that means the workers, that means the businesses, that means the first responders, that means everybody.

And in the military, I know I was taught something. And one of the things we were taught is you always take care of your people. And we are going to make sure that in this moment, we take care of our people.

And, fourth, we need to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Going forward, you can expect regular updates on each of these four directives. But I want to be clear, this work will not take hours. This work will not take days. This work will not just take weeks. We have a very long road ahead of us. We understand that and we're preparing.

And yesterday morning, our team and members of the federal delegation traveled to the site of the collapse on a Coast Guard cutter. You've had a chance to see the wreckage from far away. Yesterday, we had a chance to see it up close. And when you have a chance to see that wreckage up close, you fully understand the enormity of the challenge.

This is an incredibly complex job, and our timeline will be long. And all of us can remember when the container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal a few years ago, when that happened, it's important to remember that it took five weeks to dislodge that ship.

Well, if you think about what the Dali is, the Dali is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower. And the Dali has the Key Bridge on top of it.


We're talking 3,000 to 4,000 tons of steel that's sitting on top of that ship. So we've got work to do but we're moving.

So, first on recovery, the best evidence we have at this time suggests that to advance our recovery efforts, we need to do more work in order to clear the channel. As of last night, the Maryland state police have suspended diving operations due to security concerns. And further educate engineering analysis is ongoing to determine our next steps to bring closure to the families and set the course for salvage operations.

As of this morning, I also received a briefing from the unified command on the extraordinary conditions our divers are working under. What our divers are seeing right now is this, is that water is so dark and the debris is so dense that in most instances, our divers can not see any more than a foot or two in front of them, so much of the operation is simply feel.

These divers have been methodical. They've been disciplined. They had been courageous, diving in darkness with objects all around them. And so, to all of our divers, I want to let them know that were grateful for their service.

Second, on clearing the channel and opening the vessel traffic to the port, I've said it before, I will say it again and I will keep on saying it. This is not just about Maryland. This is about the nation's economy.

The port handles more cars and more farm equipment than any other port in America. And at least 8,000 workers on the docks have jobs that have been directly affected by this collapse. Our economy depends on the port of Baltimore and the port of Baltimore depends on vessel traffic.

Yesterday, we are briefed by the commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Baltimore district and she laid out her team's efforts with the U.S. Navy to mobilize major resources from around the country at record speed, to clear the channel.

Under the leadership of Colonel Pinchasin, the Army Corps is moving the largest crane in the eastern seaboard to Baltimore to help us. And it's estimated that that will arrive later on this evening.

And third, taking care of our people. I want to provide two updates, the first, the Maryland Department of Labor now has established a hotline for unemployment insurance for workers affected by the collapse. The number on that hotline is this, 6679305989. I'll say it one more time, 6679305989.

I've also appointed an administration liaison to work with the families of the victims in their time of need? And let him know we are going to be here for them and with them. And I want to thank the leaders and organizations that have stepped up in order to help these families as well.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor Governor Wes Moore of Maryland.

He made some significant news. The initial request from the state of Maryland to the federal government for $60 million to help in this recovery right now has been approved, he says, by the Biden-Harris administration, and he says, we are deeply grateful. And then he goes on to say, we you also need to rebuild the Francis Scott Key Bridge and that's going to take a long time and cost a lot of money.

Pete Muntean, you're there for us on the scene. You've been watching all of this unfold. What else jumped out at you?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still no definitive timeline on when the port of Baltimore can reopen. And that is significant, Wolf, because so much travels through the port of Baltimore. You heard the governor mentioned it is the number one spot on the East Coast for the import and export of cars. Also, farm equipment.

It's the home of Domino Sugar. A lot of commodities come in here like sugar and salt. There is still a ships trapped on the inside of this port, right now, and they need to clear the MV Dali first and remove the debris from the bow to try and move it first and then begin to clear the bridge, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

All right. Pete, standby.

There's a lot more news, obviously that we're watching. We're going to take a quick break. We'll have more news right after this.



BLITZER: Tonight, new details in the cyber espionage accusations against China.

CNN's Will Ripley has our report.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, China in the crosshairs. The U.S. and Britain accusing Beijing of cyber espionage, hacking into the heart of Western democracy, targeting critical military and civilian infrastructure.

CHARLES LI, CHIEF ANALYST, TEAM T5: The Chinese government, they have intentionally developed their cyber capability for the past day decade, and we are tracking (ph) like hundreds of threat actor and some part of them, we can trace them back to a military unit belonging to PLA.

RIPLEY: The Peoples Liberation Army, linked to ongoing Chinese cyber warfare, says the U.S. director of national intelligence.

AVRIL HAINES, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: We expect the PLA will field more advanced platforms, deploy new technologies, and grow more competent in joint operations.

RIPLEY: The latest accusations from the U.S. and the U.K., claiming elite Chinese hacking units are infiltrating America's power grids, stealing voter registration lists for tens of millions of British citizens, working on behalf of China's powerful security ministry, the accused hackers now facing sanctions in both countries.

Just months ago at their summit in San Francisco, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told President Joe Biden, China won't interfere in the November elections, two people familiar with the conversations tell CNN. But U.S. intelligence believes Beijing is improving its ability to spread disinformation and may try to use social media platforms like TikTok to sow doubts about U.S. leadership, undermine democracy and extend Beijing's influence.


REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Director Haines, you cannot rule out that the CCP could, again, just like they did here, use TikTok as a platform to influence 2024 elections, right?

HAINES: We cannot rule out that the CCP could use it, correct.

RIPLEY: Beijing's malware may also be designed to wreak havoc on America's food, water, and power supplies. "The New York Times" reports citing U.S. intelligence, part of a plan to create chaos and distraction if the U.S. tries to defend Taiwan from a hostile Chinese takeover.

TSAI SUNG-TING, FOUNDER AND CEO, TEAM T5: I think the purpose of this kind of cyber attacks, especially targeting critical (ph) infrastructures, I mean, the goal is probably to cause some disruption.

RIPLEY: The U.S. Justice Department also indicting individual hackers working for Beijing for what the attorney general calls a 14 year global campaign to target and intimidate critics of China's communist party.


RIPLEY (on camera): Tonight, we do have a response from Beijing's ministry of foreign affairs, firing back as usual, Wolf, saying, quote, this is purely political manipulation. They say we urge the United States and the United Kingdom to stop politicizing cyber security issues, stop slandering and smearing China.

Now, we know that Beijing has long accused the West and particularly the U.S., Wolf, of hypocrisy here because they say the U.S. launches lots of cyber espionage campaigns against China.

BLITZER: Will Ripley reporting from Taipei, thank you very much, Will.

Coming up, Sam Bankman-Fried has now been sentenced to 25 years behind bars. We'll take a closer look at what played out at the sentencing hearing for the former FTX CEO. That's next.


BLITZER: Sam Bankman-Fried has been sentenced to 25 years behind bars after a jury found him guilty of defrauding customers and investors in his failed crypto exchange, FTX.

CNN's Kara Scannell tracked the sentencing hearing for us today.

Kara, so what played out in the courtroom?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sam Bankman-Fried address the judge, saying that he was sorry and that he made some bad decisions. But prosecutors say this wasn't a case of mismanagement. Sam Bankman- Fried stole more than $8 billion from investors and customers of FTX and lenders to its sister hedge fund Alameda Research. The judge agreed, he said that Bankman-Fried has shown no remorse and he said that his nature is one of risk-taking and that he weighed getting caught versus getting away with it.

The judge saying at one point, there is a risk that this man will be in a position to do something very bad in the future, and it's not a trivial risk. And that is why the judge said he was sentencing the 32- year-old to a 25-year prison sentence to disable him from committing further crimes. That means when the sentence is up, Bankman-Fried will be 57 years old.

His parents issuing a statement after court, which they did attend today, saying, we are heartbroken. His lawyer says that they will appeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. Kara Scannell, reporting. Thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues on CNN right now.