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NEW DAY SUNDAY

Cincinnati Nightclub Shooting: One Killed, 14 Injured; White House To Tackle Tax Reform After Health Care Failure; Insiders: Trump Learned Lesson On Dealmaking; U.S. Military Investigating If Airstrikes Killed Iraqi Civilians; Republicans Concede Obamacare Is Law Of The Land; Russia Protests; Oregon Reaches Final Four In 78 Years. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired March 26, 2017 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:00:12]

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. We're so grateful to have you with us. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I am Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

The breaking news takes us to Ohio right now, in an active manhunt in the search for a person that killed 15 people at a nightclub. Police confirmed that one person is dead.

PAUL: Police tell CNN this shooting happened a short time ago around 1:30 this morning near the Cameo Nightclub in Cincinnati. Officers were on the scene acting as security for that club before the shooting happened and responded when shots were fire. Now the captain described the scene as, quote, "very chaotic" with a possibility of more than one shooter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPTAIN KIMBERLY WILLIAMS, CINCINNATI POLICE: It was a young crowd and we have had incidents here in the past, but this is the worst by far. As far as what it looks like inside at this time, I mean, by the time individuals were -- the shots were fired, individuals ran outside, so there was not a lot of people inside the club.

I do believe there was a large crowd earlier this evening, but just a lot of chaos obviously when the shots went off. People just trying to get out of the way, get out of harm's way.

If anyone was a witness to anything that happened obviously we need you to come forward with any information that you have. We are sure there was more than one. I'm not sure if there was more than two at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PAUL: I think she was talking about there is she is sure that there was more than one shooter, but they do not know if there was more than two shooters. Now authorities say some of the injured were able to drive themselves to area hospitals.

But you heard her there asking for witnesses to come forward because everybody ran from the club, she says, and they are looking for people that can tell them more about what happened.

CNN was told all of the victims are being treated. No word on the extent of their injuries. But this is a story that is very fluid, it's constantly updating. Do stay with us here. We'll bring you any of the breaking details as they come to us.

BLACKWELL: This week, President Trump is ready to put his health care failure in the rear view mirror. His administration looking ahead now to the next item on the agenda, and that's tax reform. It comes after Republican sources tell CNN that the president got a stinging lesson in deal making in Washington.

PAUL: This morning we are learning new details from insiders in the White House and on Capitol Hill regarding what President Trump learned from the health care chaos, which handed the new administration a major setback. Our Athena Jones has more from the White House. Good morning, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- but if you talk to some House Republicans, they indicate that his sales approach may be lacking in a couple ways. One is that the president didn't offer a strong enough rationale for why members should vote yes on this particular piece of legislation, other than the political rational, the idea of giving him a victory in his first 100 days.

But perhaps more important is the sense that many members that my colleagues has spoken to got that the president didn't grasp the nitty-gritty policy details of this legislation.

My colleague, Dana Bash, reported two resources told her that during a meeting on Thursday night with the House Freedom Caucus, those are the conservative faction that ended up killing this bill, one -- a couple of the members had specific policy concerns, and the president said forget about the little stuff, but he didn't say stuff, he said another four-letter word that starts with the letter "s."

Another GOP Congressional aide has something to similar to say, he said that the president didn't care or particularly know about health care and if you are going to be a great negotiator, you have to know about the subject matter.

There was also a tense moment in a meeting with moderate House Republicans. Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent told the president at that moment in time he was a no on the bill, and the president replied, why am I even talking to you?

So it seems that according some members of the president's own party in the House that he may need to shift a little bit in his sales pitch strategy going forward -- Christi, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Athena, thank you so much.

Let's continue the conversation now with CNN politics senior reporter, Stephen Collinson, and White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner," Susan Crabtree. Good morning.

Susan, let me start with you. You heard from Athena, the report that the president said forget about the little and we know the word that goes there, I mean, the issues that are coming up, tax reform, debt ceiling eventfully, and going to the budget, the nitty-gritty, and the details matter, can he operate like a chairman of the board here?

[06:05:03]SUSAN CRABTREE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I think that this whole situation was really a failure not in really the art of the no deal that people like to talk about, but it was really a failure of an art of the sale, and I don't necessarily think a president needs to know every single detail.

You know, certainly Bill Clinton was very conversant on every detail and that helped him with his relationships on Capitol Hill, but in this situation I think this was a matter of rushing it through and not getting the House Freedom Caucus on your side early on.

Not talking to the Tuesday Group until way late in the process. President Obama had 13 months or more to get his -- the Obamacare through in 2010, and that he was crisscrossing the country. He had more than 40 events dedicated to selling this to the American public.

Getting people on his side in key swing districts, and you know, it's interesting to me that, you know, he is always priding himself as the closer, but in Washington what matters is not the money behind, you know, muscle through your negotiations. These members are beholden to their constituents -- and that's what they care the most about.

BLACKWELL: Let me bring in, Stephen, here, and we should not be surprised by this. I want to take you back to May of 2016, when then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, told this to the "Huffington Post," in their search for a VP that "He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he didn't want to do. He sees himself more as the chairman of the board than even a CEO let alone the COO."

So was this strategy of using the president to bring down the weight on these House members, the wrong strategy, should they have used the vice president. That's what his job was supposed to have been according to what we heard from Manafort several months ago.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: Well, the vice president was involved in the negotiations. He spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, but I think there's substitute in these situations for presidential power and the persuasion of the bully pulpit. I think it's going to be very interesting, Victor, to look when the White House moves on to the next efforts, tax reform, for example.

Which is if anything much more complicated than repealing Obamacare, whether we get a more concentrated detail orientated input from the president. It's a bill that emanates in the White House to start with, and it's borne in the White House, maybe the president will be more conversant and more committed to the details of it.

BLACKWELL: Let me jump in here, you say that there is no substitute for the bully pulpit of the president, but what if you consider, as we saw from the reporting from Dana Bash and Athena Jones, if the president doesn't know what he's talking about, he doesn't seem to be curious about it, and you know he doesn't know what he's talking about, how persuasive is he then?

COLLINSON: That's a very good question. Now if you listen to the president talk about his real estate dealings in the past, it's clear that he is a much more persuasive influence, because it's clear he does knows what he is talking about in that situation so that would probably point to the fact that the president needs to be more down in the nitty-gritty.

But there's another point here I think that perhaps the president and his team needs to rethink their approach to governing. Right now, the president has not done an awful lot to reach out to the people outside his coalition that has basically brought his approval rating down to about 40 percent or even lower.

In that position the influence that the president has is eroded, he's not quite as persuasive as he might be if he was up to 58 percent, 60 percent during his first 100 days. So the political equation here is very, very important.

BLACKWELL: Susan, let me come to you in what we also learned about White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Stephen just talked about the coalition, many of these members represent districts in which President Trump did very well. Steve Bannon went there and he laid the hammer down, but didn't convinced the Freedom Caucus, very conservative group. What is the lesson for Bannon here?

CRABTREE: Well, the lesson again is you need to let this play out a little bit longer than 64 days. The members of Congress like to have regular order and they like to have hearings and have their voice heard. In the defense authorization process, you have amendments and they are allowed on the floor, and people, if they fail, that's the political reality of the situation.

This is sausage-making, it takes a long time, and you go to districts and talk about what they want to get them onboard on a bill that they necessarily not want to support. But you do have the House Freedom Caucus, they want to show that they are pure, that's their brand.

They want to show that they conservative and they are beholden to their constituents, and I talked to some members of Congress on Capitol Hill on Friday when this was all going down, and they said, you know, at first, these members may not support anything, if they wrote the bill themselves, they may not get to yes.

But the problem, you saw that back in 2013, when they shut down the government, they need to show that they are conservative and they want to take a stand. Then after they do so they are more likely to come onboard if they are involved in the process.

[06:10:08]BLACKWELL: We saw a little bit of that kind of looking ahead to the next two fights from the vice president in West Virginia yesterday. But we are going to talk more about what he said looking ahead to the confirmation of Gorsuch and tax reform and the wall that was promised. Susan Crabtree, Stephen Collinson, thanks so much.

Bernie Sanders is on "STATE OF THE UNION" later this morning at 9 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. Be sure to watch the senator in just a few hours.

PAUL: Meanwhile, the U.S. military investigating whether coalition air strikes killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in Mosul. That's ahead.

BLACKWELL: Plus Senator Lindsay Graham taking heat in his home state there. Angry constituents blaming him and the Republican Party over the health care failure there, and the FBI probe into Russia and the Trump administration. But the responses vary, we're going to show you some of those.

PAUL: Also at this hour, massive protests are beginning across Russia to demonstrate against corruption. It's organized by a Russian opposition leader, a live report for you straight ahead.

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[06:15:30]

PAUL: It's 15 minutes past the hour right now, and new details coming out this morning from Iraq, the U.S. military investigating whether coalition air strikes killed Iraqi civilians in Western Mosul.

BLACKWELL: Officials say at least 200 civilians may have been killed as a result of the air raid. A "Los Angeles Times" reporter who visited the area later described the scene to CNN. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (via telephone): There was some areas where homes were just completely destroyed in rubble so we had to sort of pick our way through and we could see parts of people still stuck under the rubble, and there were some remains that were wrapped in blankets. Most of them that they have retrieved they put in body bags, and they unzipped some of those because they wanted to show us that some of these victims were women including at least one pregnant woman and children, and there were some babies as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Let's bring in CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. Nick, what are you learning about these strikes?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, it's extraordinarily complicated situation given, of course, we are talking about deaths that undisputedly occurred in the pitch moment of battle and some of them are intense (inaudible) we've seen perhaps for decades in Western Mosul as ISIS is being pushed out of this last, most heavily populated stronghold in Iraq.

But let's deal with what we do know. The Pentagon accepts that they are looking at allegations relating to 300 civilian deaths occurring potentially between the 16th and 23rd of March, in both Iraq and Syria.

Now in Iraq we know from local officials that in recent strikes in the last three or four days, the 22nd to the 23rd, a local official is saying possibly 200 people died, but the one that's getting the most attention is on the 17th of March.

Now the Iraqi military have just released a statement about an airstrike there, which Pentagon accept did in fact occur in a location that corresponds to where these allegations of civilian casualties are in fact emerging from.

Well, the Iraqi military is saying is they didn't have any evidence they say from their teams being there or of an air strike hitting the ground. Now that does contradict some local reporting, but the Iraqi military is saying that in fact what occurred is dozens of civilians were herded into the house by ISIS, some of them women and children.

And that that house was heavily booby trapped and also that nearby many car bombs, one particular car bomb was in fact detonated. They say 61 people lost their lives in that instant obviously putting the blame for it squarely at the feet of ISIS.

What is still to be determined if a number of casualties alleged in these different sets of airstrikes in Iraq and of course, also to (inaudible) there were involved in some of those strikes as well.

It is clear on the March 17th issue that there was certainly a Pentagon air strike in the vicinity corresponding to these allegations, but this is, of course, troubling because civilian casualties change the mind of populations.

Particularly, it intends to (inaudible), but you need locals to be on your side if you are going to kick ISIS out, and that doesn't happen if your air strikes are killing their daughters, sons and parents. So it's a very intense situation now at the worst stage of the last moments of kicking ISIS out of Iraq. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Nick Paton Walsh for us there reporting from Beirut. Nick, thanks so much.

PAUL: All right, CNN military analyst, Retired Lt. Colonel Rick Francona with us now. Col. Francona, thank you so much for being with us. First of all, your reaction to what we just heard from Nick Paton Walsh?

LT. COLONEL RICK FRANCONA (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think we are starting to get more and more facts from people on the ground of actually what happened. Of course, the Pentagon admits that there were air strikes in that area, but now the Iraqis are saying they are not sure that air strikes were responsible for this particular incident.

That said there are civilian casualties. It may not matter exactly how they were inflicted, but the fact that a lot of civilians are dying in the fighting is really raising the bar for the Iraqi government. They have to convince the people they are there to liberate them.

We have always had distrust from the people of Mosul of the Iraqi government. So the Iraqis have had to tread very lightly here. We'll find out what's going on and if the Pentagon was responsible, they will take responsibility for it.

But as we said that investigation is ongoing. That said, again, when you are fighting in an urban warfare, this is the hardest thing to do.

[06:20:05]And when you are dropping ordinance of any kind, artillery or airstrikes, there are going to be unfortunately civilian casualties. You just cannot conduct these operations otherwise.

PAUL: The pictures are so difficult to look at and to understand for these people that are there. What about the possibility of human shields. We heard Nick Paton Walsh saying that there was a report ISIS had herded 61 people into a home.

FRANCONA: Yes, we've heard this in multiple occasions. Many of the people who have tried to leave, many people have gone out have told reporters that, you know, we are lucky to escape. They are rounding up a lot of people, putting them in specific buildings and then they use those buildings as firing positions.

They put snipers on the roof. They put weapons on the roof almost hoping that that's going to prevent them from being attacked. The Iraqis have been very aggressive. The Iraqis are attacking those buildings and unfortunately, the civilians in those buildings pay the price.

I think we have to remember that ultimately ISIS is responsible for this. The Iraqis are doing what they can. Certainly, the U.S.-led coalition does all they can to minimize casualties, minimize is the word here. You cannot go into these situations and expect zero casualties. I think that's just unrealistic.

PAUL: Senator Lindsey Graham said in a town hall yesterday that he hopes troops will stay in Iraq after ISIS is ousted. Let's listen here real quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So I hope that President Trump will leave some troops in Iraq once Mosul falls to protect us here and make sure we don't have to deal with ISIL this second time around. I hope that we'll add more troops to Afghanistan before it falls apart and let me just say this about the war on terror. Every soldier over there is an insurance policy against our homeland being effective. I have never been more worried about a threat to the homeland than I am today. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: Do you share his angst about the threat to the homeland right now?

FRANCONA: I do. Let's talk about Iraq specifically, if we pull everybody out of Iraq the way we did in 2011, we may see a repeat of what we saw in 2012, '13, '14. We may see the resurgence of some sort of Islamist organization. You know, once ISIS is gone, that doesn't eliminate the ideology.

There will still be some group in Iraq that arises primarily among the Sunnis who feel that they are not represented in Baghdad. We have an election coming up in Baghdad and who takes over the government in August and September makes a big difference on our policy there.

So if we are worried about the future of Iraq, and once ISIS is gone, Iraq is still not out of the woods, it's the battle after ISIS that we have to worry about. Is Iraq going to be able to survive as a country? Will it be able to put itself back together? That may require the presence of U.S. troops to help the Iraqi government.

PAUL: All righty, Lieutenant Colonel Francona, always so grateful for your respective. Thank you for being here.

BLACKWELL: New this morning from Afghanistan, the al Qaeda leader behind the 2008 hotel bombing in Pakistan has been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike there. More than 50 people were killed in the Islamabad hotel attack including two U.S. service members, if you will remember.

PAUL: And meanwhile, a massive manhunt underway right now in Northern Mexico after 29 inmates believed to be members of a (inaudible) cartel dug a 40-yard tunnel to escape prison. We are told they built this tunnel in a hidden part of the prison that they controlled. One of the inmates even hijacked a car and killed the driver in order to get away, we are told. Following the escape, security officials sealed that tunnel, destroyed an authorized shelters. Authorities have recaptured at least 10 inmates, but 16 are still at large.

BLACKWELL: We want take you back to Senator Graham's town hall there. He's firing back at angry voters who are upset with the Republican Party over their health care flop and allegations of obstruction in the FBI probe of Russia and associates of the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:28:25]

PAUL: It's good to have your company this morning. I am Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I am Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you.

PAUL: Breaking news for you. An active manhunt right now in Ohio, a gunman has shot 15 people at a nightclub and police confirm one person has died.

BLACKWELL: The shooting happened about five hours ago. This was near the Cameo Nightclub in Cincinnati. Officers were on the scene acting as security at the club before the shooting happened and they were there as it happened and of course, they responded because they were so close. The captain described the scene as very chaotic with a possibility of more than one shooter but no more than two.

PAUL: Now authorities say some of the injured were able to drive themselves to area hospitals, and CNN is told all of those victims are being treated. No word so far on the extent of all their injuries, but this is a story that is constantly updating for us this morning, so we will keep you informed as we get more word throughout the morning.

BLACKWELL: Vice President Pence says they are going back to the drawing board. The Trump administration turning to tax reform next after failing to repeal Obamacare.

PAUL: Yesterday in West Virginia, the vice president said Congress, quote, "was not ready to roll back the Affordable Care Act." He blamed Democrats and even acknowledged a handful of Republicans who caused the GOP bill to be pulled without a vote. Now Vice President Pence also said he was grateful to House Speaker Paul Ryan for his efforts.

Two dark storm clouds now loom over the Trump administration, though, you got the failure of House Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare, and the FBI investigation into Russia's meddling in the election, and possible ties to Trump associates.

[06:30:00]

BLACKWELL: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham trying to fend off questions from voters angry of a vote even drew some boos there -- watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Here's what I think about health care Obamacare is a disaster and it's going to collapse.

(BOOING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Yes more than a few boos there.

The senator spoke at a town hall where he told constituents that politics should not muddy the waters. Our Polo Sandoval was there -- Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Victor and Christi. Good morning.

Senator Lindsay Graham came here at Columbia, South Carolina. He listened to constituents but he also fired back. There was a moment during the nearly one and a half hour long town hall in which a woman near the front row essentially accused Senator Graham and some of his fellow Republicans of -- quote -- "obstructing" this ongoing investigation into possible ties between Russia and the Trump organization.

Senior senator South Carolina responding very quickly. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: I think that's a bunch of garbage when it comes to me. I don't think I have obstructed anything. I think I have been more than on the case when it comes to Russia. I think I have stood up for the idea that I am not going to sit on the sidelines and watch the Russians try to undermine our democracy. But I'm not going to -- so I don't agree with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDOVAL: Russia dominating the conversation yesterday but so did this latest attempt to repeal Obamacare. Many of the constituents that we heard from here in South Carolina, many of them liberals and moderates that were in attendance at the town hall saying that they were relieved that this law will remain in place until lawmakers can come up with a better solution that we heard from Senator Graham yesterday saying that they likely won't be taking that issue up again instead possibly moving next to tax reform.

Thank you, Christi.

BLACKWELL: All right. Polo, thanks so much.

Jack Kingston CNN political commentator and former Republican congressman is joining us this morning.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: Good morning to you. I want to play one more bit of the town hall yesterday from Senator Graham. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: I don't think one party is going to be able to fix this by themselves.

Here's what I think should happen next. I think the president should reach out to Democrats. I should reach out to Democrats. And we should say let's take a shot at doing this together because it ain't working it doing it by ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: That's the senator talking about Obamacare.

I want to talk separately about what they want to do or at least what he says he wants to do and how it's going to be done, and first one word, fix. Is that what is next? Fixing Obamacare and they are done potentially with a repeal?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know if we are there yet, but if they can't replace and -- repeal and replace then absolutely it has to be fixed because it's not sustainable as it is, and even Bernie Sanders has said that the premiums and the deductibles are too high.

So we have to go back into it, and that's one thing that I think Democrats and Republicans would agree on. Get the premiums down. Get those deductibles down and make sure you have quality health care choices for all.

But, you know, I want to say one thing though. It's not like the Senate can't just start working on this thing. There's a lot of fingers that are being pointed to the House, you had every senator ran on repeal and replace as well, so they can introduce their bill this week if that's what they want.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we look back to 2009, and the building of Obamacare there was Senate legislation, there was House legislation, both moving through.

Let's move on to what we are learning from the negotiations over this attempt to repeal and replace. President Trump said he was disappointed by the conservative Freedom Caucus. A senior White House official says this. I'll put up on the screen.

"I think the Freedom Caucus made a mistake in the end. This is a president who wanted to work with them and he is dismissive of them now."

Can the president -- should he -- considering that these -- these representatives are in districts that he did very well and discount the more conservatives of the party in the House and work with the moderates to try to get the Democrats on as well?

KINGSTON: You know, you really can't because in the House of Representatives everybody is an independent contractor, and who is against you one week might be with you the next week, so you have to really -- they all have their own constituencies and their own empires if you will, so you're not going to cower them into submission but just because somebody was your enemy last week doesn't mean they're not going to be your friend the next week. So you have to work with each other.

But the thing that I heard from my friends in the Freedom Caucus is that they were not included in this process early enough. They did give the president credit later on but they felt like particularly on the House leadership side they should have been at the table in November, in December and earlier January.

BLACKWELL: Yes it's obvious that the different factions weren't on the same page not just on policy but on the approach, and it appears now that we are hearing from the speaker, from the president, from the vice president that there is no consensus on what is going on happen next. [06:35:02]

I want you to listen to Paul Ryan, President Trump and Vice President Pence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future. I don't know how long it's going to take us to replace this law.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we have to let Obamacare go it's way for a little while and we will see how things go.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will end the Obamacare nightmare and give the American people the world class health care that they deserve. Until then I can promise you, President Trump is never going to stop fighting to keep his promises to the American people, and we will make America great again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: So is this administration going to let it run for a while or is he going to keep fighting to repeal it?

KINGSTON: You know, I think they are going to have to do both. They are going to have to let it run for a while but what I hope is that Paul Ryan will get the moderates and the conservative Republicans in a room and he'll say, you guys got to work something out. But at same time (INAUDIBLE) Greg Walden and Kevin Brady, the chairman of the respective committees of jurisdiction get them to sit down with Democrats and say, OK, what can you guys do together? Do it on regular order and start having peace break out all over the House floor. And it might be a good thing but it seems to me you could get something done that way.

I do believe that one of the problems with Obamacare is it was an entirely Democratic bill. I think to replace it Lindsey Graham has a point, if can you get Democrats and Republicans together to find some common ground then you may do something that's far better for the American people.

BLACKWELL: All right. Jack Kingston, we will talk next hour.

KINGSTON: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We are continuing to follow the active search in Cincinnati, Ohio. At least one gunman, possibly two had shot 15 people at a nightclub there. One person has died. We have more for you. Stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:40:52]

PAUL: Forty minutes past the hour, and right now dozens of demonstrations are being -- beginning, I should say, across Russia to protest against corruption.

The Kremlin calling the rallies illegal. A Russian opposition leader who called for the demonstration said the turn out at the Far East started fine. He's a candidate for next year's presidential election, running against President Vladimir Putin, we should point out.

CNN senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen live from Moscow right now. Fred, we can see some activity from behind you. How large are these rallies expected to be and how expansive?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, the protesters themselves say that there's going to be rallies in a hundred towns and cities all across Russia today. And they say that many of them have already started and that some of them have drawn some fairly large crowds. There has also been some crackdowns as well.

I want to show you what's going on right here, Christi. You can see there's not very many protesters here at this site yet and they are actually far outnumbered by the security forces have been brought to (INAUDIBLE). Now we have to mention in all of this that the Russian authorities have said this protest here is illegal because they felt that they couldn't guarantee the safety of the people who came here.

However this place is packed with security forces. So you have the police, you have riot police, you have plainclothes police, you have police with dogs. We have literally seen well over 1,000 of the authorities here on the ground, and really only a handful of protesters.

We have seen a couple of arrests also take place so far already, but the protesters themselves are saying that these protests have started early in the morning hours, of course, and the far east of the country are sort of spreading across the country right now. They say so far things are going good. This is really the sort of main event in all of this where the protester leader, Alexei Navalny, said that he wanted to show up here to lead this protest which as you say have been deemed illegal and so obviously this is quite a risk for him to try and stage something like that here right in the heart of Moscow -- Christi.

PAUL: Right. And Navalny running against Vladimir Putin in next year's election, what does this say what you're seeing the support that he seems to be getting? What does that say about the upcoming election to you?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, he wants to run in the election against Vladimir Putin, but there's very few people who believe that he would have any sort of change. Vladimir Putin has about 80 percent approval rating here in this country so it's very difficult to run against him.

And on top of that, so far, Alexei Navalny is not even allowed to run in the election because he still has a corruption case going against him which he says is a bogus case, where he says it's trumped-up charges and he is currently in the appeals process. So he's going to have to wait and see until the end of the appeals process is he actually going to run. But of course he is someone who apparently is seen at least as somewhat of a threat in the Kremlin, that's one of the reasons why this main protest here in the center of Moscow has been deemed illegal and that's also why quite frankly we have seen a lot of very, very heavily armored police vehicles here, riot police here, dogs here and where the authorities really seemed to be very keen to not let this protest even get underway -- Christi.

PAUL: You know, part of the conversation there, too, is these eight Russians who are holding key positions in the country, who have died in the last five months. The latest that murder on Thursday in Kiev. Are you hearing anymore more from the Kremlin about that?

PLEITGEN: No, so far there hasn't been anything on that. I mean, the latest (ph) that we've been checking has been sort of into Friday as that that investigation was going on into the murder of Denis Voronenkov. And of course all of that really quickly spiraled into really a standoff between Moscow and Kiev on that issue where we know that the authorities in Kiev there were blaming Russia for that murder. The Russian say that that's absolutely absurd, they had nothing to do with it and that they actually want to be part of the investigation to guarantee that the investigation is conducted in a way that they deem fair. So certainly that standoff is still going on.

It's interesting, because Denis Voronenkov is actually already been buried and that investigation is actually just now really getting under way to try and find out who killed him and why.

PAUL: Wow. All right. Frederik Pleitgen, we appreciate you so much. Thank you.

Stay close. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:48:48]

PAUL: I want to give you an update on the developing story we're watching right now. This active manhunt in Ohio. Possibly two gunmen shot 15 people at a nightclub there and police confirmed one person has died already.

BLACKWELL: The shooting happened around five hours ago now near the Cameo Night Club in Cincinnati. Officers were on scene acting as security for the club, so they were there before the shooting as the shooting happened. So they responded very quickly. Authorities say that there was more than one shooter but they're not sure if there was more than two.

PAUL: Now some of the victims do have serious or critical injuries. We're getting word -- eight victims were taken to UC Medical Center four are in stable condition, three in serious and one in critical condition this hour. So we're going to give you more information as it continues to come into us this morning.

Meanwhile, this Sunday, CNN's original series "FINDING JESUS" takes a look at King Herod the Great. And Christians around the world Herod was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of innocent people.

BLACKWELL: And he was known for killing off his own family members when his power was threatened. Here's a peek at tonight's episode.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR (voice-over): In the Bible, King Herod is painted as the epitome of evil.

[06:50:02]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We tend to remember Herod as the Herod of the nativity scene, as the evil Herod from the New Testament. We know it from Christmas plays and schools, we know it from how we're told in church, so the Herod that we know is very much the product of the Christian story and the Christian imagination rather than the totality of who he was.

NARRATOR: But to understand the man behind the legend we need to look at the writings of Jewish historian Josephus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Josephus is a priest of supposedly Hasmonean stock. He also writes several histories both (ph) of the Jewish people but also of the great Jewish war. Within those histories of the Jewish people Herod receives prominent attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Josephus fills in all sorts of fascinating details about Herod and tells us the details of his family, of his political successes, his political disasters and so on.

NARRATOR: Josephus describes in detail Herod's journey from courtier to king.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Watch "FINDING JESUS" tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

PAUL: By now we all know Melissa McCarthy's SNL impersonation -- don't we -- of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Her performances you could say they have rocked the comedy world.

BLACKWELL: Yes, people love him (ph). She stopped by the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" to talk about how her now famous parody came to be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELISSA MCCARTHY, COMEDIAN: The head writers there now, called and he goes, I hear you're in New York so shooting something (INAUDIBLE) can you -- do you have any interest in coming in and doing Spicer for us? And I was like, what? Saying, how am I going to do that? And cut to somebody being like, boy, do you really look like that guy. (LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: You mess with your ears and it really changes the shape of your head, and then I got into -- because I was like, can I have eye bags, and the answer was yes.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, you can.

MCCARTHY AS SEAN SPICER; First of all I would like to announce that I am calm now. You don't have a chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL: Oh, my goodness. I can see -- that was the first thing I thought of was how did they connect her to him, because I don't know that I would want to look like a man necessarily.

BLACKWELL: But it is a transformation.

PAUL: No offense. Yes.

BLACKWELL: Like you don't see -- I don't take any offense -- no offense taken.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: You don't look at Melissa McCarthy and say, Sean Spicer.

PAUL: Yes, exactly. That's what I am talking about.

BLACKWELL: All right. We got to get to sport.

PAUL: We do.

Half of the final four bracket is set. Andy Scholes is here with who is headed to Phoenix.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, guys.

Now you don't think of the Pacific Northwest as a hot bed for basketball but that's the center of the hoops university this morning. All the details are coming up in today's "Bleacher Report."

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[06:57:17]

BLACKWELL: Fun fact. Oregon won the very first NCAA tournament in 1939. I am saying that like I knew it off the top of my head.

(LAUGHTER);

BLACKWELL: Now they've got a shot at the second national title.

PAUL: Andy Scholes knows it off the top of his head though.

BLACKWELL: Yes, he does.

SCHOLES: I heard it a month ago so I did know.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: Yes, yes.

SCHOLES: But how about that, guys? You know, they won the very first won and they hadn't been back to the final four since. And as you can imagine a lot of things have changed in the past 78 years.

Oregon's nickname back then wasn't even the Ducks. They're actually called the webbed foot. And I think the Ducks sound a lot better.

PAUL: Yes.

SCHOLES: I don't know about you. But Oregon pulling off the 74-60 offset over (INAUDIBLE) Kansas. The players obviously overjoyed to be heading to the final four.

The Duck meanwhile, the mascot, he was celebrating by making some duck angels on the confetti that fell on the floor. Their team having a blast obviously cutting down the net. They even let Nike CEO and alum Phil Knight have a turn in cutting down the net. He is of course Oregon's biggest donor.

Now Kansas clearly disappointed after the loss. And the Lawrence police department took to Twitter and kind of trolled the basketball team. This is the fifth time Jayhawks have lost in the elite eight under head coach Bill Self. And the cops tweeted, well, at least we have a lot of experience dealing with fans after an elite eight loss. Get home safety Jayhawk fans -- #drivesober.

And the other game of the day for the first time ever Gonzaga is heading to the final four. The Zags have been the darlings of the tournament for nearly two decades now that they had never gotten past the Elite Eight.

And a funny moment from this game Gonzaga they were running away with it late, and the only thing that could slow them down was the ball girl mopping the floor. Check this out. Josh Perkins he had to slow down or he else he might have dunked on her. The Zags they easily beat Xavier 83-59. And head coach Mark Few he has had the Bulldogs in the tournament for 19 straight years, and he's happy his team finally got to cut down the net.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK FEW, GONZAGA HEAD COACH: You know, it has been a long hard journey to get this program here. We have had a great ride all the way through it, and I am just so happy for these guys up here, and everybody in the locker room and all the former players that put the Zag jersey on, and just couldn't be happier.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHOLES: And we've got two more final four berth on the line this afternoon. Got some day games. Familiar foes South Carolina and Florida, they're going to battle out for the third time this season, that's at 2:20 Eastern tip. Winner moves on to face Gonzaga and two of college basketball's most storied programs facing off Kentucky versus North Carolina. Tipoff for that one is a little after 5:00. The winner goes on to face Oregon.

And Victor, you're the only one sitting here clapping because you have you have Gonzaga going -- to win -- going on to win it all.

[07:00:04]

BLACKWELL: Let's go Zags. Let's go. (INAUDIBLE) practice.

PAUL: For him, for him -- yes.

SCHOLES: A shot at winning the CNN bracket.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

PAUL: Thank you, Andy.

SCHOLES: All right.

BLACKWELL: All right. Thanks, Andy.