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Paris Braces as Fourth Weekend of Yellow Vest Demonstrations Begin; Six Killed in Italy Night Club Stampede; Prosecutors Say Cohen Committed Crimes at Direction of Trump; Trump Blasts Tillerson as "Dumb" and "Lazy," Kelly Out Soon; Charlottesville Terrorist Convicted of Murder; Ice in Greenland Melting at Unprecedented Rate. Aired 3- 3:30a ET

Aired December 8, 2018 - 03:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Yellow Vest protesters in France gather in Paris as authorities brace for a possible day of violence. We'll be live on the ground in just a moment.

And new court documents from special counsel Robert Mueller detail how a, quote, "trusted person" in Russia offered help to the Trump campaign.

Plus ice in Greenland melting at unprecedented rate, which could eventually produce enough water to raise global sea levels by seven meters.

Live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta, I'm Cyril Vanier; it's great to have you with us.

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VANIER: Let's go to straight to Paris where Yellow Vest protesters are gathering this hour. Here's a live look at the French capital. Thousands of troops are in the city to protect monuments, protesters and pedestrians after riots shook the city last week. The government says it plans to do whatever it takes to keep violence from breaking out.

Melissa Bell is at the top of the Champs-Elysees at the Arc de Triomphe right now, where protesters have been gathering.

Melissa, tell us what you're seeing.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is -- it is pretty early here in the morning on a Saturday. They said this would be part four of the protest. The fourth Saturday in a row that they protested. The Yellow Vests. The police, around 89,000 security forces countrywide and 8,000 in Paris alone.

Behind me, you could see the Yellow Vests have begun gathering. They've been chanting and singing the French national anthem. And already shouting in the direction of the police that have gathered here in large numbers already to try and ensure this Saturday was less violent than last Saturday. Already the interior minister, Cyril, has said that he expects it to be at least as violent.

VANIER: The protesters around you, how do they feel about the prospect for violence?

I don't know if you've gotten a chance to ask them that.

But are they trying to dissociate themselves from the violence or do they understand it's a very real possibility?

BELL: That's a really good question. We saw a big change last Saturday. Until then the government's narrative, the authorities, what we saw on the street was Yellow Vests coming to protest as peacefully as possible and a few people there intent on causing trouble, anarchists and so on.

What we saw last week was a real change in that. This is borne out by the peacekeepers (ph) although many people who were arrested, 600 in all on Saturday, Cyril. Of those, some were that profile of protester turning out to cause trouble.

But many of the Yellow Vests themselves, people who've come from outside Paris, ordinary people with real jobs, were also causing violence. That is what we saw, insurrectionary atmosphere that day.

So the big question is if that will be repeated here again today.

VANIER: All right, Melissa Bell, reporting live from Central Paris. Thank you. We'll look at what is going on where you are and you'll keep us apprised of developments throughout the day. Thanks.

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VANIER: CNN European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas joins me from Berlin. He's monitoring this.

Dominic, the government scrapped that tax, the tax increase that the protesters were against.

So why didn't that put and end to the protests?

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: That's a great question. Ultimately Emmanuel Macron came into power in a set of very unusual circumstances that saw mainstream political parties disappear and pave the way for this political movement.

In many ways, Emmanuel Macron has no opposition as such because there's no one political party that one could argue could challenge him right now.

Having said this, this means the majority of French society, who not only did not vote for him but really do not support his party are technically now part of the opposition. And he responded much too late to the initial demonstrations of the Yellow Jerseys (sic). And this has allowed a broad array of people across French society to

now come and express their grievances.

VANIER: You could argue Macron has provided a political response to the protests. But how he manages the violence now, that's going to be key.

THOMAS: That is a key question. But Macron in many ways has been absent from this response. It is his prime minister that has been out there speaking. The question of the violence is so key, because the scenes of vandalism and looting are unfortunate because they have distracted and brought attention away from the major issues and grievances that the Yellow Jackets (sic) have been expressing.

But having said that and the government's response to ratchet up the --

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THOMAS: -- physical response and the number of police officers that will be deployed is not helpful, either. I think it is important to understand that the Yellow Jackets (sic) themselves see their situation as being inscribed in a very long history of violence through political policies that have exacerbated poverty, sensitive sentiments of exclusion and marginalization in French society.

Therefore, it is key that the French government begins to understand where all the anger and anxiety comes from. Before they can do, they're going to be very unlikely to come up with adequate solutions to these problems and grievances.

VANIER: But if you think about it, Macron has a strong majority in parliament. He's got no election on the horizontal; he's still a fairly new president.

So how bad could this actually get for him?

What is the worst-case scenario?

THOMAS: The question of elections is interesting in a broader context. Of course, the European parliamentary elections are coming up in May and one can see the ways in which -- in which people will express their discontent about them.

In many ways this is related to his broader presidency. Yes, he's isolated in the sense or insulated because he holds the presidency and the parliament and, as I said earlier, doesn't have that specific an opposition.

But this is somebody that came to power with promises of changing things and trying to address the big issue that Europe faces today, which is the question of the radical Right, of populism and so on that has proved so divisive.

Unless he settles this situation domestically, it'll be impossible for him to extend that influence to broader areas of the European Union. VANIER: Dominic, thank you so much for joining us.

THOMAS: You bet. See you soon. Bye-bye.

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THOMAS: That was Dominic Thomas speaking to me earlier.

A rap concert at a packed club in Italy turned deadly; at least six people were killed and dozens injured in a stampede. It happened in the city of Corinaldo, east of Florence. According to an Italian news agency, five of the dead were minors and the sixth was the mother of one of the victims. Local media report the panic began when someone discharged pepper spray.

We're getting a better look at what special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating in the Russia probe. There were major court filings in two separate cases on Friday. One centers on President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, the other on former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

In a sentencing memorandum for Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors stated for the first time that Cohen committed two election related crimes at direction of Donald Trump. Plus there were new revelations about contacts between Cohen and a Russian national claiming to be well connected, who offered, quote, "political synergy" with the Trump campaign.

As for Manafort, Mueller says he lied about five major issues. The heavy redacted filing also suggests prosecutors were using Manafort to build a criminal case against someone else.

Let's get more details on all of this. Our MJ Lee looks at the case against Cohen.

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MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very dramatic day for Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, as he waits his sentencing next week; two separate filings, one from special counsel Robert Mueller and another filing from the Southern District of New York, laying out some of the details of Michael Cohen's wrongdoings.

The filing from special counsel Robert Mueller laying out how Michael Cohen has extensively cooperated with the special counsel's office including in seven interviews and how he provided details about his own contacts with Russians. Here's a key passage from that Mueller filing.

It says, "the defendant has taken significant steps to mitigate his criminal conduct. He chose to accept responsibility for his false statements and admit to his conduct in open court. He also has gone to significant lengths to assist the special counsel's investigation."

It also says that the cooperation that Michael Cohen has shown should be taken into consideration when that joint sentencing happens next week.

Now the filing from SDNY, the Southern District of New York, was very bad news for Michael Cohen when taken on its own.

It said that Michael Cohen should get a substantial term of imprisonment and only a modest leniency when it comes to his prison sentence. Again, that is expected next week.

This filing from SDNY laid out how Michael Cohen evaded taxes, how he lied to banks and also how he illegally tried to affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential campaign. That, of course is referring to the hush payments that were made to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, two women who said that they had affairs with Donald Trump.

Now a key passage from that SDNY filing says that, "After cheating the IRS for years, lying to banks and to Congress and seeking to criminally influence the presidential election, Cohen's decision to plead guilty -- rather than seek a pardon for his manifold crimes --

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LEE: -- "does not make him a hero."

This will be a blow for Michael Cohen and his lawyers, who are arguing that Michael Cohen should get actually no jail time because of the extent of his cooperation with investigators and also because he is committed to helping the government get to the truth. The SDNY clearly does not agree with that assessment -- MJ Lee, CNN, New York.

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VANIER: As for former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, the special counsel said he lied on five issues, including recent contacts with Trump administration officials. Our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown has more on that.

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PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mueller's team outlined in a heavily redacted filing how they believe and why they believe Paul Manafort lied in, quote, "multiple ways and on multiple occasions."

Manafort, they say, lied to the special counsel's office regarding his contact with the Trump administration this year. Even after his indictment last October, he said he didn't talk to anyone in the administration or convey messages to them but Mueller says that's not true.

His team says Manafort told a person to talk to a Trump Administration official just this past May and had contact with administration officials, including a senior administration official in February and May of this year.

So this new and damaging information for the White House comes at a time when every move by Mueller appears to bring his investigation deeper into the White House and Trump's inner circle and it shows it has expanded well beyond what may or may not have happened in the 2016 campaign.

So these revelations and Mueller's filing certainly raises questions about why Paul Manafort may have been lying about these contacts and who the contacts were made with.

Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, released a statement in response to this, saying it has nothing to do with the president and that the media is making up a story -- Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.

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VANIER: Let's bring in former U.S. attorney Harry Litman. He joins us via Skype from San Diego.

Here's the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in his court filing.

He writes the following, "In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1."

We know that's Mr. Trump.

I also want you, before you address this from a legal standpoint, to listen to Neal Katyal, former U.S. solicitor general on that.

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NEAL KATYAL, FORMER U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Tonight the Southern District of New York prosecutors, career prosecutors and Trump's own Justice Department said, in no uncertain terms, Cohen, you committed a felony and the man who directed you to commit that felony is Donald J. Trump.

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VANIER: OK, so what is the legal exposure for the president here?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, first, that's exactly right as Neal puts it. You could argue there's still a centimeter away from completely the liability, only in the sense that -- that -- that the campaign finance crime for conspiracy, you would need to show that Trump acted willfully and knowingly.

But it is almost impossible to see how he could have directed the whole scheme without having acted that way. So on the one hand, as a legal matter, it basically stitches the deal that -- that -- that the Southern District of New York has concluded that the President of the United States is a criminal. And a serious one, in that they have an important part of their filing, where they -- they underscore the -- the corrosive effect on the election, the electoral system and on the value of transparency that the crime caused.

Then more generally, it just puts the president -- and this is true of the Cohen filings and the Manafort filings -- kind of in the thick of things. It is just clear that he's not an isolated, ignorant actor, finding out things after the fact, but that he -- he is an active force in all of these matters.

That's politically critical whether or not Mueller charges it as criminal conduct.

VANIER: There's several aspects in all of this that are relevant to the Russia investigation, especially surrounding the Trump Tower Moscow real estate project, Cohen initially, as we know, said that plans to build a Trump Tower in the Russian capital had ended before Trump's political run began I'm earnest, before the Iowa caucus, the New Hampshire primary, et cetera.

But recently he admitted in fact that they kept talking about it well into the campaign. Mueller said -- and I'm going to quote -- Mueller said this was "material to the ongoing investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. elections."

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VANIER: This is interesting politically because the special counsel says there was overlap between Trump's politics and his business interests.

How do you look at it from a legal point of view?

LITMAN: Right. Of course you say, this notion of synergy and Trump in the thick of it with --

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VANIER: The synergy is coming next; I got that quote, too.

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LITMAN: OK. But, Cyril, I have, legally, I look at it as a potential conspiracy to commit bribery, which is one of the offenses specified in the Constitution as meriting impeachment. That is basically there was a scheme here. Trump dearly wanted to build Trump Tower in Moscow. Russian officials up to Putin dearly wanted the sanctions eased.

There was a general sense that the negotiations were about trading one for the other. Trump was not yet the official nominee. And that's an issue under the law but not for conspiracy. That is, I think you can argue -- and I've argued in an op-ed this week -- that they were ready to do this, pending Trump's nomination and that once they -- they took overt steps in that direction, so he may well be criminally liable for a conspiracy to commit bribery.

VANIER: Even though the deal didn't happen?

LITMAN: Even though the deal didn't happen, that's the thing about conspiracy. It doesn't have to. You just have to agree to do something that is a crime and take one step in that direction, even if it doesn't happen.

VANIER: I just want to read quickly the president's tweet. He says these filings, "Totally clears the president. Thank you."

I just want to throw that in there.

Harry Litman, thank you very much for joining us.

LITMAN: Thanks, Cyril.

VANIER: One of the most important positions in the White House could soon be vacant. Coming up, chief of staff John Kelly and President Trump are said to be no longer speaking.

But Kelly has been talking to special counsel Robert Mueller.

And Greenland's ice sheets frozen for thousands of years are melting at an alarming rate. The look at its global significance. Stay with us.

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VANIER: President Trump has moved forward to fill key White House positions. Former U.S. attorney general William Barr has been nominated to take over the U.S. Justice Department once again. This is a job he held in George H.W. Bush's final year as president.

And U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert has been picked as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nauert was a host on FOX News before joining the Trump administration.

President Trump has fired or forced out six members of his cabinet since taking office. His first U.S. secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, apparently got on the president's wrong side early on. The president on Friday blasted Tillerson --

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VANIER: -- as "dumb as a rock" and "lazy as hell."

Tillerson has been mostly silent since he was fired in March but Thursday night he described his former boss as having little respect for U.S. law or international treaties.

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REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The president would say, well, here's what I want to do and here's how I want to do it.

And I would have to say to him, well, Mr. President, I understand what you want to do but you can't do it that way. It violates the law. It violates a treaty. You know, he got really frustrated. And I think he grew tired of me

being the guy every day that told him you can't do that and let's talk about what we can do.

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VANIER: Tillerson said the core cause of his disconnect with President Trump was that they did not share the same values.

On to White House chief of staff John Kelly, he has been rumored to be on his way out almost from the day he took the job. But now it appears that he really is leaving, possibly within days.

Two sources tell CNN the relationship between Kelly and President Trump has soured to the point that they're no longer speaking. And we have learned that Kelly has met with investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller. Here's CNN's Ryan Nobles.

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RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kelly, the former Marine Corps general, was expected to bring a military style scene of order to the White House. Kelly quickly reined in access to the president, trying to control who could call Trump directly and played a big role in staffing, as evidence of his quick disposal of former communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, something Scaramucci is still sore over, as evidence from this interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, TRUMP INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: He has hurt the president and so -- and he has hissy fits.

NOBLES (voice-over): But within weeks, Kelly was forced to confront a series of controversial moves by President Trump that left the White House reeling. In the wake of the racially charged riots in Charlottesville, Kelly was photographed in the background of Trump Tower, looking dour as Trump spoke.

TRUMP: I think there's blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it and you don't have any doubt about it, either.

NOBLES (voice-over): Kelly had urged the president to offer a more forceful condemnation of the white supremacists involved. But Trump did not take the advice.

The relationship really started to unravel during the public relations disaster surrounding former staff secretary Rob Porter. Porter was accused of abuse by two ex-wives. Kelly initially defended him. The president personally blamed his chief of staff for the fallout.

Despite the hiccups, the president repeatedly sang Kelly's praises on Twitter and pushed back on reports that he was unhappy with his work.

TRUMP: He is doing a great job. He'll be here, in my opinion, for the entire seven remaining years. NOBLES (voice-over): Behind the scenes, it was a different story. In Bob Woodward's book, "Fear," the veteran journalist quotes Kelly as describing Trump as a, quote, " idiot," and also said, "We're in Crazytown. I don't even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I've ever had."

Kelly later called that, quote, "BS," and Trump said publicly he believed him.

Their public pronouncements aside, the tension inside the West Wing was obvious. Kelly recently got into a heated shouting match with national security adviser John Bolton and now that it may be finally the end of his tenure, Kelly and the president are no longer speaking.

For Kelly, leaving this job may actually come as a welcome relief.

GEN. JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security. But I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

NOBLES (voice-over): Ryan Nobles, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: In Charlottesville, Virginia, the man who drove a car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally was convicted of murder and nine other charges; 21-year-old James Fields was found guilty for the incident in August 2017, which took 32-year-old Heather Heyer's life. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

His defense tried to argue that Fields was in a state of panic and acted in self-defense. Fields also faces 30 federal hate crime charges which will be decided in another case.

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VANIER: Remember that number, 1.5 degrees. If the Earth's temperature rises any more than that, the global results could be disastrous. Nations gathering in Poland are working to keep global warming under 2 degrees but experts warn that may not even be enough.

At 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the effects of climate change grow and more rapidly. CNN's has been exploring the consequences of past inaction and what comes next if warming doesn't stop at that critical threshold.

A new study shows that Greenland is losing ice at a rate that is, quote, "off the charts."

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VANIER: Meteorologist Derek Van Dam joins us. He's been looking at this. DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Studies coming from the "Scientific Journal for Nature" stating that Greenland's ice loss has accelerated rapidly over the last two decades. Bottom line is, the Greenland ice sheet is the second largest in the world, only behind Antarctica sheet in the South Pole.

The temperatures in the Arctic have been warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. So it is melting Greenland's ice sheet and it's now the largest current contributor to global sea level rise.

Let me tell you why that's significant and impactful to potentially you. This is -- this is a map from -- from NASA, you can see the extent of ice loss confined to the southern and western front shorelines of Greenland.

Why is it significant?

Because Greenland's ice is originating above the land. Think of the difference between sea ice, which is frozen sea water. If that melts, there's no contribution to sea level rise. Think of it as ice cubes melting in a drink, it doesn't raise the level of liquid in the glass.

But when you take land ice, like over Greenland, melt that, it contributes to sea level rise because it is now taking that water and putting it into our oceans and displacing it across the planet.

What the study is telling us is melt water from Greenland is the largest contributor to sea level rise. We've seen it. Sea level rise expected up to 2 meters by the end of the century. That is not a far distant generations problem. That's our children's problem. Right?

So we see this very close to impacting us now, 40 or 50 percent of the global population lives near the coastline and they're vulnerable to sea level rise. So 2 meters, especially when you're talking about areas that are only a few feet above sea level, that is significant.

You get a significant storm that comes through with a 2 meter sea level rise at the end of the century, you got disaster written all over that. We've got the five countries most at risk for sea level, India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.

I want to show you this image. This is one artist's rendition of Shanghai, the financial district. That's what it looks like now. Let's warm the temperature across the planet equally by 2 degrees Celsius. Look at the water that pours into the financial district.

Let's warm it by some of the worst case scenarios, 4 degrees Celsius and this is what the financial district of Shanghai, according to one artist's rendition, would potentially look like. So you can see the effects of climate change right there. That would be along the coastal cities across the entire planet.

VANIER: Four degrees, that just would wipe out the business district for Shanghai.

VAN DAM: Talk about a bad day. VANIER: Derek Van Dam, thank you so much.

And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier, I've got the headlines in just a moment. Please stay with us here on CNN.