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U.S. Ambassador Visits American Detained in Russia; Pelosi Poised to Reclaim House Speakership; Supreme Court May Act Soon in Mueller-Related Mystery Case. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired January 3, 2019 - 10:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. The family of the American detained in Russia right now, detained, I should note, on spy charges, says they did not know about his previous military discharge. Paul Whelan was discharged for bad conduct after being convicted of larceny. His brother tells "NPR" that Whelan is, quote, "not a law breaker."

We have also learned than U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman met with Whelan in a Russian detention facility yesterday. This is really important. Because there was a 72-hour window before that could happen. That window closed since, of course, Paul Whelan was detained on Friday, and now, Huntsman, the ambassador, has had this meeting.

Let's go to our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski with the latest. We've learned a lot, Michelle, in the last 24 hours. And especially from the ambassador's visit. What can you tell us?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: After five days, we are now going into his sixth day of detention on suspicion of espionage. Just yesterday, he was allowed to have this counselor visit, finally. I mean, I have found there hasn't been that much information emerging. Just yesterday, the Secretary of State himself, Mike Pompeo, said he was waiting to see what exactly the information was that the Russians are claiming they have against Whelan.

So it's been a while for the Russians to come up with any information, and virtually none publicly on what exactly they think he did. But his family was heartened that he was able to have this meeting, finally, again, after five days with the U.S. official. Here's some of how they described that meeting.


DAVID WHELAN, BROTHER OF U.S. CITIZEN DETAINED IN RUSSIA: He spoke with my brother. Paul's second brother, and explained that the embassy staff had had an opportunity to see Paul and that Paul seemed to be healthy under the circumstances, healthy and in good condition. And the embassy staff were able to take some requests from Paul, some lists of things that he needed. And just to do a general checkup and share with us information about now how we could proceed to the next steps of helping him.


KOSINSKI: So, now this goes through the Russian court system. He may have a lawyer now. His family was talking about learning from this visit that Paul Whelan was able to have with the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, about how the family could get money to him, how he could go about getting a lawyer.

[10:35:08] And I did talk to a Russian diplomat this morning who couldn't give any detail on what they say that Whelan did while he was in Russia, why they arrested him and are accusing him of espionage. The diplomat would only quote the official state news report in Russia saying that he was suspected of espionage and that he could face between 10 and 20 years behind bars if he's convicted of this, Poppy.

HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us. Please keep us posted. Thanks.

Nancy Pelosi is about to take back the speaker role, only the second person to be speaker for the second time, was not an easy road to get here. Dana Bash recently joined her where that road started, and she got a strong message for women hoping to follow her lead.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I do it because I want women to see that you do not get pushed around. And you don't run away from the fight.



[10:40:44] HARLOW: Welcome back. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi poised to become House speaker for the second time in her career. Only one other person has ever done that. Shortly after the new Congress is sworn in at noon, Pelosi is expected to be voted in as Paul Ryan's replacement. If and when that happens, that's happening, by the way. Again, she'll be the second person to do that, joining Sam Rayburn.

Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash joins me now. I am old enough to remember when there was a kerfuffle over whether or not she was going to get the votes needed. She's going to get it. And you recently took a really interesting trip with her back to where it all started.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that is Baltimore, yesterday on CNN, her youngest daughter, Alexandra, said of her mother that she will cut your head off and you won't even know you're bleeding. Well, that's the tough. Some even say scary side of Nancy Pelosi. But there are many other sides. She's practical. She's empathetic. And she is tireless. All of those and more equal what she has done to get her to where she is today, poised to take the gavel. Again, the first and only female speaker in American history.


BASH (on camera): This is your hood.


BASH (voice-over): To really know Nancy Pelosi, you go where it all started, Little Italy, in Baltimore. Where she was born to Congressman Tommy D'Alesandro and Anunciata D'Alesandro. When she was 6, her father became Baltimore's first Catholic mayor.

PELOSI: He leapfrogged over the Irish. That was a big deal, but it took a political organizing to do that.

BASH: Much has been made of Pelosi's father's influence on her. Less known is her mother's.

BASH (on camera): Your mom actually patented a device, the first device to apply steam to the face.


BASH: Basically, an at-home facial.

PELOSI: That's right.

BASH: That's incredible.

PELOSI: It was incredible.

BASH (voice-over): Pelosi says her father and the times held her mother back in many ways, but Anunciata D'Alesandro was a quiet force in politics.

PELOSI: My mother was very much a part of the organizing. My father was the orator, the public servant.

BASH (on camera): And your mother got stuff done.

PELOSI: Well, my brother called it her moccasin brigade, all of these women who would be part of getting the message out, being at events. There are two things about what I bring with me from my family in this regard. One is to know how to count. That's very important. Count your votes to win the election. Count your votes to win a vote on the floor. But the other is listen to the constituents.

BASH (voice-over): The D'Alesandro home was at the center of this Italian community, a vivid childhood memory helping new immigrants who knew where her father, the mayor, and his family lived and would regularly knock on their door asking for help.

PELOSI: Since I was a little girl, I knew how to tell somebody to get a bed in the city hospital, how to try to get housing in the projects because that's right here next to us. And because I heard my mother say it so many times.

BASH: After college, she wanted to go to law school. Instead, like many in her generation, she got married and started a family.

PELOSI: When I got married and I had a baby and another five and six years, people were always saying, oh, she knew when she was a little girl she wanted to run for office. I never thought of that at all ever, until I did.

BASH: The Pelosis moved back to husband Paul's hometown, San Francisco. She became more and more active in the Democratic Party, but it wasn't until her youngest daughter was a senior in high school that she ran for an open House seat.

PELOSI: I ran to her and said you're going to be a senior. Mommy has a chance to run for Congress. I don't even know if I'll win.

BASH (on camera): She said get a life.

PELOSI: She said get a life. And I did.

BASH (voice-over): When she first ran for House leadership 18 years ago, her male Democratic colleagues didn't get it.

PELOSI: When people said oh, a lot of the women are supporting Nancy to run, and they said why? Do the women have a list of things they want us to do? Why don't they make a list and give us the list? This is the Democratic Party in the year 2000.

BASH: She attributes her boundless energy to Italian genes. It's certainly not a balanced diet, dark chocolate and ice cream. Vaccaro has been her favorite since she was a little girl.

PELOSI: The chocolate. Not the chocolate chip, the chocolate. I like my chocolate unadulterated.

[10:45:01] BASH (on camera): How do you think that you wield your power as a woman differently than a man does?

PELOSI: Other people tell me if you're meeting or something, they would say, do you understand how different that meeting would have been if a man were conducting it?

BASH: Do they explain how?

PELOSI: Well, you listen. You build consensus.

BASH (voice-over): That's exactly what she did to get what she hopes will be enough votes for speaker again. Made compromises with Democratic doubters looking for someone new. Not her.

PELOSI: None of us is indispensable, but some of us are just better at our jobs than others. And I have a following in the country, apart from anybody who has run for president.

BASH (on camera): For most women, frankly, you know, myself included, it is hard to say those words. I am uniquely qualified, I deserve this. I earned this. I can do this better than anyone else. But you can say that. PELOSI: You know why I do it? I do it because I want women to see that you do not get pushed around. And you don't run away from the fight.


HARLOW: I'm so glad you said that last thing you said, Dana, because I feel like that all the time. And I don't think we actually say it enough. So I will work on that in 2019. That was fascinating. She doesn't like her chocolate - she likes her chocolate unadulterated. I didn't know that.

BASH: No white chocolate, no milk chocolate, dark chocolate period.

HARLOW: That's it. You know, she -- this time around is going to be different than her first time as speaker. And interestingly, I think that is exemplified in a concession she made a few weeks ago about agreeing to term limits for leadership, a concession that you know other leadership on the Democratic side, namely Steny Hoyer, they don't want to see that at all. So where does this go?

BASH: That, to me, was a classic case of what she told me in that interview, which is listen to your constituents. Not just the people she represents, but it's since she's a leader, the people who elect her to be leader. They are her constituents in a different way. And there was, you know, a pretty large number considering where she's come from, who were skeptical that she should be. Many of the new members who are going to be sworn in today, Poppy, ran against voting for the current leadership, Nancy Pelosi included.

So what she did was she agreed to term limits and she agreed to other concessions that they were asking for to show I'm listening, I get it. And the fact that at, you know, at her age and her station, the fact that she's made history, the fact that she's still willing to do that, shows why and how she came where she came from and where she got.

HARLOW: Certainly does. It's a great piece, Dana. Thanks very much for your reporting.

BASH: Thanks Poppy.

HARLOW: Still ahead, the Supreme Court may act soon in this mystery case that is related to the Mueller probe. We're going to tell you what it's all about next.


[10:52:24] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. We're awaiting a big significant decision from the Supreme Court at any moment that could decide whether an unnamed foreign owned company will have to continue paying these daily fines for avoiding a grand jury subpoena related to the Mueller probe, the special counsel's Russia probe.

Kara Scannell joins us now. A lot of firsts here, right, to have a Supreme Court case heard with both sides, you know, unnamed, the fact that this is a secret company. What's the significance here? KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Poppy, as you said, I mean this is all under seal, so there's a lot that we don't exactly know, but the issues behind this case is that a Mueller grand jury has asked this foreign-government owned company through subpoena for information, and the company has said that it shouldn't comply with the subpoena because it's foreign-government owned. And so therefore it's not subject to U.S. court jurisdiction. And also, they said if they did so, it would violate the company's own laws.

Now a judge disagreed with the company and said they have to comply with the subpoena and that -- if they don't do so, they will have to pay this daily fine. The company owned by the foreign government appealed that. The appeals court agreed with the lower court. And then over the holidays, the company asked the Supreme Court to weigh in.

So now we have Chief Justice John Roberts saying he would agree to this temporary halt to the fine and paperwork is now filed. We're waiting to see if the Supreme Court takes this up. If the court takes it up, and if there's a vote by five of the justices, lawyers I have spoken to indicate that this means that the Supreme Court might actually hear the merits of the case. If they don't, then the question becomes does this foreign government owned company continue to pay fines by not complying with the subpoena.

But the big question for us is who is this foreign government-owned company and what does Mueller want to know from that. And it's not clear that we'll ever get the answer to that. You know, it's not even clear if the Supreme Court will make any of this public. So it's hard to know exactly what the significance here is, but the fact that the Supreme Court is hearing this, that we might learn something hopefully about why the company doesn't want this information handed over to Mueller's investigators, and hopefully, we'll learn some of this as the case proceeds in court, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, totally shrouded in mystery and totally fascinating at the same time. Kara thanks very much.

In just over an hour, President Trump's world changes dramatically as Democrats take control of the House with the help of a record-setting number of women and minorities. Stay with us.


[10:59:21] HARLOW: All right. Space nerds, I love this one, a huge milestone in China's space program. This morning, China became the first country to successfully land a rover on the far side of the moon. Take a look at those images, the side of course that never faces the earth. These are the very first close-up images of that part of the moon that we have ever seen. The rover is also hoping to shed light on whether plants can grow in that low gravity environment. Pretty cool.

All right, thank you for joining me today. I'm Poppy Harlow. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning. "At This Hour" starts right now.

[11:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. Great to have you with us on this Thursday.