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Journalist's Text Messages May Offer New Clue In His Murder; WSJ: CIA Intercepts Messages Between Saudi Crown Prince And Top Aide In Hours Before & After Khashoggi's Death; Pompeo: "No Direct Evidence" Links Crown Prince To Khashoggi's Death; President Bush To Lie In State Beginning Monday; Trump Agrees To Freeze Tariff Increase On Chinese Goods; W.H. Confirms Trump Had "Informal Conversation" With Putin; Putin And Saudi Crown Prince Share High Five At G-20; 1,000 Aftershocks Rattle Alaska After Massive Quake. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 2, 2018 - 15:00   ET



[15:00:21] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

We start with a CNN exclusive. Exactly two months after "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, we are now learning new details about the growing animosity between the journalist and the Saudi crown prince in the days, indeed, in the months leading up to Khashoggi's murder.

CNN has obtained hundreds of text messages Khashoggi sent before his death, criticizing Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, calling him a beast and saying something needs to be done, even discussing the possibility of what he called an electronic army of fellow critics.

These messages are coming to light as "The Washington Post" and the "Wall Street Journal" are now reporting on messages that crown prince sent in the hours leading up to and immediately after Khashoggi's murder to a senior aide who allegedly oversaw the assassination.

CNN's Nina dos Santos is joining us now live from London. Nina, tell us a little bit more about your exclusive reporting.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: Well, what we know is that Jamal Khashoggi oversee was a very outspoken critic of Mohammed bin Salman with the new reforms that he was taking on board back home in Saudi Arabia. He's been living in self-imposed exile in the United States for a year or so.

But, what we haven't seen up until now is the real reason that could have indicated why he would have been targeted in such extreme fashion and potentially lost his life over a result of some of his activities.

Frankly, comparing the crown prince of Saudi Arabia to another strong man like Vladimir Putin in Russia as he's done in his public columns probably wasn't going to have made him a target for an assassination attempt, but we've got some clues as to something else that he was up to that might well answer part of that piece of the puzzle, Wolf.


DOS SANTOS (voice-over): These are words you won't have read in Jamal Khashoggi's columns, instead, they are WhatsApp messages never seen before sent by Khashoggi at the year before his death.

They lay bear his disdain for Saudi Arabia's crown prince saying, "He is like a beast, like pac man, the more victims he eats, the more he wants." In another, "May God rid us and this nation of this predicament."

The words were exchanged with Omar Abdulaziz, a fellow critic in exile in Canada.

OMAR ABDULAZIZ, SAUDI DISSIDENT: He believed that MBS is the issue. He's the problem. Someone has to tell him that, you know, you have to be stopped.

DOS SANTOS (on camera): Talk like this is dangerous for those from a country with one of the world's worst records for human rights. And it wasn't just political views that the pair was trading, but plans to hold the Saudi state to account, creating an army of so-called cyber bees on social media, leveraging Khashoggi's name and the 340,000 strong Twitter following of his confident.

ABDULAZIZ: At the beginning, it was a bit difficult for us to have this kind of relationship. For me I was a dissident and he was a guy who worked for the government for almost 35 years.

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Khashoggi pledged funds and Abdulaziz bought the hardware hundreds of foreign sim cards to send back home enabling dissidents to avoid detection.

In one message, Abdulaziz write, "I sent you a brief idea about the work of the electronic army." "Brilliant report," Khashoggi replies. "I will try to sort out the money. We have to do something."

(on camera) How much money did he originally say he would commit to the project?

ABDULAZIZ: He said 30,000.

DOS SANTOS: 30,000 U.S. dollars?


DOS SANTOS: How dangerous is a project like that in Saudi Arabia?

ABDULAZIZ: You might be killed because of that. You might be jailed. They might send someone to us as (INAUDIBLE).

DOS SANTOS (voice-over): Just like Khashoggi, Abdulaziz believes that he was also targeted after two Saudi (INAUDIBLE) were dispatched to Canada, he says last May, to coax him into the embassy there. He made these secret recordings of their meetings and shared them with CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): We have come to you with a message from Mohammed bin Salman. I want you to be reassured, we don't have to approach someone from an official department or the state security. The Saudi Arabian Embassy awaits you.

DOS SANTOS: When Abdulaziz refused, they got to him another way, hacking his phone according to a lawsuit Abdulaziz filed this week against the Israeli firm behind the spy wear. When the pairs plans were discovered, Khashoggi panic, "God help us," he wrote.

(on camera) How much of a target did that make both of you?

ABDULAZIZ: The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal. I'm really sorry to say that. We were trying to teach people about human rights, about freedom of speech, so that's it. This is the only crime that we committed.


[15:05:09] DOS SANTOS: Well, Wolf, we've managed to obtain bank statements and other messages that confirmed that Jamal Khashoggi had actually started sending the money to Abdulaziz with the first $5,000 transaction about two months before Khashoggi lost his life.

We've reached out to the Saudi Arabian government for comment on this, they have yet to respond. When it comes to the Israeli firm at the center of that lawsuit that's being filed today, we have yet to hear back from them.

In the past, they responded to lawsuits like this saying that they help foreign governments to intercept terrorists and plots against their countries just a word of warning that many in authoritarian regime, as you all know, often conflates terrorist activity with dissident activity from abroad. Back to you.

BLITZER: Very important point, Nina. Good reporting. Thank you so much for that.

Let's get some analysis right now. Joining us is James Rubin, former Assistant Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. James, thanks so much for joining us. What's your reaction to that report?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Well, I'd say that's pretty juicy evidence for what this has been all about. I mean we always understood that Jamal Khashoggi was a critic of the current leadership in Saudi Arabia.

But the fact that he was going to take this to the next level that they were going to build sort of a dissident group of -- now let's be clear, human rights activists, people trying to give information and give opinion, it wasn't the word electronic army can be misunderstood, these are just people trying to speak the truth and tell what they think about their current government. But for Saudi Arabia, that is real full-fledged opposition.

That's the kind of thing that makes princess and crown princes worry about their future. And I think as Nina, your correspondent indicated, gives a greater understanding for what would have led the crown prince to do -- and the regime to do something so profoundly, let's face it, stupid to think that they could get away with killing of a prominent journalist in broad daylight in the modern era, in the era of 24-hour news, and WhatsApp, and all these other technologies. Somehow they thought this would slide under the radar and that was showing you how out of touch they were.

And ironically that was Jamal's main point, that the leadership, the crown prince had no one around him to tell him things when he was determined to take the wrong course. If someone like the crown prince had an advisory say, "Well, you may want to get rid of him, but can you imagine the outcry that will happen if this journalist was killed in Turkey?" And that was -- didn't happen and I believe this is -- your report is pretty strong evidence for -- and compelling for the rationale for what this is all about.

BLITZER: The President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, they all insist there's no direct evidence linking the crown prince to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. I spoke with Secretary Pompeo yesterday. Listen to this exchange I had with him.


BLITZER: Do you believe the Saudi explanation that the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, did not know about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Wolf, I've spoken about this a lot. I continue to work on this issue. President Trump and this administration sanctioned 17 people that we came to learned were connected to the murder, the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

All across the United States government, we continue to investigate to try and learn to make determinations about what happened and will continue to hold those responsible accountable. We've been very, very clear about that sentence literally at the very beginning.

We also, Wolf, and this is important, are doing everything we can to make sure that we get it right for America that we keep the strategic relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and protect the American people. Those two things can both be done and we've done it very effectively.


BLITZER: Do you agree?

RUBIN: No, I don't agree. I think they are hanging their case on a very narrow point and that narrow point is direct evidence. What they mean by that is unless they had an actual memorandum or a voice recording of the crown prince ordering the murder, they're not prepared to say they're 100 percent sure. But for those who study the regime very well, for those who've seen the evidence behind the scenes in the intelligence community, it's perfectly obvious that the crown prince was extremely concerned about the opposition to him and those who would dare to criticize him publicly.

And that he was clearly involved in an attempt to bring Jamal back to the United States -- to Saudi Arabia prior to that and it just strains credulity to believe that in that system, given the evidence that Nina just presented and all the other pieces of evidence that the crown prince wasn't involved.

[15:10:02] Where I accept the administrations point of view is even if the crown prince did order this assassination, and I believe he did, I don't know it, I don't have a voice recording of it, but as an analyst of foreign affairs, I believe he did and I believe most analysts of Saudi Arabia believe he did. But that doesn't mean you have to destroy our relationship with Saudi Arabia.

I think the mistake here is to think that we can't hold the crown prince who is not the king, he's the crown prince, hold him accountable for the murder, a broad daylight, of a basically a critic, a man who spoke and said things they didn't like in a foreign embassy in Istanbul in the modern era, that is an unacceptable behavior for civilized nations.

If Saudi Arabia wants to attend the G-20 summit and be part of the civilized world, then they need to behave in a civilized fashion. And if this is not civilized behavior, the administration can make that point and still retain a military security relationship and obviously the United States and other countries can continue to buy their oil.

What they're not prepared to say is to interfere with the personal relationship between the President and the crown prince and obviously the President's son-in-law and the crown prince. But that's not America's problem, that's the President and his son-in-law's problem.

As an American, and I'm speaking for the United States of America, we should be able to condemn this action by a foreign leader who's murdered someone for expressing their opinion.

BLITZER: Jamie Rubin, thanks for coming out.

RUBIN: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Appreciate it. Just ahead, remembering the 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. We're going to talk to one of his grandchildren about his life, his legacy, and his unwavering love for life and for adventure.


[15:16:06] BLITZER: Tomorrow afternoon, that's when the body of President George Herbert Walker Bush is scheduled to arrive here in Washington at the United States Capital where the President will lie in state until Wednesday with the American public invited to pay their respects in person.

The 41st President died late Friday night in his home in Houston with family in his side. He was 94 years old. Among the many, many tributes of the former President pouring in from all corners of the world, this one, a salute to President Bush's wartime service.

The U.S Navy's official aviation group saying, "His legacy lives on in those who don the cloth of our great nation and in the mighty warship which bears his name. May he rest in peace."

And then there was this picture posted this weekend by the late President's grandson, Pierce Bush, and these loving words about his grandfather. "There is no doubt this incredible man is in a better place yet I still feel a little selfish sadness that I will not be able to stop by his house in Houston and say my usual 'hi Gampy,' and hear him respond 'hi Piercy, what's new?' He was always the best grandfather a kid could ask for."

We're going to speak with Pierce Bush. He's joining us live right after this.


[15:21:51] BLITZER: We'll be spending much on this week remembering the 41st President of United States, President George H.W. Bush. Joining us now from Houston is Peirce Bush, his grandson.

Pierce, our deepest, deepest condolences to you and your loving family. It's a sad time and I know you have some thoughts about your loving grandfather. Tell us about the last time you had a chance to see him. I understand it was recently during Thanksgiving.

PIERCE BUSH, PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH'S GRANDSON: Well, that was one of the last times I saw him before he was in his final moments. I had the honor of being there with Secretary Baker, Mrs. Baker, my dad, my wife, my cousin Marshall and a few other loving caregivers at his last moments.

And I saw a man who was the human embodiment of love transition to another life and he did it with peace. He did it with kindness. He was saying a lot of I love you mores until the very, very end. And he went out just as he lived as a man that was incredibly kind and always thinking about other people and a life who had -- a man who had lived a very full life here who certainly made the world a better place.

And, you know, you can think of him as a public figure and, of course, I view him as an amazing president. But first and foremost to me, he was the world's best grandfather, Wolf. The world's best grandfather and one of the world's, if not, the world's most decent, kindhearted man.

BLITZER: Tell us how you came up with that name which you called him.

BUSH: Gampy is a Bush family tradition. It started, I believe, with my dad and his grandfather, so my great grandmother. And we called my grandmother ganny (ph) and it was just one of those things it was passed on. Someday, Wolf, if I'm lucky enough, I might be a gampy myself. So it's one of those Bush family traditions.

BLITZER: How is your family doing, Pierce?

BUSH: You know, it's hard to -- as you read in my Instagram post, it's hard to imagine that when I pull through these gates that incredibly kind and decent man won't be there on the other side to greet me. But that's really a selfish sadness. Again, because I know that he's in a much better place and he's surrounded by his maker and reunited with my awesome grandmother, so.

And the other thing is this, Wolf. George H.W. Bush, my grandfather gampy, lived an incredible life. He lived really a life that it's almost like a "Forrest Gump" character over the past American century. And he died with no regrets. He lived a life that benefited others and he was very at peace with that.

And I think our family is mourning the loss of our great point of light, but we also are just so happy to have had him in our lives. For me it's been 32 years, obviously, that's how old I am. And for my dad, it's much longer than that. He's just an awesome, awesome guy.

BLITZER: And your grandfather, Gampy, he was 94 years old. Give us, Pierce, some of your earliest memories of your wonderful grandfather.

[15:25:06] When did you realize, for example, he was more than just your grandfather that he meant so much to the entire country indeed for so much in the world?

PIERCE: I was born in 1986. He was Ronald Reagan's vice president. So my earliest memories, Wolf, you were probably there, frankly, but it's like the Republican convention. I remember it because when my grandfather, Gampy, showed up, balloons were dropped and fireworks went off and I was really scared, so that was weirdest scary memory. But it was just so obvious from a very early age, from when I got my earliest kind of form memories, that there was just something different about Gampy.

He's constantly surrounded with people who was, you know, always kind of showed up with a big group. He obviously had a big secret service delegation at that time. But he was very quick to shed all of that and just be a really normal guy.

I think people are, you know, sometimes maybe bewildered that our family doesn't sit around the table and just talk politics. We talk the things every single family talks about. Gampy loved sports. He loved fishing. He loved being outdoors. He just loved being a grandfather, Wolf, and he was the world's best.

BLITZER: And you're right, I was covering him back in the 80's, in the 90's and I saw what he was achieving as a vice president, as a President of the United States. He was an incredible public figure as you know. But give us something that the public might not know about him, something you'd like to share.

PIERCE: Sure. You know, my grandfather was an amazingly competitive man. He loved friendly competition. Now, he did it in a way where if someone lost, they weren't going to have hurt feelings. He was a coalition builder. We saw that in the Desert Storm, obviously, but with our family he was the same man.

So about mid-1990s, the '95, '96, '97, whenever he would have a controversial decision amongst my cousins, he would say, "We need to take that to the ranking committee." And for years there was great intrigue in our family. Who's on this ranking committee? Is it you and Ganny or is it just -- you know, is it you, Ganny, and Jim Baker, his chief of staff?

And we found out, he revealed, and I want to say it was 1998, a picture of his head on five different body types. And he finally unveiled the ranking committee. But he was such a funny guy, Wolf. He was so kind. He had such a great sense of humor. And he led with love.

He was a man that deeply cared about other people and had tremendous empathy. I was, again, 32 years of life, I have never seen George H. W. Bush mad. I've never seen him angry, even when we deserved for him to be that way. He's just always kind.

BLITZER: A really wonderful person, a wonderful president. Those of us who covered him got to know him obviously a bit. We miss him and we express to you and the entire Bush family our deepest, deepest condolences. May his memory be a blessing, may he rest in peace. Pierce, thanks very much for joining us.

BLITZER: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.

BLITZER: We'll be right back.


[15:32:56] BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're following what could be potentially a significant breakthrough in the escalating trade war between the United States and China.

The leaders of the world's two largest economies reaching what's being called the temporary truce of President Trump and President Xi Jinping of China cooling tensions during a highly anticipated dinner last night at the very end of the G-20 summit in Argentina.

I want to check in with CNN's Sarah Westwood. She's over at the White House for us. So, Sarah, President Trump, he's back here in Washington after a very busy few days in Argentina at the G-20 summit. What can you tell us about this late breaking development with China?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, after that 2.5 hour meeting over dinner in Buenos Aires, both President Trump and President Xi are signaling optimism that they could soon strike a deal that would eliminate trade barriers between the U.S. and China.

This agreement would effectively hit the pause button on further escalation in the trade war between those two countries. Trump has said that he'll delay raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. Those goods are already subject to 10 percent tariffs, but the President had threatened to raise those tariffs to 25 percent as soon as January 1st. Trump is saying he'll no longer do that now.

And in exchange, China has agreed to increase substantially its purchases of U.S. agricultural goods, energy projects, other goods all in an effort to address the trade imbalance that Trump has been focusing on since even before he took office.

Take a listen to what he had to say about this agreement aboard Air Force One last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's an incredible deal. It goes down -- certainly if it happens, it goes down as one of the largest deals ever made. And what I'd be doing is holding back on tariffs. China will be opening up. China will be getting rid of tariffs.

You know, China right now has major trade barriers, that major tariffs, and also major non-tariff barriers which are brutal. China will be getting rid of many of them and China will be buying massive amounts of product from us, including agricultural from our farmers, tremendous amount of agricultural and other products. So it's been really something.


[15:35:14] WESTWOOD: Now, this ceasefire in the trade war could give the Trump administration some breathing room to revive those trade talks that had stalled in recent months because, of course, the White House is seeking concessions that go beyond the removal of tariffs. They're also looking to curb some other Chinese trade practices that Trump has described as unfair, such as intellectual property theft, such as China's industrial subsidies.

And so even though the President has been touting this as a breakthrough in negotiations with China, neither side has removed any existing tariffs, Wolf, even though both leaders are facing domestic pressures from the economic ramifications of their trade battle.

BLITZER: We'll see if this deal actually goes through what the President is saying if it happens. We'll see if in fact it does happen. Sarah thanks very much. Sarah Westwood at the White House.

Coming up, the handshake seen around the world. The stunning image of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and how it could impact President Trump.


[15:40:38] BLITZER: Welcome back. President Trump is back at the White House right now. He is here in Washington after holding a brief informal meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, at the G- 20 summit in Argentina.

But the moment that captured everyone's attention, and I was there in Buenos Aires, and indeed around the world, was the high-five handshake between Putin and the embattled Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The bizarre image of the two strong men laughing and embracing one another stunned so many watchers. MBS, as he's called, is suspected of ordering the killing of the "Washington Post" columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.

And shortly after this exchange, the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis accused Putin of meddling in the recent U.S. midterm elections. Listen to this.


JAMES MATTIS, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is no doubt the relationship has worsened. He tried again to muck around in our elections this last month. And we are seeing a continued effort along those lines.


BLITZER: Joining us now, Alexander Vershbow, he is the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, former Deputy Secretary General of NATO as well. Thanks so much, Mr. Ambassador for joining us.


BLITZER: It's pretty extraordinary to hear the Defense Secretary to say that as recently as October, just weeks before the midterm elections, the Russians in his words, were mucking around in the U. S. elections.

VERSHBOW: Yes. Well, it's refreshing that somebody in the administration actually acknowledges that. And while the level of indifference apparently was less than we saw in 2016 and the Russians have not let up in their kind of informational warfare against the west.

And, you know, and that goes hand in hand with their continued aggression against Ukraine, continued occupational parts of Georgia. So we're dealing with a very aggressive Russia and we saw no signs of that abating over the last couple of weeks.

BLITZER: And so you think they're going to continue to try to meddle in U.S. politics?

VERSHBOW: I think they will until they pay a heavier price. I mean, they've been hit with some sanctions. We expelled a lot of their so- called diplomats. But they still don't, I think, have the sense that they're going to pay a lasting price. And they think this is working for them.

BLITZER: What do you think of that high-five handshake that we saw yesterday between President Putin and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Salman at the G-20 summit?

VERSHBOW: Yes. Well, it's two pariahs kind of celebrating their isolation from the rest of the group, perhaps. I don't know if President Trump will see it that way. But here is two people that ordered assassinations in the case of Khashoggi and actually succeeded, in the case of Putin, Skripal survived. But this was kind of reckless behavior that unfortunately is becoming all too much the norm.

BLITZER: What do you think of President Trump's argument? He keep saying, "You know what, the U. S. needs to maintain a strong strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. They buy a lot of U.S. weapons, a lot of money is involved. And if the U.S. were to do something to stop that, it would be a bonanza for Russia and for China." You hear President Trump keep making that argument.

VERSHBOW: Yes. I don't fully buy it. First of all, he exaggerates what's at stake in terms of the amount of arm sales that are on the line. You know, 110 billion is a gross exaggeration.

But even if, you know, we had to sacrifice that that the Saudis don't have the real option to go back to the Russians. Most of their weaponry, their training is American. They spent, you know, generations working with us. I don't think it would be the end of the relationship.

I think it would show that we stand for something, that we do stand by our values, which is unfortunately is increasing in that (ph).

BLITZER: Did the President, as some of his critics are now suggesting, missed an opportunity yesterday? He was supposed to have, and I was there in Buenos Aires, he was supposed to have a two-hour substantive one-on-one meeting with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. He canceled it because of what the Russians are doing with Ukraine. So as a result of that he chat -- little informal chat with him at the dinner, but there was no substantive meeting.


BLITZER: Did he miss an opportunity to read him, as his critics would have like the Riot Act?

VERSHBOW: Now, I think it was a missed opportunity. I mean, I think its fine to at least make a statement about what happened in Ukraine and that he doesn't want to have a meeting until the sailors and the ships are returned. But it would have been better to read him the Riot Act and make clear that further punishment was going to come if Russia didn't reverse course.

Right now it's only words and the cancellation of a meeting which -- with Putin can brush off as, you know, just a PR gesture. So I think, you know, agreeing on some concrete steps that the Russians would face, ideally, you know, with our European allies shoulder to shoulder with us would be much more effective.

[15:45:00] BLITZER: But given the position that President Trump has taken over this past two years, do you believe if there had been a meeting, he would have read him the Riot Act? VERSHBOW: Well, that's the unfortunate reality that he seems unable to say anything harsh certainly face-to-face with Putin. We saw that in Helsinki and it backfired on him. He ended up being seen as a kowtowing to Putin and that was a danger that the same thing would have happened here.

But on the other hand, you know, maybe President Trump does learn from his mistakes and I do think it would have been better both to read him the Riot Act, but also to deal with some of the other problems.

The INF Treaty, it's the Russians who have violated that treaty and they're causing it to collapse if they got us on the defensive as the ones withdrawing from the treaty. So that what to do about strategic arms, Syria, Afghanistan, a lot of issues to talk about with the Russians.

BLITZER: Yesterday when I interviewed the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Buenos Aires, he said that the dialogue, substantive dialogue meetings between the President and Putin will resume once the Russians return the Ukrainian sailors and the ships that that confrontation that they had over the past few weeks. That was -- I saw that as a threat to the Russians.

Here is what you need to do. You know the Russians. You lived there. You were the ambassador. You studied them well over the years. How is Putin going to respond to what Pompeo said?

VERSHBOW: I mean I fear he's going to dig in, which means that maybe a long time coming before we have that meeting. Plus, what's lacking is the or else, I mean, beyond denying a meeting. Are we prepared to raise the stakes with the Russians who have been carrying at a whole series of small steps to ratchet up the pressure on Ukraine starting earlier this year? And Ukraine has elections next year. And this is clear enough to destabilize the country, kind of turn it into an international basket case and we're not doing anything about it.

So, you know, cancelling the meeting, making a condition regarding the return of the sailors and the ships is fine, but we need an or else.

BLITZER: But do you think Putin can take those two steps without looking weak?

VERSHBOW: Well, maybe not immediately. But I think overtime it's not in his interest to get into an open confrontation either with Ukraine, which is obviously the weaker party, but more importantly with the west. But we're not showing enough unity and strength, we're showing hesitation and Putin can see that very clearly.

BLITZER: Ambassador Vershbow, thank you so much for coming in.

VERSHBOW: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

The President comes home as his former personal attorney makes new allegations in the Russia probe, shining a spotlight back on President Trump and his business dealings with Russia. Here's CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance in Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Trump, it's always been about business, his business, his brand, his properties.

TRUMP: People ask me, what does Trump stand for more than anything else? And if I use one word, it's always quality. Big windows, great fixtures, beautiful kitchens, everything is going to be the best. And that's what it's all about.

CHANCE: And it was Trump that property developer who campaigned to be a Republican presidential candidate, juggling his business and political ambitions, which inevitably overlapped. But by how much is only now coming to light.

His former lawyer revealing negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow went on much longer than previously admitted until at least June 2016 after he essentially secured the nomination. Nothing wrong with that, Trump insisted, before leaving for the G-20.

TRUMP: It was a well-known project. It was during the early part of '16 and I guess even before that. I didn't do the project. I decided not to do the project, so I didn't do it. So we're not talking about doing a project.

CHANCE (on camera): It was in this location on the outskirts of Moscow near the scrolling Crocus City business and entertainment complex that the Trump World Tower Moscow as it was called was meant to be built, part of a 14-tower project according to the developers which would have stand across this whole area. You can see here, if you look at this wire fence, that some of the towers have already started to be constructed. But of course, the Trump Tower isn't amongst them.

One of the ideas for that Trump building, according to one of his business associates, was to give the top floor, the penthouse apartment in a 250 apartment block to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, as a way of attracting buyers.

IVANKA TRUMP, ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The Trump organization likes to be ahead of the curve. We're always ahead of the curve. And this would be another example.

CHANCE: Ivanka Trump and her spa and fitness brand were also an integral part of the Moscow proposal.

Into a letter of intent obtained by CNN, Trump's daughter would be given sole and absolute discretion to approve the spa designs. This was a Trump family affair.

But how much was the Kremlin also involved? Until this week, it insisted attempts by Trump associates to make contact over the Moscow tower had been ignored. [15:50:09] The Kremlin spokesman now admit his office called and asked why they wanted to have meetings with the presidential administration and explained that we have nothing to do with construction issues in the city of Moscow, it may be an important change.

The Russian-based owners of Crocus City where Trump Tower Moscow was meant to be built have been embroiled with the Trump family in other areas, too.

(on camera) Did the Russian authorities give your family information to pass on to the Trump administration?

(voice-over) Take a mean, the pop star son of Crocus owner, Aras Agalarov, who helped set up a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton at Trump Tower in New York.

Aras and Trump also co-organized the 2013 Miss Universe contest in Moscow for the U.S. President. It appears business and politics in Russia have often mixed.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


BLITZER: Also this new information just coming into CNN, a Russian developer is now confirming it's building a complex in Moscow right now while -- where Trump Tower was going to be built in Moscow.

Russian-based developer Crocus Group says 14 towers will be part of a residential business and entertainment complex and they're going to be calling it "Project Manhattan."

Coming up, days after a massive earthquake hit Alaska, aftershocks are still rocking the region. We're going there live for a report.


BLITZER: Parts of Alaska is still shaking two days after a major earthquake hit the state. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake rattled buildings and sent people running for cover. Since then, scientists have recorded more than 1,000 aftershocks in and around Anchorage.

Our correspondent Stephanie Elam is in Mirror Lake, Alaska right now near Anchorage. Stephanie, how are Alaskans holding up with all these aftershocks and when can we expect them to end?

[15:55:03] STEPHANI ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some of those aftershocks are notable too, Wolf. But as you can see, they're making great progress on getting the roadways back open here even though when you take a look at a lot of what Alaskans are dealing with, it's inside their homes.


ELAM (voice-over): Road after road --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very major damage right at that area.

ELAM: -- torn apart. Alaska battered by a 7.0 earthquake. The shaking, the worst here since 1964.

Nick Kuhlmann is checking his vacationing neighbor's place for the first time since the quake hit. What he finds is a home wrecked by Mother Nature. Upstairs, cabinets knocked to the floor, heavy dressers piled in the bedroom, a bathroom full of glass, the shower door pulled from the wall.

NICK KUHLMANN, ANCHORAGE RESIDENT: It's pretty devastating, especially seems like the higher up you go in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Freaking earthquake.

ELAM: From Anchorage to Wasilla, and the home of Sarah Palin. Residents reeling from loss but thankful that does not include lives. Shocking, they say, because of scenes like this. Road crews right now working 40 sites similar to this.

(on camera) This is the most traveled artery in Alaska and take a look at what has happened to the roadway because of the earthquake. It looks like some massive machine has clawed the road away. So because of that, crews are working around the clock to get this roadway open. They're saying within days, but there is a threat.

Take a look at this. See this crack right here? We have to stay on this side of it and that is because everything on the other side of it is liable to give way with all of the aftershocks that continue to hit the Anchorage area.

(voice-over) According to the Alaska Earthquake Center, more than 650 aftershocks so far, around 20 of those at magnitude 4 or higher.

DIANE KUHLMANN, ANCHORAGE RESIDENT: I didn't want to go to sleep last night, afraid it was going to happen again.

ELAM: Diane and Bill Kuhlmann like so many here still on edge after riding out the quake in their Eagle River home of 47 years.

BILL KUHLMANN, ANCHORAGE RESIDENT: It was just a tremendous loud sound.

ELAM: Even with their possessions crashing down around them, they never heard a sound over the roar of the quake. Now, like so many, they repair what they can and search for memories that survived.

B. KUHLMANN: We had to put some lights up to make it a little brighter and cheerier to makes it easier to work, otherwise you cry.

ELAM: Still, they know that nothing lost here outweighs what really matters.

D. KUHLMANN: Wow, you know, that was quite something we survived.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ELAM: And it really is quite amazing, Wolf, that no one has died or no one seriously injured in this 7.0 earthquake here in Alaska. And now you saw that roadway we showed you. We shot that yesterday. Look at how much progress they have made. They're hoping to have this roadway back open within the next couple of days and so they are working really, really, really quickly here, around the clock. Mind you, there's not a lot of sunlight this time of year in Alaska anyway to get this roadway back open.

This is a road that connects so much of this state to the rest of the state, coming in from the port of Anchorage and bringing in everything here and going up towards Denali. So, it's a very important roadway here they need to open here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Stephanie Elam, thanks very much. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: President Trump just tweeted happy Hanukkah to the Jewish community across the United States, indeed around the world. He wrote this, "This week, Jews around the world will celebrate the miracles of Hanukkah. Melania and I send our very best wishes for a blessed and Happy Hanukkah."

Let me also wish our viewers a happy Hanukkah as well. Thanks so much for joining us for the special edition of CNN Newsroom. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Newsroom continues right now with Fredricka Whitfield.