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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Interview With Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY); NY Prosecutor Weighs Historic Trump Indictment In Hush Money Probe; From A Playboy Model And Adult Film Actress To A Possible Indictment Of A Former President; Judge Peppers Fox Lawyer With Tough Questions In Dominion Case; Putin & Xi Pledge To Expand Ties In Show Of Unity In Moscow; Ukrainian Official Says Discussions Are Underway To Organize A Call Between Xi And Zelenskyy; SC Authorities Now Say Stephen Smith Death A Homicide; Trump Allies Tied To Crimes. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 21, 2023 - 20:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: I spoke to Almadi's son, Ibrahim, about his father when he was in prison, and he told me about the conditions there.


IBRAHIM ALMADI, SON OF SAAD IBRAHIM ALMADI: They would wake him up in the middle of the night. They prevent him from sleeping. They torture him until he convicted himself that he made some tweets in order to destabilize the Kingdom.


BURNETT: But here is the crucial bottom line. Saad remains in Saudi Arabia. He is now under a 16-year travel ban, and his son tells us he is not free until he is in the United States.

Thanks so much for joining us.

AC 360 begins now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Today, the NYPD said they have police ready to respond to protests should former President Trump become the first former President to be criminally indicted. It is a question of when and also if.

I'm John Berman, in for Anderson.

Remember, according to the former President's own social media posts this weekend, the indictment was supposed to happen today, but he had no proof of that, and so here we are.

Yet all indications are that something is in the pipeline, but among the litany of things we still don't know about this indictment, apart from if it will actually happen is how we will find out about it. How will Trump? Will he be arrested? Will there be a mug shot? Will he appear in Court?

What will the actual charges be? Will it be a misdemeanor about trying to keep an affair with an adult film star secret buy in and this would be the potentially illegal part, falsifying business records? Or does the Manhattan DA 's office believe it has the evidence to sustain a felony conviction about this alleged payoff being part of a much broader charge about trying to influence the election? So, that is what we don't know.

We do know that many top Republicans are aghast that anyone would be investigated over a little simple hush money -- alleged simple hush money.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): This was personal money. He wasn't trying to hide. This was seven years ago, statute of limitation.


BERMAN: So that was the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the third and final day of a Republican retreat, trying to do his best, nothing to see here, a Leslie Nielsen impersonation.

To review: According to the reporting in "The Wall Street Journal," this money that the former President's then lawyer Michael Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels, it wasn't done directly. He used an LLC in the name to use to refer to Trump and Daniels, they were David Dennison and Peggy Peterson.

So it kind of sounds like somebody was trying to hide something, and if Speaker McCarthy was being a little sly in his defense of the former President, Senator Rand Paul was not. He went full bore in his attack of the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg tweeting: "A Trump indictment would be a disgusting abuse of power. The DA should be put in jail." Jail? Really?

He must have some serious evidence or something to say something like that, right? Wrong. CNN asked him about that tweet today. Here was his response: "I think we'll stick with just what we tweeted out if you want to report that." No evidence.

Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville weighed in too on Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (D-AL): I think he should be accountable for what he's doing. I mean, nobody has ever done this. This is unprecedented going after a former President of the United States that is running for President.


TUBERVILLE: Well, you broke the law, you've got to pay the price. But I mean, I haven't looked into it enough.


BERMAN: Got it. This is unprecedented, but I haven't looked into it enough. That about sums it up.

Hammer the talking points, facts be damned or at least distant.

Look, we don't know what is coming down the pipeline or even if anything is coming down the pipeline, but we do know enough to be able to wait and see what happens before suggesting people go to jail.

Let's start tonight with Democratic Congressman Dan Goldman, a former Federal prosecutor who was the Democratic counsel to the House Intelligence Committee during President Trump's first impeachment inquiry.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

Look, many of your Republican colleagues and you just heard Speaker McCarthy there are disparaging District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the probe downplaying the investigation before it's concluded. What do you say to their argument that an indictment would be partisan and politically motivated?

REP. DANIEL GOLDMAN (D-NY): Well, they certainly weren't saying that when Alvin Bragg a year ago decided to go against the recommendation of his very experienced prosecutors and not indict Donald Trump. But what they're trying to basically do is pick and choose what they view as political and what they view as reasonable and following the law, and that basically comes down to whatever the outcome is, as it relates to Donald Trump.

It's very clear they're doing the bidding of Donald Trump and trying to undermine this investigation, even to the point of potentially obstructing it.

BERMAN: Obstructing. Now, hang on here because you actually used that word in a statement you put out before. You said: "From Day 1 --" and this has to do with House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan and others trying to get Alvin Bragg before their Committees. You said, "From Day 1, I said the so-called Weaponization Subcommittee was more aptly named the Committee to Obstruct Justice."


BERMAN: "As if on cue, House Republicans are now using the official power of the Congress to try to obstruct a State prosecution of Donald Trump."

So obstruction, which you used in that statement you just heard. That's a pretty strong word. What exactly do you mean by obstruction?

GOLDMAN: Well, when you look at the threats, when you look at the accusations, and when you look at the inflammatory language in that letter, in particular. It is very clear that they are trying to influence, put it that way,

Alvin Bragg in some way and influencing a prosecutorial decision or witness testimony or otherwise, can be obstruction of justice.

Now, I don't -- I'm not saying that they have committed a crime here. But I think what is very clear, is that they are trying to interfere and influence this investigation without knowing the facts and without knowing the evidence. And essentially, they're trying to put Donald Trump above the law and that is antithetical to our fundamental rule of law, which is that our government is one of laws, not men.

BERMAN: So some legal experts, and we're not talking about Trump apologists here, have said that this is not the strongest case on its merits.

As a former Federal prosecutor and lead counsel on the first Trump impeachment, do you think it is?

GOLDMAN: Well, look, I think if you look at the actual facts, and you went through some of that in your opening, Donald Trump used a home equity loan taken out by Michael Cohen to pay $130,000.00 to a porn star three weeks before the election to silence a decade-old affair.

He was then reimbursed by falsifying the rationale through the Trump Organization. It was clear that Donald Trump was trying to avoid having this become public and a political liability before his election. For a variety of reasons, the Southern District of New York, the Federal prosecutor did not charge this case, and so now, it is really up to Mr. Bragg to determine whether or not he thinks that it should be, though that fact pattern should be charged in State Court where the law is not as clear on campaign finance fraud as it is federally.

BERMAN: So of all the investigations that the former President faces, which do you think is the most legally perilous, because you would be hard pressed to find anyone who does think it is this case that could be brought by the Manhattan DA?

GOLDMAN: I would agree with that. I think the fact that Donald Trump conspired with a number of others to overturn the 2020 election is far more serious than the conduct here. That doesn't mean that because it's more serious that this conduct is not serious, but that is a fundamental effort to overturn our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power.

And that investigation by the Special Counsel to me is far and away the most serious and the most concerning from, you know, any American citizen that's viewing this.

BERMAN: So the Manhattan DA is not as serious as the others, but you still think potentially it'd be worth pursuing?

GOLDMAN: That's really up to Mr. Bragg. I don't know the evidence here. I know that there is a process that Donald Trump can use to challenge this charge legally or factually, that there are 12 jurors that need to be unanimous to find his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and I wish that my Republican colleagues would focus on the process that is laid out and has been in existence for 250 years to let a defendant like Donald Trump make his defense if he wants to, rather than make these accusations and allegations and try to undermine this investigation.

BERMAN: We could wait and see what happens, in other words.

Congressman Dan Goldman, great to see it. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: So Federal authorities including those at the FBI and Homeland Security have detected an increase in violent rhetoric online, including calls for a Civil War since the former President this weekend asked followers to "protest" his possible impending arrest.

We should know this is just online chatter, but something authorities are taking seriously nonetheless.

I'm joined now by CNN senior political commentator, Adam Kinzinger, a former Republican Congressman and member of the January 6 Select Committee, and CNN national security analyst, Juliette Khayyem, a former US Assistant Secretary for Homeland Security.

Congressman, just before we get to the security situation, what does it say to you that some of your Republican colleagues are using their government power to try to keep the former President's legal threats at bay or at least run what Dan Goldman here said is interference for him?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I think it's pretty chilling. I think look, see what this is. It's like they've already made up their mind. They know all the evidence. They've come to a conclusion.

That's not how justice works, you know.

I'll tell you there's a phenomenon, I'll try to do this in 15 seconds.


KINZINGER: That exist when you're a Congressman, that is kind of a bit, not all in with Donald Trump and your base keeps telling you how come you're not defending Trump more, and something like this comes along, and you basically emote all of that intensity and defend Donald Trump the best you can so you can go back to your, you know, Lincoln Day Dinner and tell your Republican base, see, I'm defending Donald Trump.

By the way, I saw that impeachment vote, you see that and holding people in contempt for ignoring subpoenas, like in January 6. And I think you're seeing some of that here where people can convince themselves that this is egregious. They're going to be extremely loud about it, that allows them to go back to their base and say they're fighting to defend Donald Trump.

BERMAN: Now on the security front, Juliette, CNN is reporting that Federal officials including those of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, they are monitoring what they say has been an uptick in violent rhetoric online, including calls for Civil War. What's your take on this? What are you seeing?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely, and one would anticipate given Donald Trump's language this weekend, seeking to protest, but also talking about bringing America -- you know, taking America back. It is the language that we heard on January 6th, but times are very different.

It's very easy for people to go online and talk about Civil War, but in terms of the radicalization, I want to focus on the violent radicalization that showed itself on January 6, the environment is very different now.

I mean, it's not only because of what the former Congressman and his colleagues did in terms of sort of turning the GOP narrative against Trump, trying to give an off ramp to Republicans in terms of, you don't have to be with this guy to the arrest of a couple hundred people, which takes away your troops, the fact that Donald Trump is essentially de-platformed, he cannot give people a Get Out of Jail Free card, and also that he cannot fill the protest.

I mean, we've already seen him try to and there's like a sort of a big yawn, all of those together over the two years means that he may be a lot of smoke and a lot of fire and a lot of anger, but he cannot deliver on the kind of incitement that we worried about, the sort of existential incitement, the kind that could really harm America that he could be for.

And that is going to take a lot of, I think, hopefully the gas out of whatever becomes of Trump and this movement in the future after the arrest.

BERMAN: But what if he has a few more days, Congressman? And I asked that because CNN is reporting that if Trump is indicted, they don't expect his arrest or initial appearance to happen before next week, so we could find out about an indictment, and then have four or five days before he were to show up in New York City for the actual processing.

Now, I get that could be so they can get the security preparations underway, but couldn't he use that time if he wanted to, to drum up protest or some kind of activity?

KINZINGER: Absolutely. I mean, look, you know, in one way, it's a blessing, obviously, that we don't see what he says. Most of the time, he's just yelling in the dark room to a few people on Truth Social. But if you actually look at what he is saying, I mean, we cannot grow numb to this. We can't grow numb to the fact that he has basically said, Americans are the enemy, not Russia. You know, we have to stop justice from occurring, in essence.

I don't put anything past him. There's always times where I sit back, and I'm like, well, I don't think Donald Trump would come out and do X, Y and Z. I no longer believe that there's any restraint on him. So I think it is quite possible that in that intervening time between the indictment and the process, and I'm not sure why there would be a big distance, but you know, I'll leave that to the experts. But in that time, he certainly could gin up enough people to show up and try to block the way or create problems.

Look, there's -- I don't think -- I agree with you. There's not a ton of belief that it's going to be like another January 6, necessarily. But there are a number of people on Twitter right now saying things like Civil War is coming, Civil War is happening.

And if just a one or two percent of Americans believe that, that's like, what, six million Americans or something.

BERMAN: So Juliette, do you think these few days -- potential few days are a smart idea? And how do you think the city and Federal officials should get ready?

KAYYEM: Well, so this is the unprecedented aspect of this. So obviously, they have to have an indictment before they can act, right? You cannot sort of just say this could happen because Trump said it happened. So they have to then get the facility ready. They have to hope that they can negotiate a very voluntary, very quiet, I say hope -- I wasn't born yesterday -- in a movement for Donald Trump and work with the Secret Service to essentially bring this body from Florida to New York and back.

The Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security do not owe Donald Trump anything anymore. They are -- he is someone that they protect, he is a protectee, but they do not -- he does not no longer control what they can do, so they can make this relatively easy for the United States.


KAYYEM: So there's a lot of activity going on around the person and then of course, the facility. Time is not good in the sense that he can agitate more people. On the other hand, time does give some opportunity to lower the temperature, and also to show that he cannot get people out there.

I mean, that's the one thing that's been amazing the last couple of days. You've got like four people in front of Trump Tower and like five in front of Mar-a-Lago. I'm not minimizing the hate out there, but that's a much better -- that is a much better scenario than the alternative at this stage.

BERMAN: Juliette Kayyem, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks so much.

Still to come: The backstory about how we got from a former Playboy model and adult film actress to a possible indictment of a former President. Ronan Farrow has reported on this story and joins us ahead.

Plus, will Rupert Murdoch and his son, the CEO of the company that owns FOX News be forced to testify in the billion dollar defamation trial? The latest, ahead.


BERMAN: It is important to remember that any criminal charge of the former President out of the Manhattan grand jury investigation, if it happens, would be the culmination of a tale that began before the 2016 election. It costarred an adult film actress and a Playboy model, as well as the then head of the company that owned the "National Enquirer."


BERMAN: It is a tale very well known by my next guest. He is the author of "Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators." We're joined now by author, Ronan Farrow, who is also a contributing writer to "The New Yorker."

So Stormy Daniels, and this gets to a lot of your reporting, she had approached the "National Enquirer" with her story and tried to get them to buy it from her, but they turned her down more or less. Is it clear why they passed?

RONAN FARROW, AUTHOR, "CATCH AND KILL": So my reporting was on a string of interactions that Trump and people around him including Michael Cohen, had with AMI, the parent company at the time of the "National Enquirer," and proved out, I believe, pretty thoroughly, that there was an ongoing arrangement to pay hush money to catch and kill, this is the journalistic term that was used in the tabloid world unflattering stories about Trump.

BERMAN: So the catch and kill system, which you just brought up, orchestrated or involving David Pecker, who was the former publisher of AMI, how did it work?

FARROW: The concept is very basic. The "Enquirer" forged an alliance with Donald Trump. David Pecker and his consigliere, Dylan Howard were both heavily involved in this arrangement by which they would go out and seek unflattering and usually tawdry stories about Donald Trump, and they would pay money for the rights to those stories, which entailed essentially muzzling the people in possession of those stories.

And instead of running the results of that transaction in the "Enquirer," they would sit on it and I, at one point in my reporting, got access to a master list of many, many stories that over the years the "Enquirer" had done this with, with respect to Trump.

BERMAN: To Anderson spoke with Karen McDougal back in 2018, the Playboy model who says she had an affair with Trump, and was paid for her silence. I'm going to play part of that interview where she explains her experience with this catch and kill process.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: What's your understanding about catch and kill is? KAREN MCDOUGAL, PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: Catch us -- from what I'm

learning, a catch and kill is somebody for like, say for yourself, for example, taking a story about somebody you like or care about or have a friendship about, and they squash a story so it doesn't hurt you or hurt them.

COOPER: So did you know that that's what was going on? That's the allegation of what was going on here. Did you realize that at the time?

MCDOUGAL: I knew the story wasn't going to be printed. Yes.

COOPER: Why do you think they squashed the story?

MCDOUGAL: Back then or now?


MCDOUGAL: They didn't want to hurt him.

COOPER: You think it's because of a personal relationship with the guy who runs AMI is friends with Donald Trump?

MCDOUGAL: Correct.


BERMAN: So to that point, Ronan, why was David Pecker protecting Trump like this? What did he -- what did the "Enquirer" get out of it all?

FARROW: Well, there's now a lot of literature on this and David pecker appeared to really enjoy the friendship with Trump and the larges Trump could afford. And I think David Pecker and Dylan Howard, you know, this is according to many, many dozens of hours of interviews with people who were in the rooms with them around these decisions.

They all wanted to ride on Trump's political coattails as well. And then there was a dawning realization by Dylan Howard and others that what they were doing was going to look very bad. I mean, that was said in some of those internal text messages, pretty directly almost word for word and now we are seeing the consequences.

BERMAN: So David Pecker did meet with prosecutors in this case that we're dealing with this week and reportedly testified to the grand jury. What kind of information do you think he might be able to provide?

FARROW: Well, what's interesting is when I was reporting on these hush payments through AMI, including Karen McDougal's story, the "Enquirer" folks were lying to us, and they were giving a statement saying this never happened. You had it all wrong.

And subsequently, they have had to admit to what was alleged in that reporting in some in substance in their agreement with Federal prosecutors.

Now, when these individuals are talking to additional prosecutors after that admission, I think there's going to be a lot more information. And what's remarkable about this, John is it is not new information. These facts are out there.

You know, they were in my reporting, "The Wall Street Journal" did really potent reporting on this. The record is kind of established and people like Pecker can speak to it and reinforce it.

The question is, how is it going to resonate with the jury, especially with this novel legal theory that's at the foundation of the case? And how is it going to resonate politically?

I heard from a prosecutor that in their words, this is a billion dollar gift to Donald Trump, referring in other words to the amount that he'll be able to fundraise off the back of this.


BERMAN: It has been a long road, we will see where it winds next.

Ronan Farrow, great to see you.

FARROW: Thanks so much. Always great to see you.

BERMAN: Up next, attorneys for FOX News and Dominion Voting Systems battle it out in Court today in that $1.6 billion defamation case. We have the latest developments ahead.


BERMAN: Lawyers for FOX News and the voting equipment company, Dominion, spent about six hours in Court today wrangling over the $1.6 billion defamation case against the right-wing network and they will be back at it again tomorrow.

A Dominion lawyer told the Judge today: "The fix was in arguing that FOX hosts knew they were promoting false claims about Dominion rigging the 2020 election and kept booking guests who prompted the lies."

FOX argues it is protected by the First Amendment. It claims it can't be held liable for airing newsworthy allegations from public figures. Both sides want the Judge to decide the case without going to a jury, but if it does go to trial, Dominion wants FOX Chair Rupert Murdoch and his CEO son, Lachlan to testify.

CNN's senior media reporter, Oliver Darcy joins us now with much more on all of this. So Oliver, what more was revealed today about what was going on behind the scenes.

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: A lot of what you saw today, John, was Dominion trying to bring to life the legal filings they have made in this case over the past several months. And so one instance you saw them reading a text message that they obtained during discovery from Tucker Carlson, that message was to Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham in which he said: "Our viewers are good people and they believe it," referring to these election conspiracy theories they were pushing on FOX's air even when they knew that they were false.


I think a key thing too, to keep in mind as you watch this play out in court is how the judge is reacting to some of Fox's arguments. And you saw him today, exceedingly skeptical at times about the defense that Fox was putting forth in the courtroom. And I think that's going to be very important as these both sides, like you said, ask the judge to rule in their favor ahead of a possible trial.

BERMAN: How was it that Dominion was trying to make the case that the fix was in?

DARCY: Well, you saw in one case that they pointed to Mike Lindell, who is obviously an election conspiracy theorist, and they talked about how they knew that he was an election conspiracy theorist, but they still put him on air arguing that it was a business relationship they wanted to preserve.

I'll read to you what one of the Dominion lawyers actually said in open court. He said, "They were putting Lindell on air for business purposes. They knew Lindell was crazy, but they also knew he was their highest advertiser and they were just trying to assuage him."

So you can see this argument taking place here and starting to take shape as they argue that a lot of the coverage at Fox was not based on what was true and what was false, but based on business decisions, keeping advertisers happy, keeping ratings up, not losing ground to competitors like Newsmax.

BERMAN: Oliver Darcy, thank you so much. Now, you're re-watching again tomorrow.

Perspective now from Retired First Amendment Lawyer Lee Levine, who was represented -- who has represented both Fox News and CNN in cases. Lee, thanks for being with us. Look, the Tucker Carlson messages, they've been previously mentioned in court filings, but to have them highlighted in open court in front of the judge, how damaging do you think that is to Fox?

LEE LEVINE, RETIRED FIRST AMENDMENT LAWYER: Well, the judge has obviously seen all of this stuff in the hundreds of pages of briefing that's been filed. So it's really just a point of emphasis for the judge. It's an opportunity for Dominion to show the judge what they think is the most significant evidence, and likewise for Fox to show the judge what they think is the most significant evidence.

I think the most significant thing about today's proceeding was precisely what Oliver just said was that it took six hours and it's going to continue into tomorrow. I've litigated these cases for 40 years. I never had a hearing on a motion like this that lasted more than an hour or two.

This judge is taking this very seriously. He is devoting a lot of time and attention to it. And he is going to make sure he understands all the arguments before he rules.

BERMAN: Do you think that is beneficial to one side or the other? Oliver was mentioning the judge seemed to preclude or block or at least be skeptical of some of the possible defenses that Fox might make.

LEVINE: Yes, and I think, in fairness, he was skeptical of some of the claims that Dominion was making as well. Although, on balance, I think he was sending signals that coincide with what many of us have been thinking all along, which is that he might throw out some of the claims based on some of the broadcasts, but he is not going to dismiss this entire case.

And the moonshot that Fox has taken this overarching argument that it's allowed to report on allegations that it knows are false because a reasonable viewer would understand that Fox wasn't endorsing those meanings. I think he's going to leave the question of whether Fox was endorsing those falsehoods to a jury.

BERMAN: So, is there a meaningful distinction? And that gets to what you're just talking about there between Fox guests spewing fraudulent claims about the 2020 election being stolen. Guests that they know, that Fox knows when they booked them are going to say that and Fox hosts repeating the same claims.

LEVINE: You know, as Fox's lawyer admitted in court today, she said that we are not claiming that just because one of our guests said it, we're off the hook. What we're claiming is that because one of our guests said it and it was newsworthy and no reasonable viewer would understand that we were endorsing the falsehood, we're not going to be held liable or shouldn't be liable.

And that's what it comes down to. Is there enough evidence from which a reasonable viewer could come to the conclusion, with respect to one or more of these 20 some odd broadcasts that have been challenged, that Fox as an institution, that the hosts through whom Fox spoke on these shows were, in fact, endorsing the falsehoods?

And I think that the judge's skeptical questions went directly to that issue with respect to at least several of the broad cast.

BERMAN: So you're far more than an average. You are here, you are a seasoned First Amendment lawyer. You know there's a high bar for defamation cases against media outlets.


So how does the evidence that has been put out there? We've seen an awful lot measure up here. Well, I've said this before. I -- in 40 years of practice, I have never seen a case in which there was stronger evidence of actual malice, which is knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of the truth.

You have the normal kinds of evidence that is often put forward in cases like this, that Fox had a profit motive and that, you know, sensationalism sells and that sort of thing. But you also have the, you know, the hundreds of text messages and emails that show that responsible people at Fox, up and down the line were advised by Dominion that this information was false.

Between broadcasts, between re-airing of broadcasts and original broadcasts, and said in text messages and emails that they didn't believe it was true themselves, but yet went ahead and let these guests be booked on the air and knew that they were going to say that the things that they said which Fox knew was false.

BERMAN: Lee Levine, I have a feeling we're going to speak to you again. Thanks so much for being with us.

LEVINE: You're welcome.

BERMAN: High stakes talks between Russian President Putin and China Xi Jinping continued today. What they said about the war in Ukraine and a response from the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.



BERMAN: There are new developments in the talks between China's leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders in a show of unity and Moscow, reiterated their pledge to expand ties between the nations, as well as signing a joint declaration on their deepening partnership.

This comes amid concerns that China might provide cover for Russia's military actions in Ukraine, as both Xi and Putin called for an end to actions that, quote, increase tensions and prolong the conflict. Now the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he is ready for dialogue with China on Ukraine's or on the Chinese program for peace there.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us tonight and CNN's Phil Mattingly is at the White House. Matthew, what more came out of the meeting today between Xi and Putin?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, John, it was a very symbolic affair. The fact that Xi Jinping was there at all said a very potent message of support from China to Russia. And there were lots of expressions of solidarity between the two countries and promises of sort of bringing closer ties. That was what it was mainly about.

A lot of deals were signed as well, more than a dozen projects launched to actually physically join the countries, close together, bridges and things like that, and economic ties bringing them closer. And there were discussions about a new pipeline to take Russian gas to China. So Russia really redirecting its economy towards the east.

And of course, they also spoke in some detail, according to the Kremlin, about that Chinese peace proposal, which is very controversial because it calls for talks between the two countries, Ukraine and Russia, but stopped short of demanding that Russia pull out of the areas it's conquered.

And so, these were all the kinds of things that were discussed. As Xi Jinping left the meetings today, he, you know, he could be heard on camera saying to Vladimir Putin, look, together we're trying to bring about changes that haven't happened in 100 years, and we're doing it together. And Vladimir Putin said, yes, I agree. And then Xi Jinping drove off. So, the sort of precisely the kind of changes they're trying to bring about, it seems, are quite dramatic.

BERMAN: So, Phil, at the White House, I should mention, how skeptical is the White House of this summit?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think there is significant skepticism heading into the summit, primarily due to the framing from Chinese officials that this was essentially a peace mission tied to that plan that Matthew was talking about.

And officials were very cognizant of the fact that in the public statements over the course of two days, particularly the statements today, there was no substantial progress cited, no concrete or definitive words related to that beyond kind of the broad parameters of things.

And I think that underscored for U.S. officials I've spoken to, that the skepticism was merited. Now, I think they very much acknowledge the reality of a relationship that has grown significantly closer over the course of the last year. But they also frame it in a different manner than any kind of alliance or very close relationship between two similar world powers.

They view it as a clear acknowledgment of Russia's dependency and growing dependency and reliance on China, on the economic side of things. And while they are not sending lethal support, at least at this point in time, U.S. officials believe Chinese officials are also very cognizant of that reality and playing it to their advantage.

But they do make clear they understand the symbolism here. They understand the moment this represents. What they don't believe actually transpired is anything significant on a tangible side of things as it relates to the conflict in Ukraine. But they will certainly be watching in the days ahead.

BERMAN: So, Matthew, what do you know or what have you learned about efforts to organize a call between Xi and the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy?

CHANCE: Well, I know that efforts underway because I've spoken to my sources inside Ukraine and they've said that discussions are actually taking place to try and workout, you know, how and when there can be a first conversation between President Zelenskyy of Ukraine and Xi Jinping of China to discuss those peace proposals.

And of course, as we know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy himself, the Ukrainian President, has said that he's very open to discussing some sort of peace deal with China, you know, if it wants to do that. But at the moment, Ukrainian officials are telling us that nothing concrete has been scheduled. You know, we're expecting it soon if it's going to happen at all.

BERMAN: All right, Matthew Chance, Phil Mattingly, our thanks to both of you.

Quick programming note, tonight on CNN Primetime, Pamela Brown takes a closer look at all of the Trump investigations with legal experts, reporters and analysis. "Inside the Trump Investigations" airs live at the top of the hour.


Still ahead, new details on the man accused of killing four University of Idaho students in their off campus home with dozens of court filings reveal about the weeks and days leading up to the arrest.


BERMAN: All right, breaking news tonight. This time involving a death of a young man linked to the family of convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh and the reopening of an investigation initially deemed a hit and run. CNN's Randi Kaye has been following this story for years and has the latest.

Randi, you're on the phone with us. This just happened. So, what are you learning tonight?

RANDI KAYE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a source, John, familiar with this investigation is telling me that SLED has no longer considers this a hit and run accident. As you know, Stephen Smith was killed back in July of 2015. His body was found in the middle of a roadway in Hampton County, South Carolina, and they had said that this was a hit and run.

Well, now, for the first time, SLED, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is saying they don't consider this a hit and run anymore. They are considering this a homicide and investigating this as a homicide.

Now, back when this first happened, the lead in investigator -- despite it being ruled a hit and run accident -- the lead investigator was heard during some tapes from the case file, some audio interviews, saying that he didn't think that this was a hit and run. Listen to that.



TODD PROCTOR, SOUTH CAROLINA HIGHWAY PATROL: Typically, you don't see the Highway Patrol working a murder, and that's what this is. There's no doubt, we're not classifying this as anything other than a murder.


KAYE: And this is really important, John, of course, for Sandy Smith, Stephen Smith's mom. She has been saying for years now, now almost eight years since her son died, that she has always believed that there was foul play here, that somebody killed her son and laid his body in that roadway to make it look like a hit and run.

And so this is very important for her. This is a really certainly significant move in the case for her. And also, John, it's important to note that there were no visible injuries to him. He had a very significant wound to his head.

But other than that, you know, if you're hit by a vehicle at a fast speed, his loosely tied shoes were still on him. He didn't have any broken bones. All of this certainly leading his mother and others to believe that there's no way this could have been your standard hit and run, John.

BERMAN: So, Randi, is it clear what this new investigative avenue could mean, if anything, for the surviving members of the Murdaugh family?

KAYE: It's unclear at this point. We know from the case file that the Murdaugh name was mentioned over and over again. We also know that Buster Murdaugh's name was mentioned in the case file. He released a statement just yesterday saying he wants nothing but the best for the Smith family, and he has denied having any involvement in the death of Stephen Smith.

So it's important to note that. But it's unclear what it means for the Murdaugh family. Right now, the focus is on certainly the Smith family. They are planning to exhume Stephen Smith's body. They're going to work with South Carolina law enforcement and see what more they can find out about exactly what happened to him.

BERMAN: Randi, is it clear at all how Buster's name was mentioned, in what way there could be a connection at all to Stephen Smith?

KAYE: Well, according to Sandy Smith, Stephen's mom, Stephen Smith and Buster played baseball together. They attended school together. But in terms of how it's mentioned, I mean, I've listened to some of these audio interviews in the case file. You hear -- you just hear people saying, well, I keep hearing Buster's name thrown around.

But again, it's really important to note here that Buster is denying any involvement in this, having any knowledge of this, and it could just be people talking in those audio interviews with those investigators.

BERMAN: All right, Randi Kaye, again, we appreciate you getting to us so quickly with this information.

KAYE: Sure.

BERMAN: We'll let you get back to work. Thank you.

Coming up, the big names in music, design and television, whom President Biden honored today at the White House.


BERMAN: Back to our top story this evening. No one can say for certain whether the former president will face punishment for any of the potential charges he faces, be it in New York, Georgia or on the federal level. The same cannot be said for many of the people who have worked for him or been in his circle.

CNN's Tom Foreman has the details.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The list of Trump allies tied to crimes has been picking up new names for years. Start with Steve Bannon.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I stand with Trump and the Constitution.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Trump's firebrand adviser was slapped at the fine and four months in prison for ignoring a congressional subpoena about the attack on the Capitol. His time behind bars is on hold while he appeals. He's also pleaded not guilty to New York State charges of money laundering, conspiracy and fraud.

BANNON: They will never shut me up. They have to kill me first.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Allen Weisselberg, Trump's longtime chief financial officer, is serving five months for tax fraud and was ordered to pay $2 million in back taxes, interest and penalties. Paul Manafort, once Trump's campaign chairman --

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: From day one, I always felt they were targeting me and a couple of others to try and get at the President -- then candidate Trump and then President Trump.

FOREMAN (voice-over): He's agreed to pay more than $3 million to the government over his tax filings. He spent two years in prison for bank and tax fraud, illegal foreign lobbying and more before Trump pardoned him.

Rick Gates pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Manafort in concealing $75 million in foreign bank accounts. He spent 45 days in jail and became a government informant.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO PRES. TRUMP: The next President of the United States right here.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, once his national security adviser, who admitted lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia. Then he tried to walk that admission back. Flynn's now suing the government, alleging malicious prosecution.

Adviser George Papadopoulos got 12 days for lying to investigators in the Russia probe. He was pardoned. George Nader was an informal campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to sex crimes. Elliott Broidy, a fundraiser, pleaded guilty to running a secret lobbying campaign.

Roger Stone was convicted of lying to Congress. Trump pardoned him, too. And there is former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, confined nearly three years after admitting several crimes, including campaign finance violations, he now routinely calls for accountability for his former boss.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER DONALD TRUMP ATTORNEY: Everyone needs to be held to the same standard of the law, and that includes former presidents.


FOREMAN: None of this proves Donald Trump committed any crimes before, during or after his presidency, but it does give his critics a lot to say about the company he keeps. John?

BERMAN: Yes, it does. Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

And on that note, the CNN Primetime Special "Inside the Trump Investigations" starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, former President Trump in legal jeopardy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think charges are inevitable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A potentially imminent indictment in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're following the facts where they go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not even under campaign finance. If it was, it's not even a violation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tensions mounting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pray to God that it doesn't turn violent.