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Mueller Probes Points to Trump; Jamal Khashoggi's Last Words; Impeachment Over Hush Money; Paul Manafort Lied about Konstatin Kilimnik; Major Storm Dumps Snow on Southeast, CNN Hero of the Year. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 9, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Here is why. We are finally getting to see the real depth and breadth of the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation. Who told whom what to do throwing hush money at a porn star and playboy model? Who met with Russian operatives accused of hacking and lied about it? Who lied to Congress about pitching big business deals in Russia? Who promised to stop talking to Trump's people after pleading guilty, but did it any way.

The president until this weekend had been on the deniable sidelines of these revelations, but now President Trump is following people from his former inner circle closer to center stage. One United States senator says, yes, this is different. And he is using the words Nixon territory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: We certainly have moved into a new phase. The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office. President Nixon was unindicted co-conspirator. Certainly a different set of facts, but this investigation is now starting to put the president in serious legal cross hairs and he should be worried.

And the whole country should be worried. Nobody is rooting for the president to go down in this manner. This isn't good for democracy. But this investigation may ultimately lead to Congress taking action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Let's go to CNN's White House reporter Sarah Westwood. Sarah, Senator Murphy saying the whole country should be worried. He is not the only lawmaker with that in mind including congressmen and senators from the president's own party.

SARA WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Ana. Some Republicans and Democrats are starting to question the Justice Department's guidelines that say a sitting president should not be indicted in the wake of prosecutor for special counsel Robert Mueller claiming that Trump directed his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay two women illegally during the presidential race to stay quiet about alleged affairs. Now, Trump has spent the three days since that was revealed in court

filings claiming those latest documents vindicate him and going on a spree of high level appointments. Just in the past three days, he's named a new attorney general, a new ambassador to the United Nations, a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He's announced the departure of his own White House chief of staff and at the same time, he has touted those filings as a win because they don't include evidence of Russian collusion. Although the president being implicated in an alleged campaign finance violation has exposed him to new political and legal jeopardy.

Senator Marco Rubio, a top Republican, has said that perhaps we should revisit whether a president should be indicted. That position of power shouldn't spare someone from justice. Take a listen to what he told CNN's Jake Tapper this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARC RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: If someone has violated the law, the application of the law should be applied to them like it would to any other citizen in this country. And obviously, if you are a position of great authority like the presidency, that would be the case.

I don't know if it's going to reach that point or not. We have to wait and see. But my decision on that or my position or that will not be a political decision, it will be the fact that we are a nation of laws and no one in this country no matter who you are is above it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now, Congressman Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee also said this morning that if the president was proven to be involved in those illegal payments during the 2016 race, that would be an impeachable offense even if it didn't rise politically to the level of impeachment. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: If it's proven, are those impeachable offenses?

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well, they would be impeachable offenses whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question, but certainly they'd be impeachable defenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be an impeachable offense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: The White House has continued to attack Cohen's credibility claiming he shouldn't serve as a reliable witness as they have sought to distance the president from revelations about the conduct of his former associates including Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Paul Manafort, Ana. CABREA: And quickly Sara, while I have you here, you have new information about the search to replace John Kelly as White House chief of staff. What are you hearing?

WESTWOOD: That's right Ana. Sources tell CNN that Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence is no longer the leading contender to take over Kelly's job. Sources tell our colleague Kaitlyn Collins that there was a disagreement between Trump and Ayers about how long he would hold that position.

Ayers wanted to hold it on an interim basis until the spring until the president could find a permanent replacement for John Kelly who will be leaving by the end of the year. The president wanted a two-year commitment from Ayers. So Ayers will now be leaving the administration.

So, Ana, we are looking at vacancies. The chief of staff position in the White House and in the vice president office and the president now doesn't have a clear frontrunner for that position, although there are several names under consideration, Ana.

[17:05:00] CABRERA: All right. Sarah Westwood at the White House for us. Thank you. Now back to the turmoil turning around the White House, specifically the Mueller revelations that implicate the president in at least two alleged felonies. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig is joining us. Also with us, political analyst Michael Shear.

Michael, we just heard strong sentiments from both sides of the aisle hinting that the charges being uncovered are impeachable and that nobody even the president is above the law. As Trump is now preparing to deal with a split congress come January, should he be more worried about what he is hearing from Democrats or Republicans?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think that he needs to be worried about both. Ultimately, I think all of us have assumed that the end result of the Mueller investigation was going to be in Congress' hands and that is a political process and ultimately the president who is a republican is going to need Republicans to come his defense to prevent some kind of a political rebuke, whether it's impeachment or something short of that.

I think the most remarkable thing that we've seen in the last week is that up until the last week, all of the public information that we had about where Robert Mueller was going was to associates of the president, was to people around the president, some closer than others, but never touching the president directly with a government accusation.

And that is where we've gotten to now. That's I think really what has changed. And the real question is, you know, ultimately when Mueller comes out with his sort of final assessment of what has gone on here, how much will he specifically and directly lay at the president's feet both in terms of collusion and in terms of obstruction of justice.

Will he keep to people around the president or will he assign responsibility for the president for those acts to the president which really puts a lot more pressure back on the members of Congress in both parties?

CABRERA: Elie, the filings come after many, many months of investigation. You say these most recent filings are game changers.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: There is really no denying now the storm clouds are rolling in. Looking at the filings over the last several days, there is a few things that would jump out at me if I was representing President Trump that would worry me.

Number one, we had a watershed moment on Friday when the U.S. Department of Justice committed in writing to the position that the president had directed Michael Cohen to commit multiple federal felonies. That is hugely important. It is one thing for Cohen to allege it as he had. It's another thing for DOJ, the southern district of New York to commit to that on paper. That is number one.

Number two, we know there are at least two cooperating witnesses, Flynn and Cohen, who both have been found by Mueller to be credible and complete, who provided information on a variety of topics including, and both memos say this, coordination between the campaign and Russia.

And then number three, is there are multiple other criminal investigations ongoing. These are all the redacted things that we saw. We can't know at this point. We'd only be guessing who could be the targets of those investigations, but they are criminal investigations, they are ongoing and they are separate and apart from the core Russian collusion.

CABRERA: And on that specifically, we learned a lot about where Mueller is on that mandate to really dig into whether there was collusion and what was Russia's involvement in the U.S. election. You write in your op-ed this weekend, "Mueller's recent filings have begun to answer the why question. Why did Trump want so badly to please Russia and why did Russia want to help him win the presidency? Explain how you're reading the tea leaves.

HONIG: Yes. So, the broad contours of the Russian connection have started to come into focus and to me the start of that all was Cohen's plea about a week and a half ago where he explained this Trump Moscow project. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of value, they needed Russian government approvals to do this project.

That gives you the why was Trump so eager to curry favor with the Russians. Why did the Russians want Trump to win? They would have him in their pocket. And why when the opportunity came along were Trump's people so willing and eager to accept election assistance from the Russians regardless of its legality.

So, I think we can see the broad contours of this collusion idea really coming into focus. I think the cries of no collusion are really starting to ring emptier and emptier every time we learn more facts.

CABRERA: And yet, Michael, the president has all but taken a victory lap since these memos dropped. SHEAR: Yes. Well, because ultimately what the president is doing is a

kind of two-tiered strategy. One is obviously a legal strategy where his lawyers are trying to do the best they can to ultimately shield him and present a legal defense.

But the other piece of it is a public relations strategy both to undermine Bob Mueller and the investigation to claim that it is not credible because of the people who are conducting it, but also, you know, to essentially argue that there is nothing there. And, you know, if you repeat that enough times, he hopes, the public will look at whatever is ultimately produced by the special counsel and look at it skeptically and not take it at face value.

[17:09:59] And so, as much as is this a legal process, it is also a public relations, and a political process and that's, you know, that's his best hope and that's frankly what he is good at. I mean, look, you have to give Donald Trump credit for attaining the presidency, you know, by being a master salesman and a master at manipulating public opinion.

And that is what he is trying to do with this and that is why he repeats over and over and over again that there is no collusion, that there is nothing to this, that it is all a big shell game.

CABRERA: I know, Michael you are in touch with people around the president. Of those you are talking to, how are they seeing all of this?

SHEAR: I mean, everybody is worried. Look, you know, one of the things that is the most difficult when you are inside a White House is to be operating under the cloud of multiple investigations. It has happened before. Obviously the Clinton administration dealt with it during the Monica Lewinsky investigation for years.

It's a difficult place to be because of the uncertainty. You know, a White House is always a kind of chaotic place. You are dealing with incoming from a lot of different, you know, both political incoming and stuff that is happening around the world. But when you operate under the threat of looming indictments and legal jeopardy as well as political jeopardy, it makes it all the more difficult and people are really worried.

CABRERA: President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani responded specifically to the Michael Cohen memo which, let's remind our viewers, alleges candidate Trump was directly involved in campaign finance crimes. And here's what he tweeted. "The president is not implicated in campaign finance violations because based on Edwards case and others, the payments are not campaign contributions. No responsible prosecutor would premise a criminal case on a questionable interpretation of the law. Elie, how do you see this?

HONIG: It is a complete logical fallacy. Rudy Giuliani's argument here seems to be one person, John Edwards, was tried for this crime years ago and acquitted. Hence, nobody should ever be charged with it in the future. Apply that to any other kind. Apply that to murder, robbery, every case stands on its own. In the Edwards case, the jury didn't find enough evidence that the payments were connected to the campaign as opposed to preventing personal embarrassment. Every case stands on its own.

CABRERA: But couldn't that be the case here as well for the president where he was trying to keep this from his wifer?

HONIG: It could be. That would absolutely be the argument. If this were ever to be tried whether in the Senate or a courtroom, that would be the argument. But Rudy's argument is someone got acquitted of this a long time ago, so it is dead, can't ever us. No responsible prosecutor would ever charge it again. He knows that nonsense, he has to know that.

CABRERA: All right. Elie, thank you. Also, thank you Michael Shear. Good to have both of you with us as always.

A CNN exclusive, murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi's last words, I can't breathe. What else? A translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's final moments has just revealed. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."

[17:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: This just in to CNN, seven people are wounded, one of them critically, in a drive-by shooting just outside an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The Israeli military says people were standing at a bus stop near the settlement's entrance when suddenly there were shots fired from a passing car.

We are told the critically wounded person is a pregnant 21-year-old who was rushed to the hospital after being shot. Doctors induced labor and the baby is now stable.

Key U.S. senators were briefed by the CIA on their assessment of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi's killing. They were horrified and said so publicly. And now a source has given CNN a briefing on a transcript of that audio recording of Khashoggi's final moments. CNN's Nic Robertson was provided the details of the translated transcript reproduced in this report of that audio. Nic correlates with the CIA finding that the Saudi team sent to Istanbul came with the intent to kill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): CNN can now reveal Jamal Khashoggi's last words. "I can't breathe. I can't breathe."

(On camera): These previously undisclosed details of what happened that afternoon in October come from a source who has been briefed on the investigation. The source has read a full transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi's horrific final moments.

(Voice-over): Within moments of his fateful steps into the consulate, Khashoggi recognizes someone, asks why they are there. The answer? "You are coming back." According to CNN's source, the Turkish transcript identifies that person as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, a former Saudi diplomat and intelligence official working for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman whom Khashoggi knew. Khashoggi is clearly alarmed and replies, "You can't do that. People are waiting outside for me."

(On camera): According to the source, the conversation ends right there. The transcript indicates noises as people set upon Khashoggi and very quickly Khashoggi can be heard saying, "I can't breathe." He repeats it again. "I can't breathe. I can't breathe." What happens belies initial Saudi claims. His death was a grave mistake.

CNN's source says it is clear from his reading of the transcript Khashoggi's murder was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist. But it is what happens next that is really horrific. The transcript records many voices and noises. And then says "scream" from Jamal.

[17:19:59] Again, "scream," then gasping. Noises are identified as "saw" and "cutting." Then a voice Turkish authorities identify as Dr. Salah Mohammed al-Tubaigy, the head of forensic medicine at Saudi Arabia's interior ministry. He says, "If you don't like the noise, put your ear phones in or listen to music like me."

(On camera): According to the source, Mutreb, the apparent leader of the team, makes at least three phone calls during the murder to a number, Turkish officials identified, as being in the Saudi Royal Court. Only Mutreb's side of the conversation can be heard, but there is no sense of panic or of an operation gone wrong.

(Voice-over): Mutreb tells the person in Riyadh, "Tell yours" that the source takes to mean your boss or your senior, "The thing is done, it's done."

(On camera): CNN reached out to Saudi officials to get a response from those named in this report and we're told Saudi security officials have reviewed the transcript and tape and nowhere in them is there any reference or indication of a call being made. A Saudi source close to the Saudi investigation says both Mutreb and Tubaigy deny making phone calls.

And while the transcript provides no smoking gun directly tying Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the killing, this seems to echo Senator Lindsey Graham's sentiments after hearing the CIA's assessment of Khashoggi's killing. There is not a smoking gun, there is a smoking saw. Nic Robertson, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABRERA: CNN shared our source's detailed description with the office of that senator who was briefed by the CIA early this week and we were told that the CNN report of that transcript was consistent with the briefing the senator received. Let's get Nic Robertson back in here now from London. Nic, what's the significance of that phone call?

ROBERTSON: Well, that phone call is the thing that would link very closely Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and people possibly in his royal court with those killers on the ground in Istanbul. It is very interesting that when we asked the Saudi officials for comments on this, they chose to say -- they chose to focus on that one thing and deny that there was a phone call.

They didn't deny any of the words that were spoken. They tried to deny the phone call. I told to the source about the element of the phone call and the transcript and the source said, look, the transcript is clear, that there is only one side of that conversation with Mutreb that is heard, that indicates -- the hypothesis being that is a phone call and this conversation that Mutreb is having, this one-sided conversation, doesn't fit in with any of the other conversations that are going on in the room.

So that is the hypothesis that this was a phone call. Now, it is not the first time we've heard that there was a phone call made from the consulate to the royal court in Saudi Arabia. We've heard this from Turkish officials before, but it does seem to be the way that the Saudi authorities are trying to sort of create a gap, if you will, a gap between the crown prince and those activities there.

But as we have heard this weekend from Senator Lindsey Graham, there is, to use his words, a ton of intelligence linking that team in Istanbul that perpetrated the killing to the crown prince and to people close to the crown prince, a ton of intelligence. That is what Senator Lindsey Graham said.

So I think that is where we can see the Saudis focusing their efforts on to try to deny a phone call. But all the evidence that has been presented to us so far stacks up very conclusively in that direction.

CABRERA: Nic, what do we know about the state of the formal investigation?

ROBERTSON: Well, the Saudis have their investigation. Their prosecutor general has 11 people that he has put charges on. Turkish authorities say that this happened in their territory and they want the -- in investigation, the want the trial and judicial proceedings to happen in Turkey.

But it seems to be stalemated. What the Saudi officials are saying at the moment, and again, it comes back to this issue around the phone call that Saudi authorities are saying from the Turkish authorities, well, if you've got more evidence, then put it on the table for us.

All along Turkish authorities have leaked a little bit of information here and a little bit of information there. But the Saudi authorities seem to be trying to explore and figure out from whoever they can what other information may be out there so that they can perhaps present a narrative that fits around all that other evidence.

[17:25:07] So at the moment, the investigation appears to be from my understanding at the moment to be essentially stalemated. The Saudis saying to the Turkish authorities give us more and the Turkish authorities saying no, give us the man to put them on trial. We've got the evidence here.

CABRERA: All right. Nic Robertson, stay on top of it for us. Thank you.

Now back to Washington. And as a pair of bombshells drop in the Mueller investigation this weekend, President Trump is both saying he is very happy with the news and tweeting, "totally clears the president." The question now, does he actually believe his own tweets? Trump's biographer joins us next.

[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: President Trump this weekend trying to spin the narrative on the special counsel bombshells even as impeachment talk starts to bubble up from Democrats. The president says he is, "very happy with the Mueller situation."

Now, did he read the part where prosecutors claim Michael Cohen committed federal crimes at Trump's direction when he paid off a porn star and a former playmate on the eve of the 2016 election? Did he read the part about Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman allegedly lying about contacts with shadowy Russian operatives? From a leading Democrat, we hear this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: The president has now stepped into the same territory that ultimately led to President Nixon resigning the office. President Nixon was an unindicted co- conspirator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: And from President Trump, we get this tweet, "Totally clears the president. Thank you." I want to bring in CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and Donald Trump biographer Michael D'Antonio, author of the "The Truth About Trump." Michael, that tweet, totally clears the president. Does the president actually believe his own tweets?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD BIOGRAPHER: You know, I think in the moment when he's typing them out, he persuades himself that he believes those tweets. It is almost as if he didn't realize that he has a new nickname, individual one. But that is what I think that we all should call him from now on, as president individual number one because he has been implicated in these crimes committed by Michael Cohen.

The documents suggest that he directed Cohen. So he is in very deep trouble. When he tweets, he is practicing salesmanship, he likes the --

CABRERA: Right.

D'ANTONIO: -- seller who tells you this is a great car but knows that it really isn't.

CABRERA: But I wonder if he actually doesn't know the truth because he says he hasn't read all these documents. Could he be purposely staying in the dark so that he can sell what he wants everyone to believe?

D'ANTONIO: I don't think so. I think he knows the truth. He is alert to what is in the newspapers. I think the "Washington Post" and "New York Times" are on his bed every morning as he is tuning into Fox News. So he is aware of what is going on. He is just trying to persuade us and persuade himself that it is not as bad as it really is.

CABRERA: And so Doug, talk of impeachment all over the Sunday morning shows. Listen to independent Senator Angus King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Well, let me put it this way. I don't think that there is evidence yet available to the public where there would be more or less a consensus that this was an appropriate path. My concern is that if impeachment is moved forward on the evidence that we have now, at least a third of the country would think it was just political revenge and a coup against the president. That wouldn't serve us well at all. The best way to solve a problem like this to me is election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Meantime, we have Senator Chris Murphy saying it is already beyond the stage that led to impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. Doug, what's your take? Too soon to talk impeachment?

DOUG BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well look, the key thing, Ana, is that Robert Mueller doesn't have to indict Trump for Congress to impeach him. That is an important point because what Donald Trump is trying to do now is he knows the Mueller report is going to be terrible.

It's just going to have all sorts of sordid details about his financial world and about his family dealings in Russia. It's going to be a nightmare, but it's going to get -- if Mueller doesn't indict him, Trump's going to say, see, Mueller couldn't indict me. There was no reason for it. Now it is a political issue on Capitol Hill. Congress might move to impeach me, but if they do, I think I can have the Senate defend me and I will survive things the way Bill Clinton survived things.

So, I think that the Democratic Party right now needs to be wise to just back the Mueller report, take the -- kick the impeachment down the road a little bit here and just start letting the facts unravel. During Watergate we had an urban committee where people can start having -- watching on television getting involved with Watergate proceedings.

We don't have that right now so I think Angus King was right. I have only about a third of the country is on board right now so we need more information. We have to be more patient for Mueller.

CABRERA: Michael, the president is about to have a third chief of staff. He and General John Kelly are reportedly not even on speaking terms right now. Reince Priebus and John Kelly, his two chief of staffs so far, they were very different. What kind of person would serve this president best?

D'ANTONIO: Well, you know, I think if he could appoint Mike Pence that might be a good choice because he is just about the only one that seems to be able to get along with the president consistently. And he may do that just by staying out of his way.

[17:35:03] You know, it is hard to say that there is one personality type that would work here. Kelly and Priebus were very different, but they both failed. You know, for all the wonderful things people are saying about Kelly now that he is a dead man walking, he was not able to bring order to the White House. He wasn't able to get control over the tweeting and he wasn't able to get control or access to the president.

And he actually didn't serve himself well with some of the stunts he pulled in the White House like the briefing where he told reporters that only those who knew Gold Star families could ask a question. So, I think that you see Nick Ayers turning down the idea of him becoming chief of staff because he sees that it is really a losing proposition.

CABRERA: Doug, it's not just Kelly. There will soon be a new attorney general, a new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. I mean, these are some big roles. Is this just typical change of the guard?

BRINKLEY: No, this is a Trump administration unraveling. Nobody wants to have the name Donald Trump next to them on their resume. He is, you know, we just had multiple felony charges against the president by the Department of Justice and it's only going to get worse. Who wants to go sit in the White House with Donald Trump fuming and tweeting as this were in a crisis mode?

Perhaps constitutional crisis in the coming months. I think Ayers thought maybe I could do it for a few months and have it like hey, I came in as a good guy, but then he said I don't want to serve for two years. I'd rather be in Georgia. Finding who wants to do this job may be a Mike Mulvaney, the budget director might come in, but, you know, there is no -- Donald Trump has no loyalty to anybody.

And we were just mentioning Pence. If Trump survives all of these impeachment woes, I mean, he very likely will drop Pence in 2020 if he could convince somebody like Nicky Haley to join him. So, I think even Pence is starting to just stay quiet in case Trump folds his tent and he has to be the Gerald Ford figure of the moment, suddenly sworn in as president if Trump resigns or is impeached or possibly indicted.

CABRERA: Doug Brinkley, Michael D'Antonio, good to see you both. Thank you so much for your in insight and perspective.

He is Paul Paul Manafort's mystery man. A shadowy figure tied to the same Russian intel agencies accused of meddling in the 2016 election. Next, meet Manafort's manafort. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."

[17:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) CABRERA: Welcome back. Special counsel Robert Mueller's court filing on Friday outlined five new lies by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Two of those lies are about one man, Konstanin Kilimnik, a shadowy figure tied to the same Russian intel agencies accused of meddling in the 2016 election.

As campaign chairman, Manafort was Trump's rainmaker during the 2016 GOP convention. Kilimnik was a Russian national that "The Atlantic" refers to as "Manafort's Manafort. So, who is Konstanin Kilimnik? Well, to help answer that question, CNN's Fred Pleitgen is joining us now from Moscow. What more can you tell us, Fred, about Kilimnik?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. Well, he was not only referred to as Manafort's Manafort. He was also referred to apparently Manafort himself as his Russian brain. In other words, his big enabler who allowed him to do business in eastern Europe where of course Manafort didn't speak the local language. But this man clearly didn't -- clearly had contact as well.

There are two things that they essentially did. On the one hand, they worked a lot in Ukraine with the then pro-Russian government there, but also with a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who of course is very close to Valdimir Putin. So this man extremely important for the "success" that Paul Manafort had while he was working there in Ukraine and apparently remained important to him afterwards as well.

As far as the Mueller investigation is concerned, they say that Manafort lied about allegedly not meeting with Kilimnik when he was chairman of the Trump campaign in 2016 and then in fact, there had been two meetings between Manafort and Kilimnik, obviously on very important matters.

And then even after Paul Manafort was arrested, that Kilimnik apparently tried to tamper with witnesses in order for them not to testify against Paul Paul Manafort. So, very, very important figure and a very shady one. I want that to get back to the fact that you were saying he's a shadowy figure. He certainly is.

There are pictures that we were showing there at the beginning, that is pretty much all we have about him. There is a couple of other pictures out there, but really not very much so, clearly someone who doesn't want to be out there in the spotlight, Ana.

CABRERA: Is there any chance he could be extradited to the U.S. to face questioning by Mueller and his team?

PLEITGEN: Of course very important question -- very important question also for the Mueller team as well. This is not the first time that he was mentioned by the Mueller investigation. There was another indictment against him in June as well. So that was also very important. The chances of him actually being brought to the U.S. though very, very slim.

Kilimnik apparently lived in Kiev in Ukraine until this year when all of a sudden he moved to Russia to the outskirts of Moscow many people believe. So right now it seems as though he is very much out of the reach of the investigators of the Mueller investigation even though he seems to be a very, very important figure in all of the investigations going forward, Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thanks for helping us to connect some of the dots here.

The worst may still be yet to come. Snow, wind and ice pummeling the southeast and in most places, there is plenty more weather to come.

[17:45:04] These are live pictures now of the roads near Richmond, Virginia. Details on where this storm is headed, next. You're live in the "CNN Newsroom."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: A massive winter storm is pounding the southeast right now dumping more than a foot of snow in some places. And more than 20 million people are under some kind of winter weather alert right now. Earlier today, more than will 400,000 homes in the region had no power, the bulk of in North Carolina. Officials say to expect days of transportation delays.

[17:50:00]More than 1,000 flights in and out of Charlotte have already been canceled and hundreds more are now canceled for tomorrow as well. CNN's Polo Sandoval has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A state-wide emergency being declared in North Carolina where residents are hunkering down. On Sunday morning, Governor Roy Cooper described the incoming storm as mammoth in size. It's packing a punch with snow, sleet and eventually rain making for a flooding threat. Governor Cooper warning residents to stay home Sunday.

ROY COOPER, GOVERNOR OF NORTH CAROLINA: Don't put your life and the lives of first responders at risk by getting out on roads covered with snow and ice. Instead, stay put if you can. Wrap a few presents, decorate the tree. Watch some football.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): As much as six inches of snow might fall in the city of Charlotte warn experts. Ice accumulation could also make it to an inch and a half. The storm made its presence known in the lone star state Saturday. Lubbock, Texas received 10 inches of snow, two inches more than the city usually gets in a whole year.

Officials there took to Twitter warning people about black ice and freezing fog. The north Carolina State Highway Patrol has responded to at least 500 vehicle collisions and over 1,000 weather-related calls per service. American Airlines reports it cancelled 1,100 flights for Sunday and hundreds more on Monday. This December dose of winter weather is likely to make travel treacherous for the work week ahead. Polo Sandoval, CNN, in York.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: And take a look at this winter wonderland where the parents of one of my writers on this team, Jordan sent us pictures from Ashville, North Carolina. They've already had six inches of snow and it is still falling. It may look pretty, but again, conditions are dangerous and that city is now dealing with a lot of traffic accidents, power outages and school closures.

Now back to one our big stories, a lot of new information to unpack in the Russia investigation. The president tweeting he is totally cleared. Well, today a Democratic member of Congress says the president could face jail time, so which is it? Just ahead here in the "CNN Newsroom." We will lay it all out for you. What we know about Trump, Russia, and possible collusion.

[17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CABRERA: It truly is the most wonderful time of the year, the time when we honor some of the best humanity has to offer, CNN Heores. These are 10 extraordinary people who are doing extraordinary things around the world and we can't wait to see who gets tonight's top honor.

We hope you will join CNN's Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa as they announce the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year. You can watch the program live here at 8:00 p.m. eastern on CNN and our Athena Jones is on the red carpet for us tonight. Athena, set the scene.

ATHENA JONES, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi Ana. Well, we are already seeing some excitement here on the red carper with these top 10 CNN Heroes who have begun to arrive. As you mentioned, this is a night of feel good stories. We're celebrating service and selflessness. So many of the stories we cover on CNN deal with conflict and strife and tragedy and scandal.

This is a night to tell hopeful stories about everyday people who are changing the world, changing the lives of people in their community and all over the country. I have one with me here, college student Maria Rose Belding who has a program called MEANS where you feed the hungry. You've distributed already more than 2 million pounds of food to folks who needed all around the country. Tell us briefly how it works and why it is such an important thing to do?

MARIA ROSE BELDING, CNN HERO: All right. MEANS is actually pretty simple. Basically, we built this online platform which is MEANSdatabase.org that allows grocery stores or restaurants or caterers or anybody who makes food for a living to just fill out a 30- second form and say, I've got these, who needs it. And then we automatically notify every soup kitchen, homeless shelter, church, mosques, synagogues, feeding people in need. So we are able to match the excess and the hunger very, very quickly.

JONES: And this is happening all across the country. You've established this now all across the country helping say, a shelter in one place like Rhode Island is a successful story.

BELDING: Exactly. JONES: Get hamburger meat from a casino or somewhere else. Talk about the problem of food waste. You recognized this at a young age and can it be solved? I mean, you're working to solve it now, what more needs to be done and what's your goal?

BELDING: We have about 46 million Americans relying on food pantries and we throw away up to 40 percent of our food supply. That is so incredibly fixable. The things that make people hungry, poverty and lack of education and racism and sexism, that's very complicated but the solution to hunger itself i right in front of us. We've got it. We just have to care enough to use it more wisely.

JONES: It's about using technology to link people. Anyway, congratulations on being one of the top 10 honorees --

BELDING: Thank you.

JONES: And good luck tonight.

BELDING: Thank you.

JONES: We'll be finding out later on which of these top 10, every one of them gets $10,000, but the CNN Hero of the Year, the big reveal at the end of the night, that person will get $100,000 and furtherance of their programs and their service. So, again, Ana, a real feel good night. We're celebrating hopeful stories, ordinary folks giving back and it's going to be a star-studded event.

Of course, any award show gala is going to have a big musical performance. Tonight, it's Lenny Kravitz and we're also expecting to see here on the red carpet, folks like Will Ferrell and Brian Cranston, Danai Gurira from "The Walking Dead" and a long list of folks here to celebrate this impressive list of heroes whoa are selflessly serving others, Ana.

CABRERA: All these individuals are so deserving of tonight's award. Thank you, Athena Jones, and you look very beautiful tonight my friend. We'll check back in with you shortly.

JONES: Thanks.

[18:00:02] CABRERA: Top of the hour, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are in the "CNN Newsroom."