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New Details in the Russia Investigation; Donald Trump, a President Who Needs to be Reined In; Kevin Hart Will No Longer Be Hosting the Oscars; Meng Wanzhou Arrested in Canada; All Clear From Police After a Bomb Threat at CNN Offices; Yemen's Warring Sides Gather In Sweden for Peace Talks; Possible Plea Deal For Alleged Spy Maria Butina; Cubans Get Web Access On Cell Phones; Trump Administration Eases Rules For New Coal Plants Under EPA Chief, Who Is A Former Coal Lobbyist. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired December 7, 2018 - 02:00   ET


[02:00:05] GEORGE HOWELL, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: Trade tensions and a market roller coaster after the U.S. has a prominent Chinese tech official arrested. Manafort and Cohen documents, new filings from the Special Counsel's office coming out Friday, what we may learn about the Russia probe. Also ahead this hour, out at the Oscars, actor and comedian Kevin Hart steps down for posting after outrage over old comments.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN Newsroom starts right now. Around the world, good day to you, we begin with the Russia investigation. We're learning more about those hectic days before Robert Mueller was appointed as the Special Counsel for the Russia investigation.

Sources now telling CNN the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and top FBI officials viewed President Trump as a leader who needed to be reined in. In a highly unusual move, the then acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe opened an obstruction of justice investigation. One justification for it, President Trump asking FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into the fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Another, Comey's firing, and to add to that, President Trump telling NBC News he fired Comey because of the Russia thing. And we could learn some new insight into the probe on Friday with a pair of very important court filings that are coming up. The Special Counsel -- Special Counsel faces a deadline to file briefs in the cases against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen.

On top of that, former FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill. Our Alex Marquardt has more details for you.


ALEX MARQUARDT, SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT, CNN: The Special Counsel's office has been so good about keeping the inner workings of their investigations secret. So through these documents coming out on Friday, this really could be a moment for us to get a much better sense of what is going on inside the Russia probe.

Let's first talk about Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman who struck that stunning plea deal three months ago with Bob Mueller, only to announce it would fall apart. This will be the main event on Friday, the Special Counsel's office accusing him of breaching that agreement by repeatedly lying to those prosecutors on a whole range of issues.

So on Friday, we expect the Mueller team to file a brief in court on what Manafort actually did to violate the terms of that plea deal. We expect at least some of that filing to be public. We don't know exactly when it will come. Just that it has to happen before midnight here on the east coast. Then there's the question of the President's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who President Trump has called a weak person for flipping on him.

Michael Cohen's due to be sentenced next week in New York. And Mueller's office has to submit their sentencing memo by Friday afternoon in New York. This is for lying to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. Cohen has now admitted he was updating President Trump, then candidate Trump, about the deal far longer than he originally said, essentially saying that the President was aware of the Trump organization's business efforts in Russia while he was running for President.

And then switching gears a little bit, there's former FBI Director James Comey, famously fired by President Donald Trump early in his term. Now, as Republicans are about to lose control of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill, the judiciary committee chairman has subpoenaed Comey one more time to testify about the FBI's handling of Hillary Clinton's emails and the Russia investigation.

That will be behind closed doors. Comey had wanted it to be in public. He has said he will talk about the testimony afterwards, and we are expecting a transcript. So it will be a big day on multiple fronts, one that will hopefully give us a better idea of where things stand across the Russia probe. Alex Marquardt, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: To talk more about this now, let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst, Areva Martin joining us from our studio in Los Angeles, Areva, thank you again for your time.


MARTIN: Through these court filings on Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, we could learn a lot. Let's start with Manafort. What do you expect we could learn about what Manafort said to prosecutors, and what evidence they have to show that he's lying?

MARTIN: Well, we know George that Special Counsel Mueller is very upset with the way that Paul Manafort handled the cooperation agreement that was entered between him and Special Counsel's office. According to earlier filings, Special Counsel Mueller said that Manafort violated the terms of the cooperation agreement and he went further.

[02:04:58] He said that Manafort actually lied to prosecutors and engaged in other crimes during the period that he was supposed to be cooperating and providing, you know, reliable and truthful information to the Special Counsel. So one of the things I think we can expect tomorrow from the Special Counsel is to ask the judge not to provide any leniency to Paul Manafort.

We saw that with respect to Michael Flynn in the filing made by the Special Counsel's office. He went out of his way to talk about how Flynn had cooperated and how his cooperation had aided the Special Counsel's office. We can expect just the opposite when it comes to statements made about Paul Manafort. We should expect the Special Counsel to be very critical of how Paul Manafort has conducted himself.

And for the Special Counsel to ask that he receives the most stringent penalty for the crimes that he's been convicted of and those that he's already pled guilty to.

HOWELL: Areva, with regards to Michael Cohen, we do know that the Special Counsel's office and federal prosecutors in New York plan to provide memos to recommend a sentence for Cohen. And through those memos, the question here, could we get insight into the scope of how much Cohen cooperated with various investigations?

MARTIN: Well, I think, George, what we can expect is for the Special Counsel to definitely make some recommendations on leniency towards -- with respect to Michael Cohen and the sentencing that will occur on December 12th, because he has cooperated, apparently not just with the Special Counsel's office but with other attorneys within the Department of Justice.

And we know that when someone comes forward and they cooperate with the Special Counsel's office, with the Department of Justice, that's grounds for that person being given a lighter sentence. How light a sentence? It remains to be seen. We know that Michael Cohen in his memo to the court has asked that he receive zero jail time.

I am not as optimistic that Special Counsel Mueller will be recommending that Cohen not serve any time given the gravity of his crimes. But I do expect that the Special Counsel will acknowledge his cooperation, the fact that he's been truthful with respect for his cooperation, and he will ask the judge to take that into consideration and give him a sentence that's lighter than he otherwise would receive.

HOWELL: So even before Robert Mueller was appointed, CNN has learned that the then acting FBI Director, Andrew McCabe, that he'd already opened an obstruction of justice investigation into the President of the United States. From what is already being divulged in the courts from the Mueller team, is there a sense that obstruction of justice is a major focus of this investigation?

MARTIN: We know, George, that obstruction of justice has been a major theme throughout the investigations that have been conducted by the Special Counsel's office, all stemming back to that February meeting that James Comey had in the White House, where he says Donald Trump asked him to basically, you know, kill or quash the investigation as it related to Michael Flynn.

Now, we know that the President has denied this. But we have heard, you know, really contradictory statements about what happened during that February meeting. This article that's just come out, this reporting that is somewhat shocking, because it says that even before Mueller was appointed, that it was Rosenstein and McCabe who were, you know, working together to open this obstruction of justice investigation because they had real concerns.

There's also some, you know, reporting that suggests that Rosenstein was considering wearing some kind of wire and to engage in conversations with the President perhaps to get him to make certain admissions, you know, while Rosenstein was wearing a wire. Now, he's denied this. There have been denials, you know, from the Department of Justice with respect to some of this reporting.

But I think it shows the gravity of the investigation that is being conducted by the Special Counsel's office. And that it is far more expansive than just the Russia collusion with the Trump administration and his campaign.

HOWELL: It will be interesting to see what we get from these filings. CNN Legal Analyst Areva Martin, thank again you for your time.

MARTIN: Thanks, George.

HOWELL: We could learn much more on Friday about why a Chinese tech executive was arrested at the request of the United States when a bail hearing takes place in Canada. Meng Wanzhou is the Chief Financial Officer of the Chinese tech giant, Huawei Technologies. It's not known why she was detained, and a Canadian court has imposed a news blackout on the case. But there's no question that the United States wants an extradition.

The news sent Wall Street into a tailspin on Thursday. The DOW Jones dropped 785 points before regaining most of it to close down just 79 points. Our Matt Rivers follows the story live in Beijing this hour. Matt, it is the timing of all of this to see a senior Chinese executive arrested. That is most circumspect here in the middle of these trade discussions between the U.S. and China. The question of whether Meng is being used as leverage.

[02:10:12] MATT RIVERS, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yeah. I mean I don't think we can answer that question definitively, George. But it is certainly worth mentioning that this arrest is not happening in a bubble. We have a publication ban in place in Canada right now, which means we can't discuss the specific charges that she is facing there, that the Canadians arrested her for at the request of the United States.

But what we can tell you is that there's been a lot of reporting in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and others over the past year that the Department of Justice in the United States has been investigating Huawei for violating sanctions that the U.S. put into place against Iran. And so Meng's arrest might be in relation to that.

We might find out more at that bail hearing if the publication ban is lifted by the Canadian authorities. But no matter what happened here, the fact is that the United States going forward with this, asking for extradition of one of the most important executives in all of Chinese tech. That is an incredible escalation.

The fact that she wants, the government wants her to stand in a New York courtroom to face, as of now, unspecified charges. That is incredibly aggressive by the United States. And the question is does that play into this broader trade war between the U.S. and China. So far, China's reaction has been relatively muted.

They don't seem to want to completely derail the trade talks because of this arrest. But how this moves forward, how Meng is treated by U.S. authorities. That's going to play into these negotiations going forward, that were already going to be difficult to begin with, George.

HOWELL: Matt Rivers following the story in Beijing. Matt, thank you. The U.S. President is expected to announce his pick for U.N. ambassador. On Friday, and sources tells CNN the job will go to the current State Department Spokeswoman, Heather Nauert. Nauert probably best known as a Fox News host as you see there, the position requires Senate confirmation.

So expect plenty of questions about what makes her qualified for this job. Other than being a spokesperson for the State Department, Nauert has no diplomatic or foreign policy experience. She will replace Nikki Haley, who is leaving by the end of the year. Keeping in mind, Nauert won't be the first TV personality to end up in the Trump administration.

Another is Larry Kudlow, who was a TV host on a business channel before becoming a key economic advisor. Another, John Bolton, he left his position as a commentator on Fox News to take on his current position as National Security Advisor. And Communications Chief Bill Shine used to be an executive at Fox News, a lot of Fox News there in the Trump White House.

Now to New York, where police have given an all clear, this, after CNN's offices and studios there were evacuated due to a bomb threat just a short time ago. A caller claimed that five devices were planted inside the Time-Warner Center. But a floor by floor sweep by police found nothing suspicious. The evacuation knocked out a live CNN news program off the air here in the United States.

Comedian Kevin Hart is no longer hosting the next edition of the Oscars. Offensive comments that he made on Twitter years ago have now resurfaced. We'll have details on that story ahead.


[02:15:00] HOWELL: It is no laughing matter for a U.S. comedian. Kevin Hart says that he's stepping down as the host of the Academy Awards in February. He made the announcement after tweets that he posted from 2009 to 2011 came back to surface. In them, he made offensive remarks about the LGBT community. Hart eventually apologized on Twitter saying this.

I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing, talented artists. Earlier, he had refused to issue an apology, saying that he didn't want to reward internet trolls.


KEVIN HART, COMEDIAN: So I just got a call from the Academy. And that call basically said, Kevin, apologize for your tweets of old or we're going to have to move on and find another host. So my tweets were in 2009 and 2011. That's the past. The reason why I passed is because I've addressed this several times. I've spoken on it.

I've said (Inaudible) I said who I am now versus then. I've done it. I've done it. I am not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I moved on. And I am in a completely different space of my life.


HOWELL: Let's talk more about this now with Rebecca Sun. Rebecca is a Senior Reporter at the Hollywood Reporter and now joins us this hour from Los Angeles. Thanks for being with us today.


HOWELL: Kevin Hart initially refused to apologize. He has since done so, but what about the Academy for not seeing this beforehand?

SUN: Yeah. I mean nowadays, it is a little surprising that there isn't more thorough vetting done, especially since the announcement of him being host just two days ago came relatively late, you know, in the cycle. It is, you know, already early December. And so you would think it is not difficult to find these tweets.

It took the public, you know, less than two days -- you know, these comments were in recent memory. So it is a little bit surprising, especially considering the climate that we're in right now that this wouldn't have been something that should have come up during discussions earlier.

HOWELL: You know what do you make of Hart's point, asking when is it enough to apologize for past mistakes.

SUN: That point is valid one. The thing that I think people had -- were contending was that he -- they couldn't find anywhere in the past record where he actually apologized for it. There was a Rolling Stone interview, I think in 2015, where he addressed it. But again, without those key words, I am sorry, or I apologize, you know, I think the reference was to the fact that this was 2015.

He said that he doesn't make those jokes anymore because people are sensitive to these things now. That's not the same thing as an apology. And so that's sort of where people had an issue. There were people who had said if he had simply said I was wrong for that. I am sorry. Let's move on. That, you know, yes, there might still be people that feel like it wasn't appropriate for him to continue to host.

But I think a lot of other people would have accepted it and then moved on with him as host.

HOWELL: You know, Rebecca, given what we learned here, there has also been that argument made that Hart was not the right fit for this particular year. What are your thoughts there?

SUN: I saw that argument and that was specifically for those homophobic comments that he made, you know. And I don't think that, you know, anybody who expresses any sort of bigoted comments, you would hope that they're not a right fit for any year, you know? But outside of that, again, when he was announced two days ago. People were excited.

[02:20:08] It felt like he's a widely, very, very successful, popular comedian who makes movies that do amazing at the box office. And he's a movie star. He's funny. And I think the fact that -- you know, he's a popular black comedian. And this is a year where we're looking forward to hopefully seeing Black Panther as the first superhero movie to potentially be nominated for best picture.

You have a lot of great movies featuring African-American leads and stories, BlacKkKlansman, you know, another Golden Globes best picture nominee today. And so I -- other than those comments, you know, he seemed like a fine fit.

HOWELL: And also, as far as the Academy, its reputation has taken several hits over the years. Is this yet another?

SUN: This is a significant blow. I mean I think that it makes the Academy -- it definitely continues to shake people's confidence that the Academy kind of knows what it is doing. And again, remember, this is, you know, we've been dealing with Oscars so white for several years. You know the beginning of this year they announced that were going to try to do this best popular film Oscar, which was a roundly- criticized idea that they quickly back tracked from.

You know the ratings have been steadily declining. And that's not always the Academy's fault. Sometimes it is a matter of just -- the fact that there are 500 other shows on TV now to choose from, you know, and just various theatrical trends. But they have been on shaky ground for a while. And this kind of high profile (Inaudible) does not help.

HOWELL: Rebecca, thank you again so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SUN: Thank you.

HOWELL: Now to the United Kingdom and the issue of Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May got a much needed boost for her plan to leave the E.U. from Britain's finance minister. Many lawmakers oppose the deal she's brokered with E.U. leaders. But the finance minister told parliament it is not realistic to renegotiate. Listen.


PHILIP HAMMOND, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, I have observed this process close quarters for 2 1/2 years. And I am absolutely clear about one thing. This deal is the best deal to exit the E.U. that is available or that is going to be available. The idea that there is an option of renegotiating at the 11th hour is simply a delusion. We need to be honest with ourselves. The alternatives to this deal are no deal or no Brexit.


HOWELL: Lawmakers are mired in a five day debate over the Prime Minister's plan. Let's get the very latest live from Erin McLaughlin who is following the story on the streets of Belfast. Erin, the border between Northern Ireland and neighboring island has been a very delicate issue throughout these Brexit talks. What is the feeling there about where things stand?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right, George. What happens to Northern Ireland, what could happen to Northern Ireland is very much at the center of this controversy, the so-called northern Irish backstop part of the withdrawal. It was really seen as the reason why it is looking increasingly likely that British Prime Minister Theresa May will not be able to get this critical piece of Brexit legislation through parliament next week.

And this impasse has lawmakers here in Belfast outraged. It has people here in general confused about the situation. But business leaders say they see an opportunity.


MCLAUGHLIN: Belfast is a city that knows division. When it comes to Brexit, there are new fissures over Theresa May's deal. But many say they're more confused than anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See, like I don't understand at the start of Brexit (Inaudible) what's happening anymore so...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand some of it but not all. And I think the part that they don't understand themselves either.

MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't that concerning? Isn't that concerning?




MCLAUGHLIN: Then there are those with a more definitive view. They say the controversial backstop drafted to prevent the return of a hard border, means weakening the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So keeping us more in (Inaudible) Britain.

MCLAUGHLIN: And that bothers you.


MCLAUGHLIN: What else?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we're British. We're not Irish.

MCLAUGHLIN: The Democratic Unionist Party feels the same. The DUP holds the keys to Theresa May's minority government. It vows to vote down her deal next week.

[02:24:59] NIGEL DODDS, DEPUTY LEADER, DEMOCRATIC UNIONIST PARTY: Northern Ireland will treat Great Britain as a third country. How could you possibly stand here and recommend this deal?

MCLAUGHLIN: But where the DUP sees a threat, (Inaudible) sees opportunity. The (Inaudible) the backstop means northern Irish businesses will be able to trade both in the E.U. and the U.K., friction-free.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could actually benefit from investment, you know, being in this unique situation where we can play with both markets.

MCLAUGHLIN: So it must be surreal to see arguing against the backstop that you see as a potential opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. It doesn't really make a lot of sense to me.

MCLAUGHLIN: The city of Belfast has known relative peace for the past 20 years. With Brexit, there's new found uncertainty and plenty of confusion.


MCLAUGHLIN: And the latest attempt to resolve the impasse at Westminster, according to media reports, there's been an amendment tabled, which would give parliament more of a say over when that backstop could be triggered as opposed to extending that so-called transition period. But the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, has taken to Twitter, saying that potential solution simply quote, won't cut it, George.

HOWELL: All right, Erin, thank you again for the reporting. We'll keep in touch with you there. Warring factions in Yemen are meeting for peace talks. But it will be a continued push for moving things forward. The question, will it make a difference, and what is the cost in this humanitarian crisis. We'll take a look at that.

And another plea deal maybe in the works in the Russia probe, we'll have details on who may be talking and who may be in hot water. Stay with us.


HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers all over the world. You are watching CNN Newsroom live from Atlanta. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour. A bail hearing on Friday in Vancouver, Canada could help answer why a top Chinese tech executive was arrested there over the weekend at the request of the United States. Meng Wanzhou is the Chief Financial Office of the Chinese tech giant, Huawei Technologies.

It's not known why she was detained. And a Canadian court has imposed a news blackout on that case. In New York City, police have given an all clear, this, after the CNN offices and studios were evacuated due to a bomb threat. The caller claimed that five devices were planted inside the Time-Warner Center, but police checked every floor, nothing was found that was suspicious.

[02:30:04] Comedian Kevin Hart says that he will step down from what he called the opportunity of a lifetime hosting the Academy Awards in February. The actor made the announcement after tweets that he wrote from 2009 to 2001 came back to life. In them, he made offensive remarks against the LGBT community.

Hart apologized saying his goal was to bring people together. The opposing sides in Yemen's conflict are holding peace talks in Sweden. These are the first direct discussions between the Saudi-led Yemeni government and Houthi rebels in this two -- in two years. They made some progress as a confidence building measure. Each side agreed to free thousands of prisoners. The U.N. envoy for Yemen warns it is a hopeful start, but it's not time to be overly optimistic.

He says the talks are only consultations, not yet the beginning of negotiations. The peace talks come as Yemen (INAUDIBLE) toward famine. The U.N. says the war has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis. They say nearly 2 million children are acutely malnourished. Many of them have lost -- have the most severe form of starvation and they are struggling to survive. Save the Children counts some 85,000 children under the age of five who may have already died since that war started and 14 million Yemenis at total are at risk of starvation.

The head of the World Food Programme says he has never seen anything like the suffering that's taking place in Yemen.


DAVID BEASLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME: I was at one of the hospitals in Yemen and this is no -- I couldn't believe my very own eyes I was watching little girls, little boys die right before my very own eyes because of this war. And I ask the administrator of the hospital in one of the rooms where this little boy named Mohammed who was eight months old should have weighed 10 pounds. He weighed about two and a half pounds. He died the next day.

And I ask this administrator, I said, how many children are you getting a day? He said, about 50 just like this. I said, how much capacity do you have? He said, we have the capacity for 20. I said, what do you do with the other 30? He said, he would send them home to die. So what I saw on the ground is our worst fears and now the numbers are backing up, what we are experiencing, what we need to do. Last year, we were able to avert four countries facing famine because we had money and access.

We can do the same thing in Yemen if we have not just the money but we must have the access. That's critical. Children are dying every 10 to 12 minutes and it's getting worst. And let me say this, humanitarian response is not going to solve the problem alone now. The economy has collapsed so severely. We also have to have an injection of liquidity to stabilize the market place because even if someone does have money, the food prices are out of the roof now and there's hardly any jobs available at all.


HOWELL: The U.S. could reduce its support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It -- a bipartisan senate deal moves ahead, senators say the plan is to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has more now from Washington, D.C.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: With anger boiling over on Capitol Hill --

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Don't chop somebody (INAUDIBLE) that's not too much to ask.

SERFATY: Momentum is growing around to go around the White House and take matters into their own hand.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), CHAIR OF THE SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Us denouncing the unbelievable behavior of a crown prince who is out of control is appropriate.

SERFATY: With lawmakers moving to do what President Trump hasn't, punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

GRAHAM: There's common ground around stopping sales of arms to Saudi Arabia and limiting support for the Saudi war in Yemen until Mr. Khashoggi's death is reconciled and they reform the way they do business.

SERFATY: Huddling on Capitol Hill today, top senators including many of the president's own Republican allies are readying plans for a response with theft that would withdraw the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, suspend arms sales with the Saudi Kingdom, and rebuke the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. SEN. TODD YOUNG (R), INDIANA: We need to send a message in the wake

of the Khashoggi revelations that the United States does not condone, sanction. It cannot turn our face away from this sort of violence.

SERFATY: That message would serve as a sharp rebuke of the Trump administration's response as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis insist there is no smoking gun and the president still refusing to denounce the murder.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have nothing definite and the fact is maybe he did, maybe he didn't.

SERFATY: That's the answer fueling the anger of top Republicans on Capitol Hill. Today, the Republican chairman (INAUDIBLE) former relations committee.

[02:35:09] CORKER: To use that as a reason that we're not going to say anything about this is just -- it's un-American.

SERFATY: Meantime, the Saudi ambassador, the crown prince's brother is now back in Washington for just the second time since Khashoggi's murder. And as he resumes his duties, there are new calls from Senator Dick Durbin for him to be formally expelled.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), SENATE MINORITY WHIP: This was an orchestrated decision by some 15 members of the Saudi forces to go into Istanbul to lure Khashoggi into the consulate to kill him and MBS, the crown prince who now lead Saudi Arabia must have been part of this.


SERFATY: And then the senate there are calls for CIA Director Gina Haspel to come back up the Capitol Hill and brief a full senate next time. We know next week the House of Representatives, they will get their own briefing. Although, it's unclear at this point who from the administration will come out and give that briefing. Sunlen Serfaty, CNN on Capitol Hill.

HOWELL: Sunlen, thank you. Thousands of troops will be deployed on the streets of Paris Saturday at many more across the country ahead of another round of Yellow Vests protest. The government is hoping to get out ahead of any new outbreaks of violence there. Just a week ago, there were riots. There were cars torched, national monuments vandalized, and dozens of people injured in clashes with police.

For several weeks now, protesters have been demanding economic reforms starting with relief from rising fuel prices. French authority say troublemakers are legitimate protesters and they're ready to deal with them.


EDOUARD PHILIPPE, PRIME MINISTER OF FRANCE (via translator): We are facing people who are not here to protest but to smash. We want to have the means to not give them a free reign. We have mobilized a considerable amount of forces, 8,000 in Paris which is much more than last Saturday and in total for France, not 65,000 as announced earlier, but 89,000. So there's truly an exceptional mobilization.


HOWELL: The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, and other famous landmarks will be close during the protests. U.S. oil prices fell more than two percent on Thursday after OPEC members fail to reach an agreement on supply cuts during their first meetings in Vienna. Saudi Arabia's energy minister added more uncertainty saying that he's not confident that a deal can be reach by Friday. Our John Defterios has more.

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Market expectations were high coming in to the OPEC meeting with the focus to cut 1.3 million barrels a day after supplies to lift prices. The Saudi Arabia's energy minister dashed those hopes saying that target was excessive. So I asked him, if indeed his decisions were being driven by the U.S. President Donald Trump who asks for high production to keep prices lower?


KHALID AL-FALIH, ENERGY MINISTER OF SAUDI ARABIA: Well, I think at the end of the day with several countries that we will make the decision based on the best interest of all other countries as well as our believe of the best interest of our consumers, and that includes the United States. So we will take his input into consideration like other major producers and like developing countries who are also very fragile and need affordable energy to continue to grow especially during 2019 where there are many headwinds to the global economy.

All of these will be taken into consideration --


DEFTERIOS: -- by the president's support for the crown prince because he gave such a strong backing to Mohammad bin Salman? Do you feel like you have less negotiating power around the table here and you need more collective support from OPEC?

AL-FALIH: Well, we appreciate the support (INAUDIBLE) crown price is getting from many quarters around the world. You've just seen the tour that he made (INAUDIBLE) and the G20 in Argentina and relationship between the Kingdom and the U.S. is not hinge on anything the variable or issue and certainly our freedom to discuss and debate and consider all options here and I think in Vienna within the context of today OPEC and tomorrow OPEC plus is not compromise than in any way.


DEFTERIOS: That's clearly not the market view and why prices weekend to closeout today on Thursday. OPEC is now expected to finish their final agreement on Friday. John Defterios, CNN business at OPEC headquarters in Vienna. HOWELL: John, thank you very much. Still ahead, cellular internet

access, it has finally arrived in Cuba. But the question is, how many people can actually afford that new service? We take you inside Havana. Stay with us.


[02:43:35] HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. A plea deal is apparently in the works for accused Russian spy Maria Butina and it could be bad news for her boyfriend, a Republican activist. Our Brian Todd explains for you.



BRIAN TODD, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Maria Butina, the accused Russian spy could be close to a plea deal. Her lawyers and prosecutors moving to cancel court dates and subpoenas. Her lawyer saying she's languishing in solitary confinement living in a cell the size of a parking space and may need mental health treatment. Her family says she's ran out of money to pay lawyers and she's just been given a public defender.

Butina charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent is believed by prosecutors to have infiltrated American conservative groups including the NRA allegedly at the direction of a high level Russian official. What information could she give up to prosecutors?

JOSEPH MORENO, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY PROSECUTOR: What she was tasked with doing, what steps she took to actually conduct those tasks, and who if anyone was complicit in those activities here in the United States.

TODD: A plea deal for Maria Butina could be a big problem for Paul Erickson, a Republican operative who Butina allegedly had a romantic relationship with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A few of the lessons that I --


TODD: Erickson has received a so-called target letter from federal investigators according to the Daily Beast, a letter saying they're considering charging him with conspiracy and secretly acting as a foreign agent.

[02:44:58] MORENO: If you get a target letter, that's serious. That means charges are most definitely imminent. Potentially, he could face the same charges as Ms. Butina.

TODD: Prosecutors have said, Erickson helped Butina in her efforts to establish backchannels between the Kremlin and the Republican Party. A source tells CNN, Erickson sent an e-mail to a Trump campaign advisor in 2016, trying to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Those efforts appear to have been rebuffed by the Trump campaign.

But was Paul Erickson used by the beautiful young Russian who's about half his age? A lawyer for Butina says, their relationship was real. And cites this video of them recording Beauty and the Beast in a studio.

And a source close to the situation tells CNN, Erickson has been visiting Butina in jail even recently. But in court papers, prosecutors say, "She appears to treat that relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.

What would his best defense be?

MORENO: Your best defense if the facts supported, is that you were a dupe, right? Is that you were an unknowing participant in certain activities?

TODD: And former spy say, deploying a young woman like Maria Butina is tried-and-true Russian spycraft.

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: She was definitely a honey trap. She was a beautiful woman, she was young, she was alluring, spoke beautiful English, she would be attractive to a lot of lonely men in Washington, D.C. She was the perfect Trojan horse if you like.

Get her through the gates of Republican decision-making and the KGB has a winner.

TODD: The latest developments in the Butina case and her connections to Paul Erickson lead analysts to ask the question, how many other Maria Butina's might be out there?

Former CIA agent Bob Baer, says he believes there are dozens of them herein Washington alone, targeting well-connected political officials. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Brian, thank you. Cuba has finally granted cell phone Internet access to its citizens. Becoming one of the last nations in the world to do so. But as CNN's Patrick Oppmann reports, not everyone on the island can afford it.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mobile Internet service, 3G has finally arrived in Cuba. The government here has always had tight control on the Internet. And up at now, you had to come to a place like this one, a public park that is Wi-Fi, enable to get online.

Very few people are allowed to have Internet in their homes here. Up until now, no one has been able to get it using a mobile network on their telephones, so there's a lot of pent-up demand among Cubans because they said they come to a place like this one. There is no privacy, the signal isn't very good. And only about 1,200 sites across the entire island for people to get online.

So, starting on Thursday, people will be able just to use their phones wherever they are and finally, access the Internet, get on social media, do video chatting with relatives abroad. The government says this can be very slow because they're about 5 million Cubans who do have cell phones. It's about 1/2 the population of this island.

The main impediment right now to people getting on this new service is the cost. It's going to run about $7 a month for the most basic service. That may not sound like that much but it's about a quarter of the average Cubans monthly salary.

So, now that 3G is finally available for many Cubans will be able to afford their service, it's going to remain just out of reach. Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Havana.


HOWELL: Patrick, thank you. Now, to talk about a historic snowstorm set to cripple part of the southeastern United States over the weekend. Our meteorologist Derek Van Dam is here to tell us about this weather that is on the way, it's going to be cold and wet.

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN INTERNATIONAL WEATHER ANCHOR: Yes. Well, we're focusing our attention over western portions of North Carolina because that's where we could set all-time snowfall records. That's for Sunday night into Monday. We've got a lot of time between now and then, and the storms already forming.

Let me show you what's happening in Southern California, this is in Burbank, just outside of the Angeles National Forest. This area butts up to that region and we have had a significant amount of rainfall in San Diego County, as well as, Los Angeles County, producing mudslides, landslides, some highways have been closed down.

This, of course, has been made worse by the fact that the recent fires here and the heavy rainfall. On top of that, just allows for this type of scenario to take shape and unfold. Well, let's get to the graphics, talk about where the storm is headed. This is the low pressure off the Southern California region that's going to kind of merge with the low that's developing across Texas.

And this is going to pull in a significant amount of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Doesn't look like much now on our radar. But look at the system evolve over the next 12 hours. Starting to light up like a Christmas tree. I think that's appropriate this time of year to say, right?

There it is moving across Houston, we have over 20 million Americans under a flash flood watch across South and Central portions of Texas. On the cold side of the storm, we have over 10 million Americans under some sort of winter weather advisory from New Mexico, right through Texas into Oklahoma.

But I'm focusing my attention on this area, because this is where it's going to get nasty. Interstate, 40 parts of 85, 81, Asheville to Charlotte.

Look at how the storm system moves across the region, very heavy rain from Mississippi to Alabama, all the way to Georgia. If you're located in Atlanta like where the CNN headquarters is, temperatures will be just above freezing. So we're going keep the snow out of the metro area. But the good news is that we see the snowfall that could measure over 45 centimeters.

And, by the way, that would be a record snowfall event for Asheville making this a historic event. And something that people want to take very seriously. Because there could be several days without an access to basic amenities, like going to the store to get food or water. So, when a plan into events, if you're located in Western Carolina.

[02:50:45] HOWELL: These are things to think about. They are taking --


VAN DAM: This time of year.

HOWELL: All right. Still ahead, the U.S. president says that he wants to have clean air. So, why is the administration planning on rolling back safeguards on coal? We will discuss that ahead.


HOWELL: 1.5 degrees. If the earth's temperature rises any more than that, the results could be disastrous. Nations coming together in Poland are working to keep global warming under two degrees. But experts warn that target may not be ambitious enough.

Above 1.5 degrees over pre-industrial levels, the impact of climate change grows exponentially. CNN is exploring the consequences of past inaction, and how what comes next could be much worse if warming doesn't stop at that critical threshold.

A group called, The Climate Pilgrims, traveled close to the Polish town where the talks are being held. They're protesting climate change and have personal stories for why it is so important to stop it.


JOANNA SUSTENTO, CLIMATE ACTIVIST AND PILGRIM: Five years ago, one of the strongest storms in human history, Super Typhoon Haiyan hit my hometown of Tacloban. And it left more than 10,000 people dead. It misplaced millions, and five, five of my family members have actually perished because of the super typhoon.

So, I lost my parents, my eldest brother, my sister-in-law and my three-year-old nephew. Only my older brother and I survived the storm. And ever since that event, the event that changed my life, I've made it my mission to really share the story of my community on how we are directly impacted by the effects of climate change.


HOWELL: And in the United States, the Trump administration is helping out the coal industry. Potentially, at the expense of the environment. Andrew Wheeler, the man you see here. The acting Environmental Protection Agency chief. He says he's rolling back Obama-era rules for new coal plants.

And this is the same Andrew Wheeler who used to lobby for the coal industry. Rene Marsh has more now.


TRUMP: They're putting them back into business. We're going to have clean coal. Clean coal.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Keeping his campaign promise, the Trump administration is trying to make it easier to build new coal power plants.

ANDREW WHEELER, ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: We are rescinding unfair burdens on America's energy providers and leveling the playing field, so that new energy technologies can be part of America's future.

MARSH: Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler was a coal lobbyist. His firm represented clients including Murray Energy, which bills itself as the largest coal mining company in America.

From 2009 until last year, Murray Energy paid his old firm nearly $3 million. Wheeler was cheered on by members and supporters of the coal industry Thursday as he announced a proposal that will benefit his old industry.

[02:55:10] WHEELER: It's a snowball.

MARSH: Wheeler is also a former top aide to climate change denier, Senator James Inhofe. Wheeler's new proposal would roll back an Obama-era rule that required most newly built coal plants to drastically reduce their emissions.

The agency's new proposal flies in the face of a recent Trump administration report that urges swift action in curbing greenhouse gases to avoid catastrophic flooding, drought, economic recession, and extreme heat due to climate change.

Is this the sort of situation where you are ignoring this government report because they clearly said that we urgently need to curb emissions? This proposal seems to do the exact opposite.

WHEELER: We're not ignoring the government report. We're still looking at the report itself.

MARSH: The report warns the economy could lose hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

TRUMP: No, I don't believe it. Right now, we're at the cleanest we've ever been, and it's very important to me.

MARSH: Well, the Trump administration wants to roll back another environmental law just as a recent report warns that global fossil fuel emissions are about to hit an all-time high. That matters because it's the emissions that scientists say trigger the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Well, Thursday's announcement happened just as the U.N. is holding a conference on climate change in Poland, where work is being done to get every country in the world to curb its emissions in a substantial way.

So, today is yet another example of the Trump administration offering counter to the global consensus that climate change is a serious issue that needs action now. Rene Marsh, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Rene, thank you. And another thing to worry about? Greenland's ice sheets are melting faster than they have melted in thousands of years, and that's causing global sea levels to rise. Researchers at the scientific journal Nature, say that ice melt has accelerated over the past 20 years after staying relatively stable since the mid-1800s.

Greenland's melting ice is the largest source of rising sea levels and scientists say, it could swamp coastal cities in the coming decades. 40-50 percent of the world's population lives in these vulnerable coastal areas.

That's this hour of NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell. Let's do it again. Another hour of news right after the break. Stay with us.