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Prosecutors Say Cohen Committed Crimes at Direction of Trump; Paris Braces as Fourth Weekend of Yellow Vest Demonstrations Begin; Trump Blasts Tillerson as "Dumb" and "Lazy," Kelly Out Soon; Tear Gas Fired on Paris Protesters; Chinese Executive Detained, Accused of Fraud. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired December 8, 2018 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

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GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Election related crimes committed at the president's direction. New details from the Russia investigation about Donald Trump's former personal attorney.

Plus some 300 people already detained by police as Yellow Vest demonstrators come together for another weekend of protests in Paris.

Also ahead this hour, the snowplows line up as a major winter storm takes aim at the southern part of the United States.

We're live at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta and we want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm George Howell. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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HOWELL: The U.S. president would say "nothing to see here," but actually there's a lot to see here from a Senate investigation stemming from the Russia probe. And now for the first time, we're seeing direct ties drawn to Donald Trump himself.

This new information, it comes major court filings in two separate cases on Friday, one of them focused on the president's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen; the other on former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

First, Michael Cohen: in a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors stated that Cohen committed two election related crimes at the direction of Donald Trump. There were also 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 Paul Manafort, Mueller says that he lied about five major issues, including having recent contacts with the Trump administration and Manafort's interactions with a former business associate who has ties to Russian intelligence.

A lot to talk about here. Let's get to the facts first; the reporting of our Justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider kicks it off.

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JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A flurry of filings related to two men who were once quite close to the president, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort.

Now when it comes to Michael Cohen, prosecutors out of New York are telling the judge Cohen should face substantial prison time, four to five years, because they say his crimes were motivated by greed and deception, as they put it.

They're also telling a judge that Michael Cohen deceived voters during the 2016 election when he tried to silence two women who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump in the years before the campaign. So that's from the prosecutors in New York.

Then on the flip side, the special counsel is also weighing in. Mueller's team described a more cooperative Michael Cohen, even though they say Cohen did initially give some false answers during their first meeting when he was asked about the Moscow Trump Tower project.

Cohen has later admitted that he was pursuing the Trump Tower deal longer than he first disclosed and filling in the president along the way. But the special counsel overall has said that Cohen provided substantial information, including about his own contacts with Russian interests during the 2016 campaign, also telling Mueller's team about attempts by Russian nationals to reach the campaign dating all the way back to 2015.

Plus Cohen also gave Mueller's office "useful information," as they put it, concerning discrete Russia related matters core to the investigation. No real elaboration from the special counsel on that point.

But it is clear that Michael Cohen has given Mueller a lot of information that we have yet to see when it comes to the Russia probe.

And finally there's Paul Manafort, a late filing on him, mostly under seal, but we're learning that prosecutors are accusing him of lying on five different occasions or about five different subjects related in part to his communication with administration officials, Trump administration officials. So we'll see what comes of that.

So just a flurry of filings in all of these cases. And we'll see what else has to come on the Russia probe.

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HOWELL: Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

After the court filings, President Trump tweeted he is totally cleared.

The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders offered more specifics, saying this in a statement, quote, "The government's filings in Mr. Cohen's case tell us nothing of value that wasn't already known."

Goes on to say, "Mr. Cohen has repeatedly lied, as the prosecution has pointed out, to the court. Mr. Cohen is no hero."

With regards to Paul Manafort, Sanders says, "The government filings in Mr. Manafort's say absolutely nothing about the president."

Goes on to say, "It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying related issues."

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HOWELL: We're learning a great deal from these court filings, giving some insight into the investigation. To parse through it, let's bring in CNN legal analyst, Ross Garber, joining us via Skype --

[04:05:00]

HOWELL: -- this hour from New Orleans. Thank you for your time.

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Happy to be here.

HOWELL: From these filings, there is a great deal of focus on Individual-1 and as we know Individual-1 is the president. What we heard from the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in the Cohen filing, he said this about the hush money payments to two women, who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

It reads in part, "In particular and as Cohen has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1."

Also for the first time we're seeing a direct connection to the president and felony campaign finance violations.

GARBER: Yes, that is true. And they really are extraordinary allegations for the Department of Justice to be making, very, very unusual to allege that the president himself was involved in criminal activities.

It is important to note that this filing itself doesn't accuse the president of a crime but it certainly indicates that he was involved in this activity with Michael Cohen and it really implies that the president was somehow involved in a criminal activity.

HOWELL: With regard to the Trump Tower Moscow project, we've learned this, the statement from the Mueller filing on Cohen stands out, where it reads in part, "The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual-1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election."

So this is Mueller laying out how the Trump Tower Moscow project is relevant to Russia's election meddling during the 2016 campaign.

How damning is that for the president?

GARBER: Yes, what we're seeing now is that some of the threads are being connected. And here, we knew about this potential Trump Tower Moscow project, that the president and some of his folks were working on before Donald Trump became president.

Now it seems like there is an implication that that is somehow tied into potential Russian meddling in the election. Now those threads haven't been connected yet.

But certainly the fact that the government says that it is relevant to the Russian meddling investigation is suggestive. And it raises a lot of questions which, I expect, we'll get answers to over the coming days, weeks and months.

But the fact that it has been mentioned and focused on, if I were the president or his lawyers, I'd be very concerned.

HOWELL: We'll talk about the president's response in a moment for sure. But I want to ask you with regard to Paul Manafort, we've learned that he stayed in touch with the Trump administration officials even into this year and after he was indicted.

How significant is that?

GARBER: It is frankly astounding; there is an allegation in the current filing that Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign manager, after he was indicted, was in touch with senior administration officials.

Now prosecutors don't tell us who those administration officials are or why they were talking or what they were talking about. But certainly it is problematic for an indicted person to be talking to senior officials in the president's administration. And it raises very, very serious questions.

HOWELL: We know Mr. Trump was focused on this in the morning with a tweet storm and then later responded on Twitter with this, "Totally clears the president. Thank you," says Donald Trump.

Of course not uncharacteristic of this president to try to cast doubt, throw water on what's come out.

But your thoughts here: where is he most vulnerable after all this came out today?

GARBER: As you know, the U.S. Department of Justice says that you can't indict a sitting president. So as long as Donald Trump is in office, it is very, very unlikely and almost certain that he won't be indicted for crimes.

There can be issues once he leaves office and certainly his business, other folks in his administration and, potentially, his family, you know, could be in trouble here.

But I think the most immediate concerns are about, you know, what this means for the president politically. We have a new House of Representatives coming in, in just a few short weeks. It is controlled by Democrats. They are likely to start investigations that could potentially --

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GARBER: -- lead to an impeachment inquiry.

HOWELL: That is the question, what will they do with regard to the report that is put together by the Mueller team and where will things go from there?

Ross Garber, we appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.

GARBER: Happy to be with you.

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HOWELL: We'll be going now to France; hundreds of Yellow Vest protesters are on the streets of Paris this hour. And a live look at what is happening on the streets of the French capital.

Protesters are out in force for sure but thousands of troops are also in the city to protect monuments, protesters and pedestrians at the riots. The government says it plans to do whatever it takes to keep violence from breaking out.

Again, 4:10 in Paris right now, we're looking at these -- 10:10, I should say. And police are out in full force. Police have detained 320 people for questioning before the marches even started.

Let's go live to Paris and CNN's Melissa Bell.

Tell us the mood there, the feeling and the concern that we could see more violence as the day progresses.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Already, if you look behind me, you can see the Arc de Triomphe, the scene of so much of the violence last week. This Champs-Elysees is kept by some of these policemen. And this crowd goes well down the Champs-Elysees. So many of the Yellow Vests have turned up to protest already, 220 people already taken in for questioning.

The authorities have made it clear that they intend to do everything that they can to keep this Saturday less violent than it was last Saturday. But already we've heard from the interior minister yesterday, saying that they believe that it was likely to be at least as violent as it was.

HOWELL: And tell us about the police presence there. I understand thousands of officers there on the streets and we're looking at this live image right now.

Tell us about the lineup there, how many officers?

And is there is a sense that police are in position ready for this? BELL: So country-wide, the number is 89,000 security forces, gendarmes and policemen that have been put out onto the streets of the country, 8,000 in the French capital alone. And more than perhaps the numbers, what we've been hearing from the authorities is that this change of tactic, they blocked one end of the Champs-Elysees so the protesters march to the other.

They've blocked the other; all of the side streets have been blocked by much more mobile units than we'd seen last week. Last week, the Champs-Elysees was entirely blocked off.

So the violence happened all around the perimeter that had been closed down, essentially protecting the presidential palace and a few of Paris' most exclusive neighborhoods.

But this time they are more contained, the Yellow Vests that have gathered so far, between the two ends of the Champs-Elysees. Their hope is that they can avoid some of the extensive damage that was caused last week, some of the injuries that they might prevent as well.

But, of course, it is fairly early here in Paris and the Yellow Vests have vowed to come out in full force. There has been a climb-down on the part of the French government on what had been the spark of this protest, this movement which had been the hike in the duty on fuel.

But the Yellow Vests now in their fourth week of protests have said that it is no longer about that and a number of them have said that it is much more about the cost of living and the chant that we've heard over and over is that Macron has to resign.

HOWELL: And the thing that we'll be watching surely is, of course, we stated police there to also protect the protesters but then watching out for people who show up maybe later, the anarchists, who are there to cause damage and spark violence. We'll see how it progresses. Melissa Bell, thank you.

Let's now bring in my colleague and CNN anchor, Cyril Vanier. Cyril has covered Paris extensively.

Paris, your hometown. I'd like to get your impressions of what we're seeing there. We know at this point some 300 people detained so far. And if we look at this live image, it seems the protesters are coming together but there is a real spirit of anger on the streets.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there's a lot of anger in Paris and across France. And there is a good reason for the anger. People are angry about economic inequality.

I remember I was in high school in France and unemployment was already at 10 percent. And people already had this idea that it was going to be hard for them to find a job, even if they had the qualifications, even if they had a good degree. This has been going on for more than 25 years.

So the economic morass in France is something that has been a constant. So at any given point in time, there is cause for anger. And every president who has tried to reform the French economy and the French state has, at some point or another in his presidency, rubbed up against this --

[04:15:00]

VANIER: -- anger in the form of protests. And then some presidents have handled it better than others. It can be a presidency defining moment. I think we'll know a lot more at the end of the day, depending on how much violence there is and how law enforcement handles it.

HOWELL: What we're seeing it right now, things seem relatively calm. We understand that there have been people detained, some 300.

But how this progresses, we'll have to wait and see. The greater question though, the government response can't be too heavy handed, has to be efficient, effective in keeping the peace.

VANIER: Absolutely; it is a subtle equation, it's not an exact science. I think if you are going to look at the variables of that equation, for the political leadership, for the president and the prime minister, you have to wonder how much popular support do these Yellow Vests have?

Until last weekend, we know from the French polls they had a large scale, in the 70 percent and 80 percent popular support. So you have to give them credit, you have to give them consideration. You have to address their political concerns.

At the same time, when there is violence such as the type of violence that we saw last Saturday with degradations on the Arc de Triomphe, with cars being burned in Central Paris, that definitely draws some of the support away from the protests. So that could also represent a political opportunity for the president if you want to think of it that way.

And thirdly, there is a very narrow -- and I'll look at this from a cynical point of view -- there is a very narrow skill involved for a politician here and I would say it is violence management. How much you rein it in, how much do you let the protesters run riot in the streets of Paris and how much do you want to show strength.

And knowing exactly where you place the cursor in this complex environment is very difficult.

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HOWELL: When it comes to Emmanuel Macron, and how vulnerable would you say Macron is with all of this playing out on the streets of Paris?

VANIER: He is and he isn't vulnerable. He is because of the conditions in which he came to power. Most people voted for him, many, I would say, because they felt there wasn't a suitable alternative. He was up against the far right in the second round of the French presidential election.

Many people still cannot fathom the far right coming to power, to the presidency. And so they voted for Macron but they did so reluctantly. So it's not because he won with a big political score, that he's actually very popular. We know that he is very unpopular, it is the opposite. In that respect he's vulnerable.

But having said that, he is not up for re-election soon, he does have a wide majority in parliament, nobody can force him to call a snap election, so he is secure in that sense. There is no reason why he or his prime minister or his majority would lose power unless things go so dramatically wrong -- for instance, today -- that he is forced to reshuffle the political cards.

HOWELL: And again, what we're looking at right now at 10:17 in the morning there in Paris, we saw the Yellow Vests kneeling down for a moment, now standing back up. But just keeping an eye on what happens there in Paris. Hundreds of people have come together so far and we will see how the day progresses. Thank you, Cyril.

Right now to a story we're following in Italy, where a rap concert at a packed club turned deadly. At least six people were killed there, dozens injured in a stampede that took place, this happening in the city of Corinaldo, near the Adriatic Coast, east of Florence, according to the Italian news agency Anza.

Five of the dead were minors; the sixth was a mother of one of the victims. Local media report the panic started when someone sprayed an irritant, possibly pepper spray.

One of the more important positions at the White House could soon become vacant. Talking about the chief of staff, John Kelly and President Trump are said to no longer be speaking. But Kelly has been talking to the special counsel Robert Mueller. We'll have more on that.

Plus a verdict is reached in a vehicle attack that occurred during a white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville. More on that story ahead. Stay with us.

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HOWELL: A lot of news coming out of the Trump White House and a lot of wheels in motion to reshape the president's team of advisors. One key official who could be on his way out, chief of staff John Kelly. Sources telling CNN his relationship with Mr. Trump may be damaged beyond repair. Our Kaitlan Collins has more on that.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to confirm that --

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump finally making good on his promise to shake up his cabinet. Emerging from the White House to announce he will nominate Bill Barr to be the next attorney general.

TRUMP: He was my first choice from day one.

COLLINS (voice-over): Barr ran the Justice Department during George H.W. Bush's administration and has received widespread praise from Republicans and even some Democrats. If confirmed, Barr will take over for acting attorney general Matt Whitaker, who has faced scrutiny for his past comments on the Russia investigation but praised Barr ...

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I commend the president for this excellent choice.

HEATHER NAUERT, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Ambassador, thank you so much.

COLLINS (voice-over): Trump also announcing he's picked former FOX News host and current State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert to replace Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, despite her lack of foreign policy experience.

TRUMP: She's very talented, very smart, very quick. And I think that she is going to be respected by all.

COLLINS (voice-over): As the president adds new faces to his administration, he is preparing to say goodbye to one more, with sources telling CNN John Kelly is expected to resign in the coming days and is in longer on speaking terms with the president, who is actively discussing a replacement plan.

Despite asking his chief of staff just five months ago to stay on until 2020, Trump not answering questions about his fate ...

[04:25:00]

COLLINS: Are you firing your chief of staff?

COLLINS (voice-over): And as the revolving door spins at the White House, those who no longer work there are still giving the president headaches.

REX TILLERSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: To go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn't like to read, doesn't read briefing reports, doesn't like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather just kind of says, look, this is what I believe and you can try to convince me otherwise.

COLLINS: Now President Trump has responded to the biting criticism from his former secretary of state, writing in a tweet on his way back from Kansas City that he is proud of Mike Pompeo, the man who succeeded Rex Tillerson at the State Department adding, quote, "His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn't have the mental capacity needed."

The president adds, "He was dumb as a rock and I couldn't get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell."

He says, "Now it is a whole new ball game, great spirit at State" -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.

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HOWELL: Kaitlan, thank you.

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 of 2017, which took 32-year-old Heather Heyer's life. He faces possible sentencing of life in prison.

His defense tried to argue that Fields was panicking and acted in self-defense. Fields also faces 30 federal hate crimes charges, which will be decided in a separate case.

We're watching these live images from Paris. And these are images from just moments ago, where we understand tear gas has been fired into the crowd. You see the crowd is moving about.

We understand now some 1,500 protesters are on the streets of Paris right now. These Yellow Vest protesters started in protest of a fuel tax but the protests have continued even after the French president backed away from that proposal.

Police at this point have detained 342 people for questioning. These images from moments ago, of tear gas being fired into the crowd. CNN will continue to monitor these live images. Stay with us. We'll be right back after the break.

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HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from the ATL. Here are the headlines.

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HOWELL: We understand at this point some 1,500 protesters are on the streets of Paris. Let's get insights now into what is happening with Agnes Poirier. She's joins us from our London bureau this hour as a journalist and political commentator. We appreciate your time and perspective. Let's look at these live images of what is happening in Paris. Moments ago we saw tear gas fired into the crowds. We understand some 1,500 protesters are on the streets right now. Given what we're seeing, I'd like to get your initial impressions.

AGNES POIRIER, JOURNALIST AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it was something that we all expected, something that we feared. Now tear gas is fine if that is all there is.

Last Saturday I was in Paris and the police forces were rather outflanked really. So now the strategy has changed. And we are expecting thousands of very, very violent protesters to come to the streets. And this the images they also long to convey.

We are facing at the moment not a movement really but a revolt. So it is a moment for them to express their anger. And the anger and violence hides a strategy. We've seen in the last two weeks that they refuse to choose representatives or delegates. They are suspicious of delegation and representation, which, of course, makes it very difficult for the French government and trade unions to actually engage in a discussion.

So hopefully, at the end of what they call the fourth act of their protest, that is to say today, perhaps there will be a change of tone and the beginning of a discussion. Otherwise, I don't see where this revolt might lead.

HOWELL: You point out that the government struggles to find a clear leader within these protests and also struggles to separate out the people protesting for legitimate reasons versus those who show up instead to cause damage and spark violence, the anarchists in the crowds. That's what they're concerned about today.

But I want to drive deeper into your point here about the spirit of the movement. Again, this started as a protest around rising fuel costs. But the French president backed away from that tax, given how broadly supported the protesters seemed to be.

Has the Yellow Vest movement morphed into something bigger?

And if so, can you put your finger on the spirit of anger there?

What is it?

[04:35:00]

POIRIER: Well, it is interesting there's a focus on president Emmanuel Macron, that he has only been in power only for 18 months and he wasn't even born when the policies that have gradually, over the last 30 years, created this situation of anger for the middle and lower middle classes.

So it is ironic that it is concentrating on President Macron, perhaps his perceived arrogance and aloofness triggered the movement. And also, as you say initially, it was a protest against the eco tax and fuel tax. But their demands have been met.

So yes, it has morphed into something much bigger. We are facing with a very diverse group of people from all walks of life and different professional and social backgrounds. And really, at the moment, it is a revolt, it is an anger that comes from very, very deep and it needs a "get it off one's chest" moment and, hopefully, for everyone in France, it will draw to a close soon so that they can all come to the table and start talking.

There is the COP24 taking place in Poland and we all know that the eco transition to cleaner energy has to be just for everyone and I think that that is perhaps something key in this protest.

HOWELL: Let's take a look live here in Paris, France. Again, 10:36 in the morning there and we're seeing certainly things heat up there right now. Again, some 1,500 protesters on the streets of Paris.

We know there are thousands of police officers as well in position to maintain the peace. And we've seen tear gas being used in the crowds. We believe that is what we're seeing there.

But again, some 342 people have been detained so far for questioning. That is the last report that we received from officials. And again, this is in response to rising fuel taxes. But again, the French president backed away from that plan and now we're just seeing people continue these protests, these Yellow Vest protests on the streets of Paris.

Agnes, one other question to you. The French president certainly under a great deal of pressure. I mentioned that he backed away from that fuel tax plan.

But given that he backed away, is there is a sense that protesters are now pushing for more?

POIRIER: Oh, yes. If you look at their demands, it is very difficult to try to pin down what exactly the demands are. I'm not sure they know it themselves. But if you look on social networks, the French daily newspaper, "Le Monde," compiled 50 of their demands. They compared it with French politicians' programs.

And it responds to both the extreme right political program and the extreme left. For instance, far less taxes but more public services. That is a very difficult equation.

Also leaving NATO for instance or leaving the European Union. We're talking about drastic demands.

And how do you reconcile those, you know; in a way it is a surge of radicalism if you like. And so at some point they will have to meet and to start talking because a lot of their demands are simply not possible to meet in a democracy.

HOWELL: Agnes Poirier, a journalist and political commentator, joining us live from our London bureau, stand by for a month, I want to recap our viewers as to what we're watching right now. 4:39 on the U.S. East Coast and 10:39 in the morning in Paris, France,

some 1,500 protesters on the streets there. These are Yellow Vest demonstrators. Keeping in mind people throughout France, they keep these yellow vests in their vehicles in case of an emergency.

These Yellow Vests are now representative of a protest that started against rising fuel costs, a proposed tax by the French president. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has backed away from that plan but the protests continued.

And what we're seeing right now, protesters on the streets. There is a concern in Paris that the protests could turn violent, as we saw a week ago; protesters did cause a lot of damage --

[04:40:00]

HOWELL: -- along the Champs-Elysees and there is concern that the violence could continue today.

And we understand that police officials are out in full force. You see some of them there in this live image, some 8,000 police officials just there in Paris alone, according to our correspondent, Melissa Bell.

Thousands more throughout the country on standby to make sure that these protests remain peaceful. We'll continue to monitor these images, we, of course, have commentators to give perspective on what we're seeing.

And we just heard something there. We saw tear gas used just a short time ago. The very latest details, just quickly, some 342 people detained for questioning, 1,500 protesters on the streets of Paris. CNN monitoring these live images. We'll be right back after the break with more.

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HOWELL: CNN following these live events on the streets of Paris, France. You are seeing two images here, these of Yellow Vest protesters, who are out in full force; there is concern that these protests could turn violent and what we're seeing right now, tear gas being used as, again, some 1,500 protesters are out in force this hour.

We understand 342 people have been taken in for questioning; 127 people have been taken into custody. Again, we continue to monitor these images and we'll bring you any updates as we learn them here on CNN.

We're learning why a top executive of a Chinese company was arrested in Canada. According to Canadian prosecutors, the U.S. claims Meng Wanzhou misled financial institutions in order to evade sanctions against Iran. Those details came out of her bail hearing in Vancouver, Canada.

Meng is the chief financial officer of Huawei, one of the largest smartphone makers. She was arrested --

[04:45:00]

HOWELL: -- in Canada on a U.S. request. China has called for her release.

This case has rattled global financial markets because it could complicate or even derail trade talks between the U.S. and China.

Let's talk more about this now with Greg Swenson, joining us from our London bureau. Greg is a Wall Street veteran and, of course, has been monitoring this with a firm grasp on local trade issues.

Let's talk about what we're seeing here, just to get your first impressions.

What do you make of these charges against Meng and how Chinese officials have responded so far?

GREG SWENSON, BRIGG MACADAM: Of course it is a quite natural reaction by the Chinese officials and they are going to deny any wrongdoing. But I don't think that the world would particularly trust the Chinese comments in this situation.

Granted that the timing is a little bit odd, that this is coming right after -- or actually the same day that President Trump is meeting with Xi at the G20. So interesting timing but my hope is that enforcing laws and negotiating a trade deal are not necessarily incompatible.

HOWELL: The timing is key here. It has been circumspect for Chinese officials happening at a time when the U.S. is in the midst of these trade negotiations with China. Officials say it is pure coincidence.

But what do you say to that suggestion that Meng could be used as a bargaining chip?

SWENSON: It might be. It is impossible to really state with any certainty whether the timing was deliberate or not. This issue didn't just occur in the last week or the last few months during the trade wars.

There was a very deliberate focus on this, going back several years and the timing might be actually because the executives of Huawei stopped traveling to the U.S. after it was made clear that there were these kinds of suspicions and that there was an investigation into the company.

So it's quite deliberate; there have been some visits to trade shows in the U.S. but by lower ranking officials. But the senior management stopped visiting the U.S.

So it was just the first opportunity where she could actually be arrested, you know, in a country that is friendly with the U.S., obviously. So she was traveling to Mexico and stopped in Vancouver on the way.

HOWELL: And here is the thing. So the markets have certainly responded with regard to the trade negotiations. It's been a mixed set of narratives on where things are going.

So what would you say about the markets, which, again, seem to have reacted in kind to a great deal of uncertainty?

SWENSON: Markets don't react well to uncertainty in general. So we see that with tax policy; we see that with any sort of regulatory burdens on the markets. So in this case, it is definitely the risk of the trade negotiations blowing up. It is not necessarily specifically about this arrest or any kind of sanction.

I mean the market would prefer sanctions over tariffs, generally speaking, but sanctions haven't worked, the WTO hasn't worked. So the tariffs and the trade war actually got Xi to the table and, for all intents and purposes, it is working by getting the two parties to negotiate.

The problem here is if the markets are reaction, the markets don't lie. The concern the markets are having is that the trade negotiations will be postponed or delayed. We'll see. But that is obviously the big concern. It wasn't specifically about Huawei or about this particular incident.

HOWELL: Veteran Wall Street expert with a grasp on global issues, we needed your perspective on this because it is certainly interesting. Chinese officials would say the timing is circumspect. We'll have see where all this goes.

Greg, thank you.

SWENSON: Thanks, George. Nice to be here.

HOWELL: And CNN monitoring these live images in Paris, France, these Yellow Vest protesters out in full force, tear gas has been used within the hour. We'll continue to monitor this right after the break. Stand by.

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HOWELL: Live images in Paris; Yellow Vest demonstrators are out in full force. And during the break, we understand tear gas was again fired into the crowds. At this point, some 342 people have been taken in for questioning, 127 have been taken into custody.

And the last figure we've learned, some 1,500 protesters are on the streets, outnumbered by police. Thousands of police officials there in Paris and throughout the nation of France to stand guard, to make sure they keep the peace there.

Again, these are images from moments ago, when tear gas was thrown into the crowds. We'll continue to monitor events there.

And now to talk about a major winter storm taking aim at parts of the southern U.S. this weekend.

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HOWELL: Again, what we're monitoring in Paris, images of Yellow Vest protesters out on the streets, the city center essentially on lockdown. We'll have more on what is happening there after the break. Stand by.