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U.K. Prime Minister Back in Brussels to Shore Up Brexit Deal; Christmas Market Shooting Suspect Killed by Police; Canada Caught in Crossfire of China-U.S. Row; U.S. Senate Votes to End Military Support for War; Two Israeli Soldiers Killed in West Bank; Yemen's Warring Parties Agree To Ceasefire In Hodeidah; Trump: I Never Directed Cohen "To Do Anything Wrong"; Alleged Russian Spy Pleads Guilty In Federal Court. Aired 12m-1a ET
Aired December 14, 2018 - 00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An uphill battle for Theresa May: one day after surviving a no confidence vote, the British prime minister tries to convince skeptical E.U. lawmakers to sweeten their deal.
Also ahead, transpacific payback: a second Canadian has been detained by Beijing in a move that many see as retaliation for the arrest of a famous Chinese executive.
And a bit of optimism in a long and deadly conflict: bitter rivals in Yemen's war agree to halt fighting in a major flashpoint.
Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers all over the world. I'm George Howell. The CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: Around the world, good day to you.
We start with Brexit and the British prime minister Theresa May, spending a second day in Brussels, as she hopes the European Union will help to bail out her Brexit deal.
E.U. leaders on Thursday showed some sympathy for Ms. May, one day after she survived a confidence vote triggered by her own party. But they seemed bewildered over what she wanted them to say or do. We get more now from Erin McLaughlin covering this story.
ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, British prime minister Theresa May had hoped to convince the E.U. 27 to commit to a package of reassurances, to help her get this Brexit deal over the line in Westminster. Instead, she offered little in the form of clarity, saying that she
hoped the U.K. and the E.U. could work together to break this impasse, saying that she is trustworthy, arguing, quote, "Over the last two years, I hope I have shown you can trust me to do what is right, not always what is easy, however difficult that might be for me politically."
The message from the E.U. 27 in response?
The onus is on the U.K. to figure out how to fix this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION (through translator): If we go into negotiations on the future relationship, we need to have a well-constructed proposal and cogent ideas from our British partners and friends.
And then we'll look at that. I do find it uncomfortable that there is an impression, perhaps in the U.K., that it is for the E.U. to propose solutions. It is the U.K. leaving the E.U. and I would have thought it was up to the British government to tell us exactly what they want.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: So where does this leave Theresa May?
In yet another precarious position as she returns to London with very little to show for her latest Brexit summit -- Erin McLaughlin, CNN, Brussels.
HOWELL: CNN's European Affairs Commentator Dominic Thomas joins us this hour from Los Angeles. Dominic, a pleasure to have you.
DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN, EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: Hi, George.
HOWELL: What are the chances that the E.U. will help Theresa May out are given that they've made it very quite clear, very crystal clear that this is the last deal this is the only deal and there's no room for renegotiation.
THOMAS: Right. Well, at this point there's a sort of a game of tennis taking place you know over the channel where Theresa May keeps going back and forth. And what the European Union is saying to her the problem is not with us. Secondly, the European Union is concerned that the -- that the dynamic will shift in such a way that they will be blamed for any kind of failure and they've got their own problems they want to deal with.
What's so extraordinary is that Theresa May keeps going to Europe to try and sweeten the deal but the real issue she faces are back at home where she is not sufficiently consulting and with the various constituencies who while she is away all conspiring to either overthrow her or to come up with a variation of the deal.
And ultimately the European Union has set a red line when it comes to Northern Ireland that they do not want to compromise the question of the border over the deal. And the same red line is the one that she faces back in the United Kingdom.
But beyond that, the Labour Party and other and other parties are more interested in seeing her PM-ship come to an end,
HOWELL: You talk about that red line, the border between Northern
Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, this backstop arrangement that really doesn't seem to have any easy solution to it, Dominic.
Can the E.U. offer any degree of clarity that could help the British prime minister to push this through Parliament?
THOMAS: Ultimately, the answer to that is no. It's very simple. The E.U. -- the U.K. wants to leave the European Union. If you remain in the European Union, you solve the border problem.
THOMAS: If you remain in the customs union and the single market, you can potentially solve the border problem. And if Northern Ireland joins up with the Republic of Ireland and becomes a united country, that would also solve the problem. That's probably the most unlikely scenario.
But ultimately if you leave the European Union, the European Union is absolutely determined to not compromise the integrity of its borders, of its customs union and of the single market.
And if that's what you want to do without signing up and going along with that, then that border is going to come up between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
And so that's just one of the issues and that she faces.
But I still think that we've gone beyond that particular issue right now and that there are far greater issues that she faces both within her party where a 117 people voted just the other day and of no confidence and the Labour Party, the Scottish National Party in the Liberal Democrats that want some kind of path to a general election which they believe they are going to do well in.
HOWELL: OK. Let's push just a bit further into a British politics. Given where we are right now, the British prime minister surviving this vote of no confidence and Brexit still inching along though still quite unpopular.
Does it give rise to the possibility of other options like of course no deal?
Does it raise the possibility somewhere down the line of a second referendum? THOMAS: Yes. Well, there's all these are possibilities and nobody really knows where this could go. If there was a referendum, George, the question would be what would the question of the referendum be.
Would it be, shall we remain or leave the European Union?
Do we accept Theresa May's deal or no deal and there are all kinds of options along those line?
Do we revoke Article 50 or not?
So a lot of unpredictability there.
And there is, of course, a possibility in two kinds of directions that yes she survived and the no-confidence vote in her party that was in a way the easiest one to trigger because it only required 15 percent of Conservative MPs to push for that and then a straight up-and-down vote within the party. She survived that. She was weakened but she survived that.
But Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the opposition could also and put down and request a motion of no confidence.
Calling for a general election is more complicated. He'd need two- thirds of the vote but he could table a motion of no confidence and for that, it could be a straight up and down vote. And if you win by one, you force a general election.
The one thing to remember here is that the hardcore Brexiteers, their whole reason for living is to make sure that the Brexit deal goes ahead. And, secondly, they wanted to go ahead on their terms.
They have nothing to lose in fighting and in disrupting. They've been doing this for years in European politics one could argue and British politics.
The question will be at what point does Theresa May -- it would seem inconceivable for her to let this go all the way to another meaningful vote on the 21st of January -- is what is she going to do between now and then?
Is she going to reach out to those that are looking for either a softer Brexit and so on?
Or are we going to be faced with more potential disruption as we head into the holidays?
But you're absolutely right, if nothing happens at the end of March, the U.K. will end up leaving the European Union. And there doesn't seem to be much appetite for a no deal.
HOWELL: Dominic Thomas, we appreciate your time joining us from Los Angeles. Thank you.
THOMAS: Thanks, George.
HOWELL: The gunman who carried out the shooting attack at a Christmas market in France is dead.
French prosecutors say police killed 29-year-old Cherif Chekatt after a two-day manhunt. They spotted him in a neighborhood of Strasbourg on Thursday. He opened fire on the officers when they tried to question him. Police fired back, killing him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHE CASTANER, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): My thoughts go to the victims. My thoughts go to the injured. My thoughts go to their loved ones. My thoughts go to Strasbourg and to France that has been struck by this attack.
But my thoughts also go to security services, who have been totally committed. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud, proud of us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Accused of killing three people and wounding 13 others in that market attack. Police are thanking the public for their assistance in helping to find him.
A diplomatic dispute between the United States between Canada and China is intensifying. China now says two Canadians, you see here, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrik, are under suspicion. They're being detained on suspicion of activities that endangered China's national security.
Experts warn this could be retaliation for the arrest of Huawei's CFO, Meng Wanzhou. Canadians arrested her earlier this month on behalf of the United States.
Let's bring in CNN's Will Ripley, following the story live in Hong Kong.
Will, what more are you hearing from Chinese officials and Canadian authorities about the detention of these two men?
WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the two countries have very different views about this situation. Canada finding itself --
RIPLEY: -- really caught right in the middle between a rock and a hard place. Its two largest trading partners, the U.S. and China, putting pressure on Canada. The U.S. asked Canada to arrest Meng Wanzhou. They did that. The U.S. wants her extradited to America, where she could face up to 30 years in prison on charges of evading Iran sanctions.
Canada, you know, on the U.S. side, says it's fulfilling its extradition treaty obligations. China sees it very differently. They view Canada as doing the dirty work of the United States. They believe that Meng's arrest engineered by the Americans as kind of a dirty trick at the height of trade war negotiations.
She was taken into custody on the same day Presidents Trump and Xi sat down in Argentina and hammered out a temporary truce. So the Chinese are demanding Canada immediately release Meng. They were infuriated that she was granted bail but not allowed to leave the country.
She is in one of her homes under constant supervision on $7.5 million bond. If China doesn't get what it wants, Meng's immediate return home, they have promised grave consequences that Canada may face, including a heavy price for that country to pay.
Whether the arrests of these two Canadians are retaliation or not, George, the timing certainly highly suspicious.
HOWELL: Will, what can you tell us about the background of these two men?
So Michael Spavor has an interesting background because he lives on the border with North Korea in China. He has gone back and forth many times. He arranged Dennis Rodman's famous trip to Pyongyang a few years back when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And he is well-known to a lot of us who go in and out of North Korea.
We all have kind of a group where occasionally we message on our phones that we now believe has probably been monitored by the Chinese government because they seized Michael Spavor's phone.
You have a lot of people nervous going in and out of China right now, given some of the things that might have been shared between journalists in an off-the-record type of conversation on the phone.
Michael Kovrig is a former diplomat, very well-known in China, believed to be pro-Beijing in many regards. He has high-level political connections in that country, yet both of these men on the same day were taken into custody and are now facing charges of endangering the national security of China, potentially very serious.
And while we don't know for a fact that this is in any way connected to Canada's arrest of Meng Wanzhou, we do know that in the past China has a track record: if China is upset with the actions of a particular country, they target individuals and businesses in that country.
They find loopholes in the law or things that might be violations, that would have been overlooked before but that China can turn around and bring about some very serious action.
Is that happening right now?
Look, no official confirmation of that from China, George. But when you have two Canadians arrested a week and a half after this very-high profile CFO was taken into custody, obviously a lot of people are asking that question.
HOWELL: China initially said the timing seemed interesting in the case of the CFO of Huawei and now again the timing, Will, seems interesting. Will Ripley, live for us in Hong Kong. Thank you for the reporting. We'll stay in touch with you.
Still ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, a handshake and a ceasefire. Why a milestone in Yemen is only a glimmer of light in a very dark crisis there.
Plus the U.S. president breaking his silence on the sentencing of his former attorney. What the president said about accusations that Michael Cohen broke the law at his direction. Stay with us. You're watching NEWSROOM.
HOWELL: Welcome back to NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.
In Washington on Thursday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It's expected to die, though, in the House. Senator Bernie Sanders is one of the bill's sponsors. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VT.: I want to thank all of the senators, who, in a very bipartisan way, have come together to say that the United States will no longer participate in the Saudi-led -- in the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, which has caused the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth, with 85,000 children already starving to death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: Bernie Sanders there.
The Senate also passed a resolution condemning the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That puts pressure on the U.S. president, Donald Trump, who has supported Saudi Arabia and the crown prince.
If that measure passes the House, it then goes to the president's desk and there he will either side with Congress and sign the bill or the president of the United States will side with Saudi Arabia and veto it.
A major milestone to tell you about also in the war on Yemen. A cease-fire in the rebel held port city of Hudaydah. This came in the form of a handshake, as you saw right here, between Yemen's internationally recognized government supported by Saudi Arabia and the Iranian backed Houthi rebels.
But this war is far from over. Neither is the suffering of the people on the ground there. Our Nima Elbagir has details for you -- and a warning, this does contain disturbing images.
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The figures are absolutely appalling: 60,000 believed to have died just since January 2016 in Yemen's three-year-long civil war; 24 million people believed to be in urgent humanitarian need. And the U.N. says now that it will need $4 billion to meet those needs.
But finally, perhaps, a glimmer of hope. The warring parties, the rivals in Yemen's civil war, shaking hands. And the foreign minister representing the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, telling us this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHALED AL-YAMARI, FOREIGN MINISTER: There will be a security community established by the government and the rebels with the presence of the U.N. team of military experts. They will overlook the process of withdrawals from the city.
We expect that, during the next four days, we will see the hosts leaving the seaport of Hudaydah and the next 14 days we see them withdrawing from the city. Our forces also will relocate outside of the city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELBAGIR: But what does that mean in practical terms?
Will life on the ground change and change quickly enough to help those people who need it the most?
The short answer is no. The withdrawal from Hudaydah and other key ports, that's going to take over two weeks.
There has been an agreement over humanitarian corridors to allow for the movement of civilians to safe areas. But that doesn't really have a timeline. What they have achieved is incredibly symbolic and incredibly important.
But for the people on the ground, will it come soon enough?
So many of those we're speaking to are saying, no, that they have suffered so much. Their fear is that they will continue to suffer. There is hope, though, in the agreement to at least talk some more. The talks are expected to be picked up. Negotiations are expected to be picked up at the end of January and that at least allows for there to be an exhalation --
ELBAGIR: -- a moment of respite. The warring parties agree that negotiation is the only way forward, an acknowledgment that there can only be a peaceful political solution to the realities on the ground in Yemen -- Nima Elbagir, CNN, London.
HOWELL: Nima, thank you for the report.
Let's talk with Suze van Meegen, the Yemen protection and advocacy adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, joining us this hour from Amman, Jordan.
Thank you again for taking time with us.
SUZE VAN MEEGEN, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: Thank you, George.
HOWELL: Let's talk about the nature of this particular cease-fire, it is a breakthrough without question.
But what does it mean on the ground and are there aspects that fall short in your view?
VAN MEEGEN: I think the agreement we saw come through today or yesterday, depending where you are in the world, is a phenomenal breakthrough and beyond anything we hoped for.
Having said that, of course, the excitement that many of us feel about a piece of paper and a handshake will not even register for the Yemenis on the ground until they see meaningful, concrete actions that allow them to start returning home and accessing food.
The agreement does contain a number of concrete and very important steps that will if implemented see a significant difference of people in Yemen. It will allow people to move safely. It will allow food to move safely and it will start building conflict that parties are serious about ending the violence.
But again, none of those mean anything until we see them take place.
HOWELL: So to your point, this ceasefire is one thing but the humanitarian crisis on the ground that we've seen, the suffering of families, of father, mothers, children at the hands of disease, starvation, continues to be a major problem that doesn't really resolve itself with a handshake.
Where do things go from here?
VAN MEEGEN: Well, we're interested to see where things go from here from a political standpoint. But what we do know is, irrespective of the way in which this is implemented, millions of people will continue to need humanitarian aid in Yemen.
The number of people now that are unable to confirm whether or not they'll eat today is upward of the number of people that live in New York State. We're talking about 20 million people that are hungry -- and not hungry in the way you and I conceive of it -- but hungry in a way that means they haven't eaten sufficient amounts of food for months and months on end.
A ceasefire will go some way to helping that situation. When the bombs stop falling, people are safe and things can move, move around the country. But making a dent in the humanitarian crisis will take months, if not years.
HOWELL: Suze, how much would you say pressure on Saudi Arabia, especially since the death of Jamal Khashoggi, how much would you say that pressure, international pressure has played in what we're seeing play out right now?
VAN MEEGEN: Well, we saw significant steps taken in the U.S. yesterday that are showing a changing tide of opinion on Yemen. For those of us that have been working in Yemen, in a war that has lasted more than three and a half years, it's been both frustrating and encouraging to see the recent change.
This crisis isn't new. It's something we've been warning about for several years. Recently, we did see this exchange happen with the tragic death of Jamal Khashoggi.
And while it's very good and positive to see a change for the people in Yemen, we hope that it wasn't one incident that drew attention to that. We hope the world will continue to pay attention to this crisis, which is, undoubtedly, the absolute worst we have in the world.
HOWELL: Suze van Meegen, we appreciate your time and perspective on this. We'll stay in touch.
VAN MEEGEN: Thank you.
HOWELL: The Israeli military says that a gunman shot and killed two of its soldiers. This happened at a bus stop in the West Bank. As CNN's Oren Liebermann reports, the attack was just one more act of violence in week already filled with violence.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is at this bus stop just before noon local time on Thursday that the Israeli military says two people, a gunman and a driver, stopped their car, got out and started driving, killing two Israelis and wounding two more.
In fact, if you take a closer look at the bus stop here, you can see some of the bullet holes from the shooting. The Israeli military says the two fled in the car towards the Palestinian city of Ramallah. It is because of that, that the military has blocked entrances and exits from Ramallah as the manhunt continues for the perpetrators of --
LIEBERMANN: -- this attack. This comes less than a week after another shooting attack just a couple of kilometers up the road from where we're standing now. In that attack, seven Israelis were wounded, including a pregnant mother. Her baby was delivered in an emergency early but passed away overnight.
Following that raid overnight, the Israeli military carried out raids, shooting and killing one of the suspects from that attack and arresting another one of the Palestinian suspects. In another overnight raid, the Israeli military shot and killed a
Palestinian suspect from a shooting more than two months ago in which two Israelis were killed. That gives you an idea of the tensions here that have been simmering in the West Bank, that exploded in the past week as we have seen.
Because of that, in part, the Israeli military has added more infantry here, first in a defensive effort to try thwart any type of copycat attacks or other attacks and then as they said, in an offensive effort trying to catch those responsible -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, in the West Bank.
HOWELL: Oren, thank you.
The U.S. president attempts to distance himself from the crimes of his former attorney. What the president said about allegations that he directed Michael Cohen to break the law.
HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers all over the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for being with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.
HOWELL: The U.S. President's inaugural committee is being investigated for possible financial abuses. A source telling CNN that federal prosecutors are investigating whether the committee misspent some of the donations it raised for the 2017 inauguration.
The committee denies any wrongdoing and says it's unaware of any investigation. The story was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. On Thursday, one of its reporters told CNN the investigation is also locking into whether donors gave money to gain access to the Trump administration. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: This is about pay to play, about access, about essentially people giving money in order to get access. Is that correct?
REBECCA DAVIS O'BRIEN, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I think that's where you see, you know, that this is not just a stemming from the Michael Cohen investigation, but also touches on aspects of the Special Counsel's investigation.
I mean, we don't know what exactly -- what crimes, if any, have been committed, and what would be charged, but I think, part of this is certainly looking at what these donors gave and what they expected or what they received.
But it's also partly about what happened with the inaugural committee's expenditures, and, you know, what exactly were they paying $103 million for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOWELL: The inauguration probe partly originated from another investigation, this, the federal investigation of Former Trump Attorney, Michael Cohen. On Thursday, the U.S. President spoke out about his former fixer and attempted to distance himself from Cohen's financial charges.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny has this report for you.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me tell you, I never directed him to do anything wrong.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump speaking out today, against his long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, saying the charges that led to Cohen's three-year prison sentence, were intended to embarrass the President.
TRUMP: Because what he did was all unrelated to me, except for the two campaign finance charges that are not criminal and shouldn't have been on there. They put that on to embarrass me. They put those two charges on to embarrass me.
ZELENY: But the President's views spelled out in a flurry of tweets and an interview with FOX News is at odds with the facts. He insisted that the campaign finance charges against Cohen, relating to the hush money payments to porn stars, Stormy Daniels and Playboy playmate, Karen McDougal, weren't criminal.
TRUMP: Michael Cohen pled guilty to something that's not even a crime.
ZELENY: But that's not true. The charges are criminal, and part of the reason Cohen received a prison sentence of three years, along with tax evasion, bank fraud and lying to Congress.
The President, increasingly isolated as friends turned on him, including National Enquirer publisher, David Pecker, who accepted immunity from federal prosecutors about the hush money payments, but the President also trying to muddy the waters on that front.
TRUMP: Let me just tell you about that tabloid. I don't think, and I have to go check, I don't think they even paid any money to that tabloid, OK? I don't think we made a payment to that tabloid. ZELENY: Though it appears to be true, Trump didn't pay American Media Inc., federal prosecutors say Trump directed the company to pay McDougal, to keep her from telling her story about an alleged affair, during the 2016 campaign.
The President had kinder words for another one-time friend, Former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, fired by Trump, and now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.
While Trump said Flynn didn't lie --
TRUMP: I have a feeling that maybe he didn't. He's a tougher kind of a guy than Cohen. But, they took a general that they said didn't lie, and they convinced him he did lie, and he made some kind of a deal.
ZELENY: That's precisely what Flynn pleaded guilty to, lying to the FBI, and is now awaiting sentencing.
Now, that sentencing is scheduled for next week. That too, is a criminal charge. But the Special Counsel's office has recommended that Michael Flynn received no prison time, in exchange for his "substantial assistance" in the Russia investigation.
No word exactly what that is. That is one of the many questions hanging over us here, at the White House, likely to be revealed, next week.
Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.
HOWELL: Jeff, thanks.
Another case under close scrutiny, this one involves a female spy, who now admits she was working in the United States on behalf of Russia. CNN's Jessica Schneider has these details for you.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Alleged Russian spy, Maria Butina, admits she conspired to act as a an illegal foreign agent, saying she was under the direction of Russian official Alexander Torshin, who recently resigned from the Central Bank of Russia.
Butina was succinct, guilty, she told the judge, while she stood at the court room podium wearing her green jumpsuit, with her signature long red hair, braided down her back.
A.J. KRAMER, PUBLIC DEFENDER OF BUTINA: She was satisfied with her lawyers who made the decision voluntarily.
SCHNEIDER: The 30-year-old once portrayed herself as simply a graduate student in Washington D.C., who had founded a gun rights group in Russia.
MARIA BUTINA, ALLEGED RUSSIAN SPY: My story is simple. My father is a hunter. I was born in Siberia.
[00:35:02] SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors say Butina's conspiracy kicked off in 2015 when she drafted a proposal for Torshin and others, titled, Description of the Diplomacy Project. It detailed Butina's plot to infiltrate the Republican Party, specifically through the National Rifle Association, which she viewed as having influence over the GOP.
The plea agreement reveals that Butina, allegedly, worked more extensively than previously known, with American Conservative Activist Paul Erickson, whom she describes as her boyfriend.
PAUL ERICKSON, ACTIVIST AND LAWYER: Neither one prepared, beauty and the beast.
SCHNEIDER: The two, looking lovingly at each other in this video, released by Erickson's attorney. But prosecutors say Erickson allegedly gave Butina information about prominent U.S. political figures and insight into the 2016 presidential election.
As part of her ploy, Butina proposed getting $125,000 from a Russian billionaire, to fund the meetings and conferences she attended, where she hobnobbed with Republican political figures. At one event, Butina even asked then-candidate Donald Trump, a question, in 2015.
BUTINA: If you would be elected as the president, what would be your foreign politics, especially, in the relationships with my country?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK?
SCHNEIDER: In April 2015, Butina attended the National Rifle Association Convention, where she met with current Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, who shortly, thereafter, announced his short lived presidential run. Butina also invited NRA members to Moscow, where they met with high-level Russian officials in December 2015.
And after the trip, told Torshin, we should let them express their gratitude now. We will put pressure on them, quietly, later. And as recently as 2017, Butina works with Torshin to get a Russian delegation together to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. She shared the list of attendees with Erickson and told him the group was coming to establish a back channel of communication.
The Russian foreign ministry says Butina only pleaded guilty to survive. But in court, Maria Butina said her mind was absolutely clear, despite the Russian government claiming that she was tortured by the U.S.
And while her lawyers had previously said that her solitary confinement was having negative effects on her, psychologically, they now say Butina's mental state has improved, since she's been allowed to leave her cell at night, for activities like church, and meeting with a Russian orthodox minister.
She is facing up to five years in prison and she'll remain in that jail cell through her sentencing date, that's on February 12th. Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.
HOWELL: Jessica, thank you for the report. You are watching NEWSROOM. We'll be right back after the break.
HOWELL: Londoners use their famed wit to troll The New York Times, in an effort to understand how London police responding to minor crimes in the city. The newspaper appealed to its readers on twitter, with this.
Have you experienced a petty crime in London? Click to tell us your story, it said. But the request backfired when thousands of sarcastic Brits responded with their so-called petty crimes.
[00:40:09] Actor Chris O'Dowd tweeted this, blooming chimney sweep pinched me petticoat, the cheeky sod. #PettyCrime.
A writer, Molly Goodfellow, tweeted this. I was once pickpocketed by an old man and his gang of orphan children, making a not so veiled reference, of course, to Oliver twist.
And Buzzfeed T.V. editor, Scott Brian commented, once I doffed my hat to someone and they didn't doff their hat back.
There it is. There is a job that's open at the White House, but who wants it? President Donald Trump is looking for a new chief of staff. The problem seems to be, though, is having trouble finding anyone who wants it.
CNN's Jeanne Moos looks at who might be willing to take that job.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the list of finalists to replace John Kelly, shrinks --
TRUMP: Five people, really good ones.
MOOS: The jokes expand.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Trump found out yesterday that his second pick, Colonel Sanders, isn't available.
TREVOR NOAH, HOST, THE DAILY SHOW: So many Americans don't want this job. Trump might have to let a Mexican do it.
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON: If anyone here wants to be President Trump's chief of staff, just raise your hand and the job is yours.
MOOS: Sure, there have been volunteers. Former baseball slugger, Jose Canseco, pitched himself for the job, in a tweet, but probably won't get it after telling little buddy, the President, worried about you looking more like a Twinkie every day. I will buff you up daily workouts.
British commentator Piers Morgan also applied, promising that if the President is doing something dumb, he would tell him.
PIERS MORGAN, T.V. PRESENTER, GOOD MORNING BRITAIN: And if you continue to do it, you're an idiot. Don't do it.
MOOS: Given the tone of the average --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He can't even get people on the D list.
MOOS: No wonder, the President is described as super pissed.
SETH MEYERS, HOST, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS: Apparently, he crossed his arms so hard, they went all the way around.
MOOS: He's been getting lots of unsolicited advice.
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT: He should try, me harmony.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have one word for him, Anderson, craigslist.
MOOS: But the President says --
TRUMP: We have a lot of people that want the job, chief of staff.
MOOS: Whoa, discrimination. Why limit it to people? Obama's official photographer suggested Bow, the dog, he's smart, doesn't leak in the Oval, has never talked to a Russian.
And a New Yorker cartoon recommended the Central Park Mandarin duck, noting, his approval ratings are through the roof.
We did find one eager applicant, using the twitter name, No One. No One says, I want to be Trump's White House Chief of Staff. That takes guts, considering what's happened to the previous chiefs hired by the magician, in the White House.
Jeanne Moos, CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Abracadabra!
MOOS: New York.
HOWELL: Thank you for being with us for CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN center in Atlanta. "WORLD SPORT" is next, right after the break.